RECAP 2017: He began as a Monkee, but did so much more

Michael Nesmith – Infinite Tuesday – Autobiographical Riffs – The Music (Rhino) review

Michael Nesmith will forever be linked to the Monkees, the 1960’s group that’s been unfairly labeled as a fake band (were the Mamas & Papas any different?  But, that’s a debate for another time).  Yet, Nesmith continued to grow as an artist and pioneer after the breakup of the band.  He championed the country-rock movement, penned hit songs for other people, and became a innovator in the budding video technology of the late Seventies/early Eighties.  Infinite Tuesday, a new career retrospective from Rhino Records, takes Nesmith’s long and varied career and distills it into one disc.

Even before becoming a Monkee, Nesmith was already making records, as the protest-laden “The New Recruit” shows (billed as Michael Blessing).  But, it was Nesmith’s tenure in the Monkees that would rocket him and his three bandmates to superstardom and controversy.  The Monkees were first invented as a TV show.  Much has been made of how the members didn’t play on their recordings.  Yet, neither did many tracks by the Beach Boys, Byrds, Mamas & Papas and the Righteous Brothers – yet all of them get passes and the Monkees get judged.

What can’t be disputed is that within this band aimed squarely at teenagers, Nesmith offered an uniqueness that had nothing to do with the Beatles.  “Papa Gene’s Blues” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” were slices of country rock – and considering how many copies of those records were sold, had to expose thousands of teens to this decidedly un-pop music.

Around that same time, Nesmith was writing material, but much of it was deemed not good enough for Monkees’ albums.  One such track, “Different Drum,” became the breakout single for Linda Ronstadt, while still in the Stone Poneys.  Another Nesmith composition, “Some of Shelly’s Blues,” has been recorded numerous times, most notably by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (both songs are featured here as Nesmith solo tunes).

Nesmith worked on one final Monkees’ single, the rocking “Listen to the Band” and then embarked on a solo career.  The two tracks represented from his collaboration with the First National Band, “Joanne” and “Silver Moon,” are slices of California country rock, with a decidedly heavier lean toward pure country.

As the Seventies wore on, his work became more idiosyncratic – never sticking to one style.  The cinematic “Opening Theme – Life, The Unsuspecting Captive,” from 1975 and the Frank Zappa-inspired “Cruisin’,” are two examples of this eclecticism.  The last few, more recent tracks have a breezy, Caribbean feel to them.

Infinite Tuesday makes a very good case for Michael Nesmith to be taken more seriously as an artist, both with, and without the Monkees. —Tony Peters