|Rivalry? What rivalry? Michael Nesmith and John Lennon|
I'm not one to shy away from an a good music debate (John Cougar Monkfish, anyone?) but I like it when it stays civil and fun.
I especially like a conversation that makes me (or perhaps the person I'm talking to) seek out some of the tunes being discussed. When there's a moment of "Holy moly! I thought I was the only one that liked that song/artist/band/genre."
One of those chats occurred the other day. By the end of it I was seeking out my copy of Billy Joel's Cold Spring Harbor, an album famous for being mistakenly mastered at a higher speed. You realize what a wonderful album it is that sets him up for greater success.
Music can come and go emotionally. The song you detested in 1986 is beloved today. A band like U2 can be genius circa 1982-1985 before The Joshua Tree destroys it. It takes 15 years to come back to them, only to have life sort of ruin it.
A song like "Take On Me" can go from being "meh" to annoying to detested to laughed at (thank you, Family Guy) as you connect with your child over it.
It's all truly personal preference, though one has to try to be fair, like it or not. I get it: Mr. Mellancamp has sold millions. Of the nearly 17,000 songs in the iTunes on the computer I'm typing from, I spy three songs of his that were undoubtedly given to me or part of some collection. He is, no doubt, a talented musician. Again. You have to be fair.
Another recent conversation revealed a fondness for "Let It Grow" by Eric Claption. It creates one of those moments when the conversation hits stunned silence at the discovery of something that you didn't expect. Yes, indeed.
Still another conversation got me thinking about The Monkees. I always love the narrative that gets created (by fans and media, of course) of a rivalry between The Beatles and The Monkees (and of course, between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones).
None existed, folks. Hit the Googler (or look at the top of this post). Discover it for yourself. See how both Nesmith and Dolenz were hanging out at Abbey Road with John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
If anything, "rivalries" occasionally produce music. Without Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, we might not get Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Liverpool Lads.
I cant tell you that I liked the Pre-Fab Four, and of course loved the show. The music, especially the earlier work had tremendous songwriting behind them (Neil Diamond, Carole King, Harry Nilsson, among others). But wait! There's more!
Now I'm not here to tell you The Monkees are better than The Beatles. You know from hanging around these parts that The Beatles are in my blood, so I will always be a bigger fan of theirs. That's where personal preference comes in (and sometimes, with it, a certain level of "guilt."**) I'm not going to tell you Huey Lewis and the News are America's GREATEST BAND, but I'm sure going to tell you that they don't necessarily get the respect they deserve. They are what they are.
** Bonus reading at the bottom as we hit the Exit 55 WAYBACK MACHINE!
I will say the same about The Monkees. Their hits are monsters, and yes, they didn't play on them...blah blah blah. It's still their voices. Look, let's not go there. This isn't Milli Vanilli we're talking about. Yet we tend to overlook them as being a goofy novelty act without digging deeper. I submit to you a couple of tunes.
"Listen to The Band" Just when you want to say, "Oh this is just some Mike Nesmith country-western twang thang," stop. Immediately(because even if it was, so what?). Listen to the horns kick in. His vocal works perfectly. There's a great bass line in there. I was stunned to rediscover this one.
You can hear why "Papa Nez" has his cult following. Now listen to "Words" in which you get the great vocal of Micky Dolenz, but check out the harmonizing and co-lead vocal of Peter Tork. Often thought of as, arguably, the Monkee with the best instrumental chops, you hear another dimension. Again, there's a great bass line (Nesmith plays that one, with Tork on lead guitar).
Lastly, check out "Randy Scouse Git (Alternate Title)" with its reference to the "Four Kings of EMI." (The Beatles, of course)
I love a song with depth. A tympani drum? The piano interlude in the beginning? Nesmith yawning in the video? OK, that last piece has nothing to do with the song itself, but still. Read Wikipedia for more on it.
Unless you really know their music you're probably not aware of these tunes.
Look, I'm not trying to get them elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but let's be honest, are the Monkees better than, er, Mr. Mellancamp (who is, shamefully, in)? Again, personal preference, but it's a debate worth having.
Anyway, the point of this exercise was to discuss how a great conversation, a moment, a thought, can lead one to discover or rediscover music. There are certain bridges that likely will never be crossed, but there are others that, with an open mind, can lead to a whole new world that the wisdom of time can give.
** I said we'd hit the WAYBACK MACHINE (Sherman and Peabody are nowhere to be found for this). Back to 2009 we go, when I previously wrote about guilty pleasure in music.