Archive for February, 2012

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I see all kinds of sorrow, wish I only loved one.

February 29, 2012

1945 – 2012

It’s kind of strange that Davy Jones is the first Monkee to go, because much more than their 45th Anniversary tour could have last year or the “big” reunion album Justus could have in 1996, it’s going to really prompt all the talking heads and people who feel like they have a preordained right to tell you what’s what (Hi, my name’s Paul …) to wax on at length about the Monkees and the difficult line they wobbled across between “manufactured pop confection” and “legitimate artists.” I’ve met a lot of people in my life who would put sweat and blood into an argument about the latter, while I’m sure people like Jann Wenner will go to their own graves wholeheartedly believing the former.

Davy Jones is not now—nor was he ever—the Monkee to settle the argument.

Most actually goddamned musical? You have to defer to Peter Tork or Michael Nesmith. Best songs? Well, Micky Dolenz sang the lot of ’em (“Randy Scouse Git,” “Stepping Stone,” “Porpoise Song,” “As We Go Along,” many more). In the end, I’ve always felt that although the initial idea was to make Davy Jones the “face” of the group, he was really the “showbiz” facade to all of it. Sure, he sang “Daydream Believer” and “I Wanna Be Free,” but at the end of the day, he was just the short English dude out front shaking the tambourine and singing along, wasn’t he? (I still believe my soon-to-be-2-year-old cousin could do a better job miming bass.)

Maybe that’s a bit harsh. Jones did have some songwriting credits in the Monkees (“Dream World,” “The Poster,” “You and I”) and apparently could play a little bit of guitar.

But when it comes down to the Monkees’ best tunes, the selectest of the few of them were written by the Monkees themselves and doesn’t it seem a little obvious that for a group put together by a TV production studio, the “face” of America’s attempt to cash in on Beatle-related success would be English himself? If Micky, Michael and Peter had been joined by another American actor/musician, would the group have been as popular? Debatable, considering the market that executives aimed the Monkees at and that to this day, American girls of all ages have a bit of a weakness for that accent. Maybe somedays I do too. Shut up.

But after the decline of the Monkees, Davy was trading in on his teen heartthrob stature via Monkee-related reunion spots or appearances on a variety of shows from The Brady Bunch to Boy Meets World … even Dr. Phil. True, if you look deeply into his career, you will find some non-Monkee related music to his name, but from his teenage days working in various stage productions, up until the end of his life, Jones always seemed to follow a career path that would follow the spotlight as opposed to forging any deep-seated musical legacy.

Not that you could charge his former bandmates of doing things much differently. Tork and Nesmith both tried their hands at solo careers, but neither picked up much notice in their non-Monkee related outings (Tork’s various toilings eventually saw him release a solo version of “Stepping Stone,” while Nesmith was afforded the ability to do whatever he wanted or didn’t want thanks to his family’s fortune tied to Liquid Paper). Dolenz also took Jones’ multimedia route outside the Monkees, appearing in TV and on radio in various programs.

The basic truth is at one point or another, all these guys hated each other, but again at one point or another, they were all willing to put aside those differences for the payday a reunion show or tour promised. In the end, yes, the Monkees as a band—whether legitimate or not—are products of the celebrity that their creators set out to achieve.

Still, with Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith, you find yourself with something to say musically about the Monkees. Because of their collective push for creative control, the Monkees actually became a legitimate musical group as opposed to a bunch of actors singing along to prerecorded backing tracks. You can say what you want about Neil Diamond or Boyce and Hart writing the best Monkees material, but say Dolenz wrote “Randy Scouse Git” or Nesmith wrote “Listen to the Band” or Tork was actually a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist. Any of those three go and we can start breaking down whether or not Headquarters actually was a decent-to-good album (“they played all their own stuff!” vs. “much of the material was not written by them!”) or why Head‘s best songs never get the same amount of play as the best stuff on More of the Monkees.

With Jones passing on, yes, we’ve lost the guy who sang “Daydream Believer,” but Twitter’s already erupted into wars about whether “I’m a Believer” or “Last Train to Clarksville” should be used in tribute since Micky sang those songs. Does anyone want to push “The Poster” or “You and I” as proper tributes if they’re basically aimless songs? Is there a fitting tribute to be found if the first things that pop up on my Twitter feed are jokes about Marcia Brady, this happening the same day as Snooki reveals she’s pregnant or whether David Bowie now gets to reclaim his name? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that the Monkees debate to end all Monkees debates doesn’t start with Jones’ death.

For now we can remind ourselves that the Monkees outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1967. Wait a moment. Allow that to sink in.

The debate about whether that puts them in the same league with their lesser-selling peers is a debate for another day.

Just know this: That success and every Monkee fan’s favorite argument for legitimacy never would have happened if Davy Jones wasn’t a part of it.

The Monkees – Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
Like “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” this track was actually written by Mr. Jewish Elvis himself, Neil Diamond. Taken from the Monkees’ 1967 sophomore effort More of the Monkees (a piecemeal attempt by Colgems to cash in on the Monkees success, Nesmith hated the album and once called it “the worst album in the history of the world ever”), I actually think this is one of Jones’ better lead vocals for the group. Dolenz’s backing vocal threatens to overpower Jones, but Jones rises to the challenge on the chorus—listen to the growl in that “I see all kinds of sorrow” bit. It’s kind of like he’s saying “Back off. Mine.” Then he kind of undermines that strength with those “I love you” whispers over the guitar breaks, but c’est la vie. Everyone’s going to be posting “Daydream Believer” or “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” in the next couple days (or, hopefully, that great performance of “Girl” from “A Very Brady Movie”—laugh out loud worthy). Here’s a cool track that helps stoke the “Hey, you know the Monkees were actually pretty f*cking good” argument. Even if they didn’t write this or play any of the instruments.

The Monkees weren’t about music, Marge. They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!

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Then you’ll know all the heartaches of a fool just like me.

February 11, 2012

One of the nicest ladies I’ve ever known and will ever know is named Judy. She’s a family friend who’s known me before I could form memories and even though I’m knocking on 30, she still kind of sees me as the kid I once was and usually insists I take an extra brownie or slice of pie if my family and/or friends are dining at her place in the summer. She’s awesome. And for the lone fact that she’s been around the longest, she the epitome of “Judy” to me.

Others aren’t so fortunate. Apparently there are a lot of Judys running around. Maybe the Judy you know is an English-lit loving faux beat poet, maybe she’s an easy-to-impress flirt, maybe she’s an honorable take-no-mess sort. Whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of them running around.

Or at least there were. For a brief spell around the 1940s, Judy actually ranked atop the list of most popular name for baby girls. Since then it’s been a steady decline (there was a brief resurgence in the early 1990s), but according to the good people at Wikipedia (who’s accountability or accuracy I have no way of verifying), “Judith” was the 652nd most popular name for baby girls born in the United States in 2007. If anyone’s updated those rankings in the past 5 years, that information would help this paragraph, but I’m not particularly interested in digging for it.

My point is that once upon a long ago, there were an awful lot of girls named Judy running around. And there still are to a lesser extent today, but as male songwriters are always looking for muses, an awful lot of songs about women named Judy also surfaced. Enough for a double album compilation, actually. But since I haven’t done a Friday Five in a while, I thought I’d share five about Judys who seem to be cut from a different cloth than the woman who still worries herself that I’m not eating enough.

And here you thought only Crosby, Stills and Nash had got to it.

The Friday Five
Songs about Judy

Billy Bragg and the Blokes – Another Kind of Judy
Bragg’s 2002 album, England, Half English got a lot of stick for pulling Billy down a pubrock route, but I’ve always thought it was a fine little album. It has Ian McLagan on it, for God’s sake. And really, when you get down to it, songs like “Take Down the Union Jack” and “NPWA” are right in line with everything he’d done before. The change came with songs like this one and “Jane Allen,” where he mused on middle age and looking at women in a completely different way than “The Saturday Boy” once did. This Judy? Well, she’s another kind of Judy, obviously—a single mom who’s younger than our narrator and seems to have the ability to spark the fond remembrance of youth only to ultimately prove that remembrance, like youth itself, is a fleeting thing. She actually makes him realize he needs to change, although that’s a hard concept to grapple with if it means forsaking one’s own record collection. Seriously. The lyric “She filled my head with the awful noise of her disappointment and the Pet Shop Boys” makes the whole song. Although I’ve always wanted to ask Bragg’s sometime collaborator Johnny Marr (who’s also a sometime Pet Shop Boys collaborator) for his thoughts on the line.

Bobby Darin – Judy, Don’t Be Moody
This is a cut from Darin’s self-titled debut in 1958. It’s a pretty interesting record—Darin lending his vocals to backing music more in line with the budding rock ‘n’ roll movement as opposed to the big band swing that would dominate his career (and a genre he would dominate, mind). You hear a couple of the vocal ticks that’ll reappear on some of his more well known stuff (listen to the hiccup the last time he sings “Don’t be moody,” a trick he’d bring back in on “Mack the Knife”). The Judy in question on this song seems to be like girls I’ve previously dated—a little self-conscious and paranoid about my impressions of them. Although to be fair, Darin’s buddies apparently aren’t doing him any favors by ratting about his dates with Rosemary, so Bobby finds himself having to do a little more reassuring than your average guy going out with an insecure gal. But when facing an inquisition about the possible other woman, Darin calmly responds: “Why should you think it’s true? Baby, baby, it could never be.” How can you argue with that? It’s not as if guys lie about that kind of stuff …

Hoagy Carmichael – Judy
The oldest cut on this list, dating all the way back to 1934. That means, yes, that Judys were tormenting poor dudes even then. Carmichael takes the vocal here, but the lyrics were actually penned by Sammy Lerner (famous for having penned “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”). This song’s Judy sets Carmichael’s heart aglow like Bragg’s Judy (albeit without the kid), only to inevitably leave him disappointed and forevermore jaded, like every other female muse in the history of pop music. A subsequent factoid illustrates a pretty horrendous difference between men and women. Men would hear this kind of song and share a sympathetic pat on the back and share a heartbreak story of their own. Women would hear this and aspire to be this shatterer-of-dreams. Case in point: A young actress named Frances Gumm heard this song and thought of a stage name. You know her as Judy Garland. Damn.

John Fred & His Playboy Band – Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)
Totally kickass song from 1968. I don’t know much about Fred or his band of Playboys, but I’ve loved this song ever since I was digging oldies radio in my youth. It’s one of those songs that has a melody and hook that takes your mind off the lyrics. If you actually examine them, though, it’s eye-opening. This particular Judy carries a bit of that multiple personality disorder that I might find briefly intriguing at the start of a relationship but positively annoying—if not horrifying—two weeks later. OK, OK, those are some convincing sexy-time groans. Three weeks later. Fred’s Judy seems to be a bit klepto, “taking everything in sight except for the strings on my kite,” so you have to wonder about from where the bracelets and brand new car came. Judging by the allusions to lemonade pie and cantaloupe eyes, I’m also figuring she’s got a slight citrus fixation or has supplied this poor man with heavy doses of psychedelics. I’m going to conclude it’s the latter (or that Fred too has reached his three-week threshold), since he ultimately dismisses her as no more than “a circus of horrors.”

Ramones – Judy is a Punk
A minute and a half of classic energy from the Ramones’ 1976 self-titled debut. The title’s totally misleading. Jackie’s actually the punk, while Judy is a runt. And Sheena is a punk rocker, but I’m not sure if that’s quite the same thing. Maybe it’s the fact that even though she is a runt, she’s willing to go down to Berlin and skate that makes her a punk. Or maybe being a runt with a friend who’s a punk but not acknowledging yourself as a punk is somewhat punk in itself. I don’t know. I certainly don’t make the rules and I’ve never paid much attention to them. For all the bottled energy here, the Ramones’ Judy actually seems the most stable mate on offer here. She’s goal-oriented, doesn’t let her shortcomings produce any apparent insecurity, is tough enough to join a radical left-wing army, and perhaps she’ll die, but c’est la vie, right? Tell me this Judy doesn’t make the best case of any on offer here.

Moral of the story? If your name is Judy, be cool. There’s a whole litany of illspeak about you already and you don’t want to add to it. Try taking a young boy under your wing and making sure he eats enough and gets enough dessert. The whole world will think better of you.

Happy weekend, all.