It’s rare when the internet lets me down. “Midnight” by the Monkees was one of those times. Oh I can find “Midnight Train” rather easily but “Midnight” seems to have disappeared with the subject of the song. I can’t even find a lyric video on this song so I’ll be posting the official YouTube video from Rhino and a transcript of the lyrics. It’s the only option I have, but first let’s get into what little I do know about this song. It isn’t much but when even the Monkees fan wiki doesn’t seem to act like the song exists what option do I have?
“Midnight” comes off 1987’s Pool It!, the first Monkees album the band did together since MTV brought them back into prominence by bringing in reruns of their show back when they still tried to maintain their “Music Television” identity but wanted to do more than music videos. The song was written by John David, but his Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention it. My guess is the album didn’t do well, which is too bad. There are some really good songs, and this is one of them. Listen as Mickey Dolenz weaves a tale of a man who seems to have gotten into the wrong line of work.
Okay, let’s dissect the lyrics and try to pull together what’s going on.
Deep in the bayou en route to LA
The merchandise is changing sides
People are hiding and waiting all day
‘Til midnight comes around
That’s when it’s coming down
And the dreams of a boy
And his shortcut to easy street will die
So we can guess that our boy is doing something illegal. Smuggling, drugs, maybe drug or gun running; we aren’t given a crime but we can guess the merchandise is not on the up and up. Why else wait until midnight to deliver it or travel from I’m guessing Louisiana to Los Angeles?
Back in the city, she’s biting her nails
Taking it hard – he’s doing it for her
She didn’t ask and all he would say
It’s what he had to do
To make her dreams come true
But a whisper went ’round on the dark side of town
And anything that could go wrong
Is going wrong right now
Yep, definitely illegal, and there’s all kinds of indications immediately that she’s seen him for the last time. The song doesn’t have time to tell us if this is the usual idiot who wants to give his girl everything or if she needs some expensive lifesaving surgery. It’s usually the reasoning behind these kinds of stories. If she wasn’t there it could be greed or his being forced into it, but it seems more like he was talked into it in order to give his wife (present or future) a good life, when she’s about to lose the most important part…him.
Midnight when it all comes down
Only the brave and the fools are around
Midnight when it all comes down
Poor little fool, his bravery won’t help him now
Short version: he dead.
Touchdown on the water and into the trees
He’s come so far and this is the easy part
Just gotta follow the flashlight he sees
And that’s where he gets paid
His fortune will be made
But a house in the country
And an acre of green
Will always be a dream
They never even knew his name
That last part hurts. The question is what got him? Did his employer double cross him? Was it a rival gang or the authorities that caught that “whisper…on the dark side of town” and busted him? Perhaps he was killed in crossfire or he’s going away for so long that he will never achieve his dream? I’m still inferring that he’s a bullet hotel but I think the vagueness is part of the point. “Midnight” to me (again, I can’t find anything about the song, not even other speculators on the meaning) is a cautionary tale. Our protagonist just wanted to give his lady love a good life but the only way he could think to do it quickly was to be dragged into some illegal outing that might have ended up paying enough to live decently (perhaps the man and/or his wife are struggling badly) but for whatever reason this was a bad idea that just got him killed. Whether he was betrayed, caught by the authorities, or rivals doesn’t matter. Either is a bad idea and the potential consequences ultimately wasn’t worth the risk. This was one time when the brave thing to do would have been to walk away if at all possible.
It’s disappointing that I can’t find more about this song. Pool It! has some of my favorite Monkees songs, including this one, and the trio of Mickey, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork wouldn’t work together in a studio until 1996’s Justus, the last album to be made by all four Monkees when Michael Nesmith joined them. Good Times! came out after Davy’s death in 2012. The remaining Monkees would also put out a Christmas album before Peter passed in 2019, leaving Mickey and Mike as the sole members as of this writing. I think Pool It! deserves another listen, but my old cassette is damaged partway through and I can’t find the CD so that’s going to be a challenge for me.