FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: MY FAVOURITE MONKEE
Like your favourite Beatle, growing up in the sixties we all had our favourite Monkee. Mine was woolly-hatted guitarist Michael Nesmith who we sadly lost last Friday, aged 78. While you might not immediately think of The Monkees TV show as a kind of cultural milestone, it was a true ground breaker that over time elevated the band from a bunch of actors playing at being a pop group, put together to cash in on Beatlemania, to icon status. The first episode was shown on New Year’s Eve, 1966 and the show ran for 56 half-hour episodes up to June 1968. It was my staple viewing every Saturday at 6.15pm. Successive generations lapped up the repeats so The Monkees endured well beyond the producers’ initial remit.
Mike Nesmith died at home of natural causes, having undergone quadruple bypass surgery some three years earlier. Though he was known as the quiet Monkee, his dry sense of humour and general coolness worked for me and complemented the characteristics of the other three members. While the band went on to write their own material, most of its early hits were written by seasoned writers. In my mind, I always associated Mike with the Goffin-King penned “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, perhaps because of its satirical flavour and it remains one of my favourite Monkees’ songs.
Mike’s musical career did not end with the break-up of The Monkees in 1970. He accelerated the rise of country rock in the US via his First National Band, releasing three albums before recognising that the advent of The Eagles in mainstream music had largely taken the ground he had been curating. He branched out into film direction and production, wrote books, headed up a media arts company and was instrumental in creating a music video format that contributed to the birth of MTV. Mike joined sole surviving Monkee, Mickey Dolenz, for a final tour which concluded only last month. On that poignant note, something uplifting is required and I can think of nothing better than “Daydream Believer”, a song written for The Monkees by the great John Stewart.
Photo of Hatchie by Nick Maguire
Approaching the end of the year, I still have plenty of songs in my Inbox and half-replies to submissions to complete; a task that is highly unlikely to be finished before we all down tools for turkey, or the veggie or vegan equivalent. Songs come to me through a range of sources but just occasionally I finish listening to one and the platform I'm on starts to play something else before I have time to move the cursor. I happened this way upon Brisbane’s Harriette Pilbeam who performs as Hatchie, which it seems is her family’s nickname. I was very much taken with Hatchie’s latest single, actually a September release, “This Enchanted”, which I’ll share with you now.
A flighty love song, "This Enchanted" is swept along a wave of house-style piano, shoegazy guitar and busily punched drums which add earth to the 90s dream pop leanings of Hatchie’s vocal. It makes for a heady mix that is difficult not to move to, or, Kylie-like, get out of your head. Listening to some of Hatchie’s back catalogue, I especially loved the Rickenbacker jangle of “Sure”. The song is from her 2018 debut EP, Sugar & Spice, which she quickly followed up with a debut long-player, Keepsake; both of which are really worth getting to know.
Photo of Ellie Bleach by Brennan Bucannan
By contrast, Ellie Bleach came my way via that inspirational fount of great new music, Fresh on the Net. Her latest single, “Doing Really Well Thanks”, was voted one of last week’s Fresh Faves, always a coveted achievement. No relation to the Fast Show’s Billy Bleach, though with a comedic touch of her own, the North London-based Essex native was brought up in Southend. The nostalgia she weaves into her songs seems to sit well with the position of the town as a seaside resort in a commuter/retirement belt. Ellie’s conversational lyrics have at times a touch of Victoria Wood about them and the picture she draws of the woman who puts on a façade to avoid more probing questions is honest and relatable. I wasn’t wild about the looped laughter intro but once the piano and vocal kicks in, “Doing Really Well Thanks”, quickly transports you with its chipper piano melody and 70s organ swells. To Southend, and beyond!
It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard from London-based indie-popsters Tropical Boyfriend Catalogue; in fact, July 2020 when we highlighted the feel-good vibes of its single, “Holding On”. The good news is that the band is back with a new song, “Big Boy”, which picks up where we left off. Kami Ivanova on guitar and vocals and guitarist/keyboardist Zak Lyons first met in Croydon and became good friends, playing music together and getting involved in different bands. While at University in Manchester together, the pair began writing and recording what would become the band’s first two EPs, Go! and Sugar Freak. After university finished, they moved back to London and recruited another member, Craig Medlin.
“Big Boy” is the band’s first single from an album it is working on and sees it exploring new sounds and instruments to spin a web of dancey, synth-oriented pop. Kami explains that the song evolved from a chill acoustic tune into a fun dance track that she never imagined would be the outcome. She credits Craig Medlin for this transformation with his skilful addition of drums and percussive/ electronic effects. The result is a tongue-in-cheek track with the girl in the story justifying her night out by the repeated mantra of “I didn’t know what you meant”.
Let’s close this week with a little seasonality; well, the snow in Montreal looks the real deal. I first came across British singer-songwriter Lail Arad via her well-crafted 2016 album The Onion. Though she is London born and based, there is a cosmopolitan, at times continental, feel to her music. She went on to partner with Montreal’s JF Robitaille, both musically and in life, and it was a great pleasure to hear their latest collaboration written and recorded by them for The Line Of Best Fit's Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XIII compilation. JF & Lail’s “First Christmas” is available free on Bandcamp. Written and recorded in the days leading up to their baby Milo’s first flight, this gently eloquent song reflects on changing times, intercontinental families in the Covid-era, alongside the fears of a first flight with an infant. There will be an album in 2022 and, the duo claim, “a battle against temptation to write a children’s album!” I don’t know…
FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: ADVENT CALENDAR
Follow me on Twitter - @TonyHardy53 – and you can access our #Fifty3Fridays 2021 Advent Calendar of great songs each day. It’s Day 17 today and the featured song is the immaculate “Sonsick” by San Fermin, featuring Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius.
If you can’t be bothered with all that, there will be a reprise of all 24 songs on Christmas Eve (a cheap copy day pour moi!)