The Echo Of A Penny Whistle Band

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!

Monkees 03

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:

  1. It was pay-day
  2. The Animals LP I wanted had gone
  3. I liked the title
  4. Fond memories of ‘Daydream Believer’*
  5. 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).

Monkees 01

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.

Monkees 04
I like this one.

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.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned Clarifoil?
Whatever happened to good old-fashioned Clarifoil? did they shut down all the Clarifoil mines in the 70’s?

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’.

249 Down.

[spotify id=”spotify:track:2gzY74wkSgo1ts1IZbjxfT” width=”300″ height=”380″ /]

*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.

34 thoughts on “The Echo Of A Penny Whistle Band

  1. I like the Monkees and have ever since waiting for each week’s new episode as a preteen. It is hard not to just smile and be happy while listening to them, puppets or not. Turns out I spin the “manufactured” first two albums the most. These guys deserve credit for being great deliverers of pleasure-giving tunes if nothing else. Nice to see them getting some love in your post tonight. (Note that I fully realize that I’m stretching a bit calling your post “love” but hey, we perceive what we want to perceive, or to quote the Monkees themselves from the song For Pete’s Sake: “We must be what we’re goin’ to be….”)

  2. Can’t offer much thoughts on the Monkees but this was a great read (palsied paths? WTF?). I like someone that thinks in terms of fictional bands too. My own imaginary outfit, Spasms of Kabaddi, continually threat to take the Metal world by storm!

    1. Great name. Will you be going for the whole band-as surname trick like Ramones & Donnas? e.g. Nigel Spasms, Dave Spasms and Elrond Spasms. I think it could really work for you.

      This is making me want to reform my legendary fictional black metal band, Spillage of Filth. Oh yes!

      1. Don’t tell my family but this is the proudest moment of my life so far. I assume you’ll immediately rename your house Rivenhell?

  3. Didn’t know about the Moog. That’s pretty cool, and they move up slightly on the cool scale…just a little.

    I just never got into the Monkees. I didn’t want go waste my time with actors pretending to be musicians. I’m an ass that way. But I do dig “Last Train To Clarksville”.

      1. I think it’s more honorable to be a musician who happens to act. There’s a lot of theatrical aspects to performing. You’re playing a role on stage. Definitely more musicians that can act, than actors that can write and perform a song. John Doe, Dave Matthews, Lenny Kravitz, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, David Bowie, just to name a few that were successful. Compare that to Eddie Murphy, Don Johnson, Joe Pesci, and Philip Michael Thomas, who weren’t so successful on the other end.

  4. It’s the cheap crap stuff that I am now nostalgic for. More so than, say, old re-runs of The Monkees. I’m more nostagic for the really, really bad game shows. There was one that was on our music station, the show was called Test Pattern, and it was so cheap and terrible that they still re-run episodes from 23 years ago. BONUS the host looks like a long-haired John Candy.

  5. I like the Monkees. I’ve never heard this. My old school chum Rob is a huge Monkees fan and he taught me to appreciate them.

    Fact: Mickey Dolenz ended up on several Canadian celebrity game shows in the 1980’s. He was a regular member of the “Acting Crazy” cast, a charades game show. Also on that show was Marcia Wallace who does a number of voices of The Simpsons.

    1. I know I like all the big singles – you can’t beat a good slice of sunny pop if you’re in the right mood.

      Am I right in saying Dolenz and Wilfrid Laurier were the opposing team captains for a spell on that show?

      1. No, but keep guessing…I remember Michael Dorn from Star Trek TNG was a guest for a week. He must have been in town. (Vancouver I believe.)

        Dolenz though, he was on everything! Any Canadian show that had a celebrity cast, Dolenz was on. It would be him, somebody from an old kid’s show called Polka Dot Two, and two people you NEVER heard of before. It was weird growing up in Canada.

        Also: Shannon Tweed was on the Canadian edition of The Liar’s Club.

      2. There will always be a home for random Shannon Tweed facts on 1537, as long as I have breath left in my body.

        It’s weird growing up anywhere, is my theory. The BBC are amazing at documentaries, but the amount of cheap crap schedule-filler floating around when I grew up … (shudders).

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