Not Exactly Deep

In 1965, David Robert Jones changed his stage name to David Bowie, so that he wouldn’t be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees.  His manager told him, “Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you.”  Bowie adopted his new name in homage to Jim Bowie, from the 1960 movie The Alamo where the Texan rebel was played by Richard Widmark.  Skeptics scoffed at the four guys who trying to make a name for themselves as a rock ‘n roll band called The Monkees, because this group was developed through a casting process, and they initially didn’t write the bulk of their own material or play all the instruments on their records.  They were dubbed ‘the prefab four’, but they did have a lot of fans and some of their songs were really good and later they did take creative control of their music.  Their TV show was broadcast from September 12, 1966 to March 25, 1968 and it won an Emmy winner for Best Comedy Series.

Michael Nesmith wrote ‘Mary, Mary’ before he joined The Monkees.  It was first recorded by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band on their East-West album on Elektra in 1966.  The president of Elektra actually caught some flap once the Monkees’ version came out, because people couldn’t believe that a Monkee actually wrote it.  Nesmith said that he wrote this song to be a hit.  He never thought about singing the lead, as Mickey Dolenz The Monkee’s drummer was his choice for singing the lead on this and actually Micky sang lead vocals on some of The Monkees biggest hits, including ‘I’m A Believer’ and ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’.  ‘I’m A Believer’ became The Monkees’ most popular song ever.

This was an early song for The Monkees and it was recorded on July 25, 1966 at Western Recorders Studio in Hollywood, California before the first episode of their TV show aired on NBC which happened on September 12, 1966.  Michael Nesmith oversaw his fourth recording session as a producer for The Monkees with this song.  Michael just started writing songs, and he was trying to find a place that was between country and blues.  At the time, Michael was working for the singer and guitarist and folk musician Randy Sparks, who had started the publishing company Randy Sparks Associates after his success with the folk-rock band New Christy Minstrels.  The New Christy Minstrels 1962 debut album, Presenting The New Christy Minstrels won a Grammy Award and stayed in the Billboard charts for two years and they recorded the song ‘Green, Green’ which went to #14 in the US in 1963.

Randy hired Michael as a writer, and that is when he wrote ‘Mary, Mary’.  Frazier Mohawk who was involved in putting together Buffalo Springfield, and who let Jackson Browne stay at his Laurel Canyon home when he didn’t have any money, car or apartment took this song to the Chicago-based Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and they recorded it.  Randy then sold all of Michael’s work to Screen Gems Columbia Music, who went on to produce the theatrical Monkees business for their TV show.  They picked ‘Mary Mary’ to go on the second record.  Screen Gems delivered classic TV shows and sitcoms including Father Knows Best, Dennis the Menace, The Donna Reed Show, Hazel, Gidget, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family, and The Monkees.

Don Kirshner a top executive at Colgems Records (a label affiliated with Columbia/Screen Gems), was appointed music coordinator for the TV series, and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a producing and songwriting team, were signed on to handle most of the day-to-day chores of creating music for the show’s band that were made up from the imagination of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider.  As The Monkees gained confidence in their abilities as performers, they became disgruntled, because of the restrictions that Kirshner imposed on them, who had full control over what songs they would record and who would produce and play on all of their sessions.   Kirshner established a two song quota per Monkee album and he would not allow any singles to be released in America.  The Monkees were touring on the road when Kirshner put together their second album and they were not happy about having no input in this.  The producers were just trying to grab the money as fast as they could, while The Monkees were still in demand.  In 1968, Nesmith wrote the hit ‘Different Drum’ for the Stone Poneys.

​‘Mary, Mary’ was considered a highlight in The Monkees’ repertoire, one of the group’s most enduring hits.  This song was featured on their best selling album, More of the Monkees which was released on January 7, 1967.  More of the Monkees went on to become the group’s biggest album.  It topped the chart for nine weeks, and by years’ end the Monkees outsold the Beatles and Rolling Stones combined.  Hits like ‘(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone’, and ‘She’ both songs written by a Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart and ‘I’m a Believer’ written by Neil Diamond, helped made this the biggest-selling album of 1967.  The album topped the Billboard Top 200 for 18 weeks and the song ‘Mary, Mary’ popped up in five different episodes of the group’s TV series.  The Norwegians and Japanese sent ‘Mary, Mary’ all the way to their no. 1 spots, it was a #4 hit in Australia and the Rhodesians and Swedes made it a top 5 smash, however the British and Americans didn’t even release it in single form.

The Wrecking Crew, the cream of Los Angeles session musicians and possibly the best 60s band ever played on this song, with drums by Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon, and Gary Coleman as the percussionist, Larry Knechtel & Bob West played bass, Michael Cohen played piano, guitar was played by arranger Don Peake, and by James Burton, Al Casey, Michael Deasy, and an opening lead guitar lick by Glen Campbell gave this song a propulsive R&B backbeat, driving the number with an infectious rhythm from tip to tail and Peter Tork the most skilled and studied musician in the Monkees also plays on this song.  Micky Dolenz added a doubled lead vocal for ‘Mary, Mary’ two days later.

The subject matter of ‘Mary, Mary’ was not all that profound, being just a typical boy/girl relationship that was prominent in many bubblegum pop songs of the era, but if you look deeper a different light can be shed on this song, as it can also be viewed as a stalker song.  Many songs are written about love, but when this love becomes obsessive, they venture into that creepy stalker territory.  Things were different back in 1966 when Michael Nesmith wrote ‘Mary, Mary’ as years ago, if you broke up with someone and they tried to get you back, by sending you flowers, candy, calling unexpectedly, showing up at your house or work, that was just called romantic, but this is considered creepy today.  Now there are two types of people in the world.  Those who are able to realize when their relationship is over and those that keep calling, begging, pleading, holding onto hope and eventually cross the line into becoming stalkers after it ends.  You don’t have to be caught lurking around in someone’s bushes, or looking through someone’s window with a pair of binoculars, or going online to checkout someone’s profile, if you begin to plan your entire future together including baby names, then you are definitely a stalker.  Maybe the guy in this song is just a pest and not a stalker, but he is not thinking very clearly, especially when he says, “I’d rather die than to live without ya”.  This may have been considered true romance back in Shakespeare’s day, when Romeo and Juliet each say that they would rather be dead than have to live without each other, but now talking like this is crazy.

Mary, Mary, where you goin’ to?
Mary, Mary, can I go too?
This one thing I will vow ya
I’d rather die than to live without ya
Mary, Mary, where you goin’ to?

Mary, Mary, tell me truly
What did I do to make you leave me?
Whatever it was I didn’t mean to
You know I never would try and hurt ya
Mary, Mary, where you goin’ to?

What more, Mary, can I do
To prove that my love is truly yours?
I’ve done more now than a clear-thinkin’ man would do

Mary, Mary, it’s not over
Where you go, I will follow
Till I win your love again
And walk beside you, but until then
Mary, Mary, where you goin’ to?

Mary, Mary, where you goin’ to?
Mary, where you goin’ to?
Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary, where you goin’ to?
Oh, Mary, where you goin to, Mary, Mary, Mary where you goin’ to?

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Shed and for Ragtag Community – Broadcast.

12 thoughts on “Not Exactly Deep

  1. I knew a little about the Monkees and that they were a fake group with studio musicians playing the instruments. I’ve never heard this song before today! I think Mike Nesmith was the son of the person who invented post-it notes and that he funded the film, “Repo Man”, but that’s about it. I had to laugh when I read that David Bowie changed his name because he didn’t want to be confused with Davy Jones.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My younger son wrote a paper on “Repo Man” in school. He said they weren’t able to get any sponsors (whatever they call the product placement payments) except for those Christmas tree car scent things (forgot their names) so all of the items in the supermarket he worked at and at home when he was eating out of the can had blank labels. Not sure how well-acquainted you are with the movie, but you may remember a scene where that guy in the coveralls holds up one of the trees and says, “There’s one in every car.” 🙂 Can you tell my family and I are fans of the movie? As to Batman, I was never a fan of it. Too cheesy for me. I did run home from school every day to watch Dark Shadows though.

        Liked by 1 person

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