Archive for March, 2012


March 5, 2012

To Bruce Springsteen’s great credit his ‘Wrecking Ball’ is a worthwhile, if contradictory album. I want the people I listen to to move on so I’m not critical of the fact that the storytelling Springsteen we first knew is not in evidence, not even the nostalgic Springsteen. Part of the album is the destruction (thanks to the wrecking ball) of where those ‘Glory Days’ of old took place. Instead of nostalgia there’s resignation and sadness.

Another (large) part of this album is Bruce addressing himself to the “financial crisis” America. He has the bankers and moneymen in his sights – literally. In the song ‘Jack Of All Trades’  he promises ‘we’ll be alright’ by doing what you can, by being a jack of all trades, but then in that same song he finds himself wishing for a gun so he can kill them all. I can hear those Tea Party rednecks waiting for and cheering that part of those song. Is this the way Bruce planned it?

Some of this album is going to be misunderstood, like the song ‘Born In The USA’ was misunderstood and misinterpreted. Maybe I’m the one who has misunderstood. You’ve probably heard the album’s opening song, ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’. While this flag is flying we’ll take care of our own. Bugger the rest?

Bruce is the modern Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. We’ve known that, said that, admired that. He allows himself to be blown by the wind of history. He tried in the aftermath of 9/11 with ‘The Rising’, but it was too soon, too unfathomable  to articulate properly. He does much better addressing the latest calamity America finds itself in. Through imagery rather than specifics he tries to find hope but can’t quite bring himself to promise it. The troubles will come again.

The last two tracks take us to that thought, where are we headed?  ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ puts us on the train scheduled by the Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’, and then comes the final standout track where Bruce Springsteen takes on the Dylan mantle. ‘We Are Alive’ addresses itself to the injustices of the past. They are not forgotten. ‘We are alive’ the wronged assure us.  They’re with us. But they’re dead. 

Despite the lyrical contradiction ‘Wrecking Ball’ gives voice to an era of history we’ve all shared. Music is great when id does that.



March 3, 2012

1964 to 1967. What a difference three years made .. still make .. a difference that resonates all these years later in the eulogies for the late Davy Jones from the late Monkees.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. Neither the Beatles nor the Monkees were “boy bands”. Anyone who has used those two words in the last week has completely missed the context. Boy Bands are not “bands”. They are that genre of groups inspired by the Jackson 5, groups that predominantly sing and dance. Who plays the music they sing and dance to is not significant. The relationship “boy bands” DO have with The Monkees and The Beatles is that like these playing groups the focus was on more than one member of the band. Neither John Lennon nor Paul McCartney were the Beatles’ lead singer. Davy Jones was NOT the Monkees frontman.

That’s one of the misrepresentations we’ve been hearing in the tributes to Davy Jones. The other one – the BIG one – is the comparison between the Beatles and the Monkees. There is no comparison. These three years between 1964 and 1967 are what matters. I’ll get to how The Monkees happened and how they actually fit into the fabric of popular music in a minute. I just want to focus on these three years for the moment. The Beatles “happened” worldwide in early 1964. The Monkees television show hit the US airwaves in late 1966. Their fans were the kids who missed out on the whole Beatles thing because they were that little bit younger, and were now able to get in on the act. It’s those fans who, in remembering Davy Jones are overstating the “importance’ of the Monkees. They did it then and they’re doing it now. It’s how they perceived it then and perceive it now, trying to put the two groups on the same level. In terms of success and popularity maybe. That’s all!

There were manufactured pop acts before The Monkees and there sure have been manufactured pop acts since. The idea was to create a television show around a pop group looning around zanily like the Beatles in their movie ‘A Hard Days Night’’.  Filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had been floating the idea for some time before Screen Gems bought the concept. For a moment an actualexisting  group was offered the show; but the Lovin’ Spoonful turned it down, so those famous auditions were called. Mike Nesmith and Peter Tolk were the only two of the eventual Monkees who the ad found. Davy Jones and  Mickey Dolenz were recruited primarily for their acting experience. Davy Jones’ other big recommendation was his English accent, a marvelous asset for the would-be Monkees during the “British Invasion” period of world pop music. Mike Nesmith made an impression by arriving on his motorcycle wearing his woolen cap and carrying his laundry in a bag, looking and acting nonchalantly, as if he couldn’t care less if he got the part or not. Folksinger Peter Tolk was exactly what the producers had in mind. Tolk didn’t see the ad  When his friend Steven Stills was rejected because of the condition of his teeth, Stills recommended Tolk.

Established songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote and performed the songs for the show’s pilot. Their voices were then replaced by the selected Monkees.  Importantly, a chap called Don Kirshner was brought in to be the series’ musical director. And here is where once more those three years between the Beatles’ worldwide breakthrough and the arrival of the Monkees series becomes significant again. Before the Beatles arrived, music publishers like Don Kirshner and including Kirshner were in change of the songwriters who gave the pop stars of the day their hits. Kirshner had worked with the famous songwriting teams of the pre-Beatles era  Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and  Cynthia Weil. Now, suddenly, because of the Beatles, pop acts were keen to write their own songs. Suddenly, because of the Beatles, Don Kirshner’s clients were out of work and influence. The Monkees series gave Kirshner a chance to maybe turn back the tide.  For the first album he added Goffin and King’s talents to Boyce and Hart’s. The second album ‘More Of The Monkees’ relied even more on songwriting professionals. Mike Nesmith was allowed a single token song on each album. The Monkees had almost no say about the contents of ‘More Of The Monkees’. It was out even before they knew it.

To their credit, The Monkees – especially Mike Nesmith – lobbied for more say, and to be allowed to play instruments on the records carrying their name. During one meeting with Don Kirshner, to make his point, Mike Nesmith put his fist through a wall. Nesmith got his way, but Kirshner wasn’t really listening. He took Davy Jones aside and recorded two tracks without the rest of the Monkees and released them as the next group single. The ‘A’ side was another Neil Diamond song. (He’d written ‘I’m A Believer’). The new single “A :Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ was sneaked onto the market and when it met with instant favourable airplay the band had to go with it. But Don Kirshner had gone too far. He was sacked as The Monkees’ musical director.

The third album ‘Headquarters’ had songs from a few outsiders but was predominantly written by the Monkees themselves’ ‘Headquarters’ made The Monkees the first artist to score three American No.1 albums in the same year. Not even the Beatles had managed that.

The Monkees had won their control over their career, although their subsequent two big hit songs still came from “outside” – ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ by Goffin and King, ‘Daydream Believer’ by John Stewart. But they were playing their own instruments on record and on stage – with the help of sidemen. That beginning however haunted them, and hounded them to the end. There was no real shame in the fact that others wrote their songs. A good song is a good song, and that’s what Monkees fans are remembering, forgetting however (or never realizing) how significant the Beatles’ stand had been before that, insisting they only release their own songs as singles. They were SUPPOSED to turn to the professionals for their repertoire. The Monkees helped, but didn’t quite succeed, in putting the old order back in place. At first anyway.

In summation, the Monkees with Davy Jones were a very very popular pop group in the latter sixties who recorded a number of memorable songs.