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7 Underrated Monkees Songs

The so-called Pre-Fab Four recorded some of the best pop music of the 1960s. It’s no accident that, 50 years after the band’s eponymous sitcom debuted, people still clamor for their tunes.

The aforementioned hits only scratch the surface of why The Monkees matter. Consider the following seven songs as exhibits A-G in the case of The Monkees vs. the Critical Elite. Michael Nesmith, he of the wool hat and sly demeanor, plays a prominent role in several of the tracks below.

Grab them for your iPod or streaming device, and laugh (oh, ha ha ha!) at how many times reporters tried to write them off.

“Circle Sky” -- You rarely use the word “muscular” to describe a Monkees song. That’s still fitting for this track, featured on both the group’s “Head” soundtrack and the 1996 album “Justus.” The song underwent some lyrical tweaking for the latter, but the sound remains mostly unchanged.

RELATED: 5 Fun Facts About the Monkees

Lyrically, “Circle Sky” offers an impressionist peek at a Monkees concert from the band’s point of view. The song’s crunchy, cascading guitar riffs leave the bigger mark. Nesmith penned the track, and his voice is purposely played down. That makes the melodies pop even more than usual.

“All of Your Toys” -- How did this one not join the likes of “Daydream Believer” on the music charts? Blame the battles between the Monkees and band overlord Don Kirshner. He famously pulled all the strings during the group’s formation until the lads fought for their creative independence. The song finally got released in the late 1980s. Had it hit radio airwaves when it was originally recorded it might have been another chart topper for the group.

“Goin’ Down” -- Pop culture caught up with the band’s jazziest number a little late. Both the 2011 remake of “Straw Dogs” and “Breaking Bad” used the Micky Dolenz-led song to set a particular mood. It’s easy to see why. Dolenz runs through the song’s dense lyrics in a purposeful rush, a gaggle of horns (barely) keeping up with him. It’s one of several tracks written by all four band members with help from Diane Hilderbrand.

The Monkees - Goin' Down - 8/31/2001 - Sun Theater (Official)

“Early Morning Blues and Greens” -- Got a swoon-worthy ballad aimed at the pre-teen set? Get Davy Jones! Not this time. Jones delivers a mature beyond his years performance on this ballad, one that doesn’t fit snugly in the Monkees’ persona. It’s another example of how music snobs were wrong to dismiss the band then … or now.

“Sometime in the Morning” -- Gerry Goffin and Carole King penned this gorgeous ballad, given all the right emotional shadings by Dolenz.

Sometime in the evening
You’re sitting there by the fireside
And she’ll touch you
And you’ll realize how much you never knew before,
How much you couldn’t see.

Once again the group defied boy band expectations. Don’t be surprised if someone plucks the song to heighten a romantic moment for an upcoming show or film. That’s overdue.

Sometime in the Morning (Original Stereo Version) (2006 Remaster)

“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” -- Nesmith wrote and sang lead on an early version of this song, which eventually featured Dolenz’s vocals. The latter switch wasn’t enough, inexplicably, or fans of the era. The track topped out at no. 39 on the Billboard singles charts. Hard to see why “Girl” didn’t dominate the charts, or why it doesn’t get name-checked more often during Monkees discussions. It’s a feisty love song with one of the era’s best guitar riff/bass line combinations.

“Sweet Young Thing” -- This ditty clocks in at under two minutes and nary a second gets wasted. Co-written by Nesmith and featuring Glen Campbell on guitars, “Thing” packs the band’s penchant for high-energy songs with a plaintive cry for love. Nesmith typically deferred to Dolenz on lead vocals, but here his twangy take is just … perfect.

Sweet Young Thing (Original Stereo Version) (2006 Remaster)

You can find some rare Monkees recordings on “Missing Links by Monkees (1990) Audio CD,” “Missing Links, Vol. 2 by The Monkees (1992-05-13)”  and “Missing Links: Volume 3.”

photo credit: I’m A Believer via photopin (license)

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8 Comments

    1. They didn’t say that he DIDN’T sing it. They said that NORMALLY he deferred to Dolenz, but (and I quote the article) “…here his twangy take is just … perfect”

  1. Personally I like anything Nesmith. He’s always been underrated as a musician and songwriter, but he has a great catalog of work.

  2. Tapioca Tundra is another beautiful Nesmith song. It about how when you write a song it no longer is yours or a part of you, it’s a part of the listener. I love that because it reminds me of the Star Wars episode of South Park where Kyle delevers a pretty eloquent speech along the same lines but about movies and media in general.

  3. Some songs that should have been on this list. Papa Gene’s Blues, Steppin’ Stone, and I’m Gonna Buy Me A Dog. And Valleri has some of the best guitar riffs of any of the Monkees songs. I could listen to the guitar alone.

  4. Definitely a list by an informed Monkees fan. (You can always tell the informed from the uninformed). However, I think some better choices than “All of Your Toys.” It’s a good group effort for being what I think was their first time playing all instruments (it was either that one or “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”). But they definitely produced better material. However, you are definitely a keen Monkees fan to choose “Goin’ Down” and “Sometime in the Morning,” even though the latter was recorded during the Kirsher era and had little to do with the Monkees except for Micky’s sensitive vocal. And I’ve always thought “The Girl I knew Somewhere” was one of the greatest pop gems of the 60s, amazingly produced by a band just learning how to play together, with Chip Douglas playing no small part. If it were the A-side of the single instead of the inferior “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” it might have been a big hit (I am surprised, though, that it didn’t chart higher even as the B-side).

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