After making most of Headquarters on their own, the Monkees broadened their outlook for their fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., bringing in select session players to assist them in recording. This album marked several changes for the group, the most immediately noticeable being Mike Nesmith's increased vocal contributions. He sings lead on five of the album's tracks, while Mickey Dolenz, the band's previously dominant lead vocalist, sang only three. But what a trio of tunes! Mickey memorably voiced "Pleasant Valley Sunday," another hit from the pens of Goffin & King and one with surprisingly sharp social commentary. Climbing to #3 on the pop charts, it featured a blazing, "Paperback Writer"-style guitar riff that fit seamlessly alongside the other rock hits of the day. The single's B-side, "Words," also with a Dolenz lead vocal, became a hit as well.
Beyond his voice, Dolenz significantly contributed to the sessions by bringing a Moog synthesizer into the studio, one of the first twenty ever produced. This made Pieces one of the first, perhaps THE first, rock album to include the Moog. It was featured to great effect on Mickey's third lead vocal track, "Daily Nightly." This adventurous spirit proved contagious, making Pieces one of the most fully-realized albums in the group's career. In addition to recording songs written by their usual songwriters, songs from up and coming pop composers like Harry Nilsson, Michael Martin Murphy and Jeff Barry were also included.
As previously mentioned, Nesmith stepped to the vocal fore on this release, notably on the soaring Mann/Weill composition "Love is Only Sleeping." A hypnotic song in trippy 7/4 time, it is one of the Monkees' finest recorded moments. Originally intended to be a single, it remains one of their most admired album cuts and was featured in three separate episodes of the television show. Another Nesmith-led track, the country rock showcase "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round," delightfully foreshadowed the direction he would later take on his solo recordings with the First (and Second) National Band. The album's closer, "Star Collector," is a decidedly adult take on the subject of groupies and an indication that the band had grown weary of squeaky clean, bubblegummed themes.
The album's title refers to the astrological signs of the four members. Since both Nesmith and Davy Jones were Capricorns (and both share a December 30th birthdate), the "& Jones Ltd." tag was added to avoid confusion. The album's front cover artwork, an illustration by Bernard Yezsin, features four blank-faced band figures staring out over a sea of colored flowers, with the Monkees' logo half-hidden among the flora. An apparent homage to the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band released earlier that year, it was another deliberate signal that the Monkees were a real band, ready to be judged amongst their peers. Now, thanks to this sparkling Sundazed reissue, you may join the jury, too. Pressed on high definition vinyl and sourced from the original Colgems analog master tapes, the songs practically leap from the deep grooves straight to your ears. Also included are two bonus tracks from the album?s recording sessions: "Goin' Down (previously unissued alternate mix)" and "Daily Nightly (previously unissued alternate mix)." As you scan a brilliant reproduction of Yezsin's cover art, take in the music and enjoy this eternally brilliant audio horoscope.