Inside the handsome 26-page booklet that accompanies this double-CD reissue, there's a photo captioned "Producer Jeff Barry works with Mike Nesmith on a rejected lead vocal for 'I'm a Believer,' October 1966." Barry, wearing a cowboy hat and shades, is poised in front of a microphone while Nesmith, looking like a scolded child, is glaring at the camera. It says a lot about the dilemma that the Monkees found themselves in on their second album.
Conceived by publishing mogul Don Kirshner and two television writers, the Monkees were never meant to be an actual band. They were actors. But their debut album sold five million copies and was number one for thirteen weeks.
As Monkeemania exploded, it quickly revealed a flaw in Kirshner's design. Namely, the four Monkees had opinions. At first, they were content to play a band on TV. Now they wanted to be a real band who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. Hence the daggers in Nesmith's eyes.
Though the boys didn't quite get their creative druthers on this album (two songs are penned by Nesmith), they do seem more committed than on their debut, turning in some rousing vocal performances. Mickey Dolenz is especially convincing on the now-classic hits "I'm A Believer" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," while Davy Jones plays the doe-eyed lover on "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)" and Nesmith channels Buddy Holly on "The Kind Of Girl I Could Love."
But why the two-disc treatment? Disc 1 has the original stereo album, Disc 2 the original mono album. And both are fleshed out with bonus tracks, seventeen in all. While a few seem gratuitous (an alternate mix of "I'm A Believer"), there are some unheard treasures here, such as the psychedelic chamber-pop of "Mr. Webster" (love that harpsichord) and Goffin & King's "I Don't Think You Know Me," which sounds like it might've been a rejected single for the Byrds.
Rhino's customary excellence is on display throughout, from Bill Inglot's audio remastering to Andrew Sandoval's detailed liner notes (did you know that studio aces like James Burton, Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine are all over the Monkees' records?) to the unseen photos (those double-breasted shirts still look pretty groovy).
But nostalgia and kitsch aside, the question remains: Do the Monkees really warrant this kind of deluxe treatment? They're not the Beatles or the Beach Boys, after all. They're not even the Zombies or the Kinks. Put in that kind of company and context, it really does seem like they were just monkeying around.
So as much fun as this is, it's for hardcore simians only.