Saturday, December 11, 2021

My Favourite Michael Nesmith Songs

There are those artists we love from our earliest days, so early that we might not even recall where we first encountered them. The Monkees number among those artists for me. I might have seen the TV show in its first run on NBC, although I don't remember it. My much older sister owned The Monkees' albums and they were frequently played on the radio, so I am certain I must have heard their songs while very young. One thing of which I am certain is that I watched the reruns of The Monkees faithfully when CBS started showing the series in 1969. At six years old something about both the show and the band just clicked for me. I have to think much of it was that it was sheer escapism of the sort young boys enjoy. The Monkees faced everything from gangsters to modern day pirates to the Devil himself. While The Monkees was an escapist TV show, to a small degree it had an underlying message. Quite simply, each week it showed that four down-and-out young men could come out on top against whatever was thrown against them. Fora young boy or, really, anyone of any age, that can be an important message to hear.

While I love all four Monkees, from the beginning Michael Nesmith was my favourite. Mike was the intellectual of the group, possessed with very dry wit and a keen mind. It was Mike who most often got The Monkees out of any jams they were in, who came up with any solutions to problems they might face. As a relatively intelligent lad whose humour was ea bit left of centre even then, I identified with Mike, even if I might not possess his leadership skills (I still don't).

Of course, The Monkees was more than a sitcom. Each week it featured at least one song performed by the band, and some of those songs were written by the band members themselves. Indeed, Michael Nesmith was a songwriter before the TV show even debuted. He had written and recorded his own singles before the debut of The Monkees. His song "Mary, Mary" (later covered by The Monkees) was recorded by The Paul Butterfield Band in 1966, and his song "Different Drum" was recorded by The Greenbriar Boys that year. Michael Nesmith's songs for The Monkees number among my favourites of the band, and I love a number of his solo songs as well. In tribute to the great Michael Nesmith, I thought I would post some of my favourite songs he wrote. These aren't all of my favourites, by any means. Since I can't decide which ones I like best, I decided to present them in chronological order.

"Sweet Young Thing" was co-written by Michael Nesmith, Gerry Goffin, and Carole King, but it is identifiably a Michael Nesmith song. Indeed, it sounds a lot like his other early work. It is my second favourite Monkees song, after "She" (which was composed by Boyce and Hart).

Angry at Don Kirshner for releasing the album without The Monkees' input or even knowledge, Michael Nesmith once called the band's second album, More of The Monkees, "the worst album in the history of the world." That having been said, for all its shortcomings, More of The Monkees does include some of the band's best songs, including "She," Michael Nesmith's own "Mary, Mary," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin'' Stone," and "I'm a Believer." Among those songs is "The Kind of Girl I Could Love." It has always numbered among my favourite songs by Michael Nesmith.

Headquarters was historic as the first Monkees album recorded without substantial use of session musicians. "You Just May Be The One" had been recorded earlier for the television show, but for the album The Monkees recorded a new version. What is more, it is the one song on Headquarters on which all four Monkees play the same instruments that they are shown playing on the show (Mike on guitar, Peter on bass, Micky on drums, and Davy on tambourine). While I love both versions, I do prefer the album version of "You Just May Be the One" to the TV version. It has always been one of my favourite Monkees songs, although for a time I couldn't listen to it without breaking down in tears as I identify it with someone who is no longer with us.

"Daily Nightly" was inspired by the Sunset Strip curfew riots, and the media's misinformation regarding them. The Monkees had earlier discussed the Sunset Strip curfew riots at the end of the episode "Find The Monkees," even going so far as to point out that the word "riots" was inaccurate. Along with "Star Collector" (also from the album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd.), "Daily Nightly" was the first song on which a Moog synthesizer was used.

As mentioned earlier, Michael Nesmith's song "Different Drum" was first recorded by The Greenbriar Boys. It was included on their album Better Late Than Never! in 1966. Michael Nesmith had offered "Different Drum" to The Monkees, but it was one of a number of Michael Nesmith's songs that was rejected by music supervisor Don Kirshner. The Stone Poneys then recorded their own version of their song and relased it as a single. It went to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. For me this is yet more evidence that Don Krishner was not the music expert he thought he was...

"Tapioca Tundra" appeared on the album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees and it was also the B-side of the second single from the album, "Valleri." It did particularly well as a B-side, actually going to no. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Circle Sky" is perhaps best known for its inclusion in The Monkees' movie Head. The movie features a live performance of the song filmed at the Valley Auditorium in Salt Lake City on May 17 1968. Sadly, the movie Head bombed at the box office. Its soundtrack album became the first Monkees album not to reach the top ten on the Billboard album chart, going only to no. 45. A new version would later be recorded for The Monkees' 1996 album Justus.

"Rio" was a single from Michael Nesmith's 1977 album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing. At the time music videos were hardly unknown. Musical short films have existed nearly as long as talking motion pictures have. In the Forties Soundies were made for the Panoram visual jukebox and in the late Fifties and Sixties there were musical shorts made for the Scopitone, Cinebox, and Color-Sonics visual jukeboxes. Of course, in the Sixties promotional films were made for artists from The Beatles to The Monkees' songwriters Boyce & Hart. That having been said, the music video for "Rio" was historic. In 1977 many American artists did not bother with music videos. What is more, conceptual videos were just coming into their own at the time. "Rio" would then have an impact. Indeed, while the video was shot in 1977, it looks like something that could have come from the Eighties.

"Cruisin'" was the last single Michael Nesmith would release as a solo artist. It was from his 1979 album  Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma. A music video was shot for Michael Nesmith's 1981 collection of comedy skits and music videos Elephant Parts. Elephant Parts also included the music video for "Rio," as well as music videos for "Magic," "Light," and "Tonight." Elephant Parts won the first Grammy for Music Video. As to Sunset Sam in the "Cruisin'" video that is Steve Strong, not a young Hulk Hogan as often reported.

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Late Great Michael Nesmith

I am not sure when I was first exposed to The Monkees. The show debuted when I was three years old, but I don't have any memories of watching it at the time. That having been said, my sister (who is 17 years older than I am) owned The Monkees' albums, and their songs were played frequently on the radio at the time.

While I can't say for certain when I was first exposed to The Monkees, I can pinpoint when I became a fan. In 1969 CBS began rerunning The Monkees on Saturday morning and I was hooked. Michael Nesmith was my favourite Monkee from the beginning. Looking back, it made perfect sense that he would be my favourite, as we had a lot in common. He was "the quiet Monkee," the contemplative, intellectual member of the group. He also had a sardonic sense of humour. As I got older I learned of his musical contributions to The Monkees and his solo career as well. As I grew up, I remained a fan of The Monkees and Michael Nesmith. Sadly, Michael Nesmith died today at the age of 78 from heart failure.

Robert Michael Nesmith was born on December 30 1942 in Houston, Texas. His parents divorced when he was only four years old. His mother, Bette, then moved to Dallas to be closer to her family. Michael Nesmith was 13 when Bette Nesmith invented Liquid Paper, a typewriter correction fluid. She headed the Liquid Paper Corporation until 1979 when she sold it to Gillette. She died on May 12 1980 following a stroke at age 56. 0

Michael Nesmith enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1960, before he could graduate from highs school, although he earned a high school equivalency diploma during his service. He attended San Antonio College, where he and John Kuehne won the first San Antonio College talent award. It was also during this period that he began to write songs. In 1964 he moved to Los Angeles to further pursue his music career. It was in 1963 that he released his first single, "Wanderin'," on the Highness label. In 1965, with bassist John London and drummer Bill Sleeper, he released the single "How Can You Kiss Me" on the Omnibus label under the name Mike & John & Bill. Using the name "Mike Blessing," he released two singles on the Colpix label, "Until It's Time for You to Go" and "Just a Little Love." It was also during this period that Michael Nesmith wrote the song "Different Drum" The song was first recorded by The Greenbriar Boys and included on their album Better Late Than Never!.  In 1967 it was recorded by The Stone Poneys and released as a single. It went to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It was in 1965 that Michael Nesmith answered an ad that had been published in Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter which read, "Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17–21. Want spirited Ben Frank's-types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview." Michael Nesmith found himself cast as one of four struggling musicians on the television show The Monkees. The Monkees was a multi-media project that saw the recording of songs that would also be released as singles and on albums by The Monkees.

Michael Nesmith wrote and even sang lead on many of the songs recorded by The Monkees, including "Sweet Young Thing," "The Kid of Girl I Could Love," "You Just Maybe the One," "Circle Sky," "Listen to the Band," and others. Everything would not go smoothly in the early days of The Monkees. Music supervisor Don Kirshner would not allow The Monkees to play their instruments on their songs. This ultimately led to the band rebelling against Kirshner's control. In the end Kirshner was dismissed as music supervisor in February 1967.

As one of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith appeared in the movie Head (1968), which initially failed at the box office, but would later become a cult film. He also appeared in the television special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. In 1970 Michael Nesmith left The Monkees, his last participation in the group being appearances in commercials for Kool-Aid and Nerf. It was while he was with The Monkees that he released what could be considered his first solo album, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, in 1968. It was after he left The Monkees that he formed The First National Band. The First National Band recorded three albums, and had a hit with the single "Joanne" (which went to no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Following the break-up of The First National Band, Michael Nesmith formed The Second National Band. The Second National Band released one album. Following the break-up of The Second National Band, Michael Nesmith recorded eight more solo albums. In 1974 he formed Pacific Arts Corporation to develop various media projects.

It was in the late Seventies that Michael Nesmith became a pioneer in music videos. He created a music video for his single "Rio" in 1977. The video for "Rio" led Michael Nesmith to develop the television show PopClips. PopClips was an early music video show, hosted by Jeff Michalski. It proved successful following its debut on Nickelodeon in 1980. In fact, it was so successful that Warner/Amex wanted to buy both the name and the concept from Michael Nesmith. When he refused, they developed their own concept, MTV. It was in 1981 that Michael Nesmith released the video album Elephant Parts. The success of Elephant Parts led to a short-lived television show on NBC in 1985, Michael Nesmith in Television Parts.

Michael Nesmith also served as executive producer on the movies Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1982), Repo Man (1984), and Tapeheads (1988).

Michael Nesmith would eventually reunite with his fellow Monkees. In 1986 MTV aired a marathon of episodes of The Monkees, reigniting interest in both the show and the group. The Monkees then played a 20th Anniversary Tour in North America. Due to his commitments to Pacific Arts Corporation, Michael Nesmith was unable to take part, but did play with the group at the concert at the he Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles on July 9 1989. He reunited with The Monkees in 1995 to record the album Justus, as well as the television special Hey, Hey, It's The Monkees. He toured the United Kingdom with the other Monkees in 1997. Following the death of Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith toured with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork in 2012, 2013, and 2014. In 2016 he contributed to The Monkees' album Good Times. He would tour with Micky Dolenz in 2018 and again in 2019. They toured for one last time this year. Michael Nesmith's last appearance on November 14 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

As one of The Monkees, Michael Nesmith appeared on the shows Laugh-In, The Hollywood Squares, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and The Johnny Cash Show. He also appeared on Saturday Night Live and Portlandia. He appeared in the movies Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, Repo Man, Burglar (1987), and Tapeheads (1988).

Of all the celebrity deaths this year, Michael Nemsith's death has been the most difficult for me to handle. Mike was always my favourite Monkee. On The Monkees he was the level-headed one, the one who generally got The Monkees out of the various scrapes they found themselves in. In " The Devil and Peter Tork," it was Mike who convinced Peter that the talent to play the harp existed within him, thus denying the Devil Peter's soul. Michael Nesmith's songs were always among my favourite Monkees songs. Indeed, "Sweet Young Thing" is my second favourite Monkees song after "She" (a Boyce & Hart composition). I followed Michael Nesmith's career after his stint with The Monkees, including "Rio" and Elephant Parts.

While Mike on The Monkees was essentially a fictionalized version of Michael Nesmith, Michael Nesmith shared a good many of qualities with his television counterpart. He founded Pacific Arts Corporation, which at one time had the biggest catalogue of non-theatrical video titles. With "Rio" he pioneered one of the earliest American rock videos. With PopClips he spurred the popularity of music videos, leading to the creation of MTV. As a solo artist he continued to write a number of memorable songs, including "Joanne," "Rio," "Cruisnin'," and others. While he will always be remembered as a Monkee, Michael Nesmith was so much more.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

More Movies Aded to the TCM Classic Film Festival 2022

Turner Classic Movies recently announced yet more movies that will be screened at the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival. The 2022 Robert Osborne Award winner, Leonard Maltin, will introduce a screening of Counsellor at Law (1933), starring John Barrymore. Other films that have been added to the festival include After the Thin Man (1936), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), Force of Evil (1948), Baby Face (1933), and The Slender Thread (1945).

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Eddie Mekka Passes On

Eddie Mekka, perhaps best known for playing Carmine "the Big Ragoo" Ragusa on Laverne & Shirley, died on November 27 2021 at at the age of 69.

Eddie Mekka was born Edward Rudolph Mekjian on June 14 1952 in  Worcester, Massachusetts. He attended the Berklee College of Music. In the early Seventies he headed the Worcester County Light Opera. On Broadway he was part of the ensemble of Jumpers in 1974 and a year later he appeared in The Lieutenant. He later appeared in The Magic Show.

In 1976 he began playing Carmine Ragusa on Laverne & Shirley. He continued to appear on the show until the end of its run. He also played Carmine on two guest appearances on Happy Days. In the late Seventies he also played Joey DeLuca on the short-lived sitcom Blansky's Beauties. He guest starred on Greatest Heroes of the Bible, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island.

In the Eighties Eddie Mekka appeared in the movies Assignment Berlin (1982), Bum Rap (1988), and Beaches (1988). He guest starred on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Moonlighting, True Blue, and The Munsters Today. In the Nineties Eddie Mekka appeared in the movies A League of Their Own (1992) and Top of the World (1997). He guest starred on The Guiding Light, Family Matters, California Dreams, Dream On, Weird Science, The Big Easy, The Jamie Foxx Show, and Sunset Beach.

In the Naughts Eddie Mekka guest starred on the television shows Power Rangers Wild Force, The Bold and the Beautiful, 24, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, ER, and Pastor Greg. He appeared in the movies Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), Land of the Free? (2004), The Last Stand (2006), Dreamgirls (2006), Love Made Easy (2006), Stuck in the Past (2007), and C Me Dance (2009). During the Naughts he also reunited with Laverne & Shirley co-star Cindy Williams for a tour of Grease and a regional production of It Had to Be You.

In the Teens he guest starred on the shows The Young and the Restless and Childrens Hospital. He appeared in the movies Through a Mother's Eyes (2013), Trew Calling (2017), Silver Twins (2017), and Sushi Tushi or How Asia Broke Into American Pro Football (2018).

Eddie Mekka was perfectly cast as Carmine Ragusa, Shirley's high school sweetheart, on Laverne & Shirley. He had perfect comic timing and even got to display his talent for singing and dancing from time to time on the show. He would shine in various guest appearances on television, as well as appearances in such movies as A League of Their Own and Dreamgirls. No matter how small the role, Eddie Mekka always gave a good performance.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Turner Classic Movies to Honour Lily Tomlin and Leonard Maltin at the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival

Turner Classic Movies will honour Lily Tomlin with a hand and footprint ceremony in the courtyard of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood at the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival. Lily Tomlin was part of the cast of the classic sketch comedy television series  Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. She has appeared in such movies as Nashville (1975), 9 to 5 (1980), and I Heart Huckabees (2004). On television she was the voice of Ms. Frizzle on the animated series The Magic School Bus, the president's executive secretary Debbie Fiderer on The West Wing, and Frankie Bergstein on Grace and Frankie. She has won Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, and a Tony Award. In 2017 she received a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

TCM will also present film critic and film historian Leonard Maltin with the third Robert Osborne Award. Named for the long-time host of Turner Classic Movies, The Robert Osborne Award is presented to individuals "who has helped keep the cultural heritage of classic film alive for future generations." Leonard Maltin is an author and editor of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, as well as the author of the books Movie Comedy Teams, The Disney Films, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, and many others. He was the long-time movie critic for Entertainment Tonight.

Monday, December 6, 2021

"Run, Rudolph, Run" by Chuck Berry

"Run, Rudolph, Run" by Chuck Berry is one of the all time great Christmas rock 'n' roll songs. It was released on November 19 1958. and has since become a standard. The song was originally attributed to C. Berry Music (Chuck Berry's company)-M. Brodie. Strangely enough, the many cover versions of the song attribute it to Johnny Marks-Marvin Broadie. The identity of Marvin Broadie is a bit of a mystery, but Johnny Marks is well known as the writer of the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," as well as such Christmas classics as "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Holly Jolly Christmas."

Of course, this begs the question as to whether Johnny Marks actually wrote Run, Rudolph, Run." It sounds exactly like the sort of song Chuck Berry would write. In fact, its melody is pretty much the same as his song "Little Queenie," recorded in the same session. "Little Queenie" was attributed to Chuck Berry alone. It also resembles Chuck Berry's other songs, from "Roll Over Beethoven" to "Johnny B. Goode." It then seems likely Chuck Berry was one of the writers, if not the only writer on the song.

If this is the case, then why is Johnny Marks credited? Much of it may be the fact that Rudolph was not in the public domain at the time and still isn't in the public domain. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by Robert May for a promotion for Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward allowed Robert May to retain the copyright on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. To handle the rights to the character Robert May founded The Rudolph Company L.P., which still controls the rights to the character to this day. This brings us to Robert May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks, who received permission from him to write the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is owned by Johnny Marks's company, St. Nicholas Music, Inc. It seems likely that St. Nicholas Music, Inc. lodged a complaint against "Run, Rudolph, Run," and as a result Mr. Marks was credited on a song he did not write (although he did shape Rudolph as we know him).

Regardless of who wrote "Run, Rudolph, Run," it remains a classic to this day and has been covered multiple times.