R.I.P. Michael Nesmith


Well, I just got the sad memo that Mike Nesmith has just passed away at age 78. I was already overdue to overhaul the ten year old post you’re reading — his next birthday would have been 3 weeks from now, December 30. Perhaps I will add some more at that time. For now, some stray thoughts about most people’s favorite Monkee, at least most people of my acquaintance. Not just because he was the coolest (by a country mile), but because he was the most consequential, having penned a large number of irresistible ditties, and having been credited by many people with having invented music videos with his 1980 TV special Elephant Parts. And he was one of the producers of Repo Man (1984)! 

Nesmith’s laconic, dry humor made him the rough Lennon equivant of the Pre-Fab Four, and his Texas accent made him more topical than he might have been if LBJ hadn’t been President during the years of his greatest fame. His omnipresent knit stocking cap made him seem like a kid, but also about three feet taller than his band mates (if you concede that The Monkees were a band; if not, castmates, then). 


A short list of the Nesmith tunes I loved:

“Sweet Young Thing”, this haunting yet frenzied fiddle-driven tune was on The Monkees eponymous first album. I was born shortly before the record was released but I had my brothers’ old copy of the record and when I was a tween I would play this beautiful song over and over and over. I contemplated singing it at my wedding, perverse as that sounds (as neither my wife nor I are precisely young), but I do love the song that much and so it would have been that meaningful to me. But I can’t even sing in my own register let alone the high one Nesmith wails this tune in, so I chickened out. “Sweet…young…thing-GAH!” 

“Different Drum” — this one I love so much I have played it over and over and over again as well. Nesmith merely wrote this one — it was a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. I discovered it for the first time when it was playing over a P.A. in a retail store. I had no idea who or what it was but I loved the harpsichord and the melody. So the next time I heard it, I made note of some of the lyrics, and some time later I googled it, and learned the whole story. I’ll probably play it tonight with soggy eyes. 

“Love is Only Sleeping” — another one I wish I could sing. Who CAN sing it? The range is crazy, it starts out on these really high notes then goes to these low, insinuating ones. And it has that great druggy riff. Nesmith’s often called a country guy, and he did become more of one, but a lot of these early songs were straight up pop/rock. And it has that great psychedelic break-down/fade-out at the end…

“The Kind of Girl I Could Love” and “You Just May be the One” — I’ve always paired these two as being particularly Beatlesque little numbers. 

“You Told Me” — a relentless sixties beat, with a bass pattern reminiscent of the ones McCartney played on “Taxman” and “Rain” …and a banjo! Nesmith’s drone-like vocals remind of the kind of thing Michael Stipe would do several years later

“Papa Genes Blues” — Okay, this one is pretty country. It has such a mighty catchy chorus, yet it offers no hint at the meaning of the song’s mysterious title. I have caught young people speculating incorrectly online about Nesmith’s quip during the solo. Let me put you right. He says, “Pick it, Wilson!” a play of course on the name of soul singer Wilson Pickett. And then goes “Yee-hah!”….a phrase not often heard in connection with Motown talent! 

“Daily Nightly” — Nesmith gave this highly psychedelic mind trip with its catchy chord progression and experimental electronic sounds, to Mickey Dolenz to sing. Not sure why, although it should be pointed out that, unlike most rock musicians of his day, Nesmith wasn’t at all into drugs. He didn’t even sniff his mother’s Liquid Paper! 

Okay, and yeah, also  “Salesman”, Sunny Girlfriend”, “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?”, “Listen to the Band” etc etc. So why the FUCK does the CNN piece about Nesmith’s death have “I’m a Believer” playing in the background, when Nesmith had so much to do with so many tunes, and so much less to do with that one? Because jackasses assembled the piece, I’ll have to assume. 

Anyway, I’ll wrap it up with this song, though, because I mention it in No Applause as a key example of the vaudeville music revival that happened in the psychedelic sixties. The false starts are part of the intended fun, as is the broken record bit at the end:

Mickey’s the only Monkee left! For more posts on The Monkees go here. 


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