Monday, December 04, 2006

Nesmith videos

A few posts back I did my imitation of a teen girl gushing over her rock band crush when I talked about my purchase of the new Mike Nesmith and Lambchop albums. I always like sharing things I like with people I like, so I'd really love (make that like) to post a few of my favorite Mike Nesmith songs and then you could judge for yourselves. Unfortunately, that's illegal. So I am going to turn instead to our friends at YouTube and use links to stuff that's there. The main drawback to this is that I can only link to whatever they happen to have instead of what I most like, which isn't always the same. Also, since YouTube is a video site, what's there is the Nesmith videos from when he was inventing music video in 1982 and Monkees videos. Still, it's a start.

For lack of a better idea, I'm going to start as far back in time as I can go, which means I'm starting with the Monkees. As most of you are well aware, the Monkees were not a real band for a long time. They were actors hired to play a band on a comedy show. This normally would be fine, but 1) the songs were so immensely popular that they outsold the Beatles (the Monkees outsold Sergeant Pepper in '67, and if you are putting up numbers like that people want some artistic merit, and 2) they happened to be envisioned in 1965 when it was common place for pop bands to sing other people's songs on top of studio musicians, but they actually came out when the rock world was changing to the politically charged psychedelic world of the singer-songwriter and the summer of love. If you look at enough of the videos I will link to, you will see this transition. This all meant that they had one incredibly successful year, then one mediocre year, then the show was done. Despite the fact that the Monkees were hired as actors, they always sang their songs, which of course is how most pop musicians now do things again, and somehow Nesmith, who was always a guitarist and songwriter, got a couple of his tracks on every album from the first all the way up.

Here is a YouTube video of one of Nez' songs on the very first album called Papa Gene's Blues.

Monkees - Papa Gene's Blues

The format for the first two Monkees albums was that the albums were filled with (often quite good) tracks from other songwriters with Mickey or Davy singing - and two Nez tracks. Except for Daydream Believer, all the big hits were Mickey sung and he did have a fine pop voice. Nez had some success as a songwriter while a Monkee. He actually penned Linda Ronstadt's first big hit - Different Drum. Here's a live version of it, since that's all YouTube has. I would guess 1966 or so still.

Stone Pony's Different Drum

And in case you don't really believe that Ronstadt tunes were penned by a Monkee, here is a comedy version of the song on the show performed by Mike.

Monkees - Different Drum bit

I've found a fair list of Nez Monkees tunes on YouTube. Here are some links if you wanna go crazy. These are all Nez tunes and usually Nez sung, but a couple are Mickey sung as well. My favorites are closer to the top. Oh, wait, What Am I Doing Hangin' Round is Nez sung, selected, and produced, but not written. (The sound doesn't always sync in these.)

What Am I Doin' Hanging Round?
The Girl That I Knew SomewhereA sprightly Nez rocker as it is always called. Sound's not quite right.
You Just May Be The One
Sunny Girlfriend
Mary Mary(If this sound vaguely familiar, RunDMC covered it in the 80s.)
Sweet Young Thing. Another Nez sort of rocker
Daily Nightly Supposedly one of the first uses of the Moog syntheizer in a commerical context. Nez's lyrics are going off into word poems (and drugs).
Listen To The BandStarts with the Monkees playing a nice country rock number. Turns into.... no idea. Nothing good.

One notable song of Nez' which all hardcore Monkees / Nez fans know is Circle Sky. In '67, the Monkees decided to go on tour, which meant that everyone else had to play instruments suddenly. They did a decent job learning all the Monkees hits (but not a great one if you hear the '67 Live album). One contribution Nez made to the project was writing a classic garage band song that would be incredibly easy to play. The verses only have one real chord and the refrain three. In watching this video, you can see why the Monkees died within 3 years of outdoing the Beatles in popularity. On the one hand, we have a nonsense garage song as the music. But then this is 67 or 68 when you had to have a political position and you will see this rock number interspersed with shots from the Vietnam war, including an execution. And yet, watch the girls in the audience screaming during the tune. They aren't there for anti-war expressions. They are there to scream at their adorable Monkees. The Monkees didn't know how to make the transition and they went away. You stay bubblegum, and you are trivial and meaningless. You go political, and you lose your fans. Anyway, the video:

Monkees - Circle Sky

If you want to see more Monkees stuff such as I'm a Believer and Daydream Believer, there's a good bit on YouTube that you can get nostalgic with.

Peter Tork (who incidentally went to my and N's college) left the Monkees first and Nez followed soon after. He recorded a bunch of country rock albums in the early 70s that will be his claim to musical history, as he was exploring the world of country rock just on the cusp of its birth. Graham Parsons and the Eagles and such will all start recording a year or two later. There are really no Nez solo songs from the early 70s on YouTube. However, I did find this Monkees clip which is a song only released on one of Nez' solo albums and is exactly the right sort of material. I think this is an appearance on Johnny Cash' show.

Monkees - Nine Times Blue

Here are two more tunes from Nez' early solo period. The first is a beautiful song called "propinquity" which someone set to his own drawings.

Nez - Propinquity

And then here, we've got a couple guys doing a cover of Nez' Crippled Lion. They really do a bang-up job, though they are missing a couple instruments.

Sorta Nez - Crippled Lion

In the late 70s Nez re-discovered video just as home video was starting to take-off. It's rather difficult to see these videos today as they were seen in 1980-82, but these are all, I believe, from Nez' video Elephant Parts, which won the first ever Grammy for music video. Nez' role is not exactly clear, but he seems to have been one of the first people tagged to create MTV, due to this and other video work, but he backed out. Here is probably his best tune from this period, called Rio, and you will see that the comedy is back.

Nez - Rio

Pretty hard to see what Nez is up to on this one (Cruisin'), but if you are unclear about his seriousness on this one, just skip to about 3:15, and he makes it clear how seriously he's taking this.

Nez - Cruisin'

Along the same vein, Nez was a movie producer at this time and produced RepoMan (a cult movie I've never really liked) and Tapeheads. Tapeheads stars an early John Cusack and Tim Robbins as slimy music video producers who produce the stupidest junk they can think of - which looks exactly like early 80s music videos which everyone thought were amazing. I can recommend it.

Elephant Parts was the 45 minute video which won the Grammy and it is a combination of videos like the above and comedy skits. Some excerpts of the comedy bits can be seen here.

Nez - Elephant Parts - Excerpts

There was a network TV show that followed called Television Parts - that was cancelled before the first season ended.

And, unfortunately, this is where I have to end. YouTube has no Nesmith after the early 80s, even though probably his best album "Tropical Campfires" is yet to come. Perhaps the best place to get a sampling of Nez is on the Live at the Britt Festival live CDs in the mid 90s. CD 1 is the 70s stuff. CD 2 is Tropical Campfires. You can get snippets here.

You can hear a streaming version of the latest album here.

And just for old times sake, here is the great Monkees reunion concert from 1996 when they finally talked Nez into joining them. He only made it for one concert and took off again, but you can see them doing Circle Sky yet again.

Monkees - Circle Sky

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