Dear Carlos,

In 1969, I passed up an opportunity to attend a music festival in New York State. It seemed too far to travel in an old beat up station wagon to see bands perform in the hot summer weather.

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Aforementioned station wagon

Later that fall, my friends and I travelled to downtown Pittsburgh via public bus, as we did often, to hang out and visit some of our favorite stores which included National Record Mart. We loved sifting through the newest albums by artists we heard on what was considered “underground” radio on an increasingly popular FM station.

That day at the Record Mart, my friend Michael and I debated about whether or not to purchase an album recorded by a new band that performed at the little concert I missed in August. I heard their pulsating Latin rock song “Jingo” on the radio, and hoped there might be more of the same on the LP. The artwork on the cover lured me in as well. Neither of us had enough money to buy the album so we split the cost and bought it together.

Back in our neighborhood, we all went to a friend’s house to listen to our new purchases. First up was side one of our choice pick, Santana’s debut album. Frankly, I was blown away! I couldn’t believe the shear energy and pulsating beats that seemed to match my own high energy personality. After we finished side one, Michael turned to me, stated that he hated it, didn’t want to listen to side two, and I could have it.

Well, I still own that album Carlos. It’s not in very good shape anymore since I literally wore it out playing it over and over again in my black lit bedroom, replete with glowing posters and burning incense.

I listened to plenty of rock n roll back then. My mother exposed me to ‘50s rock n roll in the early ‘60s, on nights my father wasn’t home. Then there was the British invasion lead by my beloved Beatles. But this was different. Your sweet guitar playing had me mesmerized—my mind absorbed the notes you so elegantly and precisely played—while the percussion kept my heartbeat at a rate that intoxicated my body.

I found music that touched me in a way no other had. At a time when my home life was filled with strife and misery, I stumbled on an artist that could help me endure and keep my head straight when I needed an interlude from my surrounding life. Following that first album came four more that I bought, listened to and wore out as I had the first.

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My well-worn collection of Santana LPs

After that, my life became busier and more complicated as I graduated college, began a career, married and started a family. Some of the albums became eight track tapes played in a device mounted under the seat of my Volkswagen Beetle and, after that, cassettes in my van. Of all the music I listened to, it was your albums that I first purchased in the latest technology so I could listen to them as best as they could sound. They accompanied me from one state to another via car or plane so I could listen to them whenever I needed a mental boost or simply wanted to hear some comfort music. I have listened to all of your other albums, including the more recent collaborations, and enjoy them as well.

Over the years I’ve listened to plenty of other music, and tend to judge albums by how many of their songs I truly enjoy. There have been a scant few that I enjoy 100%, and your earlier albums make the list. After all these years I still listen to them, now on an iPod. In fact, today I listened to Abraxis while taking a jog.

By the way, I have only had the pleasure of witnessing you perform live once. I brought my wife to see you at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. At the time, she listened to the Eagles, James Taylor, Van Morrison and similar artists, but went with me anyway (I think) just to keep me company. Before you began, I explained to her that if she wanted to better understand my infatuation with your music, to try to focus on your guitar playing while the rest of the music fills in as background. Guest what? Two songs into it, she looked at me and the only thing she said was “Wow!”

Carlos Santana, your music has helped me through the harder times of my life and inspired me during the most wonderful times of my life. Thank you for being there for me.

Bill

To the non-believers,

The Monkees should have been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame years ago. I don’t care if you think the Hall of Fame is a joke, mismanaged, bloated, a blight on the good name of Cleveland, and/or a glorified Hard Rock Cafe with worse food. I support the idea of rock ‘n’ roll honoring its own, and there is a long list of artists that I think are long overdue for such recognition. To my mind, The Monkees are The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s most egregious omission to date.

For years, I’ve said that The Monkees would never be inducted, even though they richly deserve that honor. But I dunno. I’m starting to wonder if it may be possible. I’m starting to believe. And so I imagine what I would say if I were inducting The Monkees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I’m a believer.

Doesn’t it feel good to say that? Doesn’t it feel good to acknowledge that giddy feeling of joy that wells up within you when you hear a terrific, transcendent pop song on the radio? Isn’t it great to let the music fill you with that grand, unspoken sensation of freedom, to turn the volume up as loud as you can, and just sing along, even if you don’t really know all the words? Your troubles don’t vanish; your cares won’t slip away; your work still has to be done, your heart still requires mending, and your body and soul still shudder from the unnamed ache that never quite surrenders its grip. But for approximately two minutes and twenty-nine seconds, you are able to transcend much of what’s wrong in the world.

Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith. I was six years old when The Monkees debuted on the charts and TV screens in 1966, with a # 1 hit single called “Last Train To Clarksville” and a vibrant weekly NBC-TV show at 7:30pm (6:30pm Central time). I didn’t know they weren’t cool. Because, obviously, they were cool: they were like a magic, irresistible combination of Batman and The Beatles—and really, in the ’60s, what could be cooler than that?

Of course, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t created to validate the tastes of clueless six-year-old suburban kids. That’s fair. The Hall of Fame is a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll music, an embrace of its history and the people who made it happen. It’s a tribute to the power of that music, to rock’s ability to express and embody rebellion, to break down barriers, to inspire, to transcend, to elevate, to unite. It’s about more than catchy pop songs, more than a manufactured image, more than photogenic faces on the cover of a teen magazine. It means something. It matters.

But you wanna know something? It turns out The Monkees somehow did all of that. The Monkees rebelled. The Monkees broke down barriers. The Monkees inspired, transcended, elevated, united. The Monkees mean something. The Monkees matter. This shouldn’t be true—this was supposed to be soundtrack music for a TV sitcom, for God’s sake—but the evidence is there, and it’s been there from the start. The evidence will make a believer out of you, too.

The Monkees’ popularity is indisputable fact: # 1 singles, # 1 albums, the best-selling musical act of 1967, famously outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. The Monkees’ recordings have remained radio staples for five decades and show no sign of ever fading away. Reruns of the TV series have continually renewed the group’s fan base, as new generations of fans have discovered the enduring appeal of four guys walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet. The Monkees charted again, with both old and new recordings, in 1986. The Monkees charted yet again in 2016 with a fantastic new album, Good Times!. Their live shows have continued to draw crowds and earn rave reviews. People like The Monkees.

But popularity alone does not make an act worthy of induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; there are dozens and dozens of mega-selling pop entities that will never be considered Hall of Fame material, and rightly so. But The Monkees were also influential. More than any other act—even more than The Beatles—The Monkees brought the burgeoning ’60s counter-culture into everyday American living rooms, via their weekly TV showcase. They had long hair. They brandished peace symbols.

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Timothy Leary called The Monkees TV series “a classic Sufi put on. An early-Christian electronic satire. A mystic magic show. A jolly Buddha laugh at hypocrisy.” John Lennon called The Monkees “the greatest comic talent since The Marx Brothers,” and said he never missed a show. As lead singer for The Stone Poneys, Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt had her very first hit with a Michael Nesmith composition, “Different Drum.” Hall of Famers Run-D.M.C. and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band both recorded Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary.” Hall of Famers The Sex Pistols covered “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” Hall of Famer Elvis Costello has praised The Monkees, and Michael Stipe of Hall of Famers R.E.M. has specifically cited The Monkees as a key influence. Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa, and George Harrison have all publicly defended The Monkees against naysayers. That ain’t bad for a group that claimed to be a manufactured image, with no philosophies.

I’m a believer.

Belief sustains us, even when everyone says we’re wrong. Music comforts us, when much of life may seems uncertain and perilous. Love, hope, and friendship encourage us, when our senses and surroundings insist there’s little of substance left to grasp and hold fast. We are saved by our friends, our hope, our love, our music; we are saved by our belief.

The music of The Monkees has been my friend for over fifty years. As a six-year-old kid infatuated with these fun-loving characters on my TV screen; as a preteen learning about comedy (and training for eventual Marx Brothers worship) via Monkees reruns on Saturday mornings; as a teen falling hard, well after the fact, for The Monkees’ music in the ’70s; as a young punk rocker in the ’70s and early ’80s, eager to defend The Monkees on all fronts; as a record store manager in 1986, mentoring the new, young Monkees fans that MTV had brought through our doors; as a pop journalist, who has written more about The Monkees than I’ve written about any other subject; and as an unrepentant, unapologetic fan, I know how much The Monkees have always meant to me. Whatever man I am, whatever person I try to be, watching The Monkees, and listening to The Monkees, is an essential part of me. The delight and wonder that The Monkees’ sunshine factory has brought into my world—into this world, our own world—is beyond measure. With my fools’ gold stacked up all around me, in rows of houses that are all the same, as good times start and end, and we have to do this all over again: we’ll make up our story as we go along. I have no more than I did before, but now I’ve got all that I need.

Micky. Davy. Peter. Michael.

Weren’t they good? They made me happy. I’m a believer. I welcome you as a believer, too. And, at long last, we finally welcome The Monkees to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Carl

This excerpt is from the music blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) run by Carl Cafarelli, a pop journalist who co-hosts THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana Bonn (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern). As a freelance writer, he contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986–2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records’ compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The ’90s (along with several other albums) and has contributed to numerous books about music. His standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation remains criminally ignored. 

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Porpoise Song (Theme from “Head”)

Early Morning Blues and Greens

Me & Magdalena
(Written for the Monkees by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie)

Flashback Fives: True tales from a real-life musician

Along with our letters, we also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This list was submitted by Ezra, a transient fugitive who has secret hideouts in Oakland, California and Chicago.

One. I was twelve when I found a copy of Green Day’s Dookie lying around somewhere in my house. My older brother had bought it and lost interest quickly. As for me, I had never heard punk music before. It was the first band I truly loved as my very own, and I became ravenous for punk bands. Eventually I outgrew Green Day, but it took a long time, and that nineties stuff still sometimes grabs me and doesn’t let go all afternoon.

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Two. I wanted a guitar because a friend of mine told me punk was really easy to play, you just learn one chord shape and move it around on the guitar neck. My mom told me I could get a guitar under two conditions: a. It had to be an acoustic guitar, and b. I learned to play songs that she liked too, like Bob Dylan. I didn’t know who Bob Dylan was, really. She got me a cheap but good acoustic guitar and a book of chords to about twenty Dylan songs. Once I learned to play I agreed to learn one Bob Dylan tune to pacify her and then go back to my punk songs. The book was alphabetically organized so I decided to learn the first song, “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” It was from Blonde on Blonde and my mom had a copy. The song comes fading in like a freight train of tremendous energy, and Bob sings in an insane voice that was different than any singer I’d ever imagined, “Well your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it.” I realized something special was going on here and I devoured the whole album, became obsessed with it. That’s when I decided I had to become a great songwriter. It really wrecked my life.

Three. There’s no story here really, but when my friend Zach first played me his CD copy of the Pixies’ Doolittle, I was flipping out before the end of track 1, “Debaser.” I had never heard them. I loved them, I needed them. I still do.

Four. I was at some kid’s house on a Saturday night because there was going to be a reunion of my summer camp there. We were watching Jack Black host Saturday Night Live and waiting for the other fifteen-year-olds to show up. The Strokes came on as the musical guest and they were magnificent. They played “Last Nite” and later “Hard to Explain.” I got lost in Julian Casablancas’ wounded, searching eyes. I could see how much he felt as trying to pretend to feel nothing. At a time when I mostly listened to classic rock and assumed contemporary bands basically couldn’t be good, the Strokes were very much needed. But on some emotional level I connected all too deeply with the tension between their ultra-cool aesthetics and their troubled songs. They were my favorite band for years after that.

Five. Freshman year of college, I had a friend named Erin who knew a lot of bands I’d never heard of. She loaned me Disc 2 of the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. I think she had mislabeled them and meant to loan me Disc 1. I was kind of skeptically listening to it and growing more and more intrigued, though not sure about their theatricality and unrelenting irony and cynicism. I remember it was during the song “Promises of Eternity” that I realized all in a rush, simultaneously, that a. Oh wait EVERY SONG IS BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN, and b. the sarcasm is actually indistinguishable from the deep, deep sadness and also somehow joy that draws Stephin Merritt to write songs. It’s all one sincere and deeply alienated worldview, I realized during that song, and I became a disciple of that wonderful band.

Magnetic Fields: Promises of Eternity

A love letter to “Pet Sounds”*

When listening to Pet Sounds, it’s hard to think about anything but the total gorgeousness of the music, and all the insanely deep emotions it provokes in me. Which is why I never felt comfortable saying it had any influence on me. It’s an incredible piece of work, musically and emotionally, and that’s that. It’s so advanced that I find it rather embarrassing when the average mostly-amateur indie musician claims to be influenced by Pet Sounds. Really? It’s like the Ramones claiming to be influenced by Bach. I get that you listened to Pet Sounds and loved it, but come on. You’re not operating on anything close to that level.

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But as I’ve spent more and more time with Pet Sounds, I’ve started to notice the elements that make it powerful and important to me other than its sheer musical beauty. One is the way it uses the idiom of sixties pop music to aim at the kind of grandeur and high-art beauty formerly reserved for classical music, opera, etc. Sure, Phil Spector and his many imitators had done pop grandeur before, but it always seemed to me to have a crassly commercial bent, a cynicism and tongue-in-cheek element that diluted its power. And of course, it never had Brian Wilson’s musical inventiveness and dexterity. The Beach Boys, in Pet Sounds, found a deeper sincerity in their music at the same time as they scaled dazzling new heights compositionally.

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Brian Wilson’s coinage of the phrase “teenage symphony to God” around this period shows where his head was at. That phrase and the whole cluster of associations it evokes—artistic ambition, spiritual sincerity, bubblegum music trying to become something grand—is the big way that Pet Sounds had an effect on me as a songwriter/musician, aside from its devastating effect on my heart and mind as a listener.

Ezra

* A portion of this essay previously appeared here

SLIGHT VARIATIONS ON SONGS YOU MAY ALREADY KNOW

Hang On To Your Ego

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

God Only Knows