As longtime DM readers know, my Monkees fandom is not casual. It runs pretty deep. So it came as quite a surprise to me to find out that not only was there a box set of their 1969 Instant Replay album, it came out a long time ago. There’s even been a subsequent box set and I hadn’t heard of that one, either. I’m also friends with Andrew Sandoval, the ace producer behind all the amazing and lovingly compiled Monkees’ releases. How this slipped past me is a mystery, but thanks to Jason Elzy at Rhino, I have now been enlightened (which is to say fab Jason sent me one recently).
I could go on about what a great package the Instant Replay box is—it’s quite good as these things go with a clear plastic “window” overlay on the front of the box which is the same size as a 45rpm record (two are included in the set), three CDs with TONS of unreleased Monkees material and Andrew Sandoval’s always superb liner notes—but what I want to concentrate on is what a goddamned musical genius Michael Nesmith is!
It pains me, just pains me, to consider how little credit this guy gets as a musician and songwriter—I’m sure it doesn’t bother him that much, he’s an extremely wealthy man, accomplished in many fields, but I’m upset for Papa Nez, goddamnit!
If you know how the Monkees records were made, Headquarters aside, it usually wasn’t so much of a “group” effort as it was Micky or Davy singing on a track produced by the finest musical talents in Hollywood (usually the Wrecking Crew) and written by the likes of Boyce & Hart, Goffin and King, Neil Diamond, etc. or Mike Nesmith working on his own stuff (often with the very same musicians his fellow Monkees worked with—”Sweet Young Thing” was written by Nesmith, Gerry Goffin and Carole King—but he was much more hands-on with his recording sessions. Generally speaking, that’s what happened, and Nesmith’s more countryfied contribution to the Monkees’ overall gestalt, I’d argue, can stand alone, and be evaluated apart from the Monkees context.
In other words, what would an overall career box set retrospective of Nesmith’s work look like? (Note to Papa Nez, if you are reading this: Hire Andrew to do this for you!) It would be pretty amazing, I’d wager and would do a lot of the work towards establishing Nesmith’s rightful place in the 60/70s Laurel Canyon/country rock pantheon, something critically denied to him because, of course, he was on a kids show. MOJO readers would eat it up.
This Instant Replay box set is absolutely bursting at the seams with little-known or previously unheard gems, including the majority of Nesmith’s sessions recorded at RCA Studios in Nashville in 1968. As pointed out in the liner notes, Nesmith, the group’s most prolific member had quite a stack of incredible unused songs, but why they were never chosen for release at the time is baffling. In terms of the country rock hybrid sound, Nesmith—clearly—was a visionary of the form. He can be credited as much as ANYONE—including The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, even CSNY—with inventing the sound. Mike Nesmith was doing country rock dating to 1966’s “Papa Gene’s Blues” on the first Monkees album. Give the man a lil’ credit where some visionary credit is definitely due!
Here’s a sampling of the Nesmith songs heard on the Instant Replay box (might not necessarily be the exact version, everything isn’t on YouTube):
“St. Matthew”: This one kills me. My favorite song at the moment. I listened to this on repeat for most of last week:
“I Won’t Be The Same Without Her”:
“Some of Shelly’s Blues”:
“Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)”:
“The Crippled Lion”:
“If I Ever Get to Saginaw Again”:
The gorgeous “Nine Times Blue” on The Johnny Cash Show in 1969: