By Ken Sharp
For self-respecting music fans, Andy Partridge (at left in a publicity photo) is rightly revered as one of the most important songwriters in popular music based on his work in XTC. But away from his own work, Partridge is a huge fan of rock ‘n’ roll, from Pink Floyd to The Beatles, and all groups in between. He’s also a diehard Monkees fan. So when he received the call to submit new songs for a Monkees album (“Good Times!”), he woodshedded and delivered a parcel of pop jewels embroidered with Monkee magic. Andy shares his love of The Monkees and how he came to pen “You Bring The Summer,” a track for the group’s first new album in two decades.
GM: You’ve been an uber Monkees fan since the beginning. How did The Monkees first come to your attention?
Andy Partridge: I was the usual pop kid, you know, raised on The Beatles, Stones, Kinks and so on. British pop really. I didn’t find any American groups I could like. Then The Monkees hit our TV screens when I was 13 and I was hooked. Great songs, funny fellas, what was not to like? It also compounded in me the Hard Day’s/Help thing of "the groups all live together and have a great time, with girls falling at their feet." As a poor kid just into his teens, from a council estate in a nowhere town ... well, gimme some of that. They helped set the mold that being a musical smart-ass was the way for me.
GM: Share the back story about your being the winner in a Monkees Monthly contest back in the late ‘60s.
Partridge: Two of my best friends got those little black-and-white photo magazines, Beatles Book and the Stones Book, so I decided I’d get Monkees Monthly, and we’d all swap around. At the time my mother worked at a local newsagents and I have to be honest, I don’t know whether those magazines were bought for me, or just ... fell into her bag. Was never really sure. Sorry, Mum. (laughs) There was a drawing contest in one issue — draw a Monkee – so I thought I’d enter, for a giggle, not thinking I’d win. I knocked up a caricature of Micky, as I was really into making caricatures of my school friends, pop musicians, etc. Micky seemed the easiest to draw so I did him. Blow me down, I was only one of the four winners. Got £10, a huge sum for me then. My dad said he’d give me the £11 extra needed for me to by a secondhand Grundig tape recorder for £21, which really helped launch me on the road to writing and recording.
GM: With that band being such a part of your DNA, are there any XTC/Dukes of Stratosphear songs that have been sprinkled lightly with Monkee dust?
Partridge: Not really, as The Monkees were only gently psychedelic. The Dukes aimed at the more overtly psyche groups like Floyd, Beatles, Satanic Majesties-era Stones. Actually, my favorite of The Monkees albums was “Pisces, Aquarius...” which is about as far out as they got. Loved that record and still do. “Daily Nightly” and “Star Collector” are great little psyche “lite” numbers.
GM: What is The Monkees studio album that ticks the boxes for you and why?
Partridge: Well, “Pisces...” was my fave as I said. “Pisces...” was a combination of excellent songs with a light spray of space dust in the form of Micky’s Moog ... there’s a TV series I’d love to see, Micky’s Moog.
GM: Pick a few familiar and deep Monkees tracks that you favor and share why they resonated with you then and now.
Partridge: Oh man, impossible. ”Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Great song, delivered with spunk, great guitar riff and harmonies, wonderful production... and I loved that ending where everything was pushed deep into the reverb chamber. A trick I "borrowed" for the end of the XTC number “Great Fire.” “Clarksville,” of course; man, that guitar intro. I still can’t play that quite right. Oh,”Zor and Zam” was another goodie. Actually, all in all “Randy Scouse Git” is probably my all-out fave …Too many, too many.
GM: Did you have a chance to see The Monkees live in the U.K. in 1967 or when they reunited and toured as a foursome in the ‘90s?
Partridge: I think there may have been a bus from my school to go and see them live in ‘67, but I couldn’t afford the cost. To be honest, I’m not the sort of person who enjoys seeing bands live, never have done. It’s all about the records for me, that’s where the magic lives, in that black plastic. In the ‘90s I was aware of their tour, but was still not a gig goer. Had the records, thus I had the voodoo.
GM: What was the thinking behind the type of songs you’d submit for The Monkees project?
Partridge: I knew from Andrew (Sandoval), their manager, that they wanted to go back to the classic ‘66-’67 sound, which I was in complete accordance with. And let’s face it, The Monkees are not about synths and samples — unless it’s Micky on his Moog bleeping and sweeping psychedelically — or all those mechanical sounds of this week’s pop. An acoustic guitar-powered bounce-along, with a twanging electric hook and instant melodic song was what was required, and I enjoyed supplying a couple of those. I cut my songwriting teeth on their early material. I’m their torchbearer. They couldn’t have come to a better tailor.
GM: As you know, there are many periods of the band, first two albums of bubblegum pop, artistic renaissance/the 'Pinocchio becoming a boy' era of “Headquarters,” psychedelic freakout era with “Head.” Was there a certain era you wanted to salute with the song you submitted to the project?
Partridge: I guess just the archetypal Monkees song, if such a thing exists. It would have to be instantly appealing, as all their great stuff was. It would have to have more hooks than a fishing tackle shop and stick in your head straight away ... with a big dollop of joy involved. I’m not a very good keyboard player, so the demos had to be guitar powered and I have to admit to allowing my inner Neil Diamond roam free ... except more in tune. There was an ache that Davy isn’t around, as I’d love to have a go at a vaudeville style, hoofer song just for him, too.
GM: Were there specific elements you felt the songs needed both musically and lyrically to be a “Monkees” song?
Partridge: Twanging guitar line, a la “Clarksville,” “Love is Only Sleeping” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” that was a must. Also, a cheeky kind of lyric with a dash of surrealism, like Micky’s for “Randy Scouse Git,” which had to be retitled for English release as it means "horny Liverpool bastard" over here. Something that BBC radio would have had a problem with. I didn’t flesh out my demos with harmonies, as I didn’t want to dictate to them. I was really excited to hear what they’d come up with in that department. It had to have joy. Even the saddest Monkee song is delivered with a twinkle of “Yeah, but it’ll get better soon.” Love ‘em for that.
GM: What’s it like for you to to see the musician credits for your song taken from the liners? Not all the tracks on “Good Times!” feature Micky, Mike and Peter, but yours does.
Partridge: That feels so nice. I also know that Bobby Hart of Boyce and Hart plays keyboards on my other accepted song, “Love’s What I Want,” as I have the photo of him doing so. I’m flattered to the Nth degree.
GM: There a nice line in “You Bring The Summer.” “The birds and the bees will fly around me. Even though we’re deep in January. When you come around, you bring the summer.” Was that a nod to The Monkees album, “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees?”
Partridge: Actually, the line I wrote was “Birds, bees and Monkees will fly around me,” just to get Micky to self-refer to one of my favorite albums of theirs. But he changed it at the last minute. I’m not sure why? Oh well. That smacked my cheekiness down a bit.
GM: Besides “You Bring The Summer,” you sent on more songs for consideration. Can you describe them and let us know if any will be used by the band for a future release?
Partridge: The two I wrote especially for them, and built with their classic style in mind, were “You Bring the Summer” and “Love’s What I Want.” I also sent over a few half-sketched ideas and a couple of finished songs that I thought might suit, but they did go for the bespoke numbers in preference. If any individual Monkee needs any more songs, I’d be delighted to supply.
GM: Lastly, this year marks the 50th anniversary of The Monkees coming to life. What makes them special?
Partridge: The same thing and a totally different thing that makes other pop groups special and unique. They had a style and a way of singing and playing that is very recognizable and delightful. Their acting in the TV series was funny and so genuinely lovable. It made a very deep impression on me; this goofy kid looking for something to emulate and use to pull himself up and out of poverty, and something to conquer a lack of confidence with. They were a great template for me. No Monkees means no XTC.