Started in 1964 by five American G.I.s in Germany, The Monks experimented constantly for a year to find the perfect sound, one which found little popularity in Germany at the time. While their beloved contemporaries, The Beatles, sported two guitarists, The Monks replaced the extra guitar with a six-string banjo and added an organ. Additionally, their drummer Roger Johnston employed a hypnotic sense of rhythm to simple primitive beats with complex tempo changes. The lyrics are almost unnecessary and feature a simplicity that would make Joey Ramone moan in protest, but the rawness of the delivery set against contrasting harmonies was original and entrancing.
Only after the world forgot about The Monks did people start to stumble upon their single studio album, Black Monk Time and realize that they had veered at times into the sounds of punk, garage, even post-punk. And yet, these labels don't fit the band much more than the then-labels of beat and early-psychadelic music. The Monks are so much something else entirely that they could have formed at any point from 1960 to now and still been just as relevant yet just as different. Their most amazing accomplishment is sounding like they had no real concept of genre. And now, their first and last album, Black Monk Time:
(1) Monk Time: A very deliberate choice for a first track both lyrically (Gary mentions the members by name as Monks) and musically, as it features a straightforward version of the hypnotic pulsing rhythm with bass and banjo on the on and off beats respectively, with the organ coming in later. A very solid Monk track if a bit plain. The most noteworthy thing besides the cynical but fun 'Nam lyrics is the little repeating guitar riff in the intro, which sounds a bit like classic heavy metal. A great track, just not the most inventive The Monks have made.
(2) Shut Up: Quite a negative and depressing song, with a chord progression to match. However, the addition of this minor progression as opposed to the usual I-IV major stuff helps to see the parallels with sophisticated acts like The Cure which came later. The organ solo halfway through sounds like a more chaotic version of that from "The House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals, which debuted the same year. Overall this song is just a little more depressing than what one usually comes to The Monks for, but it's nice to have for variety.
(3) Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Choice: The first song on the album where that distorted bass sound is front and center, along with that impossible-to-ignore low rhythmic drum pounding. It comes off as a little more of a "jam" song than most of this stuff- but it's so very condensed and ends so strongly that's it's impossible not to love. An album highlight to be sure.
(4) Higgle-Dy - Piggle-Dy: I have to say I love it when these guys bust out something like the yodeled verses on this track. If your afraid to have your music be weird, why listen to The Monks in the first place? The music's solid as always, with "Boys" and this both making fine use of the organist Larry Clark's considerable skills. The combination of yodeling and psychadelic blues almost put to my mind something like "Focus Pocus" by Hocus and the guitar solo is certainly the most metal thing produced in 1966. Maybe not a great first Monks song but coming back to it after getting used to these guys, this track is everything you could want.
(5) I Hate You: At 3:33 it's long for a Monks track and certainly takes it's time, going a lot more for "cool and soulful" than "pounding you into submission with raw uptempo speed". The backing vocals sound nice and phantomly as always and Gary seems to tear his throat open in just that perfect way, especially on lines like "Well I hate you baby with a passion, yeah you know I do", where he sings a single note in a grating crow-like style. With such a primitive style and animalistic vocals, perhaps The Monks and The Monkees should have traded names. It's a terrific song but I almost dislike even having a slight reprieve from that fast beat.
(6) Oh How To Do Now: A perfectly respectable song that nonetheless doesn't particularly define itself against the rest of the catalog besides by repeating the title as well as the chorus more than usual. That broken record repetitiveness is such a part of their charm though, and really lets you appreciate every part of the piece. The guitar riffs in the second part are especially Hendrix-esque, if not as sustained or genius. Overall it may be a middle-of-the-road song but the funnel-like song structure in which an idea for a song is presented, restated, evolved, then abandoned, restated again, and altered in a way that progressively trims the fat of the central concept is in such fine form here that there's no way to find real fault in anything.
(1) Complication: Strangely enough, the first and most successful single of the album (that is to say, it was not successful in any regard). The pre-chorus (before the 'ba ba ba' wordless chorus) here is I have to say inferior to the way it was performed later live like here. Gary decided after this to change the monotone lyrics over the harmonies at that section to something a lot more lively and catchy. The one-note stuff works very well in other songs and is fine here but live it makes this song more interesting. The organ solo here isn't quite the best so I'd say this is not a high point on the album, though the song is great and a lot of fun live.
(2) We Do Wie Du: Wow, a bit of German in the title of a technically German band's song! Anyways, back to a bit of slowness, but this time a lot more sweet and effortless than "I Hate You". It's nice to hear a real guitar solo again instead of an organ one, too. In fact, I don't think there's any organ on this one, though it might just be subtle. That nice surf groove, too, creates a mood that just makes you want to hold your lover and sidle around the smelly hot garage. Those "Heys" by Gary are so endearing too. One of the best tracks here.
(3) Drunken Maria: You know, this string of 4 songs on side two is my favorite part of the album. This track is just so peppy and allows so much of itself (a full half) to pass before the first lyric that it's absolutely infectious when you get there. Especially with the first chorus, where the band gets extremely experimental with the reverb on the single distorted chords that would become such a distinctive sound later for bands like U2. I'll be damned if every part of this song isn't fully formed musical genius and of course the way it progresses seems like the band just knew what came next, caring not which part was chorus, verse, or bridge.
(4) Love Came Tumblin' Down: The first Monks song I ever heard and my favorite. I think this one is underrated, as I don't hear it brought up much and it wasn't covered on the tribute album Silver Monk Time. This song is so fucking amazing. It doesn't stray from the original progression until much later but everything it does with it, from the lyrics, to the organ solo, to the unbelievably inventive guitar riffs that sound like some out-of-this-world Ween shit, everything leads up to the Western-style verse lyrics that just project you to that other world. If The Monks are indeed monks, they are monks from another planet where horses are the primary form of transportation but there are distortion pedals attached to everything. If I ever need inspiration I can turn to this song. I can see how it's just a little different enough to be weird for most fans but it's definitely worth repeated listening.
(5) Blast Off!: Sigh. Shame to get to this track, this could be the most positive review ever if not for it. The 12-bar progression with the neverending organ riff is just annoying to me, where I know it should be hypnotic. This track certainly marks the low point of the album for me, and it's such a shock that they included it when later-released B-Sides were so so much better (some of them might even be better than anything on the album). I may get to those some other day, but for now I have to say that the whole "classic rock instrumental about space" was done better by The Tornados with "Telstar" 4 years before this. It's just a lot less inventive than what I've come to expect, especially from the lack of lyrics (besides the counting) and the almost incessant organ riff. A low point and probably worth skipping.
(6) That's My Girl: Most of this song sounds a little bit too much like "Drunken Maria" for me, though The Monks certainly aren't known for too much variety (though there is more on their unreleased B-Sides). However, I do like the vocal portions, the middle is just a tad boring for me. I personally think there would be stronger ending tracks for this album. Still, not a terrible song, maybe a bad one by their high standards though.
Well, that's it for now. Thank you so much for reading. Sometimes I need to get inspired by something to return to a writing form like this, hopefully I do actually do another one of these in less than 4 years this time. There's still a whole ton of bands out there (yep there's more than 2) and many of them have more than one album, even! See ya then.