Tag Archives: Monkees

R.I.P. Don Kirshner

Don Kirshner, music impressario, died yesterday at 76.

Kirshner, who got his start (and a hell of a bankroll) through music publishing and plugging, was one of the true giants of the industry. He worked with everyone from Bobby Darin to Brill Building songwriters to rockers of three generations but was probably best known for his work with The Monkees and his iconic concert program.

The story of his tenure with The Monkees is well-known; Kirshner having been hired to provide the songs for the faux band to sing and delivering one chart-topping hit after another, thanks to the stable of songwriting legends like Neil Diamond, Goffin/King and Jeff Barry. But the band wanted to write and play their own material, fired Kirshner (even though he made them millionaires) and achieved their goal…albeit killing the cash cow in the process.

After working as a consultant for ABC’s In Concert, Kirshner broke off on his own to produce and syndicate Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The first episode featured The Rolling Stones  – quite a coup since they hadn’t been on television in four years – and a new format featuring real live music instead of lip-synched stagings. Kirshner’s stiff persona and bad haircut (he resembled a thinner and less blustery George Steinbrenner) became a running joke, and his mannerisms were fodder for impressionists for years.

Video: Check out Don introducing Joe Walsh, who then dazzles with songs from Barnstorm backed by an all-star band.

Kirshner was painted as a villain because of the Monkee debacle, and there were those who thought of him as simply a scheming capitalist who was the antithesis of the music he was featuring on his show. But there’s no denying that he almost single-handedly brought rock’n’roll into your living room every week when television was merely three networks and PBS. The show ended just as cable television – and this new concept called MTV – was born.

If there’s a rock’n’roll heaven…well, Don is probably running the damned thing by now. R.I.P. to a true pioneer.

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New Albums From Old Friends

Al Jardine – A Postcard From California

Sure, a lot of this is older Beach Boys material, and yes, Alec Baldwin’s narration within “A California Saga” is a little off-putting, but the important things here are (1) Al Jardine released an album and (2) damn, he sounds really good! Guests on the album – in addition to most of the Beach Boys – include Glen Campbell, Flea, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Steve Miller.

And Beach Boy fans will plotz when they hear the harmonies (including Carl!) on “Don’t Fight The Sea”. Obviously this album has been years in the making, and in keeping with Jardine’s personality it’s a tribute to the natural beauty of California rather than the cars/girls/surfing themes. Fans might have had demos and boots of some of these songs over the years but the sound here is first-rate.

Micky Dolenz – King For A Day

Despite the enormous success of The Monkees, Micky Dolenz still doesn’t get his due as one of the best vocalists of the rock era. I’ve heard it all – the fallacy of The Prefab Four and the lunacy of a fake band cast for television becoming a real one; even Dolenz discounts his own legacy (“it’s like thinking Leonard Nimoy was really a Vulcan”). But they’re wrong.

The Monkees had the cream of Brill Building songwriters at their disposal, and as unlikable a guy as Don Kirschner was, he knew what he was doing when it came to picking hit records. Now Dolenz takes a page from the past by recording an album of Carole King songs (hence the album title). Like most good ideas, there’s probably not a radio station format to match it up with, but I wouldn’t sell him short.

Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

I guess a punster would call this album Adult Symphonies To God. After years of wondering whether an overweight and practically comatose genius would simply curl up and die in his sandbox, Brian Wilson fans have to be happy that he’s been able to get on a stage and play, open up his musical legacy to people who could help him (read: The Wondermints) and even create new works in his latter days.

Rumors persist that the surviving Beach Boys are going to bury the hatchet (and not in each other’s skulls) and reform, but whether or not that ever happens it’s good to know that there is work done above and beyond Mike Love‘s traveling circus.

Add these to the plethora of new releases from stars of yesteryear – Peter Frampton, Peter Wolf, Foghat, Steve Miller, Burton Cummings – in addition to old reliables like Tom Petty who just keep on going. Maybe the arena gig is now a club show in a Hard Rock showroom, and perhaps the radio play is limited to rockers turned DJ like  Little Steven and Alice Cooper, but for those of us who want to look beyond the top of the charts, there are plenty of great efforts sailing under the radar.

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Blast From The Past – Beachwood Sparks

beachwood_sparks

The great thing about revisiting albums years later – especially ones that not everyone is talking about – is that you hear them differently and pick up new wavelengths. It’s almost ten years since Beachwood Sparks released their eponymous album, and while I still enjoy it I’m able to discover other subtleties in the music beyond the major touchstones I identified the first time around. From legacy bands like the Grateful Dead to more recent purveyors Apples In Stereo, it’s all about texture.

Here’s what I wrote for Cosmik Debris back in 2000…

Gram Parsons described his style as “Cosmic American Music”, and I suppose that if he were around to hear Beachwood Sparks, he’d let the quartet on his bus without a second thought.

A quick look at the graphics and titles would have you trot out Buffalo Springfield or The Flying Burrito Brothers as a touchstone, but the production and arrangements owe as much to inventive popmeisters like Brian Wilson and Mitch Easter. In fact, I imagine that if Easter or master knob-twiddler Brad Jones were sent back in time to produce Parsons, this would be the result. Except “Something I Don’t Recognize”, where he would need the Nesmith-led Monkees. Or “Old Sea Miner”, where only XTC would do.

Aw hell, Parsons would have gotten around, he was that kind of guy. And the fact that Beachwood Sparks pulls all of this off without painting themselves into a corner is a hell of a compliment.

The overall sound is psychedelic, dreamy introspection, with interludes like “Singing Butterfly” leading into more uptempo Byrds/Poco moments like “Sister Rose”. Of course, just when you’re safely in that mood, they toss in an aggressive fuzzbox guitar solo over a go-go beat just to throw you for a loop. “See On Three” recalls Wilco’s experimentation, but the dizzying signature changes are probably even outside of Tweedy’s methods.

“This Is What It Feels Like” is another time-travel song, sounding like a pop track that somehow leaked into the future from 1967 California. “The Reminder” eerily and beautifully recalls the innocence of Neil Young’s first records with its delicate guitar and lilting vocals. Individually, these are wonderfully realized moments; as an album, it’s a mental watercolor painting that will dance with your imagination.

I had mixed feelings about their follow-up album, but I love the debut as much today as I did ten years ago. So if you haven’t savored this one yet, please do. And keep your eyes open – supposedly they will release a new album soon (it’s been an eight year drought!)

Beachwood Sparks on Amazon.

Beachwood Sparks on MySpace

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Blast From The Past: Herman’s Hermits

So what were *you* doing when you were 15 years old?

So what were *you* doing at fifteen years old?

 Although Herman’s Hermits were never taken as seriously as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals or The Kinks (to just name of few of their contemporaries), they were a dominant force on the pop charts in the 60s, and unbelievably outsold The Beatles in America in 1965. Like many of those bands, they started as a tight r&b band (as evidenced by guitarist Lek Lekenby’s guitar work on this DVD) until pop stardom took them in another direction. The American market was receptive to novelty hits like “I’m Henry VIII I Am” (which wouldn’t fly in the UK), and although the band was now pigeonholed into “the boys next door”, their success was phenomenal, with one charted single after another in rapid succession. But when MGM’s financial woes caused a lull in their output, The Monkees exploded onto the scene and things were never quite the same.

Producer Mickie Most helped manager Harvey Lisberg control their career with his knack for selecting hit singles (similar to the role Don Kirschner would play for The Monkees), and thanks to his connections young studio musicians Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones played on many of the early records. But this DVD, a televised special from Australia in 1966, clearly shows that the band could hold their own quite nicely. The footage is not bad quality, considering its age, and there are no sync problems and very few jumps.

For some odd reason there are two versions of the show – the original thirty minute broadcast and a “2007 mix” where the footage is enhanced by animation, graphics and some visual tricks straight out of a 60s acid flashback movie. Stick with the original; the latter is useless and annoying to watch. The band looks and sounds great, performing nine hits with three interruptions for the oddly risque commercials for Hilton “ladderproof” nylons (who knew?).

But the real value on the DVD is in the bonus features. Along with an odd video for “No Milk Today” and behind-the-scenes trailers for two of their movies (with amusing commentary) we also get performance clips from German and Norweigan TV programs; it’s a treat to watch them tackle  “Dandy” (The Kinks) and “Bus Stop” (“The Hollies“).  “The Hermits Story” is a short documentary that includes Most, Lisberg, writer Johnny Rogan and band members Karl Green, Keith Hopwood and Barry Whitwaw, among others. The documentary looks like it was dubbed from a damaged videotape, but despite the occasional smear it’s fascinating to watch.

Years later I saw the Herman-less Hermits play a club show. Wearing white suits and telling ribald jokes between songs, they were the antithesis of the young and innocent image of the original band. But of course, that whole cheeky image was a calculated act; these guys were as crazed as any group of teenage boys would be tossed into a world of madness. Peter Noone continues to sound great, having later success with The Tremblers and on various oldies tours; even collaborating with Richard X Heyman on a great EP.

Highly recommend picking this DVD up. The price is low, the value is high, and the memories are priceless..

 hermans hermits

Buy this DVD at Amazon.

The Herman’s Hermits website.

The video for “No Milk Today” on the DVD isn’t as good as this one.

A TV performance of “Kind of a Hush” with live vocal from Peter.

Peter Noone resurfaced in 1978 with The Tremblers.

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