I was introduced to The Monkees as a kid. Long past their days of the phenomenon they were in the mid to late sixties. I had a cassette tape of their greatest hits my mom gave me, and that’s how I knew them. I didn’t know they were a made-for-TV fake pop band at their inception. To me, they were just a band. I knew their names. I knew their voices. I knew their music. That’s what mattered to me as a kid. Not who played the instruments on their first two albums, just the music.
It wasn’t until Justus and the TV special episode of their show in the late 90s that I learned that they were, indeed, an assembled group of guys who were supposed to pretend to be a band. Learning this didn’t affect my view of their music, but it did encourage my curiosity to know more about them. I read more, listened more, and watched more. I learned that while they may have had little input on their first two albums, they fought for and gained creative control over their music. I learned that their third album, Headquarters, was entirely produced by the fake band that was previously called out for not playing their own instruments. I learned about their psychedelic cult film Head. I learned about how they’d eventually go their own ways, regain popularity again in the 80s, and make one last album in the 90s. I listened to every song, every “missing link,” and every deluxe album. I can hum and sing along with all their tunes. They’ve become a part of me – defining my tastes and curating my sense of humor. When Davy Jones passed away in 2012, I felt a sense of loss I can’t say I’ve ever experienced with the death of a celebrity, and I was sure The Monkees were over.
It’s been twenty years since the last Monkees studio album was released. While the previous two reunion albums, Pool it! and Justus, attempted to be more contemporary with the music that was hot at the time, Good Times! takes a different approach by bringing the band back to their roots. The new album features new tracks written specifically for The Monkees by a variety of talented artists including original Monkees songwriters Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart. Included in the new cast of writers is Andy Partridge of XTC, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, among others. The surviving three Monkees didn’t just sit this one out and provide vocals, however, with Peter, Micky, and Mike penning three tracks on the 13-track album and, yes, playing their own instruments.
The album starts strong with the title track “Good Times.” It’s a song that dives into the backlog of Monkees history with duet vocals provided by the late Harry Nilsson, who wrote the track, and Micky Dolenz. It’s a great, energetic frame for the album that follows. Davy Jones’ unparalleled charm is also brought back to life on Good Times! with the Neil Diamond penned “Love to Love.” While the song may be familiar to some fans, the track never got a proper release, having only been previously included in one of the Missing Links collections.
Good Times! invites you on a journey through the past and the band’s evolution, and it gives you 13 good reasons to take that journey. From upbeat bubblegum songs like “You Bring the Summer” and “She Makes Me Laugh” to more somber and thoughtful tracks like “Me & Magdalena” and “I Know What I Know” – both featuring Mike Nesmith on lead vocals – Good Times! has a solid variety of tunes that would feel at home on any of the band’s first 9 albums.
I’ve listened to the album several times now – each time with an ear-to-ear grin – and there aren’t any duds. Some songs may not stand out quite as strong, but there isn’t a weak track to be found. Having grown up listening to The Monkees, and having little hope that I’d ever hear new songs from them, it’s strangely emotional to hear this new material. The experience of hearing these familiar sounds and voices in something entirely new is overwhelming. Good Times! perfectly encapsulates everything that made The Monkees speak to me so strongly growing up. It’s a striking return to form and a beautiful love letter to their fans and their legacy. It’s an absolutely perfect way to come back… and say goodbye.
Good – 3 / 3