Micky Dolenz figures it was inevitable that he’d record an album of Monkees mate Mike Nesmith’s songs.
“Even in the old days, back on (The Monkees) television show, Mike and I had this great connection,” Dolenz, who releases Dolenz Sings Nesmith on May 14, tells Billboard. “We always goofed around and had great timing and comedy and sang great together. We always had such a great blend. And we would joke around, even back then, ‘Hey, one day — the Mike & Micky Show!'”
That became a reality back in 2018, when Dolenz and Nesmith — who only performed intermittently with the Monkees since leaving the band in 1970 — joined forces to tour together. The two are going out on one final stretch of dates this year, slated to start in September.
The idea for Dolenz Sings Nesmith, meanwhile, came about during rehearsals for some Monkees dates several years ago with Peter Tork, after Davy Jones’ death during 2012. “I just said to Nez, ‘I would love to do a “Dolenz Sings Nez” album,'” recalls Dolenz, who was inspired by Harry Nilsson’s 1970 release Nilsson Sings Newman as well as his own 2010 King For a Day tribute to Carole King. “And (Nesmith) was like, ‘That’s a great idea, Mick. Here’s a couple ideas for songs,’ and that was it. We went on tour.
“Then, over a year ago now, 7a (Records) was asking me if there was anything I wanted to do. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve always had this idea of “Dolenz Sings Nesmith.” They said, ‘We like that idea,’ and it just went from there.”
Produced by Nesmith’s oldest son Christian, Dolenz Sings Nesmith features his takes on 13 tunes (14 on the CD), including “Different Drum,” a 1967 hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, but mostly mining deep tracks from Nesmith’s catalog.
“We started with a big, long list and talked about material back and forth,” says Dolenz, who credits Christian Nesmith with “reimagining” a number of the tracks. “We did not want to do just karaoke cover versions of these tunes, which meant I wasn’t comfortable doing certain songs. (The Monkees’) ‘Listen to the Band’ is so iconic the way it is, we all agreed there was no way you can do that without basically just covering it. We talked about ‘Joanne’ (a Hot 100 hit in 1970), and there’s just no way. What do you do? Do you turn ‘Joanne’ into a rap? [Laughs] So some things were better left untouched, by us at least.”
Dolenz does hope that the album shines a light on Nesmith’s songwriting and solo work, which is often eclipsed by the Monkees’ legacy.
“He was writing and doing incredible stuff right from the get-go,” Dolenz says, “Then again he was cast in The Monkees and (the producers) didn’t feel like what he was doing fit. He offered them ‘Different Drum’ and they told him it wasn’t really a Monkees tune, so he said OK and gave it to Linda Ronstadt. I know it was very frustrating for him.”
With Nesmith giving the album a thumbs-up, the duo hits the road in September for another Mike & Micky Show run that’s formally billed as the Monkees Farewell Tour. The trek is currently slated to wrap up Nov. 14 at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and Dolenz — who’s spent his pandemic time taking gourmet cooking classes, fishing and making furniture in his home workshop — says the decision for a final tour was “organic.”
“It was really just Mike and I looking at each other, ‘How much longer can we do this stuff?'” explains Dolenz, who’s contemplating another songbook kind of album, possibly of Neil Diamond songs, next. “It’s not because there isn’t demand, but I think it’s just being realistic. I’m 76, Nez is 78; A year or two ago he had health issues [quadruple bypass heart surgery]. I love the singing, but the touring, the traveling, really beats you up, even when we do it in a pretty reasonable, comfortable style like we do. So it’s just time.”
Dolenz promises that the shows will continue to feature an array of Monkees favorites and perhaps add some of his Dolenz Sings Nesmith songs. And he plans to continue performing on his own. “Even this really isn’t even the Monkees, is it? It’s still The Monkees Present the Mike & Micky Show,'” he notes. “Mike and I did not feel comfortable calling it the Monkees with only two of us, and we’re certainly not going to hire a couple of lookalikes for (the late Tork and Jones). There are so many bands where there’s only the one remaining member from the original group — sometimes not even that. So we’ll do this one more time and give the fans what they want, and that’ll be it.”