For Now It’s Part of You

Is it odd that, during these calamitous times, I’m leaning back into pop culture so hard? Surely not; there’s a relief and release in being able to find escape from everything hellish in music, movies, or whatever, even if I find myself increasingly worried that such things are frivolous. The authorities are at war with the people every night downtown, using tear gas and “less lethal” ammunition,  and yet here I am becoming newly obsessed with Michael Nesmith songs from more than half a century ago. Is that understandable, or is it obscene?

Nonetheless, listening to “Tapioca Tundra” lately brings an odd sense of calm, somehow. It’s from the album The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees, which is to say, the theoretical down slide of the band’s career — Peter Tork barely appears on the album — and it’s an album that’s ostensibly a bunch of solo records mashed together, but the song itself was about the Monkees as a music unit, the group identity that was greater than the sum of its parts, according to Nesmith.

I’ll take his word for it, because the lyrics of the song — often referred to as a “lyric poem, set to music,” which feels like a particularly pretentious way of saying “ you know, like other songs” — are obtuse, to say the least: “Reasoned verse, some prose or rhyme/Loses themselves in other times/And waiting hopes cast silent spells/That speak in clouded clues/It cannot be a part of me/For now it’s part of you” runs the first verse. Exactly…?

It is, of course, the sound of the song that makes sense. I find “Tapioca Tundra” a very pleasant, relaxing listen. There’s something about the rushing, insistent sound, the mix of country and psych and folk that reminds me so much of the band Love, that makes me happy and calms me down, for want of a better way to put it, even before we get to the outrageously shameful, thrilling lift of the riff from the Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better.” For something that may just be a thrown-together piece of nonsense to fill an album, it’s got this charm about it that I can’t deny.

366 Songs 215: PO Box 9847

Whether it’s the sinking strings, the thumping piano or rolling drums, there’s a ridiculous amount to love in this song, and that’s before you even get to the fantastic, tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“I’ve been writing advertising/That’s not really me”). This is from a relatively late-era Monkees album, The Birds, The Bees And The Monkees, recorded after Peter Tork had left the band, but they were still cherrypicking the best material from other writers; this is a Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart-written song, and the two had actually recorded it themselves earlier, in an almost equally-enjoyable version:

There are a lot of love songs about being in love, or unrequited love, or losing love. There aren’t that many about wanting to be in love, or advertising yourself for the experience. If they could all be as good as this one, I’d heartily co-sign any petition you’d want to change that.

366 Songs 208: Circle Sky

There’s a lot to love about “Circle Sky.” Where to start…?

Let’s go with the bassline, Peter Tork happily bobbing up and down the scale and keeping the whole thing grounded – There are times when it’s the clearest thing in the mix by far, weirdly enough – while Mike Nesmith outjangles the best of them and Mickey Dolenz drums his little heart out in the background (Davy Jones, as you can see in the video, doesn’t contribute that much, all told). Or Nesmith’s epic, half-yodel vocals as he sings about some kind of 1960s psychopolis that is “a very extraordinary scene to those who don’t understand” and yet, somehow, seems quite appealing the way he puts it.

It’s a song from Head, which for my money is the best ’60s band movie – Yes, better than any of the Beatles’ efforts – and one of the most interesting counterculture movies ever made, but also something that’s home to some of my favorite Monkees music; “As We Go Along,” “Long Title (Do I Have To Do This All Over Again),” even the version of “Daddy’s Song” – They’re all really good songs, and examples of the weird music hall psych pop(corn) that the Monkees offered at their best. None of the above, however, is why I chose this song for #208 in this series. No, instead, I chose it because – after something like three months of running behind, this entry finally means that I have caught up with the number of days in the year to date, meaning that I am – for the first time since February, I think – back on track for a “One Song A Day” plan for this series. “It looks like we’ve made it once again,” as Nesmith sings. Let’s see if I can keep up this pace so that I can get to the next line, “It looks like we’ve made it to the end!”

366 Songs 058: As We Go Along

There’s a gentleness and ease to “As We Go Along” that always appeals to me; the opening, mixing acoustic and electric guitars, sounds like a summer morning for reasons that I can’t really explain, and even when Mickey Dolenz’ vocal begins and the bass starts appearing in the bottom, everything remains lovely placid; it’s a song that feels sleepy not in a narcotic hazey kind of way, but a slowly awakening at your own speed way – Even when the song builds with the “Open your eyes/Get up off your chair” lines, it does so slowly and in such a way that you feel pulled along with it, gently and encouragingly (I thank the flute for that). This is a loving song, entirely and completely, a song that wants the best for you in a way that only really makes sense in the era before the mellow singer-songwriter era of the 1970s, before music fragmented to the point where that genre seemed to steal this kind of song away from the pop bands entirely.