I’m a Believer


This song, written by Neil Diamond and performed by The Monkees was their best one, I thought. It is the ideal song, at least the title phrase, for those occasions when one is cheering for one’s preferred team, especially when it is the underdog and fighting back. I don’t go to any sporting events so don’t know if it is actually used for that purpose.

The group Smash Mouth did a cover of the song that was used in the film Shrek, one of the few occasions when a good song had an equally good, or even better, cover version. This was because they did not change it that much but simply amped it up and gave it a slightly harder edge.

Comments

  1. moarscienceplz says

    The Monkees were dubbed the Pre-fab Four which is clever and accurate. BUT they really tried to make good music. Mike Nesmith wrote some very interesting songs, and the band did some really good covers of songs written by many great songwriters. Personally, I think Pleasant Valley Sunday is their best, but I also think Last Train to Clarksville is very good (did you know it is about a boy leaving his sweetheart to go to the Vietnam war?).

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    I seem to recall that the Beatles’ reaction to the Monkees was pretty much, “Oh, now I get it, you guys are the Marx Brothers!” Which they were, really: they were slapstick performers first and musicians second. That said, they were still a lot better musically than some of the more recent pre-generated musical acts that were dancers first and musicians second.

    I’ll admit, though, that I have a soft spot for Niel Diamond’s own original recording of this song.

  3. says

    OOps – my curiousity aroused I checked wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge) on The Monkees and apparently they actually were capable of making noises with their instruments and stuff. I mis-remembered; I thought I heard something somewhere about Micky Dolenz complaining that they never got to play – but it sounds more like that they were too busy doing shitcom to do music. Given all that, I’d rate them as being maybe half a band or even 3/4 of a band, but horrible sell-outs no matter how you slice it.

  4. Katydid says

    A few years back, a cable channel was showing a lot of The Monkees. I didn’t care for the sitcom stupidity (utter stupidity was a major part of 1960s tv), but the singing was okay and most of the songs were catchy, which is a major step up from the Taylor Swifts out there today–can’t sing, can’t write songs, can’t play instruments, and can’t dance.

  5. DonDueed says

    Another good Monkees song was Daydream Believer, written by John Stewart — sometime member of the Kingston Trio and later a solo artist in his own right (California Bloodlines).

    I was at a weekend church retreat when I’m A Believer was a hit single. One of the kids brought the 45, and it was played over… and over… and over… until the adults finally made us stop. Oddly enough, I still like the song.

    And it’s a fact that all the Monkees had some talent. They could all sing, though Peter Tork didn’t (much); and Nesmith was a singer/songwriter even before the Monkees were formed. But yes, they weren’t a band, they were a TV show about a band. They did rebel and try to make real music but nobody paid much attention.

  6. Holms says

    Marcus,
    they might actually be said to be the opposite of sell outs – they started out as wholly commercial and barely any musical talent, grew frustrated at that and demanded more musicianship. They started out vapid, and worked their way to art rather than the more common reverse. Although, I guess they never lost the commercialism.

    Katydid,
    I’ve never understood the requirement / expectation that good musicians should also know how to dance. I see that criticism levelled at not only Swift but also Katy Perry and others, and it baffles me every time. Surely the main requirement is that they sound good? I know dance is a big part of promo clips, but then I’ve never understood their dominance either. Here’s my idea of a good clip – a plain of recording of what the band can do to fire up a crowd. Fuck dance.

    As for Taylor Swift – are you aware she contributes most of the writing to her material and is usually credited as a singer-songwriter’? And while I don’t really go for pop very much, she certainly has a good voice. I think Bieber would have been a better example of the manufactured nature of modern pop – sure he learned some dance moves, but everything is written and choreographed and produced for him. Plus he is a dickhead.

    Actually, a prime example of relying on dance over music – and an example of Jenora Feuer’s point (#3 above) – would be the Pussycat Dolls. Starting as a burlesque group that moved into song sure got the male audience attention, and they could dance very well, but dear god they were empty otherwise.

  7. says

    I have to also question the thing with dancing these days. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Who, Black Sabbath… they didn’t dance, and crowds went nuts for them.

    And even moving into the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s… Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Otep, etc, etc, etc… dancing isn’t important or required for music.

    But then, I don’t listen to dancing music. I listen to either headbanging music or chill-out music.

    Taylor Swift, as already stated, writes much of her own music. I’m not a fan of it, either, but still. Justin Beiber, by the way, is a drummer, but not a very good one. Average. He can solo, sure, and keep a beat, but his skills are quite basic. Maybe if he stuck to drumming and joined an actual band his shit wouldn’t be so bad.

  8. says

    The Who

    The Who danced. And it was awesome and uniquely their own. Or are you telling me that Pete could only play guitar by windmilling his arm like that? 😉

  9. says

    What happened is that music marketing via MTV focused on the visual show of music. Which was OK. I remember watching Stevie Nicks dance around on stage at a Fleetwood Mac concert in 1979 and it was not entirely about the music (she didn’t need to do that, to sing!) (but damn it, I liked it!) Jimmy Page could play guitar without the flashy poses and the embroidered pants and Robert Plant could have buttoned his shirt up but – c’mon, it worked. The emphasis on visual show of music inevitably transformed into more visual show and less music; transitional forms like Michael Jackson’s early work emphasized both: Jackson’s musicianship and his amazing dance performances. So it was inevitable we’d wind up with performances that had nothing to do with musicianship at all. E.g.: Brittany Spears who didn’t write anything, and who couldn’t really dance either (you could make me look good if you jump-cut edits of me falling down a flight of stairs, too!) You can thank Madonna, the transitional form between great musicianship and superb production.

    Since our response to music and other arts is personal and aesthetic, there is no right or wrong. It either makes us individually happy or it doesn’t. I have a good friend who is a fantastic vocalist and keyboardist in her own right, who thinks Beiber is awesome. My first reaction to that was “what?! You!?” but I realized that, yes, it’s just her. And I feel a bit older when I realize that the Beiber has more or less completely ripped off Elvis, down to the haircut, lip curl, and social class culture-jamming. Older people of my grandparents’ generation reacted to Beiber the same way I do, for the exact same reasons. Uh. I feel old now.

  10. tecolata says

    Not to quibble, but – OK I’m going to quibble. The Monkees version WAS a cover. The song was written and recorded by Neil Diamond.

    Musicians have to dance? The Beatles never danced!

  11. Katydid says

    @Holmes; you completely missed the point. I was illustrating Taylor Swift’s complete lack of talent in anything entertaining. She has absolutely nothing going for her except that she was born to a rich family willing to indulge a spoiled brat, and she is a skinny white girl in an industry that likes skinny white girls. She has zero talent that isn’t eclipsed by any number of contestants in middle school talent shows.

    “As for Taylor Swift – are you aware she contributes most of the writing to her material and is usually credited as a singer-songwriter’?” Yes, so? Her songs are mindnumbingly puerile, her voice when not auto-tuned into some semblance of in-tune is just flat and nasal. Again, middle-school talent-show contestants do better work.

    I don’t particularly care for Justin Bieber, either, so I’m not going to blindly slaver over him or defend him the way you feel the need to do for Taylor Swift.

  12. Jenora Feuer says

    The Monkees version WAS a cover. The song was written and recorded by Neil Diamond.

    Though I believe the Monkees released the cover before Diamond actually released the song himself. He’d been doing it live, but it wasn’t on any of Neil Diamond’s albums until Just For You in 1967, whereas the Monkees single was released in November 1966.

    Almost all of the Monkees’ early songs were written by other people, though as noted above, that slowly changed; even then, though, many of those songs were explicitly written for the Monkees. Not valid for this particular case, I believe, but still true in general. There’s a lot of ‘work for hire’ songwriting out there.

  13. Katydid says

    @7; I like Daydream Believer, too. Davy Jones was apparently quite the cutie pie heartthrob in his day…and he can actually sing. The Monkees were on prime time tv before I was born, but I’ve seen them in reruns. Had I been a teenage girl in the 1960s, I likely would have bought Monkees albums.

  14. Katydid says

    @12; I don’t believe musicians have to dance. However, if they can’t sing in tune or write good songs, you’d think they’d have *something* going for them.

  15. Katydid says

    @Marcus Ranum; I saw Stevie Nicks dance in the mid-1980s. She had the whole gypsy mystic thing down, didn’t she? 🙂 I also saw Pat Benatar in concert; she wasn’t a dancer, but she could sing! Oh, her beautiful, trained voice! Michael Jackson had the voice *and* the dance moves.

    Madonna didn’t start out as much of a singer (she got better later with practice, IMO), but she was at least entertaining. Britney Spears was the unfortunate result of a fame-hungry stage mother, and (not being a 14-year-old boy), her whole “I’m a virgin! Look at me shake my money-maker, but you can’t touch!” didn’t resonate with me. My kids are older than Justin Beiber, so he didn’t cross my radar until after he peaked. I simply don’t understand the love for Taylor Swift. She had no redeemed qualities, and in her interviews she comes across as quite the narcissist who’s completely in love with herself, for no reason that I can see.

  16. Katydid says

    @18: ? Not sure if that’s a joke or not. If not; then I take exception. It’s not mean to observe that some people have talent and some do not. IRL, not everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up.

  17. says

    The Monkees version WAS a cover

    Let’s not be too dismissive of “covers” — the music world has a long history of pretty amazing recordings of other people’s songs; e.g.: Hendrix “All along the watchtower”, The Byrd’s “turn turn”, The Animals’ “house of the rising sun”, Janis Joplin “Ball and Chain”, Frank Sinatra “My way”, yadda yadda yadda.

    I don’t have a lot of respect for the vocal or dance talents of Britney spears but she did a good job of picking people to write and record her music for her. So did Madonna. So did Whitney Huston. So did Christina Aguilera. For that matter, Ella Fitzgerald – covering Smokey Robinson, and Johnny Cash yadda yadda…

    I guess the point is that music needn’t be original if it’s good. Which, of course, is subjective.

    I’ll just leave it that if you want to dismiss Beiber for being a good-looking, strutting, trouble-maker then you’ve got to dismiss Elvis and Robert Plant, too. And that’s not allowed in my universe.

  18. says

    I also saw Pat Benatar in concert; she wasn’t a dancer, but she could sing!

    I grew up in Baltimore. When Benatar was starting out she used to play at The Marble Bar and later, Hammerjacks’. One day when I was bicycling home from a run to the gaming store downtown, as I was passing Marble Bar there was this vision of gothic hotness that made me slam my bicycle into a parked car. I didn’t care; I just kept staring. And Benatar laughed at me and went inside. I had to spend an hour re-truing the front wheel of my bike but … it was worth it.

  19. says

    @Katydid

    So apparently you’re not even familiar enough with Swift’s work to recognize a line from “one of her biggest hits. But hey why let that stop you from judging her? After all she can Shake It Off. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.

    Seriously Your kneejerk contempt reminds me of myself when I was a teenager – “ugh the Backstreet Boys are worse than cancer!” If getting older means reverting to 14 year old levels of judgmental bullshit about music that other people like then I need to seriously reconsider suicide.

  20. Holms says

    #10 Marcus
    The Who danced. And it was awesome and uniquely their own. Or are you telling me that Pete could only play guitar by windmilling his arm like that?

    Exuberant playing is not dance.

    #13 Katydid
    @Holmes; you completely missed the point. I was illustrating Taylor Swift’s complete lack of talent in anything entertaining.

    I actually directly addressed your criticisms from your post: “…the Taylor Swifts out there today–can’t sing, can’t write songs, can’t play instruments, and can’t dance.” I pointed out that the does in fact write her own songs, giving her at least one of your listed redeeming qualities. Later at #16 you change your criticism by adding a qualifier: “However, if they can’t sing in tune or write good songs, you’d think they’d have *something* going for them. The criticism is now no longer that she doesn’t write her songs, but that they aren’t good – a highly subjective criterion.

    #20 Marcus
    Let’s not be too dismissive of “covers” — the music world has a long history of pretty amazing recordings of other people’s songs; e.g.: Hendrix “All along the watchtower”, The Byrd’s “turn turn”, The Animals’ “house of the rising sun”, Janis Joplin “Ball and Chain”, Frank Sinatra “My way”, yadda yadda yadda.

    I think Tina Turner’s take on Proud Mary was perhaps the greatest axample of a good cover: the CCR origin is recognisable, and yet at the same it has a completely new identity, making it a signature song of two very different acts.

  21. Katydid says

    @23; I’m sorry my point wasn’t more clear to you. Taylor Swift writes puerile songs. She sings like a candidate on an American Idol reject reel. Her guitar-playing skills are sub-par, and her dancing is just pathetic. Is that clear enough?

    Pink writes her own songs–some really poitical and pointed–and sings in tune. She sang an acapella duet with Billy Joel on a Sirus special that was just beautiful. She also did a modern-style dance in some awards show that was breat-taking. Sara Bareilles both writes and sings, and her songs are original and witty and her singing is good–there are several Youtube clips of her singing a capella. Adele sings songs that make critics cry tears of joy.

    OTOH, the Britney Spears/Taylor Swifts/poptart of the day really have no visible talents.

  22. Holms says

    Katydid
    @23; I’m sorry my point wasn’t more clear to you.

    Aha! Classic nopology, of the ‘I’m sorry you didn’t get it’ variety. Anyway, if “Taylor Swift writes puerile songs” was what you meant all along, maybe you should have said it? But not only have you moved the goalposts, you’ve moved it to something subjective. Done with this.

  23. says

    I can think of quite a few songs with covers equally good or better than the originals, but I’ll stick to four. Sorry for only one link (to avoid moderation) but they should be easy to find on youtube.

    “Hush” – Deep Purple’s version far exceeds Billy Joe Royal’s.

    “Got The Time” – Joe Jackson’s original is brilliant, but Anthrax actually did one better.

    “Eloise” – The Damned’s version is far more dramatic and emotional than Barry Ryan’s original.

    And back to the Monkees, I’ve been a huge fan of Shonen Knife since 1991. You may remember this cover of “Daydream Believer” when windows 95 came out:

  24. Dunc says

    They did rebel and try to make real music but nobody paid much attention.

    And then they made Head, which was awesome.

    As for the rest of the thread… Meh. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  25. Jenora Feuer says

    Let’s not be too dismissive of “covers” — the music world has a long history of pretty amazing recordings of other people’s songs;

    Joan Baez’ cover of Robbie Robertson’s ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’?

    The Flying Pickets’ a capella cover of the synth-heavy ‘Only You’ by Yazoo?

    Whitney Houston’s cover of ‘I Will Always Love You’? How many people even remember it was originally a Dolly Parton song?

    Heck, I’ve got two entire albums at home that consist of nothing but covers of Leonard Cohen songs, and Johnny Cash ended his career with albums of nothing but covers. (One of Cash’s most famous songs was a cover of a Shel Silverstein piece: A Boy Named Sue.)

    Then there’s ‘In My Life’, an album consisting entirely of Beatles covers, produced by George Martin, who did the production on most of the original Beatles albums. Some of it is iffy, but listening to Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin on ‘Come Together’ was worth the cost of the album.

    So, yes, there’s a long history of covers. When you get right down to it, the insistence on new songs every time is actually a pretty modern thing.

  26. Katydid says

    @21: I saw Pat Benatar at Hammerjacks! I went to school in Baltimore. Did you ever see Crack the Sky?

    @22; wow, are you Taylor Swift’s mommy or something? Geeze… The girl is not talented. Get over it. If she were anything but a skinny rich white girl, her parents wouldn’t have been able to buy her a manager and a producer. I’ve had the misfortune to hear her music; she is not good. Her subject matter is either Mean Girl or Puerile…or, heck, frequently both. Even autotuned to the nth degree, her voice is sub-par. Wow, denial is not just a river, maybe you should look into your issues with her.

  27. Katydid says

    @25; you are entirely too over-invested in Taylor Swift. Seriously, dude, seek help. Obviously you can’t see her in a rational light; I suspect she must be your secret (or not-so-secret) wank material. Or maybe you are her? So much of your ego is tied up in fanatically, frothingly “defending her honor.” As for puerile; it means childlike (look it up). Geeze, some of the grade schoolers I taught guitar to were better at it than this 20-something-year-old woman.

  28. says

    @katydid

    Wow. Just Wow. Did Taylor Swift run over your dog or something? I’m honestly embarrassed for you at this point.

    Maybe take a step back and look at what you’ve posted? Not a single substantive critique, just the repeated insitence that she lacks “talent” whatever that means. It’s totally fine if you don’t care for her style of music but just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with people who do.

    But of course there has never been a female pop star yet (cf Pat Benatar, Madonna) who has managed to avoid the barrage of sexist shit just like this.

  29. Holms says

    #33 Katydid
    Not that it matters, but I don’t actually listen to her at all – see my post #8 for something more my style. I just wanted to clear up what I thought was an honest mistake on your part, but it seems you have something of a hate-on for her. You were called on making an incorrect statement about her, and you are now reacting badly.

    It still amazes me that you could claim that I am only defending her (fanatically! frothingly!) because she is my wank material while accusing others of being peurile.

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