33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee: The Monkees on Record, Part 4
Perhaps more so than any other recording act in history, greatest hits compilations played a critical part in the success and ultimate resurgence of the Monkees. Considering the fact that they released a total of nine albums in less than a four year period, it would seem that the well for these compilations to draw on would be limited. These hits packages ranged from essential to uninspired and everywhere in between but some are deserving of special mention for the important role they played in the Monkees’ history. It is to these albums that the final chapter of The Monkees on Record is dedicated.
THE MONKEES GREATEST HITS Colgems COS 115 June 1969. The sole greatest hits compilation released during the Monkees’ original run shows thoughtful selection but shoddy presentation. All of the hits are represented along with album tracks that had been featured heavily on the show (She, Shades of Gray, Mary, Mary, Cuddly Toy, I Wanna Be Free and Zor and Zam). The album cover is a lackluster solid black with orange letter indicating nothing more than the title and song contents. No picture of the group is present anywhere. Since this record was released roughly one year after the television series had been canceled and the current incarnation of the group was floundering, it is obvious Colgems intended to squeeze the last few drops of milk from their cash cow before it went completely dry.
THE MONKEES RCA/Laurie House LH-8009 July 1976. Colgems followed their first greatest hits package up with two more, the promotional giveaway Golden Hits and double LP Barrel Full of Monkees, before finally giving up the ghost in 1972 and licensing their catalog to Bell Records. Bell wasted no time pressing their own Monkees album, the oddly titled Re-Focus, but with no promotion it went nowhere. Four years later, as the television show was enjoying decent ratings in national syndication, RCA Special Products released this mail order only collection with a packaging design that almost makes the earlier Colgems album look inspired. This two record set scores an A for track selection though and to this day is still the best overall representation of the Monkees career on US vinyl. The cover sports no liner notes, track listing, or even an actual photo of the group, just a black white drawing that is the same on both sides. The eighteen tracks encompass songs from every period of the Monkees recording history including Oh My My, Porpoise Song, Good Clean Fun, and Someday Man. Coupled with the expected hits and a few album tracks, these rare songs filled out a compilation that would be their only source, outside of the original releases, for many years.
THE MONKEES GREATEST HITS Arista AL 4089 July 1976. This reissue of Bell Record’s Re-Focus album would have been more appropriately titled The Monkees Greatest Greatest Hits! Unlike the RCA Special Products compilation released the same month, Arista’s album was given a national release and turned up in record and chain stores all across the country. This was THE album for second generation Monkees fans who were just being reintroduced to the series on weekday television and we played the grooves off the plastic! Sales of this greatest hits package, by a group no one supposedly cared about that had disbanded six years earlier, sold so well that it spent sixteen weeks on the Billboard charts, eight of which were in the top 100! This record even spawned a sequel six years later when Arista released the creatively titled More of the Monkees Greatest Hits in October, 1982. This goldmine stayed in print for almost a decade until Arista jumped on the revived Monkees bandwagon in 1986 and replaced it with Then & Now….The Best of the Monkees. Thank you, Arista!
MONKEEMANIA Arista Monk 1 / 2 October 1979. In the fall of 1979, this Australian double album was heavily imported into the US and popped up in the Monkees section of most larger music stores like Record Bar and Camelot Music. To music and information starved Monkees fans like me, this album fell like manna from Heaven! “40 timeless hits” wasn’t exactly accurate. It was more like 10-12 hits plus some album tracks plus a whole lot of uncommon songs most newer fans had never heard plus some rare versions of songs plus some songs that had never been released before. This was an absolutely incredible compilation right down to the extensive linear notes, discography, photos and packaging. For the first time, unreleased tracks like Steam Engine (which had been featured multiple times on the television series), Love to Love, and the live version of Circle Sky finally found their way onto vinyl. This release predicted the resurrection in popularity the group would start to experience a few years later as other foreign countries and finally their native land rediscovered the Monkees. Rhino Records scavenged most of the rare material from this album and put is out as a single picture disc called Monkee Business in 1982.
Well there you have it, a more or less comprehensive look at the musical legacy of The Monkees. It would only be a few short years later in the mid-1980’s when three of the original members (sans Michael Nesmith) would reform the group and play to packed houses all across the country. This would lead to further tours, full reunions, new music and another entire wave of Monkeemania. I will save those Monkee “tails” and a review of their impressive video contributions for future columns, though.