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Music / Michael Nesmith

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Monkee. Songwriter. Innovator. Badass Beard.

Robert Michael Nesmith (born 30 December 1942) is an American Singer-Songwriter, producer, writer, and actor. Perhaps best remembered as a wool hat-wearing Texan Monkee, "Papa Nez" has had quite the storied and innovative career. From helping codify early country rock to basically inventing MTV and music videos with his Grammy award-winning "visual album" Elephant Parts, Nesmith's influence cannot be underestimated. Oh, and his mum invented liquid paper.

As a Monkee, Nesmith had always brought a country sensibility to his vocal spots, and composed a fair few songs that juxtaposed country music with other genres in hitherto unheard ways. Once The Monkees dissolved, in 1970 Nesmith formed The First National Band, one of the first country rock groups, continuing his odyssey of off-kilter country musings, with a trilogy of albums. Nesmith began edging towards pop and rock as the decade progressed, with social commentary becoming an increasingly bigger factor in his works.


In the late '70s, Nesmith began creating small musical segments for Saturday Night Live. This eventually led to the creation of a larger-scale project in Elephant Parts, and... the rest, as they say, is history. His subsequent career has seen him release the odd album, create a virtual online concert stage, partake in several Monkees reunions, and continually speculate about possible future technologies, many of which have not only seen the light of day, but have also become household items.

In 1998 he added "published author" to his résumé, with the novel The Long, Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora. He published a second novel, The American Gene, in 2009, and released a memoir, Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff, in 2017.


Studio Discography:

  • 1968 - The Wichita Train Whistle Sings
  • 1970 - Magnetic South
  • 1970 - Loose Salute
  • 1971 - Nevada Fighter
  • 1972 - Tantamount To Treason, Vol. 1
  • 1972 - And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'
  • 1973 - Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash
  • 1975 - The Prison - A Book With A Soundtrack
  • 1977 - From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing
  • 1979 - Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma
  • 1992 - ...Tropical Campfires...
  • 1994 - The Garden
  • 2000 - Timerider: The Adventure Of Lyle Swann
  • 2006 - Rays
  • 2015 - The Ocean
  • 2016 - Around the Sun

Live Discography:

  • 1978 - Live At The Palais
  • 1980 - The Michael Nesmith Radio Special
  • 1999 - Live At The Britt Festival
  • 2010 - The Amazing ZigZag Concert
  • 2014 - Movies Of The Mind
  • 2018 - The First National Band Redux: Live at the Troubador

Tropes associated with Michael Nesmith:

  • Aborted Arc: You'll notice there is no Tantamount To Treason, Vol. 2 in the discography listing.
  • Almighty Mom: Bette Nesmith gave birth to her only son when she was 18, raised him alone at a time when single parenting carried a big social stigma (especially in Texas), invented Liquid Paper then set up the company out of her house, then out of a shed in her backyard, until it became a multi-million dollar business. She was also active in helping women get ahead in the business world, and when she sold Liquid Paper to Gillette in 1979, she used the money to set up some charitable trust funds. Who knows what else she might have accomplished if she hadn't suffered a fatal stroke at age 56.
  • Anti-Love Song: Heard throughout his discography.
  • Badass Beard: Sported a notable one from around the early '70s to the early '00s, featured lovingly throughout Elephant Parts. His Monkees days also saw him with legendary, dense sideburns.
  • Berserk Button: Don freakin' Kirshner. His releasing More Of The Monkees without even consulting the band got Nesmith so pissed off he punched a hole through a hotel wall, letting him know "that could have been [his] face." Tellingly, Kirshner was dismissed from the project and Nesmith got to produce sessions himself not long after.
  • Born Lucky: The narrator of "Grand Ennui".
  • Cloudcuckoolander:
    • Yeah, no other mind could birth the insanity that is Elephant Parts. Also, his Facebook profile regularly features messages ostensibly written by his dog, Dale. In fact, he eventually deletes most of his Facebook postings, including Dale's, because why the hell not? Dedicated friends of Nez usually copy his posts for posterity.
    • To take just one example from Elephant Parts, the song "Cruisin'" aka "Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam" wouldn't sound out of place on a Frank Zappa album.
    • Television Parts is important in Cloudcuckooland history for having first exposed the work of Jack Handey to a network television audience.
  • Concept Album: The Prison - A Book With A Soundtrack, released with a book intended to be read while listening to the record. Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma is also full of commentary on popular culture of the '70s.
  • Concept Video: Ah, Mr. Nesmith, what would the anatomy of music video tropes be like today without your guiding hand? Elephant Parts, for one, has got a trunk full of 'em.
  • Cool Horse: The Beauty from "Horserace", beats the Magnum Force by a mile.
  • Cool Old Guy: He's transitioned into this persona in recent years.
  • Cover Version:
    • Three Nashville standards were recorded for each installment of his trilogy with the First National Band: "The One Rose (That's Left In My Heart)", "I Fall To Pieces", and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds".
    • Nevada Fighter, Tantamount To Treason and Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash all have side twos/second halves made up entirely of non-Nesmith compositions.
    • His version of "I Looked Away" is notable because it was recorded only a few weeks after Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Appears as a race official in Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann, and his song "Dance" is briefly heard when someone's messing around with Swann's bike... this serves as a plot point as it alerts the bandits to the presence of Swann's "riding machine".
    • Makes an appearance as a "Water Man" in Tapeheads, for which he served as producer.
  • Credits Gag: Tantamount To Treason: Volume One splits up the musician credits and sprinkles them throughout the liner notes. In a classic Cloudcuckoolander moment, the liner notes are a recipe for (apparently quite potent) home-made beer.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Prison - A Book With A Soundtrack.
  • Deadpan Snarker: He played the role on The Monkees TV show, but also Truth in Television. Witness his comments after a jury awarded him several million dollars in a breach-of-contract lawsuit against PBS:
    "It's like catching your grandmother stealing your stereo. You're glad to get your stereo back, but you're sad to find out that Grandma's a thief."
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • His earliest released recordings were under the pseudonym "Michael Blessing", mixing both folksy protest songs with proto-punk instrumentals.
    • One of the earliest known appearances of his fan nickname was on the back cover of Nevada Fighter... spelled "Papa Nes." Just don't have the same zing, y'know?
  • Epic Rocking: "The Back Porch And A Fruit Jar Full Of Iced Tea", a two-part medley clocking in at nearly eight and a half minutes.
  • Fading into the Next Song: "The One Rose" -> "Blue Horizon", "Texas Morning" -> "Tumbling Tumbleweeds".
  • Fake Radio Show Album: The Michael Nesmith Radio Special, which intersperses cultural and social commentary with cuts from his album Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma.
  • Greatest Hits Album: A few, but most famously a two-parter which split his discography up to 1989 into The Newer Stuff and The Older Stuff.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the songs on Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma have one word titles, plus more descriptive parenthetical subtitles.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: His trilogy with the First National Band. Each features some sort of picture motif in a circular frame, surrounded by one of the colours of the United States flag: Magnetic (blue) features the American bald eagle; Salute (red) features a war veteran (and a rat) making a salute; and Fighter (white) another bald eagle (in profile this time).
  • Instrumentals: He recorded an album of instrumentals, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, while still a Monkee. Subsequently, his solo career had a few here and there.
  • Insufferable Genius: At his worst.
  • In the Style of...: His pre-Monkees song "What Seems To Be The Trouble, Officer?" is a pastiche of Bob Dylan's debut album, complete with vocal impression and a guitar riff that's Suspiciously Similar to "Baby Let Me Follow You Down".
  • It's Not You, It's Me: He's claimed that "Different Drum" was the first hit song based on this trope.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: "Different Drum".
    "Well, I feel pretty sure that you'll find a man / who'll take a lot more than I ever could or can / And you'll settle down with him, and I know / that you'll be happy"
  • Kaiju: The pleasantly understated opening of Elephant Parts features a seemingly innocuous performance of his 1970 hit single with the First National Band... umm, "Rodan"? Uh oh, there goes Nezilla destroying Tokyo again...
  • Large Ham: A kind of understated, restrained kind, but when he goes all out... oh boy! Live At The Palais, in particular, features gloriously hammy performances of "Roll With The Flow", "Grand Ennui", and "Nadine (Is It You)".
  • Live Album: Live At The Palais, Live At The Britt Festival, The Amazing Zig Zag Concert and Movies Of The Mind.
  • Long Title: The albums And The Hits Just Keep On Comin', Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing, and Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma, alongside a few songs.
  • Looped Lyrics: "You Are My One" on Tantamount To Treason, Vol. 1 is just "you are my one" (x3)/"you are mine" repeated a few times.
  • Lounge Lizard: A running gag in Elephant Parts is one who interprets song lyrics rather literally.
    "You must remember this..." [Forgets how the rest of the song goes]
  • Miniscule Rocking: "The First National Rag", which closes the first side of Magnetic South. At twenty-one seconds (and credited to Ensemble Dark Horse Red Rhodes), it admonishes listeners to flip the record after the upcoming "intermission."
  • Mood Whiplash / Something Completely Different: "The Candidate" off And The Hits Just Keep On Comin' is a strange, dissonant rumination over the fleeting world of politics... and it opens the second side.
  • Multilingual Song: "Tengo Amore" features a Spanish verse, then the same verse translated into English.
  • Neo Classical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: His 1968 album The Wichita Train Whistle Sings is not only all-instrumental, but an oddball mix of big band, soft rock and country.
  • New Sound Album: The 1976 release of From A Radio Engine To A Photon Wing (in case the name didn't clue you in) marked a transition to a new style of unconventional pop with some minimal country influences. Reached full flower with Infinite Rider, with sort of a proto-sophistipop sound throughout and focus on themes such as consumer culture and... well... factions.
  • Nice Hat: His famous wool cap, of course, but also his array of cowboy hats.
  • Non-Appearing Title: More often than not, the name of the game as far as his songs are concerned.
  • Non-Indicative Name: And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. Ironically, one of the songs on the album - his own version of "Different Drum" - was a hit... for Linda Ronstadt, that is.
  • Odd Friendship: In Infinite Tuesday he discusses how at various times he was close with John Lennon, Jack Nicholson, Timothy Leary, Douglas Adams, and Murray Gell-Mann.
  • One-Woman Song: "Joanne", "Winonah".
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Keep On", "Release".
  • Pop-Star Composer: For Timerider, albeit being his own (co)creation.
  • Rearrange the Song: His '70s albums included re-recordings of several songs originally recorded as Monkees tracks (though most had not been previously released as such)...
    • "Calico Girlfriend", "Nine Times Blue", "Little Red Rider", "The Crippled Lion", and "Hollywood" on Magnetic South.
    • "Conversations" (aka "Carlisle Wheeling") and "Listen To The Band" on Loose Salute.
    • "Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care)" on Nevada Fighter.
    • "Some Of Shelly's Blues" on Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash.
    • "Circle Sky" was remade for The Monkees' lamentable 1996 reunion album, Justus. Nez also did his own version of "Different Drum" on And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'.
  • Record Producer: Notably, one of the first instances of The Monkees' wresting control from their "puppet master" Don Kirshner was Nesmith becoming producer. This, of course, was under the stipulation that he would not be performing in any sessions he produced.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: "Dedicated Friend".
    "Has anybody here seen GEE-SUSS? / He is gone from where I laid him down..."
  • Refrain from Assuming: Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma appears to parody this somewhat with the parenthesized titles on the album cover. Most of them fit, anyway.
  • Religion Rant Song: The "didactic minister" verse of "Roll With The Flow" fits into Type 3.
  • Royalties Heir: As noted previously, his mother patented the ever-so-slightly ubiquitous invention Liquid Paper (correction fluid), qualifying Nesmith for official "filthy rich" status. He could've probably lived the easy life, but it was not to be. A Self-Made Man—or Monkee, if you will—would be his fate.
  • Rule of Three: His album trilogy, natch. What's more, each album cover bears one of the three colours of the American flag, and each includes one classic country cover.
  • Running Gag: Elephant Parts is made of 'em. The pirate alphabet, the aforementioned Lounge Lizard, fake home shopping commercials...
    "We [performed outlandish experiment X]... Just to prove a point!"
  • Self Empowerment Anthem: "Roll With The Flow".
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Oh hell yes. Where others would write "While thinking stuff over", Nez would come up with stuff like "While lightly perusing my state of affairs."
    "I was once criticized for writing a song with the word 'impelled' in it. C'mon, man! What he didn't know was that I have written songs with words like 'bereft', 'preclude' and 'prism'". note 
  • Siamese Triplet Songs: The first three songs on Magnetic South ("Calico Girlfriend", "Nine Times Blue", "Little Red Rider") segue into one another.
  • Single Stanza Song: "Beyond The Blue Horizon".
  • Solo Side Project: The Wichita Train Whistle Sings was released while Nesmith was still a member of The Monkees.
  • Space Western: Could be used to describe Nesmith's particular flavour of country rock at its most trippy, but Radio Engine particularly gives off this vibe, what with the back cover depicting Nez as a cross between a cowboy, an astronaut, and one of those robot street performers.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Garden is this to The Prison - A Book With A Soundtrack, being referred to as a sort of companion piece.
  • Studio Chatter: Fitting in with the informal feel of his country albums, Nez is prone to tell Red Rhodes to "play [his] magic steel" or words to that effect, whenever a solo section approaches.
  • Subliminal Advertising: Ranch Stash has a "buy this record" message hidden in Nez's ear, giving off this vibe.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: "Bye, Bye, Bye". Might even be autobiographical.
    "And then I cabled my folks / I said call my boss / And you can tell him / Where I left thee truck / And then I went out and stocked up / On enchiladas and beer"
  • Three Chords and the Truth: And The Hits Just Keep On Comin' consists of precious little else than Nez and his guitar, long-time compatriot Red Rhodes on pedal steel, standard country chords and the truth. Except for that one song, of course.
  • Time Capsule: The song "Capsule" is one in audio form. Intended to be opened "a hundred years from now" ("now" being 1978), it paints a rather bleak picture of late '70s consumer society.
    "...We all kept pluggin' like a salmon up thee stream... some of us were dancing, but some us were screaming, but we tried; oh, how we tried."
  • Trope Codifier: As touched upon in the intro there, Nesmith pretty much invented modern music video, expanding on the concept of "promotional videos" that had been around for decades.
  • Verbal Tic: Has a notable habit of pronouncing "the" as "thee". Have you noticed yet?
    • He also more often than not pronounces "a" as a long-A.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Oh man, when Nez gets weird he gets really weird. Just... makes no sense, man.
  • Word Salad Title: Elephant Parts, anyone?
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: "Thanx For The Ride".


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