Monday, February 25, 2013

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart -- "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" (1968)


But I tell myself I didn't lose her
Cause you can't lose a friend you never had

There's a lot I don't get about the way teenagers are today.  But there was a lot I didn't get about the way teenagers were when I was a teenager.

What the hell is going on in this song?  It begins with the singer (a male) telling a girl that he doesn't love her -- that he just wants to be her friend:

If I had told her that I loved her
She would have stayed 'til who knows when
But I guess she couldn't understand it
When I said I want to be your friend

It seems that the girl reacted to his statement by going out with another guy -- motivated (at least in the boy's mind) primarily by a desire for revenge.  In the singer's mind, this constitutes a betrayal, and they aren't friends any more:

I tell myself I didn't lose her
'Cause you can't lose a friend you never had
'Cause a friend won't say it's over
And go out just for spite
And now I wonder what she's doing tonight

But he was the one who said it was over -- not her.  And why would he give a rat's ass what she's doing tonight anyway?  After all, he doesn't love her -- he just wants to be friends. 

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
I don't get it.  (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)

This assumes that there is something to get, of course -- a risky assumption when it comes to pop lyrics.  

I could give you example after example of perfect pop songs that have trite and simplistic lyrics, or have lyrics that make no sense at all.  And you know something?  It doesn't matter!  They are still perfect pop songs!

The 300 or so songs that Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote together sold more than 42 million records.  The partnership wrote songs for Chubby Checker, Jay and the Americans ("Come a Little Bit Closer"), and Paul Revere and the Raiders.  They also wrote the theme songs for Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is" variety show (which was a hit for Freddy Cannon) and the long-running soap opera, Days of Our Lives.  

But Boyce and Hart are best known for the songs they wrote for the Monkees -- 22 altogether, including "Last Train to Clarksville," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (originally recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders), "Valleri," and the theme song from the Monkees' TV series.  ("Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!")

(A little-known fact about "Last Train to Clarksville": when I was one of the three student managers for my junior high school's undefeated 9th-grade basketball team, one of my fellow student managers and I persuaded the third manager that we had written "Last Train to Clarksville," which was a #1 hit single at the time.)


But Boyce and Hart saved their very best song for themselves.  "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" (which appeared on the album I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite) was a top ten hit for the duo in 1968.  If there was any justice in this world, it would have reached #1 -- it's that good a song.

I think the best moment in any sixties pop song ever recorded is when Bobby says "Come on, now!" after Tommy sings the lines quoted above.  That feels like an ad lib -- like Bobby is so caught up in the musical moment that he just can't control his excitement.  But that apparent ad lib was probably carefully planned and executed.

I just read a wonderful history of pop music in Los Angeles titled Waiting for the Sun, by British author Barney Hoskyns.  Hoskyns believes the difference between the music "scenes" in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the sixties is obvious:  San Francisco had a rock sensibility and Los Angeles had a pop sensibility.

The NoCal types thought the SoCal types were phony and plastic -- the Monkees (a/k/a/ the "Pre-Fab Four") were the symbol of all that was wrong with the Los Angeles scene.  But the SoCal types expressed their distaste with NoCal's holier-than-thou self-righteous attitude and hippie "style" (or the lack thereof).

Surprisingly, most of the real crazies of the era defended Los Angeles.  Frank Zappa observed that everyone in San Francisco dressed the same way -- in Los Angeles, the freaks were much freakier.  Andy Warhol and his posse also preferred the isolated degenerates of Los Angeles to the hippie communitarians of San Francisco: "If you didn't smile a lot in San Francisco," said Paul Morrissey, the Warhol collaborator who discovered the Velvet Underground, "they got very hostile."

Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop
The famous Monterey Pop Festival, which took place in June 1967, brought some quintessential Los Angeles and San Francisco groups together.  From SoCal, you had the Mamas and Papas, the Byrds, Johnny Rivers, the Association, and Lou Rawls.  (Lou Rawls?)  From NoCal, you had the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin), and Moby Grape, among others. 

The Monkees were not invited to play at Monterey Pop, although Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork both attended.  (Tork actually introduced the Buffalo Springfield.)  The Monkees took a sharp turn musically after Monterey Pop -- their next album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., featured a Moog synthesizer, which was introduced to the pop music industry at Monterey Pop.  

(In case you're curious, Mickey Dolenz was a Pisces, Peter Tork was an Aquarius, and Michael Nesmith was a Capricorn.  Davy Jones was also a Capricorn.  In fact, both he and Nesmith were born on December 30.  By the way, did you know that if there are 23 people in a room, it's more likely than not that two of them will have the same birthday?  Of course, there aren't 23 people in the Monkees.)

Guess who opened for the Monkees on their U.S. tour that kicked off in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 8 -- less than three weeks after the Monterey Pop Festival?

None other than the star of Monterey Pop, Jimi Hendrix.  That's right, boys and girls -- Jimi Hendrix touring with the Monkees.  Imagine that!


The odd coupling actually made sense for both parties.  Hendrix had become something of a star in the UK by this time, but was largely unheard of in the U.S.  His management wanted to cash in on the notoriety he gained by setting his guitar on fire while performing "Wild Thing" at Monterey Pop -- and who was going to draw bigger audiences in the summer of 1967 than the Monkees?

The Monkees wanted to prove to the world that they deserved to be taken seriously as musicians, and there was probably no other opening act they could have chosen who had more critical credibility than the cutting-edge Hendrix.

Hendrix appeared with the Monkees seven times in nine days -- he made way for other opening acts after he and the Monkees did three shows at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on July 14, 15, and 16, 1967. 

Boyce and Hart released three albums.  (The third one was released in Canada under the name Which One's Boyce and Which One's Hart?)  They had a couple of other Top 40 hits, and appeared on episodes of Bewitched, The Flying Nun, and I Dream of Jeannie:



(Yes, boys and girls, that's legendary record producer Phil Spector playing himself in that clip.)

In the mid-seventies, Boyce and Hart teamed up with Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones and went on the road to perform Monkees songs as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart.  (Catchy, no?)

Hart was nominated for an Oscar in 1983 for the song "Over You," which was featured on the soundtrack of the Robert Duvall movie, Tender Mercies.  

After living in the UK for a few years, Boyce returned to the U.S., where he suffered from depression and had a brain aneurysm.  He committed suicide in 1994, when he was 55 years old.   

Here's Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart lip-synching (badly -- really badly) "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" on an episode of The Hollywood Palace variety show.  Their host is Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame). 



Click here to order the song from Amazon: 

4 comments:

  1. Hi Gary:

    Really enjoyed your dissection of the nonsensical lyrics, as well as your observation that it just doesn't matter. There were any number of songs from the era whose lyrics we never understood, or misunderstood, after all.

    But having listened, I don't see why you think it's a great song. Not much in the way of melody.

    Mark

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Mark. "2 or 3 lines" welcomes opposing viewpoints -- even when they are wrong!

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  2. My favorite musical ensemble, Adam Marsland's Chaos Band, sometimes does Monkees songs as part of their shows. "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer" are favorites. Then there's the song that Adam wrote and recorded in his "Hello Cleveland" album, "The Night I Bought Mickey Dolenz a Beer". I may have mentioned that my other avocational interest is railways, so I was quite pleased when last week's AMCB show included "Last Train to Clarksville", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Love Train" and "Midnight Train to Georgia".

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    1. B.B., now that you mention it, I believe that you did once mention in passing that you had an interest in trains. :-)

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