When we were young my brother and I could never understand why my parents refused to agree that the Monkees were better than the Beatles. I mean sure we liked the Beatles too, ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ being a particular favourites to sing on long car journeys and we liked the film ‘Help!’, but come on! The Monkees had their own funny TV series! They’d dance that amusing walking-together dance, have adventures in exotic locales, make funny faces and sing songs. Come on parents, they win hands down! They’d mutter something about them being manufactured, whatever that meant. Pah!
Anyway fast-forward to 1997 and I picked up a Mono copy of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. on a whim during a lunchtime record shopping dash in Chester. I bought it based on a complex matrix of factors:
- It was pay-day
- The Animals LP I wanted had gone
- I liked the title
- Fond memories of ‘Daydream Believer’*
- I was on some kind of frenzy – I bought Highway 61 Revisited, Ziggy Stardust & Marianne Faithful Broken English that same day.
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. was the Monkees attempt to cut their marionette strings, insisting on playing their own instruments and, I thought, writing their own songs. In actual fact the song credits are a veritable smörgåsbord including Nilsson and Goffin/King. Now I’ll tell you straight up, The Monkees cop almost all of their moves on this LP from that obscure bunch of Scousers who were quite big at the time (1967).
The LP starts off well with ‘Salesman’, which is near enough a straight rip of ‘Taxman’, without the latter’s bankable spite. ‘Salesman’ is a jaunty guitar shuffle, chronicling the trials and tribulations of some clueless bread-head square, who has to (get this, cool kids!) work for a living! I know, I know it’s a product of its’ times, but hey not that many of us out here got lucky enough to be cast in a 60’s teen pop band. There is also some clumsy overuse of the word ‘high’ in the middle of the track. ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’, this LP’s biggest single also walks the same line, hey capitalist normals!
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care
To be entirely fair it is a better tune and no-one ever went bust in the 1960’s pushing naive sentiment to the masses via major labels. So what me worry?
‘She Hangs Out’, is a funny one, full of half-salacious warnings about your sister (real, or 60’s slang is not entirely specified) who is clearly being led astray into the twin potential evils of casual drug use and heavy petting. The best track on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. for my money is ‘The Door Into Summer’, which yet again tackles the whole square-groovster divide, but this time in a decidedly more wistful fashion. It’s a charmingly insubstantial tune, with folky vocal tints and it does sound like summer to me, ‘the echo of a penny whistle band’ and all. Whilst the less said about the schmaltzy ‘Cuddly Toy’ the better.
Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, Flight of The Conchords have ruined at least two tracks on this LP simply by existing some 40 years later, ‘Love is Only Sleeping’ and the pretension-heavy ‘Daily Nightly’**. Both tracks really do sound like FOTC taking the piss out of the Beatles, although the former at least has some strong guitar and a snidey vocal tone copped from Lennon. ‘Words’ is a bit of an odd one too, its menacing, straining vocals – Dolenz and Tork managing to sound bizarrely a bit like Grace Slick at certain points, and interesting keyboards. This is very clearly a song just crying out for a good thrashy garage-rock hiding***.
The second side of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is mostly, although not unremittingly, Godawful. The country accented ‘What Am I Doing Hangin’ round?’, sounds exactly like the Beatles ‘Act Naturally’ but much, much worse, or at least that’s what my notes tell me. I do like the vaguely Money Mark-esque ‘Don’t call On Me’, louche jazz intro chatter and all, I’ve always been a real sucker for bitterness in a love song. The groupie-revelling-but-dissing track ‘Star Collector’, sounds to these tired old ears at least like a 1960’s cabaret tribute act version of Nine Inch Nails ‘Starfuckers Inc.’ – which I’m sure was their intention all the way.
One very cool thing about this LP is it’s, then pioneering, use of the Moog – Dolenz apparently owned one of the first 20 ever sold. Well, I think that’s cool anyway, that and ‘The Door Into Summer’.
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*recorded during the sessions for this LP but, in that crazy 60’s way, not included on the album.
** Dig it: ‘Startled eyes that sometimes see phantasmagoric splendor / Pirouette down palsied paths / With pennies for the vendor’
*** and with my new, entirely fictional band, Torque Show – I’m just the man to give it what it so richly deserves.