Ahhh January. Cold, wet, grey and the holidays are over.
Sounds fun right? Well, not all is lost. I’ve been catching up on some new CD releases, something that always cheers me up, and I thought I’d share some thoughts about a really wonderful new CD from one of my favorite boutique music labels 7a Records.
Peter Tork’s 1994 solo album “Stranger Things Have Happened” has recently been reissued by 7a and I have to say that the results not only meet the label’s previous high standards but this CD/vinyl release may be one of their all-time best discs.
For those who don’t know, 7a Records has been around for about six years and have released a series of fantastic CD and vinyl compilations of solo work from members of The Monkees or releases from people associated with the group like Monkees writer and producer Bobby Hart.
I’ve posted about some of 7a Records previous work including some terrific solo albums by ex-Monkees Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith but the one Monkee who always came up on the short-list of reissues was Peter Tork. That is until now.
Peter Tork, who died in February 2019, did not release a ton of solo music during his post Monkees career. In fact, “Stranger Things Have Happened” was his first full-length album release outside of The Monkees.
Strange as it may seem (no pun intended) while Peter Tork was a fixture on the live stage he didn’t feel the need or possibly didn’t get the support to make many solo recordings. What recordings he did issue were pretty darn good and this CD is, in my opinion, the cream of the crop of his solo work.
The musicianship, singing and song selection on “Stranger Things Have Happened” are all first-rate and may surprise quite a few people who only think of Peter Tork as the lovable goof from The Monkees who sang novelty songs like “Your Auntie Grizelda” from The Monkees’ second album the mega-selling “More of the Monkees”.
Not only does “Stranger Things Have Happened” contain some fine songwriting by Tork with “Get What You Pay For”, “Miracle” and “Sea Change” but it also contains some stellar covers including “Giant Step” (a remake of The Monkees own “Take a Giant Step”) plus solo versions of two of his self-composed Monkees songs “MGBGT” and “Gettin’ In” as well as a superb take on “Higher and Higher” (a hit for both Jackie Wilson and Rita Coolidge).
The other highlight of the album is the song “Milkshake” (written by Martin Briley) which really could be considered a true Monkees track as it features very distinctive background vocals by none other than fellow Monkees Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith making this a more collaborative song than anything on The Monkees 1987 comeback album “Pool It”.
While the production of the original 1994 “Stranger Things Have Happened” songs may sound a tad dated, the album is nonetheless quite good and full of some really great performances.
The real jewel of this reissue though, and what makes it so worth tracking down even if you do own the original 1994 version of the album are the nine bonus tracks.
With this new reissue you get lovely acoustic versions of four songs from the album (“Milkshake”, “MG-BGT”, “Miracle” and “Pirates” – all with James Lee Stanley) as well as a live version of “Get What You Pay For” plus truly stunning solo versions of The Monkees “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Higher and Higher” both which feature Tork’s short-lived group The New Monks and both from a 1981 single release.
(Note: I think the 1981 version of “Higher and Higher” is quite terrific and really should have been a hit – it’s that good.)
But the true highlight of this disc, in fact one of the highlights of Peter Tork’s entire recorded output, is the lovely song “I Truly Understand” from 1982 which features Tork on banjo. Really to me this song completely captures Peter Tork as a musician and performer and is a sweet gem of a folk song that really touches the heart.
In fact I’ve owned a low-fi copy of “I Truly Understand” for years on an old bootleg cassette and it has always been one of my favorite Tork performances either with or without The Monkees. It’s so nice to finally have it in great quality.
Add in the lovely solo demo of the song “Easy Rockin'” and you have basically two excellent Peter Tork albums in one!
And the liner notes in this reissue are both detailed and informative and really put this album and Tork’s solo career into perspective and give great insight into what made him tick as a solo performer.
What can I say, if you’re a fan of The Monkees or just a fan of good rock/pop/folk music then you really owe it to yourself to track this release down. I don’t own the vinyl but the CD version with the bonus tracks is a real treat and frankly probably the best document you can find of Peter Tork as a songwriter and performer.
It’s too bad that Tork really was brushed aside as far as his musical ability was concerned. Yes vocally he could be hit or miss but he was a multi-instrumentalist and a solid and engaging performer with extreme charisma. This new reissue of “Stranger Things Have Happened” really gives Peter Tork his due as it’s a really wonderful album and showcases his talents well.
As usual check out photos of this new reissue above.
Until next time be safe and well and I hope your new year is a good one so far!