Rolling Stone magazine is covering the tour extensively, and an August Vanity Fair piece makes the case that the Monkees have done more to shape modern pop than their traditionally more highly regarded peers. Reissues of their albums, from 1967 heyday chart-toppers to collections of their seemingly endless rarities, proliferate at a dizzying pace. And a who’s who of modern rock musicians, from Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher to Rivers Cuomo and Andy Partridge, contributed songs to their acclaimed 2016 album, “Good Times!”
Two songs from that album, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” and “Me and Magdelena,” have been in the set list ever since the record’s release and blend in effortlessly with older material. “It had to do, I think, with the production,” notes Dolenz, “and that was [album producer and Fountains of Wayne member, the late] Adam Schlesinger.” Perplexed about having to travel a long distance to a studio in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood for recording, Dolenz soon discovered the reason. “Then I realized why,” he relates. “It is set up with all of these vintage amps, tube amps, guitars, reverb sounds” which helped capture an authentic ‘60s feel. “It’s real… it seamlessly fit in.”
Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Sure, the Monkees played a (not very successful) group on TV, but that does absolutely nothing to diminish the staggeringly consistent run of catchy 60s singles they made, whether sung by Dolenz (“I’m A Believer,” “Last Train To Clarksville,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday”), Nesmith (“What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?”) or Davy Jones (“Daydream Believer,” “Valleri”).
The big hits will certainly be in Friday’s show, so be prepared to sing along to your favorites. And for those into album tracks and rarer cuts, you won’t be disappointed. “St. Matthew”, recorded in the ‘60s but unreleased until 1990, is one that Dolenz is currently enjoying playing. “The stuff from [Monkees cult movie] ‘Head’ is always wonderful,” he adds. “It’s all pretty neat.”
Another gem that’s made its way into the set list is “Love Is Only Sleeping,” written by songwriting legends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and included on late 1967′s “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd” album. Featuring exquisite harmonies from Nesmith and Dolenz, the song’s verses are in 7/4 time, not exactly a standard rock time signature. “7/4 is interesting,” Dolenz relates. “I learned how to sing in 5/4 from Carole King for a song for the movie ‘Head’ called ‘As We Go Along.’”
The pandemic threw a wrench in tour plans (to have followed 2018′s The Mike & Micky Show), but both members stayed busy with other projects. For Dolenz, that included recording a solo album.
That release, “Dolenz Sings Nesmith,” is an appropriate tribute to another important element of the Monkees’ legacy: the underrated songwriting talents of Michael Nesmith, whose contributions often flew under the radar when compared to the songs written for the group by Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond and Carole King. From the playful, romantic simplicity of the debut album’s “Papa Gene’s Blues” to the garage rock snarl of 1968′s “Circle Sky,” Nesmith’s Monkees songs covered an impressive range of styles and themes. The hypnotic “The Girl I Knew Somewhere,” sung by Dolenz, reached the Top 40 in early 1967. Though the term wasn’t yet in much use, Texan Nesmith contributed to the development of country rock with twangy Monkees tracks such as “Listen To The Band” and “Good Clean Fun” before forming the overtly country-influenced First National Band in the early 1970s.
“Dolenz Sings Nesmith” features one Monkee reinterpreting his bandmate’s songs, produced by that same bandmate’s son. Reviews have been positive. “I’m very proud of that album,” says Dolenz. “Christian Nesmith did a really, really good job [with the production].”
One highlight of the record is “Different Drum,” a new take on the Nesmith classic that Linda Ronstadt’s group Stone Poneys took to #13 in the Billboard singles chart in 1967 following its rejection for the Monkees by show producers. It features on the current tour, with Dolenz dubbing it “a real highlight of the show.”
Dolenz recently joined Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess for one of Burgess’s famous Twitter listening parties, a series begun during pandemic lockdowns that continues to feature artists tweeting details and insights about albums as participants listen in synch at an appointed time. The vocalist is enthusiastic about the experience: “That was very unusual,” he notes. “Hadn’t had a listening party like that before! But then again, a lot of very unique, strange things have been happening” [in the COVID-19 years]. “I thought it was great… I would prefer to do live [performances]” when it’s possible, adds Dolenz.
A newly rewritten, limited-edition book by Monkees producer, tour manager, archivist and ‘60s music expert Andrew Sandoval, “The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story,” is another lockdown project contributing to the group’s chronicles. The 700+ page Beatland Books release, for Dolenz, is “really a masterpiece” that includes “a whole lot of stuff I didn’t know because I wasn’t privy to it at the time.” Joking about its size, he adds, “You’ve heard of coffee table books? This is the coffee table!”
Dolenz’s Atlanta memories are focused on one neighborhood. “I can say it in one phrase,” he chuckles. “You know Buckhead? I spent two years there one night. Need I say more?”
The current touring group, which features standard rock instrumentation plus a pedal steel guitar player, is also a family affair. Christian Nesmith (guitar) and his wife Circe Link (backing vocals) are members, as is backing vocalist Coco Dolenz, Micky’s younger sister, who’s performed with the band and in Micky’s solo shows frequently over the years. “I don’t know what I would do without her,” acknowledges Dolenz. “Her singing is especially valuable and important because she sounds very much like me… Since childhood we’ve had an amazing blend because we learned to sing together.” Coco either harmonizes or doubles Micky’s lead, depending on the song; the common practice of double tracking lead vocals in the 60s points to the value of the siblings sounding similar.
Nesmith was an infrequent participant in reunion tours over the years, which has made the era that began with 2018′s The Mike & Micky Show dates all the more special — and poignant, even with the pandemic-mandated break. “This time especially, it’s been wonderful — it’s been brilliant,” enthuses Dolenz. “We settled in, and commiserated over the lockdown … We’ve been really having a great time together.” The two learned from that 2018 tour what works best for two performers in their late 70s, as this time around they’re playing only three nights in a row and avoiding too much bus travel. “I’m watching my health, trying to eat well,” says Micky.
Asked whether or not he’s been thinking about the band’s legacy in light of this tour being the last, Dolenz opines, “I haven’t thought too much about the legacy thing, but then again I’ve lived with it for all of these years.” Prior tours theoretically could have wrapped things up. “There have been other instances when Davy and Peter and I went out,” he notes, “and that was supposed to be the final tour. And that’s just the way it goes.”
After all, tour plans have had different origins. “Since the show went off the air,” Dolenz points out, “there has not been ever since a continuous Monkee business, or Monkee office or management. It’s always been some producer, promoter, agent tracking us down like they did in ‘86 and saying ‘do you want to go on the road?’” And he continues to welcome the chance to take the stage: “I have no problem, I love it!”
Dolenz signs off with an ebullient note about Friday’s show: “Looking forward to it!” Atlanta is, too, ready to celebrate one more time with the group whose unique journey began 55 years ago.
The Monkees Farewell Tour with Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz
8 p.m. Oct. 8. $49-$175. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test within 72 hours required. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, aso.org.