Two years ago, the Monkees stunned a lot of people especially themselves when their 50th anniversary album Good Times!hit Number 14 on the Billboard 200 and earned them some of the best reviews of their entire career. There was a lot of talk about a followup, but nobody could agree on what direction to take. We really caught lightning in a bottle with Good Times!, says singer Micky Dolenz. I remember people asking about a Good Times! 2, but that didnt fire me up. It felt too risky to try doing that again.
But then Rhino threw out the idea of a Monkees Christmas album, which the group somehow never did during their Sixties heyday or at any of their many reunions. Once Good Times! producer Adam Schlesinger signed on to project and everyone from Rivers Cuomo to XTCs Andy Partridge, R.E.M.s Peter Buck and even novelist Michael Chabon agreed to write songs, the idea became just too good to pass up. It all came together so fast, says Dolenz. You have no idea.
Christmas Party (out Friday) is a mixture of new songs, like the Rivers Cuomopenned What Would Santa Do and Andy Partridges Unwrap You at Christmas (which you can hear below) and classics like Paul McCartneys Wonderful Christmastime and Silver Bells. Theres also a few left field takes like Alex Chiltons Jesus Christ. Dolenz sings lead on the majority of the songs, but Michael Nesmith tackles The Christmas Song and Snowfall. He didnt want to write a Christmas song, says Dolenz. But when he heard about the project he went, Hmmm. I think Id like to do a couple of classics.’
There are also two songs (Silver Bells and Mele Kalikimaka) that feature the late Davy Jones on lead vocals. They were recorded many years ago when he created his own Christmas album, though new instrumentation has been paired with his original vocals. The originals werent even full-blown recordings, says Dolenz. They were demos, but thank goodness they had good, clean vocals.
Perhaps the most interesting song on the album is House of Broken Gingerbread, which Schlesinger wrote with Michael Chabon. The lyrics describe a surreal scene at a Christmas celebration where mistletoe is hanging by a thread and the misfit toys just shake their head. Boy, says Dolenz. What crazy lyrics!
Peter Tork didnt participate in the last Monkees tour and hasnt been seen much in public over the past year. His sole contribution to the record is a banjo-driven rendition of Angels We Have Heard On High. I love the fact that he put banjo on a Christmas song, says Dolenz. Hes had his health issues and were sending him good wishes.
The album wraps up with a bluesy rendition of Merry Christmas Baby with Dolenz on lead vocals. I hope I wasnt kidding myself when I did that, he says. My pre-Monkees roots were Otis Redding, Fats Domino and Little Richard. I wear that hat on that song. I just didnt want to embarrass myself.
There are no plans to promote Christmas Party with any sort of live work, but Dolenz and Nesmith are returning to the road in March to play the four dates they had to postpone this year when Nez underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Nobody knew, especially him, what was wrong and how bad it was, says Dolenz. The tour might have helped save him because if hed just been sitting home watching TV, he might not have noticed how sick he was.
Gearing up the Monkees machine for a mere four dates seems like a lot of work, but Dolenz says theres definitely a possibility theyll add on more shows to the itinerary. For now, though, hes just happy that Nesmith is back in good health. When I saw him again a few weeks back it was pretty emotional, he says. Were really like brothers in that theres so much unspoken and understood that can be said with just a glance.
Hes also still in shock that the Monkees are still releasing new music after all these years and theres actually an audience for it. Its just crazy, says Dolenz. The equivalent to Good Times! going Top 20 would have been someone like [Italian opera star] Enrico Caruso, who was popular in 1917, having a Top 20 record in 1967.