Certain Songs #1196: The Monkees – “Me And Magdalena (Version 2)”

Album: Good Times!
Year: 2016

And suddenly, it was 50 years later.

Well not suddenly, of course: a lot of things had happened in that time. Head. Peter Tork leaving the band. Mike Nesmith’s solo career and video mogulship. MTV spurring a revival and reunion tour. (And that unfortunate incident where I taped over a Tom Waits concert that Kirk had recorded in order to snag the MTV episodes.) Davy Jones dying.

And, of course, the occasional reunion albums: 1987’s Nesmith-less Pool It! and 1996’s totally-written-and-performed-by-the-band Justus, neither of which I heard, because snobbery.

Which I assumed was going to be the case when I read that the surviving Monkees were going to do a 50th anniversary album in 2016. Until I found out that not only was it produced by Fountains of Wayne mastermind Adam Schlesinger, it was going to feature specially-written songs by Andy Partridge, Schlesinger and a co-write by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller.

And when it came out, it was to good reviews and some online buzz, so I figured I’d give it a shot. And fucking loved it, with my favorite song being Ben Gibbard’s “Me and Magdalena,” sung with world-weary pathos by Mike Nesmith & Mickey Dolenz.

Me and Magdalena
We’re driving south through Monterey
As the sun is slowly sinking
Into a distant ocean wave

There are two versions of “Me and Magdalena” on Good Times! The first one is on the album proper — whatever that means these days — and is slow and acoustic, featuring by Adam Schlesinger’s utterly lovely piano: both a whisper and a prayer for a long life well-lived and a long relationship well-loved.

And I don’t know if I’ve ever loved any other
Half as much as I do in this light she’s under

If that version was the only one, it would have been my favorite song on the album, especially for the part at the end where it’s just Mike Nesmith singing by himself over that piano and an acoustic guitar, and you can feel every single one of the years that have passed in his voice.

Tell me Magdalena
What do you see in the depths of your night?
Do you see a long lost father?
Does he hold you with the hands
You remember as a child?

But it wasn’t. There is also a rockier version: with 60’s-style groovy drums, backwards guitar, and a ghostly organ hovering over the whole proceedings. And somehow, the sound of Nesmith’s & Dolenz’s aged-but-unbowed harmonies singing Gibbard’s haunting chorus over a backing track that could have could have come from their heyday totally and utterly wipes me the fuck out.

But know everything lost will be recovered
When you drift into the arms of the undiscovered
And I don’t know if I’ve ever loved any other
Half as much as I do in this light she’s under

The breakdown of the first version, where Nesmith sings the last verse by himself, is nowhere to be found, because this version isn’t as much about feeling the years as it is celebrating them, and knowing that you’ve come out through them with your most important relationships intact and well-earned.

Me and Magdalena
Always leaving early and sleeping late
Secluded in the canyon
Lost within a turn of fate

This version of “Me and Magdalena” is not only my favorite Monkees song, it was also one of my favorite songs of 2016, along with Beyonce’s “All Night,” — and if you told me at the beginning of 2016 that my two favorite songs of the year would be by The Monkees and Beyonce, I would have told you that not only were you wrong, but if you weren’t, that would be the most improbable thing to happen that year.

“Me and Magdalena (Version 2)”

Fan-Made video for “Me and Magdalena (Version 1)”

Ben Gibbard performing “Me and Magdalena” at the Newport Folk Festival, 2017

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