On this, the 50th anniversary of the Monkees, Scott McCaughey and his Minus 5 again dissect their 2014 5-LP Record Store Day release, Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror, to pay homage to idols musical or otherwise with Of Monkees and Men. The second such culling of the box set material following 2015’s Dungeon Golds, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz are each represented in an objective light on Of Monkees and Men.
Playing favorites, Nesmith and his trademark wool cap are given top billing on the album’s opening track, “Michael Nesmith”, a nine-minute country waltz that devolves into a meta-narrative on writer’s block as if voiced by John C. Reilly in his Bob Dylan period from the biopic parody, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. As in real life, Jones’ poster boy status and his The Brady Bunch turn are recounted on the psych-tinged “Davy Gets the Girl”, again relegating Tork to the role of red-headed stepchild on “Song for Peter Tork”, a dour tour through Tork’s post-Monkees highs and lows in which he remains lyrically nameless. Although last in order, Micky Dolenz receives the album highlight with “Micky’s a Cool Drummer”. Pointing out the Monkees were assembled for television, fan boy McCaughey doesn’t gloss over the session drummers used in Dolenz’s place prior to the band’s third album, Headquarters, namechecking Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon while cautioning past, present and future naysayers of the band to “Never criticize a man / Until you’ve walked a season in his TV show / Never criticize a band / Without a better reason than what you didn’t know.” Recreating the timpani from the Dolenz-penned “Randy Scouse Git”, “Micky’s a Cool Drummer” is good stuff.
Not to be forgotten in the history of the Monkees, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart—the songwriters behind the band’s early hits—are celebrated on “Boyce & Hart”, a Wurlitzer-spangled trip through the highlights of the duo’s Wikipedia page, effectively closing out the Monkees portion of the album.
As for the “and Men” of the album’s title, McCaughey and his mathematically-challenged Minus 5 (Joe Adragna, Paul Averitt, Jim Babjak, Peter Buck, Bucks Burnett, Dennis Diken, Laura Gibson, Ezra Holbrook, Tucker Jackson and Mike Mills) dedicate the latter half of Of Monkees and Men to like-minded musical souls deceased—such as Jimmy Silva on the garage rock biography “Blue Rickenbacker” and John Weymer with the elegiac coda “Weymer Never Dies”—and the soon-to-be defunct as on “Richmond Fontaine”, a power pop paean to Willy Vlautin’s band of the same name that earlier this year released its career-defining swan song. Knowing You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To is the last we’ll hear of Richmond Fontaine, McCaughey’s 2013 lyrics are bittersweet: “If I was Willie, if I were Sean / I’d keep it going until it’s gone / And Brainard too, and Dave for sure / Keep it going till there’s a cure / For all the good times, for all the blues / Keep playing and paying those Richmond Fontaine dues.” Rounding out the quartet of eulogies is “Robert Ryan is Among Us”, an appreciation of the late character actor (1909–1973) that highlights his villainous roles via the deployment of a Farfisa organ that would please Vincent Price.
Remastered as a stand-alone album, Of Monkees and Men is a tangential journey through the Technicolor mind of McCaughey. Serving as a loving tribute to cult figures who’ve influenced the Minus 5 braintrust, its protagonists continue to sustain McCaughey’s undying fascination with pop culture a half-century past while informing our own.