Some rock ‘n roll histories are designed to tell the stories of significant performers, genres, composers, producers, or record companies that shed light on the backgrounds, influences on, and legacies of their respective subjects. Some rely on considerable research, interviews, or their own experiences to go behind the scenes to show how popular music was made. Some of these histories go beyond the music and reveal much about the culture of the times and and are more than an exploration of a particular band or performer.
Other books have a more specific focus with a much more targeted audience. Such titles are often written by devoted fans and are usually meant to interest fellow aficionados of a particular group or personality. Such is the case for Looking for the Good Times—it’s obviously meant for Monkees fans who don’t mind reads based on personal opinions and not so much critical analysis.
Following a concise history of the group, The book looks at the complete Monkees song canon arranged in chronological order based on recording dates. The authors believe this order also helps show the evolution, or devolution depending on your point of view, of the band as it changed more than some listeners might think. The authors include pretty much every song issued during the 1960s run, many tunes issued on various compilations in the subsequent decades, some tracks the authors never heard but apparently found listed somewhere, alternate takes, rehearsal jams, and some rehearsal bits released on one post-break-up collection or another. A sample “analysis” should illustrate what the book is all about:
VALLERI (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart)
Monkee involvement: Vocals by Davy Jones
Recording dates: August 6,1966; August 27,1966; December 26,1967; December 28,1967
Highest chart position: #3 single
Original release date: March 2,1968 from 7" single and THE BIRDS, THE BEES
AND THE MONKEES
Mark: I love, love, love this song and its brass. I also love the flamenco guitar even if Nesmith really isn't playing it. The version I love best is the fade-out version from this album rather than the abrupt cold ending.
A first recorded version appears on the 2006 MORE OF THE MONKEES DELUXE EDITION CD. This is one is basically the version heard on the TV show, which originally appeared on MISSING LINKS, VOLUME 2 (1990). It's a little more lax than the punched-up single version.
Michael: I don't share in the love for this simple little song. In fact, Michael Nesmith is reported to have said that this was the worst song ever. I don't think I'd go that far. The performance is pretty good, and the horns improve the song tremendously from the earlier version done for the TV show, but the words are simple and the tune basically consists of the hook and then two lines, repeated in various ways.
This song fits much better in 1966 when it was first recorded, before the show even debuted. They redid it here and added horns, and it is a better version but it still sounds dated, since music had changed so much in that short period of time.
This was their last hit single, released at the tail end of the TV show before the summer repeats kicked in.
While promo for the book touts interviews with folks like Gene Cornish (The Rascals), Ron Dante (The Archies), Tommy James (The Shondells), Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits), and actor Butch Patrick, these aren’t interviews but are instead short anecdotes and remembrances by fellow travelers of ‘60s popular culture. Not essential reading, but little bits of fun. Just like the introduction written by Howard Kaylan of The Turtles.
Clearly, interest in the music of The Monkees will be what draws readers to this volume, or not. Unless you’ve devoted the same amount of time to listening to all those hours of Monkees records, out-takes, deep cuts, and alternate versions, readers will likely learn all sorts of trivia they didn’t know before. Me, I decided there’s a large body of Monkee music, especially the Missing Links collections, that I have missed and should try out. Others might like to compare their own knowledge with the authors. For example, the writers don’t seem to know Buffy Ford Stewart, the widow of ex-Kinston Trio member John Stewart, inspired "Daydream Believer," and recorded her own version of the song with Davy Jones in what many believe was his last recording session. Oh, and she really was a homecoming queen.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand the title to this book—“Long Title?” Well, a not-so-important observation. If you’re a Monkees diehard, here’s a little nugget for you.
This review, in a slightly different form, first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Nov. 29, 2017: