Sunday, February 12, 2012

Monkees -- "Pleasant Valley Sunday"

See Mrs. Gray, she's proud today 
Because her roses are in bloom 
And Mr. Green, he's so serene
He's got a TV in every room 
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday 
Here in status-symbol land 
You know who Carole King is, of course.  (Her 1971 album, Tapestry, was the biggest-selling album of all time by a solo artist until Michael Jackson's Thriller came along in 1982.)

You may not be familiar with her songwriting partner and ex-husband, Gerry Goffin.  They wrote about a dozen top 10 hits (four went to #1) in the 1960s, including "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Go Away, Little Girl," "Up on the Roof," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (a #3 hit for the Monkees in 1967). 

The song's title was inspired by Pleasant Valley Way, a street in the New York City suburb of West Orange, New Jersey.  King and Goffin had moved from Brooklyn to West Orange shortly before they penned "Pleasant Valley Sunday."  (The couple had met at Queens College, where their friends included Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka.)  King remained in the West Orange house after she and Goffin divorced, and that is where she wrote most of Tapestry.

The Monkees were never taken seriously as musicians, which isn't really fair.  It is true that the band's members were chosen more on the basis of their potential to become TV stars than their musical abilities, and it's true that they didn't write any of their big hits.  

The Pre-Fab Four
But while a number of well-known studio musicians (including Glen Campbell, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Buddy Miles, and Lowell George) contributed to the Monkees' records, the "Pre-Fab Four" played as well.  And the Monkees proved to be a perfectly competent live band when they went on tour.

The Monkees' star set as quickly as it had risen.  The group had six singles that made it to #1, #2, or #3 on the Billboard pop charts in 1966-68, but only a couple of their subsequent records even cracked the top 50.

Their TV series (which was created by young filmmakers Bob Rafaelson and Bert Schneider, whose production company was responsible for Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces -- Jack Nicholson's first great starring role -- and The Last Picture Show) was canceled in 1968 after only two seasons.

"Pleasant Valley Sunday" looks at suburban life with a jaundiced eye -- it was the sixties, not the fifties, after all, and it was de rigeur to trash the 'burbs.  

But life in Pleasant Valley doesn't sound all that bad.  If Carole King and Gerry Goffin hated it so much, they should have moved back to Brooklyn.

Most sources say that the distinctive guitar riff in the song was modeled after the one in the Beatles' "I Want to Tell You," but it sounds quite a bit like "Paperback Writer" to me.  I also have to think that Grand Funk's "Closer to Home (I'm Your Captain)" was influenced by "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

Here's "Pleasant Valley Sunday":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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