OUT OF THEIR PRAM
Normally, when writing a "Should've Been" piece, I try to analyse why on earth the record-buying public chose to ignore what I considered to be a brilliant single. Clearly, my taste was too finely-honed...
On this occasion, the record-buying public never had a chance to even peruse it in a record rack The band's label and management were the main perpetrators of this particular crime as they would not allow the single to be released it and so it remained buried for a further 20 years.
So annoyed was the band's guitarist that he punched a hole in a wall, with the immortal words to his manager and producer "that could have been your face".
This is the turbulent tale of a solid gold lost classic "All Of Your Toys" by The Monkees from 1967.
Now I wrote an encomium to Mike Nesmith (the wall-punching guitarist) before - you can read it HERE - so I have shown my abiding affection for the band before. However, I still firmly believe that the myths behind the band and their manufactured creation has overshadowed a legacy of songwriting and performance that it would be a shame not to rectify - even though now sadly only one of them remains alive to take the credit they richly deserve.
By the beginning of 1967, the band had become increasingly frustrated with not being allowed to perform as musicians on their own records. Their producers led by Don Kirshner had only ever wanted their vocal performances and because of the scheduling of their TV shows and associated appearances, did not want them getting involved in the musical decision making. Two hugely successful albums and a third TV series would show that they knew that the band were a money making machine. However, the four members - particularly the acknowledged musicians, Nesmith and Peter Tork - hated that the fact that their talents were largely sneered at by the critics. It undermined their credibility, not just as songwriters, but also with their peers from Laurel Canyon and its environs with whom they had previously associated.
"I regard the More Monkees album as probably the worst album in the history of the world,” said Nesmith to Melody Maker and this brought matters to a head. The cover (an amateur-ish JC Penney promotional shot) was not approved by the band; the liner notes (from Kirshner) thanked all his stable of writers but barely mentioned the band at all (even though most of the best numbers had been written by them); the production had terrible glitches throughout. It was a rush-release cash-in about which nobody had consulted the band prior - a band filming during the day, recording vocals at night and touring at the weekends.
No wonder they were a little fractious...
That said sales of the records were outstripping TV viewership of the show and indeed every other band on the planet.
Hence at a showdown with all their producers, managers and music supervisors, they insisted on being allowed to play on their next album - this was to be the excellent "Headquarters". With this agreement, they duly went to the studio to record as a functioning unit for the first time and this resulted in an early version of the wonderful "A Girl I Knew Somewhere" complete with an often over-looked but genuinely transformative harpsichord solo by Tork, who for all his portrayal as the "Ringo" of the group was an exceptionally talented musician who could turn his hand to all sorts of instruments.
In this way, he was comparable to the Stones Brian Jones, who was then also at the height of his experimentation phase - think of the marimbas on "Under My Thumb" , the dulcimer on "Lady Jane" or the sitar on "Paint It Black" - all of which he seemed to be able to pick up and master immediately. This is not an idle comparison because the other track recorded (and our "Should've Been") was the excellent "All Of Your Toys" which again innovatively used Tork's harpsichord to bed down the track.
The Monkees were created as an American TV response to the success of the lovable MopTops from Liverpool but their inherent anger sees them producing a song that would not be uncomfortable appearing on the Stones "Aftermath". It picks up all the themes of "Under My Thumb", "19th Nervous Breakdown" and "Stupid Girl" which were very much typical of the now rather disillusioned and particularly petulant Stones of 1966.
However, there is a Beatle-esque instrumental breakdown and a typically Byrds-ish guitar lick from Nesmith that gives it a unique blend of the time. What is most impressive are the vocal performances - Micky Dolenz takes the lead and gives the song the spiky personality it needs. He would repeat this on "Alternate Title (Randy Scouse Git)" later in the year to equally strong effect. Then there is the exceptional harmonies of Nesmith and Tork particularly in the run-out that just elevates the song to its finale.
It has all the best characteristics of the Monkees sound but with added bite.
However, although they were all set to release it as their third single, Kirshner who was then in the process of being fired held them to their contract and would not allow them to release the song as they could only perform songs that were signed to Screen Gems publishing (as part of the multimedia deal) and "All Of Your Toys", written by Bill Martin, a friend of Nesmith, was owned by Tickerson Music. Despite Martin signing to ScreenGems going forward, Kirshner (rather spitefully) blocked it.
And so Neil Diamond's rather more insipid "A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You" was released instead as its more easy going tone and vocal by Davy Jones, was deemed more likely to shift product.
"All Of Your Toys" remained in the vaults until 1987 and was then the key song to appear in the feature film biopic of the Monkees in the early 90s - so crucial is it in their story and later development.
The Monkees have a tremendously diverse catalogue of recordings -not all of which worked - but demonstrated considerably more innovation than many more feted artists. None more so than when they went up against everything that made them successful in order to record this lost classic. I firmly believe that had they been allowed to get this record out at the time and dispel the images people had of them as a lightweight frothy confection, they would be more rightly acknowledged for their achievements.