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Music / Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.

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"Darkened rolling figures move through prisms of no color/Hand in hand, they walk the night, but never know each other..."

"I thought Pisces, Aquarius was the one that caught it all. We went back to the basics of making music for the television shows – trying to make good pop records – and I think we did a good job. I think it sounds good; it’s well-produced and so forth."
Michael Nesmith, from an interview used in the liner notes of both deluxe CD reissues

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"There were still some wonderful moments on Pisces Aquarius. It’s sort of a mixed-mode band. You hear us, and you hear the pros. It’s a compromise. It’s not what I would have liked, but it’s better than what was before, as far as I’m concerned."
Peter Tork, also from the deluxe reissue liner notes

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is The Monkees' fourth album, originally released on November 6, 1967 through Colgems Records in the US and RCA Records in the rest of the world. It has become one of their most acclaimed works.

With the overbearing Don Kirshner ousted, the Monkees had recorded their third album Headquarters mostly by themselves, with only a handful of session musicians; its success proved that the made-for-TV band could make music on their own terms while maintaining their popularity. However, there were many people in the hippie counterculture who still doubted their credibility, dismissing them as the "Pre-Fab Four". Also, the world of pop music was evolving; The Beatles and Bob Dylan were expanding the boundaries of what a hit record could be, while Psychedelic Rock was rapidly maturing. Clearly, the Monkees had something to prove, and they stepped up to the challenge with Pisces, Aquarius, which became their most eclectic and experimental project yet, equaled only by the Head film and soundtrack.

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The album was something of a Troubled Production; it was recorded and mixed over a period of six months (April to October 1967) in four different cities (Los Angeles, New York City, Nashville and Chicago), whenever the Monkees could find time in their busy schedule of touring and filming their TV series. Also, the track listing was adjusted several times before the final release. Despite this hectic atmosphere, the group's artistic ambition carried the day. Their new songs incorporated everything from strings and horns to Country Music, from bossa nova to some of the earliest Electronic Music to appear on a pop record, while taking advantage of sophisticated production techniques. This meant that the band had to go back to using session musicians to fill out their sound, which some members were more comfortable with than others (see the above quotes). Still, the public was ready to accept the psychedelic version of the Monkees, as Pisces, Aquarius became their fourth #1 album in a row. Admittedly, it was also their last #1 album, as well as the last time during their original career that they recorded an entire album as a group; from then on, each Monkee would record his own songs with his own musicians, separate from the others, with only a few exceptions.

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Two songs from the album, "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Words", were released as both sides of a single. Each track was a hit; "Pleasant Valley Sunday" peaked at #3, while its B-Side "Words" made it to #11 in its own right.

Tracklist:

Side One

  1. "Salesman" (2:03)
  2. "She Hangs Out" (2:33)
  3. "The Door Into Summer" (2:50)
  4. "Love Is Only Sleeping" (2:28)
  5. "Cuddly Toy" (2:45)
  6. "Words" (2:48)

Side Two

  1. "Hard to Believe" (2:33)
  2. "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?" (3:02)
  3. "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" (0:27)
  4. "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (3:15)note 
  5. "Daily Nightly" (2:26)
  6. "Don't Call on Me" (2:28)
  7. "Star Collector" (4:28, but listed as 3:30 on the original pressing)

Bonus Tracks:

Rhino Records has released two deluxe remasters of ''Pisces, Aquarius", a single-disc CD in 1995 and a two-disc CD in 2007; each features different bonus tracks. While most of these are just alternate takes or mixes of the songs from the finished album, both remasters feature two pieces that were dropped from the LP at the last minute, "Special Announcement" and "Goin' Down". Also, the 2007 reissue includes "Riu Chiu", a Christmas Song from the TV episode "The Monkees' Christmas Show".

Principal Members:

  • Michael Nesmith - lead and backing vocals, guitar
  • Micky Dolenz - lead and backing vocals, drums on "Cuddly Toy", Moog synthesizer
  • Davy Jones - lead and backing vocals, percussion
  • Peter Tork - co-lead vocal on "Words", recitations on "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" and "Special Announcement", backing vocals, guitar, keyboards

Along with too many session musicians to list, but three deserve special mention:

  • Chip Douglas - in addition to producing the album, he played bass on every track except "Hard to Believe".
  • "Fast" Eddie Hoh - drums on every track except "Cuddly Toy" (which was the last time Micky played drums on the Monkees' original studio recordings) and "Hard to Believe".
  • Kim Capli - The reason why Douglas and Hoh don't play on "Hard to Believe" is because Capli, a member of the band The Sundowners, who opened for The Monkees on their 1967 tour, played all the instruments on the song's basic track (guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion).

Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Tropes Ltd.:

  • Absentee Actor: Despite this album being their last group effort until their reunion in The '80s, several tracks have at least one Monkee missing.
    • Davy doesn't appear on "The Door Into Summer", "Daily Nightly" or "Goin' Down", although the latter track credits him as a co-writer (along with the other Monkees and Diane Hildebrand).
    • Davy is the only Monkee involved with "Hard to Believe". He's backed by Kim Capli (as mentioned above) and an orchestra (arranged and conducted by George Aliceson Tipton).
    • Peter isn't on "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?", but makes up for by getting "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" all to himself. He also does the main voiceover on "Special Announcement".
  • Added Alliterative Appeal:
    • "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" is a comical little story based on the "P" sound (as if the title didn't give it away). To emphasize it, Peter stands close to the microphone while reciting it to get the popping "P" that engineers usually try to avoid.
    • The Ps make a comeback in "Daily Nightly".
      ...pirouette down palsied paths
      With pennies for the vendor
  • Affectionate Parody: "Don't Call on Me" is one for the Easy Listening genre, with Mike adopting the persona of a Lounge Lizard.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The simulated nightclub performance in "Don't Call on Me" supposedly takes place at "the elegant Pump Room of the magnificent Palmer House, high over Chicago". While the Palmer House is a real hotel, and the Pump Room was a real restaurant, it was actually located in the Ambassador East.
  • The Blank: The first three albums had photos of the band on the front, but here Bernard Yeszin's cover painting has faceless versions of the Monkees standing in a field of pastel-covered flowers that partially cover their guitar-shaped logo. As Yeszin later explained in an interview:
    The Monkees were so popular and so hot at the time that I could do just about anything that reminded you of The Monkees. I could do an album cover and just show their outline and people would identify them. People would know they were The Monkees.
  • Creepy Monotone: How Micky sings most of "Daily Nightly", which makes the Suddenly SHOUTING! bit at the end even more startling.
  • Death by Gluttony:
    "Peter Percival Patterson's pet pig Porky ate so much pie that do you know what he did? He popped."
  • Electronic Music:
    • "Daily Nightly" and "Star Collector" are among the earliest examples marketed to a mainstream audience. Micky had purchased one of the first 20 Moog synthesizers ever manufactured and enjoyed playing with it; his improvisations are featured prominently in "Daily Nightly". Paul Beaver, a more experienced player, was brought in for "Star Collector".
    • The apocalyptic Last Note Nightmare ending of "Pleasant Valley Sunday", which drenches the track with increasing layers of reverb until it's pretty much inaudible, is another example.
  • Fair Weather Friend: The Groupie from "Star Collector" is described as one of these.
    When everything is goin' my way,
    She wants to be close at hand
    She moves to some other doorway
    When things don't go the way she planned
  • Garage Rock: While the album itself is not an example, "Pleasant Valley Sunday" opens with a backhanded tribute to the genre.
    The local rock group down the street
    Is trying hard to learn their song
    They serenade the weekend squire
    Who just came out to mow his lawn...
  • Groupie: "Star Collector" is about a young woman who seeks out rock stars, and the singer's desire to steer clear of her.
    She's a star collector (collector of stars)
    She only aims to please young celebrities
    She's a star collector (collector of stars)
    How can I love her, when I just don't respect her?
  • Jail Bait: "She Hangs Out" is about a young girl who Really Gets Around.
    How old d'you say your sister was?
    You know you'd better keep an eye on her...
  • Let's Duet: Micky and Davy on "Cuddly Toy".
  • Longest Song Goes Last: "Star Collector" was the longest track the Monkees had issued to date, which is why its official time was deliberately mislabeled on the original album.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Cuddly Toy" is performed in a bouncy, almost vaudevillian style. However, while the lyrics are vague enough to be interpreted in different ways (some quite sinister), they're plainly about some sort of unwholesome sexual encounter.
      You're not the kind of girl to tell your mother
      The kind of company you keep
      I never told you that I'd love no other
      You must have dreamed it in your sleep
    • Musically, "Don't Call on Me" is one of the mellowest songs on the album. Lyrically, it's a Break-Up Song in which the singer kisses off his cheating girlfriend.
    • "Goin' Down" is a fast-paced, upbeat song... about a guy having second thoughts after trying to drown himself (in a river and drowning his sorrows in alcohol) while recovering from a hangover, as noted in the lines "Floatin' down the river with a saturated liver", "I wish I had another drink, it wouldn't be so hard to sink", "I can't believe they drink this stuff in town"...
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky", when it's listed as a separate track.
  • Motor Mouth: Micky on "Goin' Down".
  • New Sound Album: As noted, this album takes the Monkees' music and lyrics into new territory. In particular, the band plays Psychedelic Rock and Electronic Music for the first time, while "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?" has Mike taking his country rock sound further than ever before.
  • Nice Hat: Mike wears his trademark wool cap in both the front cover painting and back cover photo.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Daily Nightly".
  • One-Word Title: "Salesman" and "Words".
  • Patter Song: "Goin' Down".
  • Protest Song: Three examples.
    • "The Door Into Summer" is both a denunciation of Greed and a commentary on The Vietnam War. The Villain Protagonist is a war profiteer who, like Citizen Kane, doesn't realize he's wasted his life pursuing power and profit until it's too late.
      With his fool's gold stacked up all around him
      From a killing in the market on the war
      The children left King Midas there as they found him
      In his counting house where nothing counts but more
    • "Pleasant Valley Sunday" combines Cut-and-Paste Suburb ("Rows of houses that are all the same") with Stepford Suburbia (the narrator wants to leave the town and its materialistic, narrow-minded citizens behind).
    • Like the Buffalo Springfield hit "For What it's Worth", "Daily Nightly" is about the 1966 Sunset Strip curfew riots. Unlike "For What It's Worth", a straightforward Folk Rock number, "Daily Nightly" combines Mike's poetic lyrics with Micky's heavily echoed vocals and synthesizer noises to create a bizarre, surreal atmosphere.
  • Questioning Title?: "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?"
  • Record Producer: Chip Douglas, returning from Headquarters. He also plays bass and various other instruments.
  • Shirtless Scene: One of the back cover photos of the individual Monkees show a barechested Davy strumming an acoustic guitar.
  • Silly Love Songs: Eight tracks fit the trope description, but it's notable that most of them view romance with either despair or cynicism. If the characters aren't trying to save a troubled relationship, one of the partners is already leaving, or has no intention of getting involved in the first place.
    • "She Hangs Out" is about an adult ogling a promiscuous teenager.
    • In "Love Is Only Sleeping", the woman is about to give up because she "cannot give or feel or even try". At least this one has a Happy Ending in which the lovers patch things up.
    • Whatever's going on in "Cuddly Toy", one thing is clear: the man is basically telling the woman "Sure, I used you! So what? Get over it!"
    • "Words" is about a man who can't stop loving a woman who lies to him, is implied to have cheated, and is already halfway out the door.
    • "Hard to Believe" has the singer baring his soul to a former girlfriend who's already found someone else, in hopes that he can win her back.
    • In "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?" the protagonist travels to Mexico, "lightly takes advantage" of a local girl who falls in love with him, goes home to the USA, then realizes that he loves her too. He considers returning to her, but is aware that even if he does she probably won't take him back.
    • "Don't Call on Me" has the singer telling his unfaithful girlfriend that it's over, and if her next lover treats her as badly as she treated him it'll serve her right.
    • And "Star Collector" ends the album with a fickle Groupie throwing herself at a rock star who wants nothing to do with her.
  • Singer-Songwriter:
    • Michael sings "Don't Call on Me", co-written with his friend John London, a bassist who played with Nesmith in some pre-Monkees bands, worked as Michael's stand-in on the TV show, and later was part of Nesmith's post-Monkees First National Band.
    • Davy sings "Hard to Believe", his first composition to appear on a Monkee album,note  co-written with Kim Capli and Eddie Brick of The Sundowners, and Charlie Rockett, an old Texas friend of Michael who was part of the Monkee entourage.
    • Peter is credited with the poem "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky", which is actually a pre-existing Public Domain work. He presumably got the credit for doing the arrangement.
    • In a variation, Mike wrote "Daily Nightly", but Micky sings it.
    • On the bonus tracks, Micky sings "Goin' Down", which he wrote with the other three and Diane Hildebrand.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Two examples from the finished album, two more from its earlier, unreleased versions.
    • "Don't Call on Me" is framed as a nightclub performance. It opens and closes with chatter from the "audience", complete with Micky introducing the singer.
    • "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" dispenses with the music and has Peter reciting a short story without accompaniment.
    • An alternate mix of "Salesman" has Mike doing a sales pitch at the end. According to the Wikipedia article on this album, he's "explaining how to make a joint using a cigarette rolling machine."
    • The LP was originally supposed to open with "Special Announcement", an In-Joke parody of the tape-alignment instructions to engineers at RCA Records' recording studios that ends with simulated dog barks.
  • Step Up to the Microphone:
    • Notably, Michael Nesmith has five lead vocals on the album ("Salesman", "The Door Into Summer", "Love is Only Sleeping", "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?", "Don't Call on Me"), almost as many as he'd had on the first three albums combined. Even more impressively, only one ("Don't Call on Me") was on a song he also co-wrote.
    • Peter Tork sings co-lead on "Words" and recites "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky".
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Micky, at the end of "Daily Nightly".
    Second hands that minds have slowed
    Are moving even faster
    TOWARD BRINGING DOWN SOMEONE WHO'S FOUND
    THE QUESTIONS BUT NO ANSWERS!
  • Titled After the Song: Inverted Trope. "The Door Into Summer" takes its name from a novel by Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The titular creature in "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky" eats nothing but various flavors of pie (and mince tarts).
  • Traveling Salesman: "Salesman" is allegedly about one of these, but it's widely believed that the song's real subject is a drug dealer. The lyrics, which have the salesman "selling high" and pushing "secret goods", certainly give that impression.
    You always wear a smile
    You're love it fast, and you live wild
    Short lifespan, but ain't life grand?
  • Vocal Tag Team: The two verses of "Words" have Micky and Peter trading lead vocals line by line.
  • Western Zodiac: The album takes its title from the Monkees' astrological signs, which explains its use of Odd Name Out. Micky is a Pisces, Peter is an Aquarius, and Mike and Davy are not only both Capricorns, but famously share the same birthday (December 30).

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