Talk From The Rock Room: Take One: The Monkees - 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere', 1967 B Side –'Bound Down In a Whirl'

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Take One: The Monkees - 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere', 1967 B Side –'Bound Down In a Whirl'

The famed prefabricated four. ‘The Monkees’, were as you probably know if you are perusing this article, a made for television band developed in the mid 1960’s. The Monkees grew quickly in stature and fame to eventually become referred to as the ‘American Beatles’. The only issue was that none of the principals of the band played instruments on any their first two original recordings. While the original intent was to have a television show about a rock band, what eventually took place was the television show became a rock band. While both Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz originated from acting and show biz backgrounds, both Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith came from musical stock. Nesmith had actually already released some singles under the moniker Michael Blessing and was a budding songwriter as we will soon find out.

By the conclusion of 1966 Nesmith was eager to pitch his own original music to the group’s producers and he did with unsuccessful results. But, when Don Kirshner (producer) released a Monkees single in early 1967 without approval from the show or the band he was then removed from the Monkees project. The band and Nesmith got their way and a Nesmith penned song and band recorded track was placed on the flip side of the upcoming single. These sessions would in turn morph into the sessions for Headquarters, which would be the Monkees third full length record. It would also be the LP with the claim to feature the members playing all of the instruments on the album. Ironically, the Nesmith song recorded, ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ never appeared on Headquarters, or a proper LP until 1976. It remained tucked away on the flip side of a 45. Since then it appears on almost every post Monkees greatest hits package or anthology. A killer start for the band and a great sound!

The song, as I alluded to above was originally planned to be part of a single release, but when it was undermined by Don Kirshner for an unfinished version of ‘She Hangs Out’, that plan was nixed. Following Kirshner's departure, he first version that the band recorded was over a series of dates in January of 1967 and featured Nesmith as the lead singer. These were the group’s first sessions as a ‘real group’ and the song ‘All of Your Toys’ was also attempted at the session. The backing track consisted of Micky Dolenz on drums and vocals, Peter Tork on acoustic guitar and harpsicord, John London (non band member) on bass, Davy Jones on tambourine and Nesmith on his electric twelve string Gretsch and lead vocals. This track was unreleased for a number of years before turning up as a bonus track on the 1995 Rhino reissue of Headquarters where it was included as a bonus cut. The alternate version is loose and soars with Nesmith crooning the vocal lines but alas, was not to be featured on a 45.

After deciding that Micky Dolenz vocals would have a more ‘commercial’ appeal the band reconvened in February to cut a ‘single’ version for release. Instead of Kirshner’s ‘She Hangs Out’, a shiny new version of ‘Somewhere’ would end up being the flip side of ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ released in March of 1967. Davy was not on the single version as he was in England when the song was redone. A testament to Nesmith’s superior writing skills played out as ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ landed at number 39 on the charts as a flip side! The focus of this particular ‘Take One’ is the mono single version, but you can also enjoy the original Mike Nesmith vocal and alternate mono mix here.

The single opens with a funky and chorused palm muted guitar riff as the band jumps into verse one. Dolenz’s drums while simplistic, bash with a garage band attitude and an endearing amateur syncopation. Dolenz’s lofty vocals are exactly what was assumed by the re cutting of the track, the sound of a ‘hit’. With the second verse comes Tork’s well timed harpsicord running side by side with the vocal melody. Tork’s tickling pulls the track together perfectly. John London plays bass on the single, like he did the unreleased version lending a professional foundation to the proceedings. When the middle eight comes round it is the chilling jump off point into Tork’s bountiful harpsichord solo spot. 

When the band returns to the verses Nesmith sings a beautiful open prairie counter vocal under Dolenz lead that to the ‘rock room’ is the song’s highlight. Nesmith sounds if he is off in the middle distance of the horizon responding to his internal fears. Again, in hindsight it’s a wonder that Nesmith’s song was not placed on the ‘A’ side, as the sounds just reach out of the hi-fi and grab you. Perfection in three minutes, everything you could want in a FM radio cut. There is also a remixed stereo version of the single available (on the OOP Rhino Headquarters box) where Nesmith’s acoustic overdub is much more prominent in addition to the popping of the backing vocals. The song presents a wider soundstage, but I still assert that the banging mono version is where it’s at.

While often eliciting a chuckle or shrug when commiserating with fellow ‘rock geeks’; the ‘Monkees’ have in hindsight received some long overdue plaudits from both listeners and critics. The band, using the gifts bestowed on them, while not often musical, combined to make a unique artistic expression of music and film. Undeterred by criticism, the Monkees cultivated their own fame and with ample self-awareness and unique abilities that allowed them to become a long lasting musical and cultural signpost. Proof of what they band could accomplish when given the opportunity can be witnessed in stellar tracks like ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’.

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