Well, the day finally came. It took nearly a year of blogging about music, movies, entertainment, other creative endeavors and whatnot, but it’s here and as such I will deal with it head on. Today is the day that I will evangelize the music of ol’ Papa Nez – Michael Nesmith his own self, and convert you all to his flock. So get ready to testify, because this is one southern rocker space cowboy that is a cut above the rest.
The elephant in the room: Yes, this is the same wool cap wearing goofball from the 1960’s band the Monkees. Before you use that as a reason to dismiss his music, be advised that he did write and perform his own music during that time, and continues to record and perform solo to this day. Nesmith’s time with the Monkees gave him access to some of the best sessions players in the biz, and studio access that many small time musicians would have never had. His work with the Monkees speaks for itself as it explored multiple layers of pop, rock, blues, and country styles – usually in mash ups that created unique and thoroughly enjoyable songs.
Why Michael Nesmith? I watched a lot of Nick at Night when I was a kid, and a staple of that experience in the late 80’s was episodes of the Monkees TV show. I identified with Nesmith’s aloof and mischievously mistrusting character, also he sang the majority of my favorite Monkees songs, so it was win/win. As I grew older and started buying music and developing my own tastes, I found out that Papa Nez had been recording solo albums ever since the Monkees split. I bought a couple of his albums, and was shocked to hear that they were a whole lot more country than the stuff he recorded for the Monkees. That wasn’t a bad thing, but I wasn’t a fan of country music. I played those albums, Magnetic South and Tantamount to Treason, over and over again – and at my young and impressionable age I was blown away by his fusion of rock, pop, country, blues, and island music styles. Not beholden to the Monkees brand, he was recording music on his terms, and it was some of the best stuff I had ever heard in my life. Because of his music I would branch out into other country flavored acts like the Marshall Tucker Band, Dwight Yoakum, Johnny Cash, and the Mavericks. Nesmith proved to be a gateway to a whole world of music that I would have never bothered with as I was firmly a fan of pop, rock, and metal. Thanks Michael, not only for the great tunes but for expanding my horizon. From one Texan to another, if we ever happen to cross paths one day, I’d like to buy you a beer.
What you didn’t know about Michael Nesmith: He created MTV. He is a trustee and the President of the Gihon Foundation. Nesmith is a successful writer with multiple published novels under his belt. Papa Nez also pioneered online interactivity with his Video Ranch website that allows fans of his to interact in a 3D world, and in which he participates by playing concerts and reading excerpts from his published works. He produced a handful of movies including Repo Man and one of my personal favorite films Tapeheads! He also was the winner of the first ever “Video of the Year” Emmy for his comedy/variety show Elephant Parts, which you can sample a sketch here:
- You Told Me – A countrified attempt at recording a Beatles like tune. This was cut during his time with the Monkees, and is the perfect way to start his mix.
- Mama Rocker – a total rocker from Papa Nez’s solo album Tantamount to Treason (a brilliant concept album that you should definitely check out). It’s a bit rowdier than most of his work, but a kick ass tune that earned it’s spot on the list.
- Cruisin’ – A cult hit cut from the 80’s that had a bizarre music video. It’s a catchy tune and very new wave. Strap on your roller skates and give a listen.
- The Kind of Girl I Could Love – a rousing country pop song that he recorded with the Monkees.
- Calico Girlfriend – The first track from his first solo album – Magnetic South. Honestly, this mix could have just been Magnetic South the mix and it would have been amazing. Seriously, buy his first album right now! I love the lyrics and the island aloofness of this song. A crucial Papa Nez jam.
- What Am I Doin’ Hanging Round – another cut from the Monkees era and perhaps his most recognizable hit from that period of time. Just take a look at that amazing guitar he’s playing…
- I Am Not That – a tongue in cheek song about shucking labels (Full disclosure: I wish there was a better cut of this on Youtube, this was the best I could find)
- The Crippled Lion – a pure country track that Nesmith had been attempting to adequately record for some time while he was with the Monkees. It wasn’t until his first solo album that he was able to record a version that he would release. It’s a delightful track about soldiering on, which is topical!
- Different Drum – Most of you may know this song because Linda Rondstadt famously recorded it, what you may not know is that Michael Nesmith wrote it in the first place. This is a stripped down version featuring just his guitar and vocals, and Red Rhodes on steel petal guitar. It. Is. Amazing.
- Rio – A tropical infused song about getting out and traveling to your dream get away, or maybe not. As always, there’s a bit of dark humor in Nesmith’s lyrics. This song remains a staple of the Papa Nez experience, and is the cut that served as the title of his Greatest Hits compilation.
- Yellow Butterfly – from Tropical Campfires, this is a mellow and relaxing song that has a killer vocal hook. This is a perfect “staring off into the beach with a glass of wine in my hand” kind of songs. The kind of song that if you close your eyes and listen, you could swear you were already at the beach 🙂
- I Looked Away – a cover of a Derek and the the Dominos track originally written by Eric Clapton. It is masterfully interpreted by Nesmith and given new meaning in his soulful crooning. Maximum Effort on this cut!
- Sunny Girlfriend – a beautiful pop number recorded while with the Monkees. This type of song was indicative of his move to transition pop, rock and country into one cohesive unit back in the 60’s.
- Papa Gene’s Blues – ‘Play magic fingers!’ Nesmith cries as he plays this gleefully happy blues pop cut from the Monkees. For many, this is the first song they ever heard Nesmith sing, and his signature country sound shines through loud and clear.
- Mama Nantucket – on this cut, we go full tilt country, with yodeling and everything… and you know what? This may be one of the greatest songs he’s ever recorded. It plays the country licks perfectly, while essentially the lyrics paint a completely different story. It’s classic Nez at his best and most biting. This is a crucial Papa Nez jam.
- Release – a song about drinking and crying. Michael, your country street cred has been verified with this cut alone.
- Talking to the Wall – we’ve all been in that relationship where it feels like the person we are talking to is a cold and unloving creature that shows no emotion and gives zero fucks about how we feel. This song examines what happens when that frigid human breaks, even if just for a second. This is a haunting cut.
- Tomorrow and Me – A smartly written song about moving on and getting back onto the business of living your life. This song has a message for you if you are stuck in a rut.
- Rising in Love – this is the kind of song that you’d hope to here when walking with your loved one through the scenic prairie, or somewhere equally rustic, yet romantic. A wildly descriptive song, it gets everything just right. (Full disclosure: I wish there was a better cut of this on Youtube, this was the best I could find)
- Little Red Rider – another fantastic cut from Magnetic South. A bluesy country cut that makes the list just on the basis of how enthusiastic his vocals are. Nesmith is a wonderful vocalist, and in the moments when he gets to ham it up in the vocals, you can tell that he’s having a blast.
- Magic – a throwback to the doo-wop era, complete with falsetto singing and a banging piano melody, this song has a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because I heard it as a kid, maybe because its that damn good. Regardless, I love this song, and now, so do you!
- Harmony Constant – This is a beautiful song about the perfectness of being in true love. It has an astounding pedal steel performance by Red Rhodes again. This is the good stuff folks.
- Continuing – Another cut in which Red Rhodes works his considerable magic. This song marks a perfect balance between pop and country and is another showpiece for how versatile Nesmith truly is.
- Sweet Young Thing – another very early Monkees track that shows how Nesmith was manipulating rock and country sounds way before it became common in popular music. This is 2 minutes of pure power.
- Circle Sky – a social commentary style song in response to the conflict in Vietnam, this song was a point of contention between Nesmith and the studio when it was originally released. He preferred this live cut that I have placed below, but the studio preferred the studio cut. It caused quite a blowout at the time, and in the end Nez was right, the live cut had more frenetic energy and was just a better recording all the way around.
- St. Matthew – A hidden gem from a session that Nesmith recorded for the Monkees. It never made it onto an official release, but was years later put on a collection of unreleased and rare recordings. It’s nearly a crime that it wasn’t on an album at the time.
- You Just May Be The One – another popular cut from the Monkees. This is a textbook example of Nesmith’s deep understanding of pop music and how he put his own spin on it. This song also has personal significance for me as well as it is my wife’s favorite Nez cut, and personal attachment is a powerful thing!
- Michigan Blackhawk – A classic rambling man style song about moving on through life.
- Wax Minute – This is another song that hits me in the feels, with lyrics such as “as you complicate things greatly, since you came into my life, old veneers and stately postures wax minute within your sigh.” The song only gets more complicated from there, in all the best ways.
- Roll With The Flow – I love this song, possibly because I feel exactly like the singer. I have my own way of doing things and i’m not someone who easily takes orders or changes himself to suit others. And much like the singer, I start poking fun at the folks who try to hard to get me to change, and it usually ends awkwardly. Such is life. I just roll with the flow wherever it goes…
I know this playlist was a particularly long one, but I have a deep seated love for Papa Nez that 10 to 20 songs just can’t cover. I could have easily made this list 50 songs. Regardless, thanks for sticking it out, and as a reward, have a cof o’ cuppee on the house 🙂