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The #1 Albums: “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” by the Monkees

Detail from the “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” cover by Bernard Yeszin

In 1967, the album supplanted the single as rock’s preeminent art form. Yet the album that ended 1967 at #1 in Billboard sits astride both sides of that divide.

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. by the Monkees is a further step in the evolution of the Monkees into a real band, although more than half the album’s songs come entirely from outside writers, including 60s mainstays Goffin/King, Mann/Weil, and Boyce/Hart. An aspiring songwriter named Harry Nilsson pitched a number of songs to the band; one of them, “Cuddly Toy,” made the album. Two guys on the Colgems Records payroll who called themselves Travis Lewis and Boomer Clarke wrote the proto-country-rocker “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round.” (Lewis and Clarke recorded as the Lewis and Clarke Expedition, and eventually be cast in a Monkees-style TV pilot set in the Old West. Each would chart in the mid 70s under their real names, Michael Murphey and Boomer Castleman.) Among the Monkees’ originals on the album is Nesmith’s trippy “Daily Nightly.”

The highlight of the album is the one song on it that everyone knows: the Goffin/King composition “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” It starts with a “Paperback Writer”-styled lead guitar figure played by Nesmith, and jackhammer drumming by Eddie Hoh. (Micky Dolenz was the only Monkee not to play on the song.) That such a message decrying suburban stultification was mainlined directly to the brains of kids living next door to Mr. Green and Mrs. Gray (and maybe even with them) is a lovely irony of the 60s. It’s a theme that will be repeated by youth culture for the rest of time.

Tell the truth: you almost expected Mike to smash his guitar at the end, Townshend-style, or maybe brain Micky with it. The man does not look at all happy to be there. Nevertheless, Nesmith calls the album “the one that caught it all.” Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. hit #1 on the Billboard album chart on December 2, 1967, and stayed five weeks at the top while a song not found on it, “Daydream Believer,” rode the singles charts at #1.

The liner notes from the deluxe reissue of the album tell the story of its recording in fascinating detail. In our next installment of this feature, a band that no longer needed to hurry out a new release hurries out a new release, with predictable results.