The Monkees have unexpected fans: the leaders of Weezer, XTC, Death Cab for Cutie, Oasis, the Jam and Fountains of Wayne. They all wrote songs for “Good Times!” the Monkees album appearing nearly half a century after the group’s arrival as TV characters in September 1966. Two surviving Monkees, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, are on a 50th-anniversary tour; the third, Michael Nesmith, rejoins them on this album.
Just as the British Invasion was giving way to psychedelia — before “Empire,” before MTV, before the Archies — the Monkees were television’s idea of a rock band. They were four droll guys in matching outfits having absurd adventures; a creator of “The Monkees” was Bob Rafelson, who would go on to write and direct “Five Easy Pieces.” Pop pros — Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Carole King and Gerry Goffin — supplied the hits. The band’s career faded in the late 1960s when, craving authenticity, its members demanded to play and write their own songs. But their lighthearted TV antics earned lingering baby boomer nostalgia.
“Good Times!” recapitulates the Monkees’ arc from performers to singer-songwriters, keeping an uncomputerized 1960s sound. The Monkees and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who produced the album, found and completed three 1960s demos. The title song is cheerful hackwork by Harry Nilsson that echoes “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Dancing in the Street,” but Nilsson’s enthusiastic lead vocals (shared with Dolenz) make it a charming relic. A 1960s track sung by Davy Jones, the Monkee who died in 2012, is resurrected with “Love to Love,” a Neil Diamond song with a whiff of Zombies psychedelia.
The Monkees’ latter-day songwriters aim mostly for mid-’60s-style innocence. “You Bring the Summer,” by Andy Partridge of XTC, turns into a Beach Boys homage, as does Schlesinger’s “Our Own World”; “She Makes Me Laugh,” by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, harks back to the Byrds (and mentions playing Scrabble). “Me & Magdalena” by Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie is folkier, more weathered, more acoustic, more mature. “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” by Noel Gallagher (Oasis) and Paul Weller (the Jam) moves toward anachronism; it’s both Beatles homage and 1990s Britpop.
The surviving Monkees seize their moment as songwriters, perhaps to prove they were underrated. “Little Girl,” by Tork, is a wandering, eccentric waltz that would have been at home in the late 1960s, and “I Know What I Know,” by Nesmith, testifies to love and vulnerability over simple piano chords. But the Monkees want to leave their listeners with the band’s lighthearted essence. The album’s conclusion is “I Was There (and I’m Told I Had a Good Time”) by Dolenz and Schlesinger, all piano and backbeat like the Beatles with Billy Preston. Dolenz sings as if there’s no reason to take anything too seriously. Fifty years later, the Monkees are still endearing.