The Arista Debacle
Most likely due to the wrangles between The Monkees and Arista, Arista passed on signing the group to a record deal in 1987. Rhino Records, ever faithful to The Monkees, got the nod. But Rhino wasn’t a major label with the proper resources to produce, promote, and hype an album of all new material by any group, and the resulting Monkees effort, Pool It!, left fans, and more importantly, the general public, underwhelmed. What would a 1987 Monkees album on Arista have looked like, with their pool of songwriters, producers, and proper promotion?
Taking a Break From the Road in 1968
The lack of a hit single in the summer of 1968 and the long layoff between albums (The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees coming in April '68 and the Head soundtrack in December) slowed the group's momentum in dramatic fashion. Years later, Colgems president Lester Sill pulled no punches and said he clearly made an error in judgment by giving the green light to “D.W. Washburn.” He was right.
Falling Out with MTV
When the trio failed to appear for the Super Bowl event (apparently because Davy didn’t want to make the trip), MTV took it as a snub. The fallout was devastating. The clever video for “Heart and Soul,” their brand new single for the summer of 1987, was banned by MTV executives, despite a TV Guide report that showed leaked MTV request logs with “Heart and Soul” garnering plenty of public support. MTV claimed that The Monkees were no longer in demand and that they didn't fit the designs of the network going forward. Either way, the accompanying album, Pool It! barely cracked the Top 80, and the comeback of 1986 was dealt a knockout blow by this seemingly egregious misstep.
Losing Chip Douglas
Despite the absence of Douglas and the lack of unity in the studio, undoubtedly some of The Monkees' best music did in fact emerge in the post-Douglas years. The Head soundtrack, singles like "Listen to the Band" and "Someday Man," Michael's '68 Nashville sessions, and key album cuts like "You and I," "Little Girl," and Chip's own "Steam Engine" stand as some of the group's most underrated work. That being said, many fans look back and wish that The Monkees had continued the collective approach in the studio, which was the overriding theme for much of 1967. In interviews years later, Douglas recounted his desires to sustain the Headquarters mode of recording, and if that wasn't always feasible, working as hard as he could to have as many Monkees in the studio at once, playing and singing on each other's tracks. Simply put, he seemingly provided a central force for a group at the peak of their fame.
No Third Season
That being said, the loss of the television show in 1968 also meant that the main driver of their records and music was now gone. From a commercial standpoint, it sent The Monkees on a downward trajectory from which they never recovered.
Bechirian, a figure in the late '70s/early '80s British new wave scene who had been involved in the recording of songs like "Cruel to Be Kind" by Lowe, “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” by Costello, and "Tempted" by Squeeze, originally thought that the first new Monkees album since 1970 would be a more purist affair and less of a slick '80s production. Bechirian has talked about his initial expectations for the album. "Micky Dolenz was great. He was living in England at the time. He actually called me out of the blue. 'Hi, this is Micky Dolenz. Can I come over?' What in the heck? I grew up with these guys and their TV show. I was like, 'Heck, you can come over now!' He and Davy Jones showed up one day and had coffee in my home. They'd heard the Squeeze album, East Side Story. Micky loved it and wanted to make a record like that." But much to Bechirian's chagrin, things went in another direction. "I thought I could see it, but we made an album that was really middle of the road. Davy Jones brought in all these schmaltzy ballads." The atmosphere between Jones and Bechirian only got worse. "The sessions ended with us having a big row in the studio one late afternoon," Bechirian said. "Davy was calling me every name under the sun. I really lost it. I told him to get out of my studio."
It must be said that many fans who discovered The Monkees through MTV in the mid-1980s (like myself) have a soft spot for Pool It! and the "Heart and Soul" single, just as many first generation fans have for albums like Headquarters. I count myself as one of those fans with a soft spot. But in hindsight, I wish a different style of album had been produced. In my estimation, Peter's two songs on the album, his self-composed "Gettin' In" and "Since You Went Away" (written by longtime Peter pal Michael Levine), were clear highlights. The former is a really interesting tune musically and lyrically, and the latter harkens back to that quirky Monkees spirit found in such songs like "Your Auntie Grizelda" and "Never Tell a Woman Yes." Roger Bechirian concurred about Peter's contributions. "You know who was good? Peter Tork was an amazing multi-instrumentalist. I had no idea! He had a bunch of songs that would've made a great album. But of course they wouldn't have it - Jones wouldn't have it. Peter was great. I was really, really taken with him. He was full of life and had loads of ideas."
Listen to Michael Levine, author of "Since You Went Away" from Pool It!, discuss the song and his friendship with Peter on the Headquarters radio program from May 1989...
The Sudden Fracture of 1997
In interviews conducted after the UK tour, Davy Jones didn't hide his disdain for Mike's sudden absence, claiming the rest of the band had been left with no explanation. He often gave the impression that he was disgruntled with Nesmith, though Jones later said a lot of his quotes about him were taken out of context. "When The Monkees toured England in 1989, we got massive rave reviews for the three of us," Davy told Monkee Business Fanzine. "When we did it this time, the press just slammed us, because of his attitude, Mike Nesmith's attitude, when we did TV shows. 'Hey Hey We're The Grumpies,' one headline read." Years later in 2013, Michael spoke philosophically about the band's dissolution in the early months of 1997. "It was just a divergence of paths more than anything else," he told Rolling Stone. "Micky, Peter, and Davy just had their sails blowing in different ways than me."