Archive for the Hidden Americana Category

Hidden Americana: The Monkees

Posted in Hidden Americana, Michael Nesmith, The Monkees on January 9, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I’ve been working as an Americana DJ for the better part of the last decade now, and I’m always coming across new music that I’d love to share on my show (& now my blog). Most of this music comes from the usual sources and the usual suspects… but every now and then, I’ll find Americana music in the strangest of places.

Lots of times, artists who are not typically considered as Americana or Roots artists will release a song or an album that crosses over into our rootsy realm. I may not always be able to put these songs or artists into rotation at the radio station, but here I have a little more freedom to share what I want. With that in mind, I bring you “Hidden Americana” …Americana music found in unlikely places.

Today’s inaugural installment comes to us courtesy of “The Pre-Fab Four,” 1960’s television and pop stars, The Monkees and the group’s resident songwriter Michael Nesmith. Nesmith was the most vocal member of the group when it came to fighting for the members of the band to actually have input in the music. He viewed himself as a musicain first and an actor/pop icon second. It’s no surprise then that after leaving the Monkees in 1969, Nesmith went on to have a strong solo career. He even became one of the artists at the vanguard of the burgeoning County-Rock movement in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Most people who know Nesmith only from his time with The Monkees find it hard to belive that he could have really graduated from bubble gum pop to Cosmic American Music as he did. If you were really paying attention to the credits on those early Monkees albums, however, the clues were there from the start.

Just look at the songwriting credits for The Monkees’ first two albums, 1966’s The Monkees & 1967’s More of The Monkees. Most of the songs are written by certified hit makers such as Gerry Goffin, Carol King, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Carol Bayer Sager, Neil Sedaka… even Neil Diamond. There’s also at least one song on each album that was written solely by Nesmith. That’s quite a contribution for two records where most of the playing, writing, and production was handled by industry professionals rather than actual members of the band.

Nesmith’s main contribution to The Monkees was a song called “Papa Gene’s Blues” (he also co-wrote “Sweet Young Thing” with Goffin & King). Even as a kid who was swept up in The Monkees’ revival of the ’80s, I could tell there was something a little different about this track compared to the rest of the album. Ricky Nelson’s side man James Burton and his “magic fingers” provide a great rockabilly guitar solo, and infectious Tex-Mex percussive elements are sprinkled throughout. This is a jubilant and joyous song that has always been one of my favorite Monkees tracks.

One of Nesmith’s contributions (he also wrote “Mary Mary”) to the second album, More of the Monkees, follows a similar path. “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” is, lyrically, a simple love song. What sets it apart from the album’s other tracks, including smash hits “I’m a Believer” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” is the same thing that distinguished “Papa Gene’s Blues” …the music. While this will never be mistaken for a “Country” song, the guitar work on this track keeps the feel of a late night honky-tonk bubbling up near the surface. Once again… you can thank James Burton for that.

I’m also including one track from Nesmith’s solo career to illustrate the direction his music turned after leaving The Monkees. This track is called “Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)” and comes from the 1972 album Nevada Fighter.

The Monkees: Papa Gene’s Blues (Buy Album)
The Monkees: The Kind of Girl I Could Love (Buy Album)
Michael Nesmith: Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care) (Buy Album)