On Oct. 15, 1996, The Monkees released their first album to feature all four members of the band – Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork – since the release of the soundtrack to their 1968 feature film, Head.
Recorded with an eye toward celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band, Justus originally began with a plan to utilize outside songwriters for the material, but things changed when Nesmith – who had spent the majority of the band’s previous reunions on the fringes, only popping up at the occasional concert and never participating in any of their new recordings – agreed to be a part of the album if the other three Monkees agreed that all of the songs would be written by members of the group.
As a result of this caveat, Justus became the first Monkees album since 1967’s Headquarters to be produced entirely by the Monkees, and it also became the first one ever recorded solely by the members of The Monkees. Knowing these two pieces of information, you may now slap your forehead and shout, “So that’s why it’s called Justus!”
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The album opener, “Circle Sky,” was certainly familiar to fans of the band’s aforementioned film, since it originally appeared on the soundtrack to Head, but it was re-recorded for this album. If we’re to be perfectly honest, it’s probably the best track on Justus, at least partially because it’s such a raggedly fun rendition of the tune and a performance that demonstrates just how much of a ball the guys were having together.
That’s not to say that there aren’t other entertaining tracks to be found within the grooves of Justus, since listeners get an opportunity to enjoy contributions from all four of the guys at various points, and certainly one of the other highlights is “You and I,” which very much feels like The Monkees singing about themselves. Ironically, however, it wasn’t written for the reunion album: it’s actually a song that was recycled from the 1976 album Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart, which Micky and Davy recorded with songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
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Alas, for as much love was involved in putting the album together, Justus did not serve to spark a new wave of Monkees fandom as had happened in the previous decade; the album completely failed to chart. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out to be the swan song for the band, but it did end up being the final Monkees studio album to be released while all four members were still among the living...not that Davy Jones would let a little thing like death stop him from being a part of Good Times!
Ah, but that’s a story for another time. For now, we’ll close by offering up arguably the best thing to come out of the ’96 Monkees reunion: their TV special, Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees, which posited that the guys had never actually moved out of the pad they’d shared during the run of their ‘60s TV series. It didn’t do much in the ratings, but it’s criminally underrated, so if you’ve never seen it before, give it a go!