As what is presumably the last of the incredible Rhino releases from the archives of The Monkees’ studio works, The Monkees Present is one of the most fascinating since it’s culled from the last days of The Monkees as a going concern (late 1969) and yet is filled with “new” material. They had ambitiously planned on issuing more “contemporary” material, suitable for a young-adult market versus their albatross “teeny bop” image. The original album was a fairly strong one; unlike its predecessor, Instant Replay, this was not a hodgepodge of old, discarded material with newer outtakes – this album was designed to be a showcase of Nesmith, Dolenz and Jones as they were at that moment. Granted, as a lifelong fan of The Monkees, there are some very fine points on Instant Replay, but The Monkees Present is so much more cohesive. With this album, The Monkees were able to stretch themselves further musically than they had previously – the jazzy-ness of “Little Girl”; the exquisite melody and delivery of “French Song”, the pedal steel runs that breeze through “Good Clean Fun” and the very pointed lyrics of “Mommy And Daddy” (the original version of which includes lines about “ask your mommy and daddy who really killed JFK?”) showed a maturity that I’m sure few people realized or even bothered to take notice of at the time. Of course, it would be irresponsible of me not to mention the album’s absolute highlight – the brilliant single and anthem, “Listen To The Band”. Nonetheless, this penultimate album from The Monkees (one more would follow with just Dolenz and Jones, 1970’s Changes) was a fine way for Nesmith to bow out.
This beautifully designed box, with three discs, a bonus single of “Good Clean Fun” b/w “Mommy And Daddy” in alternate mixes and booklet of informative notes and details by the incredible Andrew Sandoval, delivers no less than 86 tracks. Some are radio spots; there are many backing tracks with no vocals but interesting nonetheless by virtue of what the band was trying to attempt. Mono versions (which, by 1969, were becoming a thing of the past) are plentiful; of the highlights to the bonuses, a 1969 remix of Bill Chadwick’s beautiful “Of You”, without the double tracked vocal first heard on the 1987 Missing Links compilation; the original lyric version of “Mommy And Daddy” in stereo, a 1969 version of Nesmith’s masterpiece “Carlisle Wheeling”, a different mix of “Circle Sky” – it’s a lengthy list.
Is something like this only for the die-hard Monkees completist? Perhaps. But it’s a fascinating document of a band that never received the respect due them while they were exploring, and ultimately, breaking new ground.