When the cover of Micky Dolenz Sings R.E.M. began circulating online earlier this month, many people presumed it was some sort of Photoshop prank. Dolenz did record a tribute album to Carole King in 2010, and he followed it up in 2021 with a collection of Michael Nesmith songs, but King wrote several of the Monkees’ best songs, and Nesmith was both his bandmate and a brilliant songwriter in his own right. R.E.M., meanwhile, didn’t have any sort of obvious connection to Dolenz in the minds of most people.
But the EP is real. It comes out on November 3 via 7A records. We have the video for “Shiny Happy People” right here. Dolenz also covers the band’s 1981 debut single “Radio Free Europe,” their 1992 hit “Man on the Moon,” and the 2004 deep cut “Leaving New York.
“These songs are absolutely incredible,” Michael Stipe said in a statement. “Micky Dolenz covering R.E.M. Monkees style, I have died and gone to heaven. This is really something. ‘Shiny Happy People’ sounds incredible (never thought you or I would hear me say that!!!). Give it a spin. It’s wild. And produced by Christian Nesmith (son of Michael Nesmith). I am finally complete.”
The album was the brainchild of 7A Records co-owner Glenn Gretlund. The UK label has been re-releasing lovingly remastered versions of obscure Monkees-related albums since 2015. They’ve also been the home of Dolenz’s new works in recent years.
“I was talking to Glenn about what to do next,” Dolenz tells Rolling Stone. “The band R.E.M. came up. I went, ‘Wow, that’s very cool.’ I’m a big fan. I remember their stuff very well. And I’ve heard through the grapevine that the band were fans of the Monkees. I found that incredibly flattering.”
R.E.M. were indeed one of the first major bands to cite the Monkees as a significant influence. This followed a long period where critics of musicians scoffed at the made-for-TV band. “People realize how great the songs are,” R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills told Rolling Stone in 2012. “It doesn’t matter anymore that they didn’t write them. It’s just not the perceived crime that it was then.”
In 2018, when the Monkees came together to record Christmas Party, which wound up being their final LP, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck co-wrote “Christmas Party” with longtime R.E.M. auxiliary member Scott McCaughey. They both play guitar on the song, too.
But when the idea came up for the R.E.M. tribute EP came up, Dolenz realized he wasn’t super familiar with the band’s catalog. “My first instinct was to go back and listen to all their songs,” he says. “Fortunately, I caught myself. I said, ‘Wait a minute. I do not want to make a karaoke version of this music. If I listen to these songs over and over, it’ll be very difficult to not just do somebody else’s vocal.’ That was my overall approach. I didn’t listen before going to the studio.”
They recorded it earlier this year at Christian Nesmith’s home studio. The majority of the instruments are played by Christian himself, though his longtime drummer Christopher Allis was also involved. Christan’s Nesmith partner Circe Link and Micky’s sister Coco Dolenz contributed background vocals.
Micky knew “Shiny Happy People” and “Man On The Moon” quite well prior to recording but was less familiar with “Radio Free Europe” and “Leaving New York.” “Those guys were such great poets,” he says. “The lyrics at time remind of of Michael Nesmith lyrics. They’re very poetic, which I love. And we started with about ten songs I thought might work. Then Christian did his thing. He noodles with his guitar until he comes up with something.”
The video for “Shiny Happy People” was created by longtime Monkees manager/historian Andrew Sandoval utilizing home videos from Dolenz’s private collection. Many of them come from his childhood. Sandoval knows the material quite well since he combed through it all recently while assembling the book I’m Told I Had A Good Time: The Micky Dolenz Archives, Volume One, which comes out December 6.
“Andrew put the video together so quickly,” Dolenz says. “I can’t believe it. I don’t know how he remembered this footage so well to be able to go snag those bits of me and my sisters and the rest of my family and all the shiny, happy people.”
Earlier this year, Dolenz launched a special tour where he played the landmark 1967 Monkees album Headquarters straight through. Might he celebrate Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. on a future tour? “We’ve talked about it,” says Dolenz. “That’s a thing now, bands doing their albums. We’ll see. I’m doing four Headquarters shows this month. After that, there are no more plans for Headquarters. But you never know. This does seem to be turning into a nice little niche for me.”
Tribute albums to his favorite writers are also becoming a little niche for Dolenz. “I have a few ideas bobbing around my head for the next one,” he says. “But I don’t really know for sure yet. We’ll see how this one goes.”