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“Steam Engine”

Posted by purplemary54 on March 4, 2012

A local channel broadcast a marathon of The Monkees in honor of Davy Jones, so I’m a little Monkee-d out at the moment.

They got a lot of flack for being “the pre-fab four,” American television’s answer to The Beatles.  They were assembled to star in a show about the antics of a charming young band, and became a real band in response.  In spite of being competent–and in the case of Peter Tork, fairly skilled–musicians, for the most part they weren’t allowed to play on their own recordings.  They were bubblegum pop of the highest order (meaning they had good songwriters and good session men, and they handled their work just fine, thank you).  Their sound even evolved a little, developing a tougher, smarter edge as they went along.  They might have been created to be characters on a sitcom, but the music holds up pretty darn well.

“Steam Engine” never showed up on a Monkees album, although I think it might have been released as a single.  I know it shows up on several different compilations.  It’s a bluesy, Motown-influenced number that showcases Micky Dolenz’ good rock-pop voice.  There’s even some fine Hammond organ here.  The lyrics are pretty standard, oh-please-don’t-let-my-baby-leave-me, with a driving train beat.  This song should have been a huge smash hit, it’s got Top Forty encoded in its DNA.  There is not one false note.  It is perfectly produced.  Just about any pop-rock musician of the 60s could’ve had a hit with this.

But I think it probably got hurt by the fact that it was recorded by The Monkees.  It probably got dismissed by serious radio programmers because of that.  But it didn’t exactly fit in with the rest of their oeuvre, either.  It’s not cute like “Daydream Believer” or “Last Train to Clarksville.”  Teenyboppers wouldn’t have known quite what to do with it.  For the pre-fab four, this song sounds positively dangerous.  It also sends less manufactured and more organic than a lot of their other work.  Like a band went into the studio with some lines and a rough idea and came out with this.  It’s fun and loose.  It’s definitely worth listening to.  Just like a lot of other music by The Monkees.

So why are you reading this?  Go dig up some Monkees albums somewhere and listen to them again.  You won’t be sorry.


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