I have a confession to make. I like the Monkees. I have never admitted this to anyone before. You can understand my shame. When I was a wee lad my older brother had several of their albums and that was my introduction to them. I was quite surprised a few years later to find out that not only did they make music, but they had their own TV show! They were aired as re-runs on Saturday morning when I was a kid. Of course, they weren’t reruns to me. They were fresh and new and exciting and unlike anything I’d ever seen or heard before. Later on in my life I saw “A Hard Days Night” by the Beatles and I was incensed (incensed!) that they were so blatantly ripping off the Monkees trademark zany antics. Just goes to show you how subjective history is.
At any rate, because it is the 50th anniversary almost to the day that this song debuted on the Monkee’s TV show (and in order to shamelessly pump up my blog hits), I’m going to review one of my favorite songs from the Monkees, “Auntie Grizelda.” You can find the song here, and the lyrics here.
“Auntie Grizelda” features the forgotten Monkee, Peter Tork, which is why I was probably initially drawn to it. I identified with Peter in some way I can’t explain. He always seemed to be the odd man out, even in a group as strange as the Monkees. He didn’t say much. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of bewilderment, which, in my youthful innocence, I attributed to his pure heart and his innate naivety. As an adult, however, I was made to understand that he was supposed to be the “high” one. I like my interpretation better. Peter was also (usually) the last one to get the girl. And on top of all that, he played the bass guitar, which is arguably the least chick-magnet-y instrument you can play in a band.
The gist of the song is Peter talking to some unnamed girl about her aunt and how she (the aunt) hates Peter and disapproves of their being together. On it’s surface, the song is just sort of a funny series of insults about Auntie Grizelda. Lines such as
No bird of grace ever lit on Auntie Grizelda
This is one of my favorite lines from the song and one of the best insults I have ever heard. It is a subtle wind-up … and then the pitch … and boom! You just got insulted. Then there is:
She couldn’t budge a smile and do it for free
But the song isn’t just a collection of insults towards Auntie Grizelda, it is Peter begging the girl to please don’t be like her Aunt. He is trying to tell the girl that, though it’s harder to be your own person while being raised under an oppressive thumb, she must make the effort or else she will end up bitter and judgmental like her Aunt and, ultimately, alone.
I’ve never quite understood Peter going off in the middle of the song into a series of gutteral noises and gibberish. It certainly makes the song unique and memorable! My only interpretation is that his frustration at not being able to get through to the girl he is talking to finally gets the best of him and he just snaps. He is doing the equivalent of burying his face into a pillow and screaming to give vent to his frustration. Or, another explanation is that they were the Monkees and he was just trying to live up to the band’s shtick and to stop being in the shadow of the other three Monkees. But whatever the reason, he made for a memorable moment in Monkee history and one of the more stand-out songs that the Monkees ever recorded.
Here is an alternate video which apparently is a clip from the show. However, the video has nothing to do with the lyrics. It is pretty random.
Here is another clip from the show which just has the Monkees running around and imitating the Beatles from “A Hard Day’s Night”. The sound quality isn’t that good, though.
And here is a bizarre clip of an elderly Peter Tork singing “Auntie Grizelda” live on stage. He sort of sleepwalks through it and actually seems to forget the lyrics at one point. Oh well … I can’t say anything about memory lapses!
And here is some random information about the song.
Recording Date: October 23, 1966
Lyrics by Diane Hildebrand
Music by Jack Keller
Song appeared on the 1967 album “More of The Monkees”
Recorded at: American Studios, Studio City
The song appeared in Season 1, Episode 18 of the Monkee’s TV show on January 16, 1967. The show was entitled “I Was A Teenage Monster”