My buddy Michael over at Pig State Recon commented on the post below, remarking that "the blogosphere appreciates this newly MOR Lexicon Devil". Huh... I was under the impression those Rolling Stones and David Bowie albums were pretty damn cutting edge, at least back in their day, but I get the joke. Some folks, I get the feeling, think I've lost the plot if I give this blog airspace to anything less than the GG Allin/Merzbow/Peter Brotzmann school of "art", but if you trawl through the archives, you'll see me heaping praise on such sensitive types as Ian Matthews, Judee Sill, Van Morrison and even David Crosby.
I guess a sure sign that one is getting old is when they start waxing enthusiastically about Michael Nesmith's essential early forays into country-rock. A year or two back, I wrote a piece on this excellent compilation of early west coast country-rock on Ace Records. It was given to me by a good friend - a guy known down here as possibly Australia's biggest and most vocal country-rock nutcase (that's one step beyond an enthusiast and/or collector, and I need not mention his name if you know whom I speak of). He knew of my long-standing love for the Byrds and Flying Burrito Bros., and, he being one who possesses a contagious sense of excitement over these things, was thrilled by my new-found fandom for the Everly Brothers (especially their rootsy recordings from the late '60s). He knew I needed an education, and was happy to pass it my way. But anyway, the comp' in question, Country & West Coast: The Birth of Country-Rock, is one I still regard as perhaps the finest collection of sounds I've heard in the last 5 years.
One track, in particular, stood out: Michael Nesmith's "Nine Times Blue", lifted from his sophomore album of 1970, Magnetic South. Yep, that's Nesmith, the ex-Monkees guy (the "smart Monkee", as they say), video-clip pioneer and producer of Repo Man (this blog always has to have a tie-in with Classic Early West Coast Punk in some capacity). If you'd told me 20 years back I'd be listening to country-rock solo albums by ex-Monkees members in my late 30s, I'd probably pose the question: at what point in my life did I hit the "lame" switch? That question doesn't need an answer: an 18-year-old knows no better.
Nesmith already had a fumbling career as a country/folkie in Texas prior to auditioning for the Monkees in '65, so it was no stretch for him, a natural-born musician, to actually make a go as a credible singer in his own right when the band went splitsville. Sony/BMG has done a pretty excellent budget-priced twofer of his finest albums, Magnetic South and Loose Salute, both from 1970. Nesmith had a crack band behind him, including the famed O.J. "Red" Rhodes on lapsteel. Sonically it's not far from the Gram Parsons ballpark of sound, which means it inhabits a very similar universe to that of the Flying Burrito Brothers' first album and the Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (the two finest country-rock discs there ever be): a combination of electric country/hillbilly sounds bled from old George Jones and Louvin Brothers discs w/ the vaguely psychedelic touches of west coast rock 'n' roll seeping through. Prior to The Eagles bastardising the genre for a thousand years to come (or at least 20 years) with their airbrushed FM dross, this was a fairly winning formula obviously open for corruption. Nesmith even had a few small-time hits from the period, such as "Joanne", but he never made a huge dent in the wider headspace. Fact is, the guy is just too damn strange, his poetic, stream-of-conscience lyrics probably too far off the beaten path for a generation just about to get mellow.
Nesmith himself dropped a fair bit of his country leanings by the mid '70s, most of his later discs border on "quirky" adult rock/pop: not the music of thrills 'n' spills, but it's OK for what it is. Punkers who only crave music of the gritty, urbane variety, full of bleak lyrical matters and ear-scraping guitar licks are best advised to look elsewhere for a kick. Those who've been down that path a thousand times before (because we love it, of course), but also want to get their heads around a great "scene" before it went bust should dig on the sounds of Nesmith's early output.