It’s hardly unusual for a veteran musician to record a batch of songs largely associated with other artists, as Monkees singer-drummer Micky Dolenz has done on his new solo album, “Remember.”
It includes his takes on such familiar rock and pop oldies as the Beatles’ “Good Morning, Good Morning,” Chuck Berry’s “Johnnny B. Goode,” the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” and Harry Nilsson’s title tune, along with new arrangements of a handful of songs the Monkees recorded: “I’m a Believer,” “Sometime in the Morning” and a relative obscurity, “Do Not Ask for Love.”
But this is no random stroll down memory lane for Dolenz, who will reunite with former band mates Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork for a Monkees tour starting in November. The idea came together at least in part as a salute to Davy Jones, the group's singer who died in February at age 66.
“The whole idea is that this album would be a kind of a scrapbook of my life, from the Monkees days, from before the Monkees and post-Monkees as well,” Dolenz, 67, said between bites of a tuna niçoise salad at a posh hotel in Hollywood, a few hours before he was to host an album listening session at Capitol Records on Wednesday.
As an example, he explained why he chose to cover “Good Morning, Good Morning.”
“Paul McCartney had invited me to come down to Abbey Road and listen to the new album the Beatles were working on at the time: ‘Sgt. Something’ -- Whatever happened to that record, anyway?” Dolenz quipped. “I walked into the studio and John Lennon said, ‘Hey Monkee man, would you like to hear what we’ve been working on?’
“He pointed up to the recording booth and George Martin was standing there in his three-piece suit, in the middle of the afternoon,” said Dolenz. “He punched the button on the four-track tape machine, and out came this song, which was burn-etched into my brain forever after that.”
The “Remember” album grew out of Dolenz recounting stories such as this to producer David Harris about four years ago when the two started talking about working together. Soon the idea emerged for Dolenz to work up other songs that meant a lot to him.
“Johnny B. Goode,” which has been covered by hundreds, if not thousands, of other singers, shows up because “it was the song I sang at my audition for the Monkees and that got me the job,” he said. The song's arrangement on “Remember” veers from the electric guitar-driven rave-up most often used on the song in favor of a swampy, acoustic treatment, with Dolenz playing the guitar.
“Sugar, Sugar,” likewise, holds a special place in Monkees history: The song had been selected by music publisher Don Kirshner for the foursome to record as their next single.
“That was right at the time when Mike [Nesmith, the Monkees’ lead guitarist and frequent songwriter and singer] led the palace revolt in trying to get us some kind of say in what we were recording, how it was recorded and how it was released, because we had none,” Dolenz said. “I didn’t show up for the recording session, and went to England, which is where I met up with Paul [McCartney] while Mike battled it out.”
Kirshner lost the battle and was fired. Afterward, he famously created the Archies, a cartoon rock group that took “Sugar, Sugar” to No. 1 on the pop chart, as recorded by a group of studio musicians that included singers Ron Dante, Toni Wine and Donna Marie, who received no credit until well after the fact.
Dolenz is a regular presence at concerts and other musical gatherings in Los Angeles, when he’s not touring or involved in the stage musicals that have occupied much of his time in recent years, including productions of “Hairspray,” “Grease” and the Elton John-Tim Rice version of “Aida.” Last week, for instance, he showed up at the Grammy Museum for the Beach Boys’ Q&A; session and performance.
As for the album’s title song, he connects with that one on several fronts. “I was with Harry when he wrote it,” he said. “I was with him when he wrote a lot of songs. And of course, the Monkees were the first to record one of his songs,” referring to “Cuddly Toy,” which allowed the then-struggling singer and songwriter to quit his day job at a bank in the San Fernando Valley.
“I think it was his publisher, Lester Sill, who brought the song to us. Harry came in and played it for us on a piano, and Davy [Jones] said, 'Yeah, I like that -- we should record that one’,” Dolenz recalled. “After they left the room, Lester walked out into the hallway with Harry and said, ‘You can quit your job at the bank now.’ Of course, I think Harry would have done very well with or without the Monkees, but it’s nice to think we might have had some role in helping him get started. We became very close after that; in fact, we became best buds.”
Dolenz has a few solo shows lined up to showcase his extracurricular interests before the Monkees' reunion tour gets up and running for a dozen dates starting in Escondido on Nov. 8 and reaching the Greek Theatre two nights later.
Calendar will have more details on their plans closer to the start of the tour.