There is really no such thing as a guilty pleasure in pop music. Unless you happen to love neo-Nazi ditties or glorifications of hatred or violence, I’d say it’s okay for you to dig whatever you wanna dig. Yes, even the hits of The Eagles. Why? BECAUSE THEY’RE POP SONGS! Guilt-Free Pleasures (A Defense Against The Dark Arts) celebrates pop songs. The guilty need not apply.
THE MONKEES: “I Never Thought It Peculiar”
I never thought it peculiarThat you never gave me a smileI wasn’t socially suitedTo make it worth your whileOh, no….
Our own paths through the landscape of pop culture are directed by quirks and idiosyncrasies. We may have points of common ground–a hit movie or TV show everyone within our peer group saw, a top record we all heard on the radio in heavy rotation–but there are also less-shiny pop artifacts only some of us know, experienced in less-than-universal circumstances. There are TV shows we loved as kids that no one else seems to even remember much, if at all. There are records our memories insist must have been ubiquitous mega-smashes, because we remember ’em, in spite of the fact that they never occupied a second of AM or FM airspace on any radio known to boy or girl. They are the flowers in the dustbin (as The Sex Pistols would say). The world at large may be indifferent to their charm, but they matter to us.
And I never thought it peculiarThat my heart always beat like a drumEach time I would see you walk by meYou were as pretty as they come
Within the cavalcade of memory and impression I recall from being a kid in the ’60s and into the early ’70s, it seems to me that The Monkees had more hits than Billboard chart histories insist. Wasn’t “(Theme From) The Monkees” a hit? Howzabout “She?” “Papa Gene’s Blues?” “Gonna Buy Me A Dog?” C’mon, “(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow” must have been huge; how could it not have been…?!
But these weren’t hits, nor were they even singles. They were LP tracks I heard on my brother Art’s copies of the first two Monkees albums in 1966 and ’67, catchy ditties I likely also heard on The Monkees television series. Their everyday familiarity to me fooled my brain into thinking they were chart-toppers like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer.”
They were not. Yet I loved them as if they were.
Ain’t that peculiar?
As popular as The Monkees had been in the ’60s, the rock establishment in the ’70s was determined to toss the group and its legacy lock, stock, and little red maracas into the dustbin as well. By the time people tried to tell me that I couldn’t possibly like The Monkees, I already loved The Monkees, and I’d already determined that nobody could ever dictate what I could or couldn’t like. I’ve told that story elsewhere, notably in my account of seeing The Monkees live and of wishing to induct them into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The Monkees transcend my concepts of the guilty or even guilt-free pleasure.
n The Monkees’ canon, a clunky little number called “I Never Thought It Peculiar” is the closest thing I have to an exception.
Yeah, there aren’t an awful lot of folks who love this one. “I Never Thought It Peculiar” was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the ace tunesmiths who created a number of classic songs for The Monkees, from the TV show’s theme through “Last Train To Clarksville,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “She,” “Words,” and “Valleri,” among many others. As performers, Boyce & Hart appeared on the TV shows Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie, released a bunch of singles and albums, and scored a # 8 hit in 1967 with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.”
“I Never Thought It Peculiar” was something of a throwaway. It had been written and recorded during sessions for second album More Of The Monkees, and relegated to the vaults, unreleased. The track had no discernible sense of cool. As sung by heartthrob Davy Jones, it was guileless pop fodder, music hall, the sort of chirpy but forgettable dreamy-eyed luv song a teen-idol pinup could sing sweetly to his smitten little Tiger Beat girl (and vice versa). It didn’t appear on a record until it was unceremoniously exhumed to fill dead space at the end of Changes, the 1970 Micky Dolenz-Davy Jones vehicle that was the final album released under the Monkees brand name, after Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith had already left Monkeeshines behind them. It was not a hit record by any definition.
Making my own way through the ’70s, I discovered over time that The Monkees had released more albums than the mere two I remembered. There wasn’t much information readily available regarding The Monkees’ discography, but watching reruns of the TV show proved there were more Monkees songs out there. Through flea markets and friends, I filled in a lot of the gaps.
I had never seen nor heard a copy of Changes until the fall of my freshman year at college in Brockport, NY, late 1977. I was interested in joining the campus radio station WBSU–because, y’know, playing records–and took a tour of the studio. It was there that I saw this Monkees album I didn’t know. Changes.
It was the only Monkees album the station had. I looked it over, but didn’t recognize the songs. I figured (correctly) that “Oh My My” probably wasn’t the Ringo Starr hit with the same name. I scanned these unfamiliar titles, “I Love You Better” and “99 Pounds” and “Midnight Train,” and settled my gaze on the album’s final track: “I Never Thought It Peculiar.”
And I began to sing that song to myself. I remembered the song from…hey, where the hell could I have remembered that song from…?! I knew I’d never listened to Changes. I was pretty certain the song hadn’t been played on the radio, and I was likewise sure it wasn’t among the few Monkees records I’d cut off the backs of specially-marked boxes of Post Honey Combs cereal. But I knew the song! I did!
Over the next few weeks, I pestered WBSU DJs with request after request, mixing urgent pleas for oldies by The Dave Clark Five and Paul Revere and the Raiders with fevered demands for the punk/new wave sounds of The Ramones and Blondie. And I often requested “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” The first time I heard that on WBSU confirmed my memory of it, from whatever secret place that memory was spawned.
(My taste in rockin’ pop was decidedly out of sync with most of my fellow students, including most of the jocks at WBSU. There were exceptions, but most of ’em disliked my oldies, and really disliked my punk. And they hated The Monkees more than they hated any of the rest.)
Hating The Monkees. I’m sorry, I could never understand how anyone could hate a sound that made me feel so happy. But I did have to concede that “I Never Thought It Peculiar” wasn’t particularly hip. It was gawky, square, as awkward as unrequited love. I wrote its goopy lyrics in my notebooks, fighting for space alongside the words from lovelorn gems by The Rubinoos and Freddie and the Dreamers, the presumed soundtrack of an earnest love affair yet to be: a college girl whose eye I would catch, whose hand I would hold, whose lips I would kiss, a girl whose heart would beat next to mine. Peculiar? Infatuation’s like that. Love’s for damned sure like that, too.
So I sent some flowers to your doorstepAnd wrote on the card, “I love you”I don’t know whyBut I do know that IHad a feeling that you liked me, too
Changes isn’t much of an album, but it has its moments. “Oh My My” is a fantastic little chunk of strutting hard pop with a bubbly soul, Dolenz’s breathy vocals delivering an AM-ready juggernaut that should have been a hit. “I Love You Better” is agreeably reminiscent of Neil Diamond. The rest is marginal, culminating in the terminally uncool but somehow engaging trifle “I Never Thought It Peculiar,” the song that I knew somewhere.
I wouldn’t figure out the mystery of my forgotten introduction to “I Never Thought It Peculiar” until a few years later. Although I was old enough (if barely) to watch The Monkees’ TV series during its original 1966-68 prime time run, my true immersion in the Monkees experience came when the show was rerun on Saturday mornings from 1969 to 1973. Around 1970, when Changes was released, suits at Colgems Records hoped to capitalize on this TV exposure to spur sales for new Monkees product, so tracks from Changes replaced some of the older tracks previously heard playing behind Monkees romps on individual episodes. One of those freshly-inserted songs was, of course, “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” The song sunk its gummy hooks deeply into my ten-year-old psyche, and slumbered there until jolted awake when I was in college.
So I never thought it peculiarWhen you stopped to ask me the timeAnd I don’t think it’s terribly peculiarThat now, little girl, you are mine
There are no guilty pleasures in pop music. It’s pop music ferchrissakes. As I approach my 60th birthday, I’m still the boy who loved The Monkees, the boy who fell in love with girls, the boy who learned that love is defined by those who love, not by those who look on. I’m still a bit peculiar myself, and adamantly unlikely to change. My path remains quirky and idiosyncratic, and I’m still fascinated by flowers in the dustbin. The Sex Pistols wound up covering The Monkees, by the way. These flowers still bloom, for all who care to see. Peculiar? Proudly so.
VERDICT: Innocent, not guilty.