Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #46: AC/DC

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: Australia’s finest hard rock export, with a star, a bullet, two hands’ worth of devil’s horns, and a big scoop of stoopit atop a steaming pile of crunchy bits. For most of the group’s long and fruitful career, guitar-slinging brothers Angus (he of schoolboy outfit fame) and Malcolm Young were the songwriting and instrumental heart of the group, until Malcolm’s early onset dementia disabled and then eventually killed him. The Young brothers’ nephew, Stevie, stepped up in Malcolm’s place, and the group have issued a pair of killer albums so reconfigured, missing nary a beat along the way. The group’s second singer, Bon Scott, was at the microphone as their international stock first soared (original vocalist Dave Evans only managed to get one single released during his tenure), and it seemed like they should and would have been finished when Scott succumbed to alcohol-related rock star misfortune in 1980. Remarkably enough, though, the group recruited Geordie (the band, not the Northeastern English cultural community) front-man Brian Johnson, and blew their way to true international superstardom with the Back in Black album, mere months after Brian joined the group. Acca Dacca’s rhythm section has experienced a fair amount of flux over the decades, but the seminal (and current) version of their back-line features drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams, who are aces at anchoring the low end (along with rhythm guitar champ Malcolm, and then Stevie), while Angus and Brian top the whole shebang with all the shrieking and soloing that AC/DC’s style of crowd-pleasing rock requires, and in many ways, probably define.

When I First Heard Them: In 1979, just after the release of Bon Scott’s last album, Highway to Hell. I’ve mentioned elsewhere on my website that my parents experienced a profound born-again Christian experience around ’79, changing most everything about our family’s life in confusing and perverse ways. A big part of that conversion experience was the subsequent laser-like focus on cultural, artistic and musical material that might be corrupting to young-ish minds like mine, and the destruction and/or banning of the same. The biggest musical targets among the fundamentalist Christian community at the time were KISS (“Knights in Satan’s Service,” y’know), Black Sabbath, and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, the sneering, sacrilegious cover of which just seemed to incite religious folks in its open embrace of everything they held vile and dangerous. Of course, because my parents and their church colleagues deemed that album to be a pinnacle of the Devil’s work, I just absolutely, positively had to have it. The album lived up to its bad reputation, I must say, and its basic wrongness was certainly cemented by Bon Scott’s subsequent and unfortunate rock star follies photo finish. I then very vividly, and distinctly, remember when Back in Black hit record stores and radio airwaves a year later; it took everything I loved about Highway, and amped it up in ways that were shockingly popular and populist, creating a truly global experience of hard rock solidarity, shocking audiences and critics alike through its epic strengths in the face of deep, dark adversity. The group’s quality, line-ups, and fortunes have ebbed and flowed in the subsequent decades, but I always give every one of AC/DC’s albums an open, fair shake upon release, and am usually more pleased than disappointed; their last three studio albums have actually marked something of a career high point, happily enough. I don’t know how much more Angus has to give to us all, or how much longer he’ll choose to give it, but if there’s another studio disc to come out there at some point, then super duper, I can’t wait to hear it, and if not, well, the AC/DC back catalog has got more than enough epic rock riffs to keep me screaming and playing air guitar and cranking up the car stereo for as much time as I myself have left before me, and then some. It’s good to know that a few precious things are constant and predictable in confusing times like these, and AC/DC are certainly among my life’s happiest verities, rock without end, amen.

Why I Love Them: I often think that AC/DC are the best litmus test for judging whether someone’s going to like hard rock or not. They offer all of the genre’s trademarks (high volume, shrieking vocals, reductive lyrics, lock-step moshable rhythms punctuated by widdly guitar solos, etc.), and they do it with smirks and smiles that let you know that they understand how dumb their idiom can be, and how smart they are at exploiting it to its maximum return on investment, for band members and audiences alike. If you like ’em, then there’s a world of rock out there waiting to thrill you. If you don’t like ’em, then, well, I’ll not likely be seeing you at your next Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Dave Matthews Band or Nickleback concert. Have a good time, though. Every single one of AC/DC’s albums, even the very weakest ones, contain at least one or two epic, singalong, ear-worm quality rock songs, and regardless of which singer was fronting the group at the time of each recording, all of those albums and singles are undeniably, and immediately, identifiable as AC/DC, so good are they at what they do, and so consistent are they in their delivery of the goods. Sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I remember being deeply amused and impressed when I read an interview with Angus Young that included this quote: “I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same, In fact, we’ve made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” Yes, they have. Plus another half dozen since then. The hobgoblin of consistency notwithstanding, I always respond to AC/DC’s auditory stimuli, habitually, with happy head-banging and volume knob twiddling, bring it on, more more more! I’ve only seen the group live once, in 1996, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and certainly, without question, the loudest. Here’s my review of that gig, for additional “why do I love them” perspective. The key quote, then and now: “So was there a point to the whole thing when it was all done? Nahhh . . . it was like Brian Johnson sang: ‘Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution — it’s just rock and roll, that’s all.’ When rock and roll is done as well as AC/DC do it, that’s all you need.”

#10. “Rock or Bust,” from Rock or Bust (2014)

#9. “Who Made Who,” from Who Made Who (1986)

#8. “It’s A Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock n’ Roll),” from T.N.T (1975)

#7. “You Shook Me All Night Long,” from Back in Black (1980)

#6. “Shot in the Dark,” from Power Up (2020)

#5. “Highway to Hell,” from Highway to Hell (1979)

#4. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You),” from For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981)

#3. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)

#2. “Back in Black,” from Back in Black (1980)

#1. “Thunderstruck,” from The Razors Edge (1990)

Land of 10,000 Words (Sedona #10)

(Note: I retired this series after ten posts during our time in Chicago, and think I will do the same with this tenth Sedona post. It gets to be variations on a theme after 100 photos of the same spaces and places. You can click on any image above for a full-size view, or visit the links below to see what I’ve seen in prior months and years).

PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

Fumbling Over 10,000 Words That Rhyme (Sedona #9)

10,000 Words On A Chair (Sedona #8)

The Night Has 10,000 Words (Sedona #7)

10,000 Words From The Exit Wound (Sedona #6)

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

Fly Away: Lee “Scratch” Perry (March 20, 1936 – August 29, 2021)

Brilliant Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry left this world today for mystical pastures elsewhere and beyond, leaving an incredibly rich and influential body of creative work behind him. His Discogs entry cites 2,846 recorded appearances over the course of his long career, and I suspect that actually under-estimates the total number of discs that he produced, wrote, sang or performed on, given the dodgy record-keeping and dubious release (and re-release) practices of his earlier professional years.

Perry’s career began in the late-1950s, when the mystical maestro-in-making cut his teeth in the studio and on the business side of the music industry with influential Jamaican producers Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Joe Gibbs. The difficult-to-irascible sides of his personality resulted in Scratch falling out with both of those mentors, and he eventually established his own label, Upsetter Records, in 1968. (Two of his earliest single successes, “Run for Cover” and “People Funny Boy,” were lightly-veiled attacks on Dodd and Gibbs respectively). Perry’s work was a cornerstone in establishing the standard traits and tricks of what we now call “reggae” music, adapting and refining elements of the ska and rock-steady beats that had come before; The Wailers (still featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer at the time) were among the early beneficiaries of his production and marketing mastery.

Perry established his own studio, The Black Ark, in 1973, continuing to shepherd some of the greatest and most-lasting moments of reggae’s maturation period through the mid-to-late-1970s. His Black Ark era is where he most fully developed and honed his masterful “dub” techniques, which typically adapted existing songs into new versions by stripping the vocals out, beefing up the drum n’ bass “riddims,” and slathering the remaining tracks with echo, reverb, chorus, samples, and other production tricks, creating spacious soundscapes that, in their turn, went on to heavily influence the evolution of the electronica, hip-hop, and modern R&B genres. While Perry wasn’t a prominently vocal proponent of the Rastafarian religion and culture, he certainly embraced its use of marijuana as a creative and spiritual sacrament, and he was known to blow cannabis smoke into his studio microphones as part of his special studio session seasoning. No surprise that listening to a classic Lee “Scratch” Perry dub version is probably the most accurate way to capture in audio the experience of being really, really high, becoming one with the music in the process, actual weed optional, though helpful.

Perry was struggling a bit creatively and personally around the dawn of the 1980s, but his stock was significantly revalued when his music and his production approaches were embraced by the nascent punk rock and post-punk scenes; the Clash most notably advanced his cause with their cover of Junior Murvin’s Perry-penned hit, “Police and Thieves,” while The Beastie Boys pimped his cause with their “Dr. Lee, PhD,” which also featured Scratch on vocals. Perry’s vintage dub and reggae cuts have been heavily sampled as hip-hop has emerged as a global lingua franca, and he remained prolific with original releases and productions right up until his passing.  The latest cut of his that I acquired was the outstanding “Here Come The Warm Dreads,” which featured equally game-changing producers Brian Eno and Adrian Sherwood in an epic dub-meets-electronica melt-down that’s as trippy as it is dance-worthy.

Given his insanely large catalog, it’s hard to capture and present a snapshot of Lee Perry’s career; just poking around online this morning for lists of his most notable works, I’ve found multiple sites with fine setlists that are mostly mutually exclusive one to the other, given the richness of his recorded work. I’ll offer my own little capture today as a memorial to the great music man with a new installment of my “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series below; these are the five songs in Perry’s immense catalog that have won the most spins about my own living spaces over the years, and if you like these, then, well, there’s a whole world of wonders out there for you to dig as follow-up. Let me know if you’ve got a personal Perry favorite in the comments; I might have heard it, but then again, I might not have, and if that’s the case, then I sure might need to.

“Fly Away,” from Musical Bones (1975), credited to Lee Perry and the Upsetters

“Mr. Brown,” from “Mr. Brown/Dracula” single (1970), credited to The Wailers

“Police and Thieves,” from Police and Thieves (1977), credited to Junior Murvin

“Chase The Devil,” from War Ina Babylon (1976), credited to Max Romeo and the Upsetters

“Party Time,” from Party Time (1977), credited to The Heptones

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #45: The Who

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: Arising from the Mod scene in mid-’60s England, The Who have gone on to basically serve as the type specimen for many-to-most of rock n’ roll’s most truly defining tropes. Four strikingly original personalities? Check. Problematic public aspects to all of those personalities? Most certainly. Incredible stage presence? Yes. An epic run of albums, including the obligatory concept albums? They did that, before many others did. Classic rock radio staple singles? Yep, they had those by the bucketfuls. A long, lingering afterlife beyond the demise of their initial line-up? Sure, though in the case of The Who, some of those latter-day recordings and tours were actually quite creatively powerful in their own rights, rather than serving as wan codas to their glory days. The group’s classic line-up (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, John Entwistle, Keith Moon) began fragmenting with Moon’s death from misadventure in 1978, with former Faces drummer Kenney Jones stepping up in Moon the Loon’s place; Jones has somehow become a bad guy in The Who’s story, though I think that’s unjust, and I quite like his work, different though it was from Keith’s approach to his battery. Entwistle was the next to succumb to excess, surrounded by cocaine and prostitutes when he died at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas in 2002, on the eve of a major tour. Pete and Roger have soldiered on since then, issuing an incredibly good album called WHO in 2019. Marcia and I had tickets to see them in Las Vegas on the tour behind that album, but then COVID had other ideas, and they remain one of the most significant ’60s to ’70s rock titans who I’ve still not yet seen on stage. Fingers crossed I have the opportunity to do so at some point in the years remaining in their performing careers.

When I First Heard Them: I’m pretty certain that the first Who song I would have known and loved was “Pinball Wizard,” on pop and rock radio in the early ’70s, and then again in the cover version by Elton John from Ken Russell’s 1975 film adaptation of the group’s game-changing rock opera, Tommy. When I moved to Long Island in 1976, among the kids my age, there was a weird dynamic in play where the rock-loving community was essentially divided along the lines of whether one considered The Who or Led Zeppelin to be the greatest band of the era. Them was fighting words and positions, for sure and serious. I joined Team Who at the time, and while I’ve grown to appreciate the Zep a bit more more over the years, I’d still make that Who-centric pick without thinking very much about it if forced to declare my allegiance to one or the other in 2021. Who Are You (1978)  was the first Who album that I acquired and loved in its original release cycle, and I’ve landed every studio product they’ve pumped out since then, always willing to give them a fair crack, even though there’s a lot of dross mixed in with the gems in the post-Moony era.

Why I Love Them: As noted above, I never experienced the original Who line-up in concert (alas), but by the recorded and filmed evidence, I’m strongly in allegiance with the camp that declares them to have been the greatest live rock band ever. All four members were incredibly good at their respective roles, though every one of them tended to define and execute those roles in ways that didn’t quite align with the ways that their numerous peers played their parts. Pete Townsend was and remains a brilliant conceptualist and songwriter, and he had an able wing-man in John Entwistle, whose occasional, often bawdy contributions to the group’s canon and catalog were always notable and attention-getting in their amusing contrast to Pete’s more spiritual and  serious fare. Moon played drums chaotically, like nobody before or since him, Entwistle took the bass guitar into powerful and melodic places where it had no business being, Townsend’s equipment destruction and signature windmill strums set templates for countless imitators over the years, and his pioneering work with sequencers and synths make the group’s recorded peak songs sound as fresh and innovative today as they did upon their release. Daltrey, for his part, essentially defined the ways that Rock God Singers are supposed to look, act, move, emote and sing, and it’s a glorious joy to watch him work his stuff, finding some weird sweet spot between pugilistic thug and messianic shaman. Bonus points for Entwistle and Townsend both being strong harmony and lead vocalists themselves, and even Moon’s occasional vocal turns were at least amusing, most of the time. The cerebral and thematic weirdness of the group’s various completed (e.g. Tommy and Quadrophenia) and fragmented/partial (e.g. Who’s Next, Sell Out and A Quick One) concept albums meant that there has always plenty of thought-provoking stuff for smart young seekers to use as soundtracks for their own individual amazing journeys, locking the group’s words, riffs and melodies into influential positions of permanent play, ensuing fads, fashions, and foibles be damned. (Note: Given the brilliance and importance of the group’s on-stage work, I’ve offered live clips of my favorite songs below, when they’re available in good quality).

#10. “Pinball Wizard,” from Tommy (1969)

#9. “Real Good Looking Boy,” from Then And Now (2004)

#8. “Relay,” from “Relay/Waspman” single (1972)

#7. “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” from Who’s Next (1971)

#6. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” from Quadrophenia (1973)

#5. “Street Song,” from WHO (2019)

#4. “5:15,” from Quadrophenia (1973)

#3. “Long Live Rock,” from Odds and Sods (1974)

#2. “Baba O’Riley,” from Who’s Next (1971)

#1. “Join Together,” from “Join Together/Baby Don’t You Do It” single (1972)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #44: Sparks

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: Eccentric California-bred brothers Ron (keyboards) and Russell (vocals) Mael have been writing and performing together since 1966, first as Halfnelson, then as Sparks after the re-release and re-branding of their Todd Rundgren-produced debut album in 1972. Sparks have released 25 studio albums since that time, largely existing as a quintessential cult band in the United States, while achieving wild rock-star status in England, Germany, Japan and elsewhere. The duo have worked with a variety of collaborators over the years, most notably German producer-composer Giorgio Moroder and/or his in-house team in the late ’70s and early ’80s. After a couple of fallow spells while the brothers worked on theatrical and film projects, Sparks have achieved a series of stunning late-career musical highs with their recent studio output, and their fame and acclaim (such as they are in their home country) have been capped this year with the release of the Edgar Wright-directed documentary The Sparks Brothers (which I most highly commend to you) and the rock opera Annette, with screenplay and score by Ron and Russell, starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Hellberg, and directed by auteur Leos Carax. It offers a brilliant, often shocking movie experience, one of the most unusual, though-provoking and rewarding films I’ve seen in quite some time.

When I First Heard Them: 1980ish, on the radio while living in Rhode Island, as their first Moroder collaboration, the album No. 1 in Heaven, was burning up the charts on the other side of the Atlantic. I drifted in and out of their voluminous catalog over the ensuing years, while also exploring their previous records in a hit-and-miss fashion, but I really began paying active attention to them again after the release of Hello Young Lovers in 2006, largely in response to enthusiastic recommendations from my long-time fellow music-loving friend Adam. I’m deeply glad that he brought Sparks up to me around that time, because for all the scattershot brilliance of their earlier catalog, everything they’ve done since then has been spot-on amazing, soup to nuts, just bouncing from high point to high point with each new track and each new album release.

Why I Love Them: The Mael’s music is lyrically rich and engaging, often funny (but rarely silly), and the duo are blessed with some truly world-class chops when it comes to writing irresistible ear-worm hooks and melodies. Listen to them for a half hour, and I’ll all but guarantee that your brain with glom onto some chorus and play it on repeat inside your skull for days, if not weeks, to follow. The pair write in a variety of idioms, ranging from Donna Summer-style disco to brash guitar-based glam rock to orchestral grandeur to simple singalong chansons to Terry Riley-esques excursions into repetition, repetition, repetition, truly hammering their words, concepts, and sounds into your soul. As wonderful as their music is, Ron and Russell are also delightful interview subjects and eminently watchable on video and stage, quirky showmen capable of big gestures, and fond of sharing memorable imagery. Russell (who Sex Pistol Steve Jones repeatedly refers to as “Cutie Pie” in the Sparks Brothers documentary)  does indeed exude pop star charisma of the highest order, while also possessing an incredible, versatile, distinctive voice. Ron, for his part, is just, uhhhh . . . different: his stage visage tends to be scowling, and he’s worn either an Adolph Hitler, Charlie Chaplin, or John Waters mustache throughout the group’s career, in recent years topped with stylish and cool round glasses. Ron often pantomimes elements of the duo’s songs on stage, then deftly steps back to his keyboard (usually Roland-brand, with their logos having been altered to say “Ronald”) to add his virtuoso tinkly touches. As a fine example of his delightful eccentricities, Ron brightened early COVID days by creating a video to share the large collection of hand sanitizers that he’d collected over the years while touring the world. I watched it more than once, happily enthralled. I’ll be a most happy camper if I can claim to be even a tenth as cool and interesting and spry as Ron Mael is now, when I reach his current mid-70-something age. Something to aspire to there, right? I’ve been so high on Sparks in recent years that I think I am approaching a personal musical inflection point in terms of how I answer the dreaded “Favorite Band” question that originally inspired this whole series of articles. Sparks FTW? I think that just might be the case at this point . . .

#10. “The Number One Song in Heaven,” from No. 1 in Heaven (1979)

#9. “I Can’t Believe That You Would Fall For All The Crap In This Song,” from Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008)

#8. “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’?,” from Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins (1994)

#7. “Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat,” from Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat (1984)

#6. “Lawnmower,” from A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020)

#5. “Dick Around,” from Hello Young Lovers (2006)

#4. “Nothing Travels Faster Than The Speed of Light,” from A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020)

#3. “My Baby’s Taking Me Home,” from Lil’ Beethoven (2002)

#2. “So May We Start,” from Annette (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2021)

#1. “What The Hell Is It This Time?,” from Hippopotamus (2017)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #43: The Monkees

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Are: A quartet of singer-actors originally brought together by television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, with music supervised by producer Don Kirschner, and supported by the songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Micky Dolenz and Davey Jones were both child actors in their pre-Monkees days, while Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith emerged from the folk/rock singer-songwriter world, developing their acting chops in front of the camera. Their television show, appropriately named The Monkees, was a huge hit during its original run from 1966 to 1968, living on as a syndicated favorite for decades thereafter. The group’s recordings were even more successful, with their first four albums topping the American charts, and scoring nearly as highly in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere; their fifth album approached those levels of commercial success without quite reaching them, followed by a long, slow decline through the group’s original run, which ended in 1971, after Tork and Nesmith had already fled the group. The Monkees were ostensibly assembled to offer an American alternative to The Beatles (also film and radio stars, with recognizably quirky on-screen personalities and talents), leading them to be unfortunately and unfairly dubbed “The Pre-Fab Four,” with a strong media backlash about their alleged shortcomings for not penning and playing all of the instruments on their (many) hit songs. But that’s a bogus critical position, especially in those times. Can’t abide performers who don’t write their own songs? Okay, then Elvis Presley, Linda Ronstadt, and Frank Sinatra are verboten. And can’t handle groups whose studio recordings were fleshed out with session player support, usually from the acclaimed Wrecking Crew team? Well, then The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garkunkel, and The Byrds should all fall under the lens of your opprobrium. The Monkees were talented, engaging performers, at bottom line, producing an extraordinary body of work, under the rules and rubrics for record-making that were normal at and in their time. While they spent the better part of two decades in something of a cultural doghouse, saner minds infused with warm nostalgia eventually prevailed, and various combinations of the quartet began touring and recording together in the ’90s, a practice that continues to this day, even after the deaths of Jones and Tork. As it turns out, the first (post?)-COVID-era concert that I’ll be seeing will be Nesmith and Dolenz together in Phoenix next month, and Micky’s recent album Dolenz Sings Nesmith (arranged and produced by Mike’s son, Christian Nesmith) is easily among 2021’s finest records to date.

When I First Heard Them: As a child of the ’60s, I would have first been exposed to them via their wonderfully a-kilter and akimbo television show, and their hit singles were mostly ubiquitous and unmissable on radio in the years after their release. Marcia and I had the chance to see Mike Nesmith with his latest incarnation of the highly-influential country-rock First National Band (now featuring Christian as on-stage band leader) while we lived in Chicago, and it was an utterly wonderful show, filled with Mike’s delightful songs, arranged sweetly and strongly within the twangy modern musical paradigm that owes a deep debt of gratitude to Mike’s albums from the 1970s. I can’t wait to see what he and Micky do together next month in Phoenix, and I regret not having had the chance to see them with Peter and Davey.

Why I Love Them: The Monkees made and make, together or apart, beautiful pop music, gorgeously arranged, finely sung, with ear-worm melodies that most artists would kill to have a chance to record and release. Despite their “pre-fab” origins, they worked hard over the years to establish themselves as a legitimately creative collective that made great music on their own terms, and I believe they achieved that goal. Yes, as a general rule, I do tend to like it when artists sing their own songs (which they did, sometimes, with Nesmith as a particularly strong songwriter), but I also deeply appreciate the role of the world’s “song stylists,” who can take words and melodies crafted by others, and make them transcendent. The Monkees have often been damned in critical circles for not living up to standards set by The Beatles, but (a) who the hell else lives up to those standards, and (b) it’s important to note that The Beatles loved The Monkees, with John Lennon declaring his American counterparts to be “the greatest comedy team since the Marx Brothers.” Which is fine and deserved praise, as the group were as good on screen as they were on record, creating a collective persona that’s been enduring and endearing for over half-a-century now. How many other acts can claim such acclaim and fame for so long? A: Not many. (Note: Since the visual aspects of the group’s heyday were such an important part of the full experience, I’ve used television or film clips in my links below, when available, instead of just posting the straight studio recordings).

#10. “I Believe You,” from Justus (1996)

#9. “Randy Scouse Git,” from Headquarters (1967)

#8. “Last Train to Clarksville,” from The Monkees (1966)

#7. “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” from Good Times (2016)

#6. “Listen to the Band,” from The Monkees Present (1969)

#5. “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round,” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones (1967)

#4. “For Pete’s Sake,” from Headquarters (1967)

#3. “Circle Sky,” from Head (1968)

#2. “You Just May Be The One,” from Headquarters (1967)

#1. “Me and Magdalena (Version Two),” from Good Times (2016)