Listen to this track by enduring four-man multimedia phenomenon Micky, Davy, Mike, and Peter; The Monkees. It’s “Sometime In The Morning”, a deep cut and favourite track off of their mega-selling second album More Of The Monkees, released in January of 1967. The album remained at the number one spot on the Billboard 200 for a big 18 weeks. Meanwhile, this song would appear multiple times in their concurrent and very popular TV show The Monkees including in one of my favourite episodes “Monkee Mother”, guest starring Rose Marie.
Nineteen sixty-seven was a banner year for the group for a number of reasons. First, the TV show was an Emmy-winning hit. Second, their first live appearances as a group starting at tail-end of 1966 were going swimmingly during a time when they were taking heat for being just a pretend group who couldn’t play their own instruments. As far as the “pretend” part of that equation, this was true in one sense; the group they played on TV really was fictional, even though its members had the same names as the four principle cast. In real life though, they were as real as any other band playing shows in front of live audiences. The differences between their two identities, one fictional and one real, may explain the confusion around The Monkees’ authenticity. No one else was doing this sort of thing in quite this way at the time.
Further to that, this dynamic blurred the lines about who was responsible and who should be credited for the music people were hearing and buying. So, when More Of The Monkees hit the racks in January of 1967 to the surprise of The Monkees themselves who had no idea it was even coming out, things were about to get real ugly, real fast.
Initially, The Monkees’ music was delivered by way of a very rigid structure. Music supervisor Don Kirshner had been installed to manage the publishing of Monkees material by 1966 along with the sourcing, selection, and release of the songs without any band input other than their vocal tracks. Only two slots on each album were begrudgingly set aside for full-fledged Monkee and established songwriter Mike Nesmith to write and produce. This creative structure was a long-standing bone of contention for the band, resulting in Nesmith punching a hole in a hotel room wall during one meeting with Kirshner and his lawyer to express his frustrations. Kirshner was eventually fired for his autocratic approach when he defied a mandate not to release music without consultation ever again, an agreement established after the testy meeting with Nesmith. Who was the hero and who was the villain in this chapter of the story? It depends on who you ask.
Mike Nesmith’s and Peter Tork’s frustration over lack of creative input made total sense since they were accomplished musicians, not just actors who could sing. You only need to listen to Nesmith’s material and production style to realize that he gave real dimension to the band’s work from the get-go. Peter Tork’s contributions on the keyboards, banjo, bass, and guitar through out The Monkees’ recording career are also exceptional for the same reasons. Their perspective coming into the show was that they’d been hired as a band who could act. To contrast, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones assumed they had been hired as actors who could play the parts of musicians convincingly, so they responded to requests to attend vocal-only recording sessions accordingly. Despite this difference in perspective between members, The Monkees unified around the goal of creative control. That’s what bands do. When More Of The Monkees came out along with related singles released without their knowledge while they were on tour, you can understand how angry it made them. They weren’t even issued their own copies and had to buy it in the store! That’s pretty ridiculous.
As far as heroes and villains in this story though, it’s still not cut and dried. Kirshner’s tyrannical attitudes around creative control should not be dismissed or excused. But with some tracks called out as exceptions on their first two records, Kirshner really did know the kinds of songs that would best suit The Monkees, particularly where Dolenz and Jones were concerned. His model for being a music supervisor was outdated by 1967 and ultimately myopic considering the unique talents found within the band he was working with. But he had the right connections to the best pop writers in the world to secure the best material with many of those relationships with the band lasting years after he went on his way. In this, he certainly did a great job. To me, “Sometime In The Morning” is exhibit A where this is concerned.
The song was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who had great success in writing hits for The Shirelles, The Drifters, The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, and so, so many other acts who created top shelf pop music by working with outside writers. This was standard practice in the sixties, when professional writers were brought in to help artists amplify their styles and their artistic voices with songs crafted by those who had keen ears for what songs best fit each respective act. Goffin and King, among others, would certainly pen many of The Monkees’ songs for which they are best known and beloved even today, half a century later. This approach is just another model for releasing music that connects with people. Singles released by Motown and Stax under those same conditions will prove that point. There’s certainly nothing inauthentic about that even if it took a lot of people a long time to figure that out when it came to The Monkees, perhaps including the band members themselves.
In this case, Goffin and King created one of the most wistful love songs in their already impressive pop songwriting portfolio, producing it in New York, where both they, and Kirshner were based, while the TV show was in production across the country in Los Angeles. It’s a song about experiencing profound moments of clarity when it comes to loving someone, with the presence of mind to celebrate those moments with that person as they happen. Micky Dolenz, actor though he was, laid down one of the finest lead vocal performances of his career with this song, maybe in part because he was an actor able to bring out the emotional gravity in the material so well. And what material! If Kirshner’s mission was to get the cream of the crop when it came to songs to suit his charges that would fuel the show and score hits on the charts, it’s really difficult to fault him in choosing Goffin and King among others to create them, particularly with this song easily being among the best Monkees tracks ever recorded. Along with all that, it was one of many songs that helped the band establish their unique legacy well beyond their short-lived TV series, with generations of music lovers, songwriters, and fellow musicians discovering how joyful and life-affirming their music always was and continues to be even fifty years later.
As of this writing, and as mentioned in a Monkees-related companion piece I wrote back at the beginning of the summer, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork are on tour under the Monkees banner to promote the golden anniversary of The Monkees along with their new album, Good Times! By the time you read this, my daughter and I will be making preparation to see the show in Vancouver at the PNE! The new record also features the work professional songwriters (including Goffin & King) along with original compositions by Tork, Dolenz, and Nesmith.
For more about the history of The Monkees in the studio and the conflict between the band and Don Kirshner in particular, check out this blog post that goes into even more detail.
[UPDATE, March 5, 2017: Check out this article from Dangerous Minds that feature Carole King’s amazing demo recordings of this song, plus two other Goffin-King compositions “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Take A Giant Step”]