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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

On music faves, monkeyshines and making spirits bright

courtesy photo

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year.

No, not because it’s Black Friday.

The day after Thanksgiving is when it’s socially acceptable to start playing Christmas music.

If you’re a fan of the genre like I am, you undoubtedly have your favorites. While there are many worthy artists who have crooned about Yuletide cheer over the years, I think I’ve narrowed my favorites down to four: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and The Monkees.

Yes. The Monkees.

Allow me to elaborate.

I was eight years old in 1986, when The Monkees experienced a resurgence in popularity as a result of their 20th anniversary reunion and subsequent tour. A classmate of mine, Brian Crescenzo, first introduced me to the band’s television show (and, incidentally, convinced me to watch “Star Trek” for the first time, unwittingly shaping much of my personality for the rest of my life), and I was immediately hooked by both the antics on the series and by the catchiness of their music.

One of the episodes that stuck out to me was 1967’s “The Christmas Show,” during which the four bandmates—Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith—performed “Ríu Chíu,” an a capella Spanish villancico from the 16th century.

It was absolutely beautiful, and remains—for my money—the epitome of The Monkees at their harmonic best.

In December of 1986, the four Monkees reunited on MTV for “Christmas Medley ’86,” incorporating “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Sleigh Bells,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Happy Christmas.”

I lost my eight-year-old mind the first time I watched it. Every day, I called the MTV hotline, voting for that video to appear in their nightly Top 10 Countdown.

Every day. For months. After Christmas, after winter and well after spring, I called and requested that video. I’m pretty sure I was still calling when it was time to return to school in September of 1987.

Finding “Ríu Chíu” or “Christmas Medley ’86” as listenable tracks in the 1980s and 1990s was next to impossible, so they were mostly relegated to nostalgic memory as I grew up, but once the internet came around those two songs became staples of my holiday music rotation.

I also discovered that, in 1976, Dolenz, Jones and Tork released a single—“Christmas is My Time of Year” on the A-side, with Jones singing “White Christmas” on the B-side—and those two tracks went onto the playlist, too.

Fast forward to 2012. On February 29 of that year, Jones died of a heart attack. To say I was crestfallen is an understatement, but my sadness was soon abated by the fact that Dolenz and Tork were reuniting for a tour—and this time bringing Nesmith with them, who hadn’t toured with The Monkees since 1969 or so.

You can best believe that I saw them in concert three times.

Four years later, they released a new album of music for their 50th anniversary—and, two years after that, they released Christmas Party.

Finally! Finally here was an entire album of Christmas music by The Monkees!

Eight-year-old me was every bit as ecstatic as 40-year-old me listening to it for the first time.

It has several covers—including a gentle, swaying version of “The Christmas Song” by Nesmith and a remastered “Mele Kalikimaka” by Jones—and some great originals, not the least of which is “House of Broken Gingerbread,” penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon and Fountains of Wayne founder Adam Schlesinger, who also produced much of the album.

It’s fun. It’s melodic. It’s wonderful.

It’s also the last studio album by The Monkees.

Tork died on February 21, 2019; his solo on Christmas Party, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” was his last recording. Nesmith died on December 10, 2021, just a few short weeks after completing a farewell Monkees tour with Dolenz, the sole surviving member of the group.

Listening to Christmas Party is a bit melancholic because of that, but no more so, really, than listening to Crosby’s White Christmas, Sinatra’s A Jolly Christmas or Martin’s Christmas Album. They’re gone, too; though not as recent as the three Monkees, two of them—Martin and Sinatra—are recent enough for me to have been affected by their passing, and that actually makes their music that much more special to me.

It’s a gift from them that we have this music to enjoy during the holiday season each and every year. Christmas Party, especially, is a treasure, considering how late into their careers they banded together to record it.

It’s one of my favorite Christmas albums ever from my favorite band of all time. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen.

May it make your season as bright as it does mine.

Joseph F. Berenato holds a Master’s in Writing from Rowan University and has been writing for The Hammonton Gazette—to varying degrees—since 1997. He is a trustee with the Historical Society of Hammonton and a caretaker at Oak Grove Cemetery. You can email him at or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.


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