The Monkees could do many things to celebrate their 50th anniversary. A cereal-box flexidisc set, a CD boxed-set classic-album collection and an upcoming BluRay box of The Monkees series (1966-68, all 58 episodes) with their psychedelic flick Head and 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee included seemed about right. Monkees Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork (Davy Jones passed away in 2012, Michael Nesmith hasn’t played regularly since 1971, but occasionally records and gigs) had other ideas: the band’s first studio album in 20 years, Good Times!, featuring unused, multitracked tunes from the ’60s along with new cuts from Monkees acolytes Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard, Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Adam Schlesinger, who doubled as its producer. Dolenz spoke to MAGNET about good times old and new and even sang a bit of “The Monkees Theme Song.”
Who’s better company on the road, funnier, cleaner, nicer: Peter Tork or Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, with whom you tour occasionally?
I can’t answer that. It’s apples and oranges. I can’t compare them. They’re both very talented, very different personalities.
Obviously, and to your credit, you and Mr. Tork stayed Monkees and on the road, sometimes with Mr. Nesmith, after the untimely passing of Mr. Jones. Was there ever a thought that you wouldn’t be, considering it was basically just you and Mr. Tork?
No, we had discussions as to whether there’d be a market for just he and I. Would it even be something that he and I wanted? Peter didn’t sing many original leads on the records. So we did a few shows, tested the waters, and it turned out very well. Weirdly, too, it occurred to me that Peter and I had more similar tastes than any other of us ever did. Nes does his country-rock thing. Davy had his Broadway tunes and ballads. Peter and I, however, were always into rock ‘n’ roll and the blues. I had never really considered that before. So suddenly, we had a meeting of the minds. Peter and I have found a lot of common ground since.
Regarding a new album and a producer such as Adam Schlesinger, what was that conversation like?
A little more than a year ago, I went into Rhino’s offices. Rhino owns all of our rights, and I began discussing the 50th anniversary. Of course, touring came up, celebrations of the television series. There happened, though, to be a new regime who wanted to get into newer album production, something for which they’re not really known. So they wanted to explore that with us. Simultaneously, we found tracks in our vaults that were never finished from the 1960s.
From the show?
Well, yes, in part. So much frigging material for the series. You have to figure that we needed at least two new songs a week for the show. We found like 50 tracks, some demos, most mono, which we couldn’t use. Some, though, were multitracked and ready to go with the thought of releasing them. The show wound up going off the air, and we recorded a few more albums, but this material just sat until we found it: incredible stuff by Neil Diamond that Davy had that vocal on, Carole King, Boyce & Hart. Then there was this one, called “Good Times,” that Harry Nilsson wrote for me to sing with Mike on guitar.
You guys wound up being dear, best friends, yes?
Oh yeah. And this song—what with Harry being Harry—it wasn’t just a demo’s vocal. He never did anything halfway. It was this full-blown vocal. I heard that and thought, “Wow, I could do a duet with him.” Everybody loved that idea, and we even named the album for his song. From there, we just either used the songs as they were from the ’60s—used the multitrack—or built upon them. From there, Rhino reached out and introduced us to Adam.
Were you a big Fountains Of Wayne fan?
I’d heard them, but I’m an even bigger fan of Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do!, for which Adam did the music. I ran into Hanks at a party once, and he said, “Hey, I made a movie about you.” Rhino introduced Adam and I, we got along famously, and we reached out to the indie-rock world for songs. Now, I don’t really listen to modern-rock radio, but all these guys—Ben, Rivers—are tops. We asked if they’d like to submit tunes, and the songs came flooding in, incredible tunes, a plethora of great material, a real love fest. Peter wrote one. Mike wrote and played on it. I wrote one, played drums and did the majority of the leads and a lot of backgrounds. We’re very involved, more so than ever.
Is it true Rivers Cuomo had to tamp down his more youngish themes for his song, make his lyrics more age-appropriate to you guys? He does write very adolescently.
It wasn’t that big of a deal. There were a couple of lines we thought could be more appropriate. I worry about our fans worrying if we’re weird.
Well, that sets up this question. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is no validator, yet they won’t vote the Monkees in because of this weird, arcane stigma, that on many of your records, you guys didn’t play your instruments. Which was true of many bands back then. You just took the flak.
You hit the nail on the head: We took the shit for it, pardon my French. Something that was a common practice for the Byrds and the Beach Boys. It’s ironic. Everybody did it because the recording techniques back then were so different and so expensive. Roger McGuinn used to say that they used the Wrecking Crew because they’d nail a song in three takes. When the Byrds went in, it took 73 takes. But we took the shit for it, which is weird because we didn’t have a choice. We were the cast of this TV show.