R.I.P. Peter Tork

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Just got word of the passing of Peter Tork of the Monkees (b. 1942).

As all Monkees fans know, the not-so-secret secret is that while Michael Nesmith was the best songwriter, Mickey Dolenz the best (or most interesting) singer, and Davy Jones (probably, for what it’s worth) the best actor, Tork was in actuality the best at what all four of them were supposed to be, that is the best musician. Proficient on several instruments, he actually came up with some cool contributions that made it onto their records, like the piano intro to “Daydream Believer” and the banjo arpeggio on “You Told Me”. It was his pal Steven Stills who suggested he try out for the group.

And it was Tork who ended up being the biggest problem child, rebelling against his chosen comedic role as the “dumb Monkee” (an image which the public apparently bought), and constantly warring with the franchise’s producers to be allowed to play on their records. While Nesmith was the most prolific songwriter of the group by a wide margin (it’s what he does), Tork came in second, turning in a handful of very cool tunes, the most famous of which “For Pete’s Sake” became the music for the show’s closing credits in the second season.

Still, it can’t go unnoticed that, of the four members of the group, he is the one who doesn’t sing the lead vocal on their best known hits (although you can sometimes hear him in the harmonies or a line here or there). In fact, he sings the lead on very few of their songs period, including the ones he wrote. And this is because… (surprise) he could scarcely carry a tune. But we can hear him on a few tracks. If you know the movie Head (1968), you know that the film version of the song below was sung by Dolenz. Originally it was sung by Tork, its author. The reason for the switch will be obvious when you play it. Although I will say that Tork attempts some interesting things in his version that are missing from the one with Dolenz. Tork’s version is more creepy, mysterious, “Eastern” sounding, as befits the mood of the tune.  Of course the atmosphere is undercut by the silly, now-embarrassing lyrics. But that doesn’t stop me from playing it over and over again! Tork is in the spaciest of all places now — would that he could come back and sing to us what he’s seen.

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