Am fairly sure this happens to everyone, at one time or another, if you’ve a parent who decides to share something pretty personal with their child. The totally unexpected kind where the kid never looks at their begetter ever the same way again. Happened during that pubescent period known then as “junior high” when my mother shared an instance of her young, pre-married life with Moi. It involved a Chicago bartender and a monthly cycle, and let’s just say I’ve never forgotten it1.
Around the time I was in my Monkees phase, and why I remember the discussion whenever my favorite song of theirs plays.
As Mark Deming for Allmusic best summarized,
“The Monkees were talented singers, musicians, and songwriters who made a handful of the finest pop singles of their day (as well as a few first-rate albums) and delivered exciting, entertaining live shows. But at a time when rock music was becoming more self-conscious and “serious,” the hipper echelons of the music press often lambasted the Monkees, largely because they didn’t come together organically but through the casting process for a television series, and they initially didn’t write the bulk of their own material or play all the instruments on their records.”
Fairly or unfairly, shouldn’t surprise the quartet of Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and British actor and singer Davy Jones arose in the wake of the British Invasion and four other mopheads.
“Inspired by Richard Lester‘s groundbreaking comedies with the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, Rafelson and Schneider imagined a situation comedy in which a four-piece band had wacky adventures every week and occasionally burst into song. The NBC television network liked the idea, and production began on The Monkees in early 1966.”
Already primed by the creative upheaval going on musically, those my age ate it, and them, up as part of our regular meal of television and pop music. Honestly, back then, this was must-see TV for the hormone-fueled lot of us coming of age. Along with the weekly dosage of American Bandstand, Hullabaloo, Shindig, even Shebang, this brought with it a certain amount of glee. Especially when an adult happened by and showed disdain for “…what passed as music, nowadays.”
Their meteoric rise, and later fall, was in tune to that revolutionary period as bands peaked almost weekly.
Tastes metamorphosing right as pop music mutated with the perception-changing hallucinogenic drugs coursing through the collective bloodstream. The Monkees weren’t allowed to play on their earliest recordings, though Michael Nesbit and Peter Tork more than capable. Producers bequeathed those duties to the accomplished studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. Standard then, yet controversy ensued when the practice became known2.
Through it all, some of the most enjoyable pop singles that decade made their way to the airwaves and into record stores, care of The Monkees and television, before the latter, too, gave way3. But what a time it was. The likes of “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer”, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “Daydream Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, and “Listen to the Band” was a dance card few that decade could match.
Episode Title: It’s a Nice Place to Visit…
Episode #: 1
Series #: 33
Original Airdate: September 11, 1967
Written by: Treva Silverman
Directed by: James Frawley
Song of note: What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round (written by Michael Martin Murphey and Owen Castleman)
Performed by: The Monkees
Even so, when I look back at my play counts on ‘ye old iPod, turns out my preferred track of theirs not among what Rolling Stone listed as best in a readers’ poll. It’s another story song written by “Wildfire”4 author, Michael (Martin) Murphey and Owen Castleman from the Monkee’s fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Featured in the 1967 season two TV opener turning 50 this year, “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?”
A song Nesmith had asked his old high school friend to write for the group, which proved to be his first writing success.
Though released only on an Australian 45’s B-side in ’68, it’s a popular track that made a number of later Monkees compilation albums. For a reason. Its heart is in the right place in that same way my mother’s favorite gunfighter ballad by Marty Robbins was. Right on its sleeve, with just enough regret country-western music was known for. A wholly unexpected mix for this Sixties pop foursome that worked because it tugged at the right string.
The customary twang supplied by banjo — the group had returned to the use of studio musicians after their initial mutiny with this LP — along with Nesbit’s homegrown Houston tenor for lead vocal. One of the first in the country-rock vein, What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round? frisky in that upbeat, “Just a loudmouth Yankee…”, sort of way. Chronicling Americanos angling for love south of the border my mother would later relate to her niños when dishing on the state she was born in.
To this day, I wonder if she had listened to this Monkees song somewhere along the line and found something that touched upon a memory. Prior to her family packing up after the war, leaving Texas behind and coming out California way like so many others. Before she was married and had kids of her own. Perhaps, I’m simply imagining it. Still trying to understand why she began to recount some of her single life to her thirteen-year-old barely grasping who this woman was before she was, “Mom.”
Just a loudmouth Yankee I went down to Mexico I didn't have much time to spend, about a week or so There I lightly took advantage of a girl who loved me so But I found myself a-thinkin' when the time had come to go What am I doin' hangin' 'round? I should be on that train and gone I should be ridin' on that train to San Antone What am I doin' hangin' 'round? She took me to the garden just for a little walk I didn't know much Spanish and there was no time for talk Then she told me that she loved me not with words but with a kiss And like a fool I kept on thinkin' of a train I could not miss What am I doin' hangin' 'round? I should be on that train and gone I should be ridin' on that train to San Antone What am I doin' hangin' 'round? Well, it's been a year or so, and I want to go back again And if I get the money, well, I'll ride the same old train But I guess your chances come but once and boy I sure missed mine And still I can't stop thinkin' when I hear some whistle cryin' What am I doin' hangin' 'round? I should be on that train and gone I should be ridin' on that train to San Antone What am I doin' hangin' 'round? What am I doin' hangin' 'round? I should be on that train and gone I should be ridin' on that train to San Antone What am I doin' hangin' 'round? What am I doin' hangin' 'round? I should be on that train and gone I should be ridin' on that train to San Antone What am I doin' hangin' 'round?
- Learning how to ease her bad menstrual cramps by downing a jigger of rye laced with a dash of bitters from her friend who was tending at a Chicago pub. ↩
- A standoff ensued between the four Monkees and Kirshner over creative control, with the producer later ousted. Eventually, Nesbit and Tork left the band, which coincided with fewer hits produced. ↩
- After two successful seasons, the television series was not renewed for the fall 1968 season, and an attempt in the movies, Head, failed for the group. ↩
- Michael Murphey’s biggest single, a somber story song that hit #2 in Cash Box and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June 1975. ↩