Articles by Lopy

Certain Songs #1195: The Monkees – “Daydream Believer”

Album: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees
Year: 1968

One of the many ironies about The Monkees was that their least photogenic guy was their best singer by miles, which kinda undercut the “American Beatles” vibe they were going for, as manifested by the casting of an actual Brit, David Jones, as “the cute one,” Davy.

There was another David Jones on the British rock scene in the mid-1960s, but the story has always been that to avoid any kind of confusion between the two David Joneses — though there wasn’t ever any confusion a decade later between Mick Jones of The Clash & Mick Jones of Foreigner — he changed his last name to “Bowie,” which led me to wonder: forget Stephen Stills, what would The Monkees as both a TV show and a band been like had the other David Jones tried out?

I mean, while he wasn’t quite as conventionally cute as Davy Jones, Bowie was no doubt dripping with charisma even back then, and his love of artifice might have made him as much of a fit as Jones was. No doubt he would have been fine with the “falling in love” sparkle eye effect — the precursor to the “heart eyes” emoji — that they used on Jones whenever he saw a gear bird.

Hell, the TV show was cancelled early enough that Bowie still could have written and released “Space Oddity,” in 1969 and gone on to have the rest of his career while the other David Jones continued on with his theatrical career. And while its hard to imagine Head being even weirder than it actually was, with Bowie on board, it no doubt would have been, because David Bowie.

What I can totally imagine, though, is David Bowie singing “Daydream Believer.” And now, so can you. Listen hard enough, and you can totally hear him on the the utterly pop-tastic chorus.

Cheer up sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean to a
Daydream believer and a
Homecoming queen?

Written by former Kingston Trio member and future California soft rocker, John Stewart, “Daydream Believer” was — like most of the songs Jones sang on — more traditionally pop than the rest of the Monkees singles. Suffused with horns and strings and a pretty piano riff that may or may not have been played by Peter Tork, “Daydream Believer” lived and died on its chorus.

And the chorus lived and died on the tiny pause that Jones takes just before he sings “daydream believer.” With his voice rising on “to a“, and landing hard on “daydream”, it’s one of those pauses that lasts for just a second — or even less — and yet somehow contains entire universes of beauty and meaning, taking “Daydream Believer” out of realm of cheesy manufactured pop song and makes it something mysterious and maybe even profound.

At the very least, that moment helped make “Daydream Believer” the final #1 U.S. single — to date! — for The Monkees and, at the very least, an indicator that they got the right David Jones all along. Though I would love to have heard a “Moonage Daydream Believer” mashup.

“Daydream Believer”

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Certain Songs #1194: The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”

Album: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
Year: 1967

Like everything else during The Monkees imperial phase, the pace at which they released singles moved at the speed of light: Gerry Goffin & Carole King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was their fourth Top 5 U.S. single in less than a year, and — following on from the artistic freedom they wrested for Headquarters — it was the first one where actual Monkees contributed significantly to the musical mix.

So that’s Mike Nesmith playing the jangling guitar hook that kicks the song off and anchors it throughout, and the piano hook on the long, arching bridge was played by Peter Tork. And Davy Jones, um, played the maracas, and along with Nesmith, provided the backing vocals.

Meanwhile, Mickey Dolenz sang the suburban-skewering lyrics with his usual aplomb.

The local rock group down the street
Is trying hard to learn their song
They serenade the weekend squire
Who just came out to mow his lawn
Another pleasant valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care

Because he played the goofy jokester on the TV show and his miming of the drums during the videos was pitched somewhere between “can’t play” and “don’t care,” people tend to overlook the fact that Dolenz was a helluva singer. There’s a reason that it’s his voice on most of their hit singles, and nearly all of the rock ‘n’ roll songs on their initial albums.

But just listen to his performance on “Pleasant Valley Sunday:” a bit low-key in the verses, and then taking off in the choruses, with Jones & Nesmith in tow. Then, on the near-psychedelic bridge he totally nails the end, reaching for the sky with way he sings “scenerrrrrrrrrrrreeeey.” It’s so great that he doesn’t even bother to sing any words for the next verse, singing “ta-ta-ta-ta” instead, as drummer Eddie Hoh crashes against himself.

In the end, of course, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” starts circling in on itself, until it fades out into a hail of distortion and fuzz.

“Pleasant Valley Sunday”

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Certain Songs #1193: The Monkees – “For Pete’s Sake”

Album: Headquarters
Year: 1967

Artistic freedom! Asked for and answered!!

Life comes at you fast when you’re at the top of the pop world, and on their third album in six months, The Monkees got what they’d been asking for from the start: the chance to write for and play on their own records. So they tossed Don Kirshner out on his ass, and with a core group of Mike Nesmith & Peter Tork on various guitars & keyboards, Mickey Dolenz on drums and Davy Jones on, let’s say, percussion, they set out to record their third album, Headquarters.

With half of the songs co-writes by various band members, Headquarters was more folk-rocky and less rock-rocky than its predecessors — Mickey Dolenz was far more dynamic as a singer than he was as a drummer — but still a pretty impressive record, even if it was the only album from their imperial phase to not feature any hit singles. But even that was part of the point: they wanted to record an album that hung together as an album, not hits plus filler, which their first two albums were unfairly perceived to be.

Of course, Headquarters was a smash, if not quite as much of a smash as the first two, and someone tapped its best song, Tork’s dark & groovy “For Pete’s Sake” to be the closing theme song for the TV show’s second season, exposing it to millions of people each week.

I haven’t written that much about The Monkees TV show — maybe I’ll save it for my Certain Shows blog, in 2022 — mostly because I haven’t watched it in 30 years, but I’m pretty sure that “For Pete’s Sake” ended up being the closing theme song for the entire series in syndication, because I have such strong memories of enjoying this mysterious song that always seemed way more serious than the epic silliness that had proceeded it.

In this generation (in this generation)
In this lovin’ time (in this lovin’ time)
In this generation
We will make the world shine

Yes. Of course you will. It’s actually refreshing that The Monkees weren’t completely immune to the late 1960s hippie-dippie Baby Boomer exceptionalism that affected all of their peers, and while it always easy to make fun of failed youthful idealism fifty years later, “For Pete’s Sake” gets over on the performance.

Driven by a cool guitar lick from Tork, augmented by decorative organ by Nesmith, “For Pete’s Sake” revolved around the call-and-response vocals from Dolenz, Tork and Jones. Dolenz kept it low-key vocally until the very end, hitting the upper part of his register as he sang “we gotta be freeeeeee!”

“For Pete’s Sake”

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Certain Songs #1192: The Monkees – “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”

Album: More of the Monkees
Year: 1966

Definitely the only song to ever have been covered by The Monkees and The Sex Pistols — though it woulda been fun to hear the Monkees take on “No Fun” or “Substitute” — the garage-y rave-up “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” was actually given by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart to proto-Monkees Paul Revere & The Raiders first.

But for some reason — probably because they were too busy churning out classics like “Just Like Me” and “Kicks” — The Raiders never released it as a single, so The Monkees recorded it, stuck it on the b-side of “I’m a Believer” and it became a hit on its own recognizance, making #20 on the U.S. charts and #1 in Canada, where the Monkees were even more popular than they were here in the States. Though not popular enough, I guess, for Rush to include any Monkees song on their all-1960s-covers album, Feedback.

You’re trying to make your mark in society
You’re using all the tricks that you used on me
You’re reading all them high-fashion magazines
The clothes you’re wearing girl
They’re causing public scenes

With Boyce and Hart on the backing vocals, Micky Dolenz sings the verses of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” with coiled menace and thinly disguised contempt. And I wonder if he was thinking about Boyce & Hart when he was singing it, as their histrionics throughout almost ruin the song.

Almost. But of course, any song that starts off with handclaps over growling organ and leads with the chorus is irresistible from the start, and drummer Billy Lewis is on fire throughout: backbeats on the chorus, rumbling rolls after the rave-ups, and of course, the rave-ups themselves, where there’s just a bit of a pause before everybody goes nuts.

And while it wasn’t quite Nuggets level raw — the Count Five were probably sniggering behind their backs — it actually fit in quite well with More of The Monkees, the album on which it landed.

“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”

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Certain Songs #1191: The Monkees – “I’m A Believer”

Album: More of the Monkees
Year: 1966

Written by Neil Diamond — you know, the guy who wrote “Kentucky Woman” for Deep Purple and “Red Red Wine” for UB40 — the first thing I need to report about “I’m A Believer” was that it kept future Certain Song “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” from hitting #1 at the end of 1966, something which young Jim might have been pissed off about had he cared about anything but singing “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” over and over and over again.

That’s Diamond on the acoustic rhythm guitar — it’s a good performance, I wonder whatever happened to that dude? — probably his way of making sure that his song-for-hire was in the right hands.

Which, of course, it was. “I’m a Believer” is a massively classic pop song, near-perfect in both conception and execution. It announces its intentions to be such with Artie Butler’s iconic six-note organ hook, a quick electric guitar jangle, and then Diamond’s acoustic guitar, augmented by tambourine and handclaps.

Said handclaps never falter throughout the song, which means among with everything else, “I’m A Believer” is yet another proof of one of our favorite principles here at Certain Songs, The Handclap Rule: Handclaps always make a good song great, and a great song classic.

And on top of all of that, “I’m A Believer” sported a vocal arrangement that was clever, surprising, and thematically appropriate to the the lyrics. At first, Mickey Dolenz is wistful, sounding like a guy who had pretty much given up on love — maybe he went and got himself a dog for companionship — and all by himself.

I thought love was only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else but not for me

But in the second half of the verses Davy Jones & Peter Tork comes in to hang out, and support him with harmonies and counterpoint vocals.

Love was out to get me
(Duh duh den duh den)
That’s the way it seemed
(Duh duh den duh den)
Disappointment haunted all of my dreams

That’s of course, the build up for the song’s big reveal, about that moment when you see someone and instantly fall for them, and suddenly believe in love, when seconds before, you thought it was all bullshit.

Then I saw her face, I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind

That right there, folks, is a helluva chorus all by its lonesome. With the organ hook kicking back in at each pause, the internal “face/trace” rhyme, Jones and Peter Tork on harmonies, and Dolenz’s mood gone from wistful to joyful cos he’s seen her face, it’s deathless and indestructible. You can imagine repeating it a couple of times, and everybody goes home fully satisfied.

But they were just getting started, because they somehow top it over one last handclap-and-tambourine-driven stop-time.

I’m in love
(Hmmmmmmmmm-WHOOOOOOOAAAAAA-YEAHHH)
I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her if I tried

That moment when Jones and Tork explode from “hmmmmmmm” to “WHOAAAA-YEAHH” is everything. It’s falling in love. It’s your life changing in a single moment. Black and white to color. Doubt to belief.

And as an arrangement, completely and utterly brilliant, and given how overstuffed it was with hooks, that stop-time part probably wasn’t the only reason “I’m A Believer” was the Monkees second-straight #1 here in America — and a #1 around the world — but it certainly helped.

I’d call “I’m A Believer” their greatest song, because there is at least one I love more, but it’s most certainly their greatest single.

Fan-made video for “I’m a Believer”

Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

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