In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
1968 was a rough year in the Monkees’ career: The band’s self-titled TV series was canceled in February; its first and last feature film, Head, was released in November to poor reviews and pitiful box-office returns; and in December, after having bought out the remainder of his contract, Peter Tork departed the ranks of the group. When the remaining members of the group—Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Michael Nesmith—entered the new year, however, they seemingly did so with the mission to make the most of it. They released the almost entirely Tork-less Instant Replay in February (he did play guitar on “I Won’t Be The Same Without Her”), premièred a new TV special in April (33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, an already eccentric effort made all the more confusing to fans by having been filmed when Tork was still around), and emerged with the band’s second album as a threesome before the year was over.
The Monkees Present, one of Rhino Records’ latest deluxe reissues of the group’s back catalog, found Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith in the midst of a classic good-news/bad-news situation: Although the group’s commercial fortunes were on a decline, slipping farther down on its label’s priority list meant that the trio could explore whatever musical sounds and styles they wanted. As a result, Nesmith further delved into his unique interpretation of country music (“Good Clean Fun”), Jones maintained his pop-schmaltz (“If I Knew”), and Dolenz took advantage of the opportunity to go completely batshit crazy (“Mommy And Daddy”). Sadly, the album failed to raise the band’s chart profile—it never made it beyond No. 100 on the Billboard 200—and none of the singles cracked the top 40, but one of its tracks has gone on to be accepted as the Monkees’ unofficial theme song. (It’d probably be the band’s official theme song, except, you know, they've already got one.)
Written by Nesmith, “Listen To The Band” made a decidedly chaotic debut on the aforementioned 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. But by the time the song made it onto The Monkees Present, it had been tightened up, de-twanged somewhat (a process that was reversed and then some when Nesmith re-recorded it for his 1970 album with the First National Band, Loose Salute), and given a bit of brass as well. The applause that’s tacked onto the end of the track might be fake, but it needn’t be. Not only is “Listen To The Band” the strongest single of the Monkees’ post-Tork era (the B-side, a version of Paul Williams’ “Someday Man,” ain’t bad, either), it’s arguably one of the best songs in the group’s entire discography.