K-ON: the new Monkees

I remember watching The Monkees as a ten-year-old: the show was silly, the characters enjoyable, and the music was really good. Last month, watching K-On for a second time (and I had only watched it for the first time a couple of months before that), I realized that Ho-kago Tea Time was pretty much The Monkees repurposed as anime.

Silly show, enjoyable characters, really good music.

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were the lead songwriters for The Monkees. They were professionals who had written hits for various artists and had some success as “Boyce and Hart”. The Monkees also had hits with songs by Neil Diamond (I’m a Believer), John Stewart (Daydream Believer), and Carole King & Gerry Goffin (Pleasant Valley Sunday). Their first four albums went multi-platinum; their fifth only single platinum.

In other words, they were a smash hit despite being a silly, gimmicky tv show meant to capitalize on the success of the Beatles and other rock groups shaking up music, and making lots of money, in the mid-Sixties.

Much of the music has lasted the test of time. Great songwriting will do that, and the production of the music was top-notch. The band may have been a gimmick, but the music was legit.

K-On’s music is equally legit. The biggest problem with the music is how little was ever performed during the shows. The Monkees performed a song in each half of their show; in K-On, we’re lucky if we hear the final chords of a practice session. Given the quality of the songs they did perform – Fuwa Fuwa Time, Pure Pure Heart, Hotchkiss, and Tenshi being among my favorites – this is a crying shame. 

I’m not sure who wrote K-On’s music; I can’t find a source that lists all writers (anyone want to get busy on this for Wikipedia?). But this is much is clear: the songs are all professional. These are great pop songs written and produced by people who know how to write and produce great pop songs. The hooks hook, the production is first-rate, the performances are great (I’m not a fan of infantalized girl voices, but that’s what we’re stuck with in “cute girls doing cute things” anime).

The Monkees tv show was dumb (John Lennon enjoyed it, but it was the Sixties) but fun. K-On is it’s clever in much of its writing. The usual clichés are avoided, and when they use standard tropes, they gave them a good twist. And, of course, if you were to take the storyline seriously, you’d be looking at a five-way lesbian marriage once they were out of college.

But the music stands out on its own. The Monkees made great music, and so did Ho-kago Tea Time. After over fifty years, I still listen to The Monkees, and I expect I’ll be listening to Fuwa, Pure, Tenshi, and much of the rest for many years to come.

I just wished they’d built more of the songs into the shows, and not just tv-sized.

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