The first line in the Introduction of Andrew Hickey’s ‘Monkee Music’ is a question: “Why would anyone write a book on the Monkees’ music?”
Well, first off, it’s a stupid question, Andrew – thousands of books have been written about the music of infinitely more obscure, and lesser, rock artists and/or groups than the Monkees; huge, staggeringly in-depth histories, analyses and deep critical, intensely-researched tomes that both revere and meticulously document every single recorded song, from artists as wide-ranging as Doris Day to ‘Weird’ Al Yankovich, and the questions as to why a history of their music has been given such scholarly attention and careful revisionist treatment of are no more or less worthy of answering than one would attempt to explain the existence of written instructions on opening a carton of milk or the proper unpacking of a new toaster oven.
A much more pressing question might be, “Why would anyone write this kind of book on the Monkees’ music?” I read it cover to cover and I still can’t expectorate a defensible explanation for this book’s existence. Y’think that maybe sometimes a book is written, printed and published solely to prove that an author’s own grossly overrated sense of self-importance and individual need to create such a document as verification of his/her own perceived ‘higher knowledge’ of any given subject might be a factor? Because it’s pretty damn near impossible to finish this book and justify in any logical manner why it should have been written in the first place.
Gosh, I don’t know, maybe I’m the only person who was ever so slightly impressed by such a mundane fact that, in 1967, the year of the Beatles’ legendary ‘Sgt Pepper’ album and Jimi Hendrix’s debut LP, the Monkees’ first two albums sold more that year than the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis and Jimi Hendrix combined?? Or the ‘ho-hum’ acknowledgement that the Monkees’ first single release, ‘Last Train To Clarksville’, written by two unknown songwriters, performed and recorded by a stellar lineup of equally-unknown studio musicians, with only a single vocal part contributed from one actual ‘Monkee’, shot up to the Number One spot in the country’s Pop charts months before a single Monkees’ television episode aired, or barely a one of those sixteen million record buyers could even name all four ‘band’ members of this as yet non-existent ‘group’?? Surely that trifling information wouldn’t merit a second look at the significance and endurance of this ‘pre-fabricated’ group’s teenybopper music, much less than an entire book about such adolescent, throwaway nonsense should receive? The very idea itself seems rather ridiculous, doesn’t it?
All facetiousness aside (temporarily): Please allow me to explain why this ‘Monkee Music’ book infuriates me so much: the author who decided to undertake this elementary task is as ignorant of the Monkees’ music, history, artistic intent and its cultural impact as he is of his own hubris in “analyzing” a subject he obviously has very little insight about.
Mr. Hickey believes that some clever, disposable commentary, interspersed with a variety of ‘intimate revelations’, tedious and useless technical chord-progression descriptions of some songs (“A simple four-chord song, based on a variant of the three chord trick substituting ii for IV in the verses, with a key change to IV in the chorus..”) and pontificating on selected, ‘overlooked’ tracks, while dismissing other, supremely popular songs entirely, is actually going to convince true Monkees fans that he’s written something more than a badly-researched essay that wouldn’t pass as a community college thesis requirement. This unfocused, ill-prepared “analysis of every studio track the Monkees ever released” suffers from the same conceit that has so sharply divided critics and pop music fans alike since the very first rumblings from the music community upon the not-so-secret ‘realization’ that – gasp! - the Monkees didn’t play on their own records! The horror! In recounting the major, near-disastrous threats to our domestic security that the U.S. narrowly avoided in the turbulent sixties, only the Cuban Missile Crisis could lay claim to being nearly as potentially devastating to our fragile collective American psyche and standing in the world community as this ‘non-participation’ by Davy, Micky, Mike and Peter in the music-making process of ‘I’m A Believer’! What other nation could have persevered through such blasphemy and disregard as nobly as our own United States in the face of such horrific reality?
I’m disgusted at paying over $15 for a cheaply-thrown-together ‘vanity’ project- a throwaway, redundant checklist of recorded music that wastes 200-plus pages of otherwise useful paper to spout clueless opinions about a sixties TV cast of young actors thrown together as musicians, and this punk writer Hickey thinks he has their music all figured out, that his vapid, condescending ‘analyses’ are even worth glancing sideways at.
WHO is this book written for?! Whether you’re a huge, or just casual, Monkees fan, no one needs a breakdown of the musical structure behind an all-but-unknown song titled ‘My Share of the Sidewalk’ (“…intro of four bars of 5/4.. breaks down as two bars of 7/4, two of 4/4 and one more of 7/4…“), any more than you need to read for the 1000th time that Davy was the least musically inclined of the group.
What made me reflexively curse this lousy book in contempt, though, was the author’s own admissions, such as “not being sure” whether or not Davy is singing a backing vocal on Micky’s ‘Randy Scouse Git’, or if Mike Nesmith indeed plays the innovative guitar riff running through ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’! Hey, it’s alright for the average Monkees‘ fan to not know these things – it’s a blatantly stupid thing to write as a self-proclaimed ‘authority’ on the Monkees’ music. Hickey’s text is littered by ambiguous contributions regarding, say, vocal parts that any Monkees’ fan who can distinguish between four very different singers have never had to think twice about. There are fine writers such as Andrew Sandoval and Glenn A. Baker, solid authorities on the Monkees and their music, with literally four decades of simply listening and appreciating their recorded discography – Hickey thinks so little of his subject that he assumes every other reader and follower of the Monkees’ history has never bothered doing similar research. But hot damn, we’re well-versed in Carole King’s “metrically difficult” composition ‘As We Go Along’ – “starting out with an extended intro in 5/4 once Dolenz’s vocal comes in (sic) we have a verse of three bars of 5/4 (in one of which the bass accentuates the wrong beat, adding to the metrical confusion -” he goes on to much more clearly explain that “the bass seems to be implying that these fifteen beats should be broken up six, four, five rather than the five, five, five everything else implies) one of 6/4, three of 3/4 and one of 6/4.” However, he does reassure us that “The chorus, though, is in pretty straight sixes.” Well, la dee dah. Anyone who makes sense of that crap other than Hickey must be a pathetically dried-up shell of an actual personality that would put a music class to sleep with that kind of lesson.
This book is an insult to publishing, to readers both curious and cautious, to any place that sells it, and to every tree that was sacrificed to produce it. Horrifyingly enough, Hickey has also written such page-turners as ‘The Beatles In Mono’ and ‘The Beach Boys On CD Vol. 1: The 1960s’, for those of a newer generation who are dead set on completely misinterpreting every classic sixties song and group history in their lifetime.