This is a very special day in your life. YOU are about to join Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike at a Monkee recording session!
On East 24th Street in New York City there is an impressive building with the words RCA-Victor emblazoned across the front of it. It has a very elegant lobby complete with potted plants, couches, blown-up displays of album covers (those of the Monkees being most prominent, of course) and an immovable receptionist. But you need not worry about her, because today is a very special day in your life. You are going to a Monkee recording session!
As you approach the big, swinging door to Studio B, you are slightly put back by an enormous sign: CLOSED SESSION—POSITIVELY NO ADMITTANCE. But you don’t have a thing to worry about, for today, you are my guest—along with the invited friends of the Monkees, 16’s editor Gloria Stavers and Davy Jones’ best friend Jeff Neal. The four of us slip quietly into the studio control booth and playback room. This is a room with an enormous control panel behind which sit two engineers, Lester Sills and Douglas Farthing Hatlelid (better known to the world at large as the one and only Chip Douglas—the Monkees A and R man). In the playback room there is a large round coffee table, a big couch and a couple of over-stuffed chairs. The very first thing you see is a Monkee called Micky Dolenz. He is sitting on one of the couches carefully labeling what turns out to be a large assortment of color slides.
“Hi, gang!” Micky greets us cheerfully—and after you are introduced, everybody finds a seat. Along one side of the room there is a thick glass panel. There is something beyond the panel, but you can’t quite tell what it is because the lights out there are turned off.
“O.K., kids, settle down,” Chip’s voice booms through the mike. It is time for a take. The music suddenly seems to come from nowhere and it takes me a minute or two to explain to you that the tracks have already been laid down (that means that the background music has already been cut and that the boys are now laying down the lead and harmony voices). The backgrounds, by the way, are all pre-recorded by the Monkees themselves, usually in the Los Angeles studios. It may interest you to know that Davy has completely mastered the bass guitar and plays it on every number on the new LP and on the Monkees’ new single too.
Davy in the darkness
All at once an unmistakable voice rides loud and clear over the tracks. “She hangs out—your sister, she hangs out…”
“Isn’t that Davy?” you whisper. Everybody smiles and nods yes. There is nothing mysterious about it. It’s just that Davy and the rest of the guys like to cut the singing part of the records with all the lights out! They claim that they can hear better in the darkness. They must be right, because the great singing they are doing on their brand-new Colgems LP certainly bears this out.
While Davy is singing away, you notice a small door that leads from the control room into the studio. If anyone goes through this door while a tape is being cut, the noise hits the microphone and, naturally, ruins the tape. Let me assure you, many mistakes are made and many retakes have to be done. You can talk in the control booth, mind you—but not a sound can be made in the studio that the sensitive microphones won’t pick up.
“Wow!” cries Micky, sitting beside you on the couch. “Look at this great picture!”
Before anyone has a chance to turn around, Micky has jumped up and darted through the control room door and into the studio. A second later, he realizes what a boo-boo he has made. Davy is right in the middle of a “high C” he has been struggling to get and has finally achieved on the 33rd try! At the control panel, Chip collapses, pretending to have a nervous breakdown—and George Michael Dolenz fakes his cool.
He strolls up to Davy and says, “Oops, sorry I didn’t realize that they let English riding jockeys into RCA’s studio on Thursdays.”
Davy, always a good sport, hangs on his thickest Manchester accent and replies, “Hullo. Who let you in, Mayonnaise?” (As you may have guessed by now, Mayonnaise is one of Davy’s many nicknames for Micky.)
Micky stands bolt upright, continuing the charade.
“Oh—hi, David Jones. When did you get here? We have been waiting for you all day.”
Whereupon Micky promptly turns around, walks back into the control room and photographs half of a pickle—doubtlessly left over from someone’s lunch—which is lying amidst the debris on the coffee table.
Ah, but revenge is sweet—and Davy and the rest of us get even with Micky when it is his turn to perform. Micky is recording the lead to Star Collector. It takes each of the Monkees about five takes to warm up for the real thing. We all conduct ourselves like little angels until Micky is in the middle of his tenth take. He is really cooking and is very pleased with himself—when we all get up and noisily clump through the studio, banging and clanging everything we can as we go through one door and out the other into the RCA-Victor studio hallway. The last thing we see over our shoulder is Micky about to blow his cool and poor Douglas Farthing Hatlelid having his 19th nervous breakdown. Twenty seconds later, armed with Cokes and candy bars from the machines outside, our whole party comes stalking through again. This time, Chip and Micky go right on recording just as though we weren’t ruining everything! However, we could tell that it was all Micky could do to keep a straight face!
Next stop: Chicago
Since the records were cut while the boys were on tour this summer, they found themselves recording in such remote areas as New York, Chicago, Nashville and finally Hollywood again. The sessions in Chicago were especially productive, and the guys cut Salesman, Cuddly Toys and Rio Cairo(Riu Chiu). Salesman, by the way, is Gloria’s favorite from the album, Jeff’s is Cheer Up Sleepy Jean and mine is Rio Cairo. I’ll bet you Rio Cairo turns out to be the most popular. It il [sic] an old Spanish folk ballad that requires difficult harmony work, and once you hear it you can never forget it.
In Chicago, Davy spent his spare time between takes strumming on the beautiful classical guitar Peter Tork had given him, and Peter and Micky spent their idle moments—are you ready for a surprise?—looking at some of Micky’s slides (for a change). After his “ordeal,” Peter managed to slip off quietly into a corner and read a copy of England’s top-selling pop paper New Musical Express, which Gloria had laid on him when he was in New York.
Nashville, Tenn. was our next recording spot. One of Mike Nesmith’s dreams came true there and he met country and western guitarist Chet Atkins. If you read 16 carefully, you will remember that there are three specially made Gretsch guitars in the world. They are just alike. One belongs to Chet Atkins, one belongs to George Harrison—and one belongs to Mike. Mike and Chet chatted for 45 minutes. This put Mike in a fabulous mood, of course, so during the two days the Monkees were in Nashville, Mike laid down two excellent dubs, Loud Mouth Yankee and Love Is Only Sleeping.
Before I sign off this month, I want to hip you to one thing. The intro to the Monkees’ new LP is really unusual. I mean, it’s gonna blow your mind. What you will hear is a crazy introduction by a mysterious voice. Try and guess who it is!
David Pearl will be back next month with another personal story on his friends, the Monkees. Don’t miss! It will be in the January issue of 16 Magazine—on sale at your neighborhood newsstand starting November 21!