The Monkees

The Monkees

This is an updated repost from Dec. 18, 2018

For a TV series that ran for only two years (1966-68) albeit 58 episodes, it has had a significant effect on music, even today. I recall ‘sneaking’ as my father was very much against us watching such “garbage” with two of my sisters to watch the shows on Saturday morning reruns. I tried watching a couple of episodes recently, it’s about a wacky group of guys struggling to make it in the music business, and apart from the music my father was not all wrong. However, for the time period it was great entertainment for tweens and teens especially and that demographic bought their records-lots of them. In fact about 75 million records to date. The demise of the silly TV show was due to a backlash regarding the ‘manufactured’ nature of the band itself and a change in the format in season two, the ratings dropped and that was it. The TV show was gone and all that was left was a lot of great songs and by now, an actual fully functioning band with the Monkeys themselves playing instruments and as always doing all the vocals.

Last Train to Clarksville written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart was the Monkees first Billboard #1 hit in November of 1966. Covered over 50 times here is a rendition from the Four Tops (1967).

The group consisted of Davy Jones, born David Thomas Jones (30 December 1945 – 29 February 2012) and the reason David Bowie changed his name from David Jones. Jones (vocals) was quite a good drummer but he was relegated to mostly tambourines and maracas. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his role as the Artful Dodger in the original London and Broadway production of Oliver (1964).

Davy Jones was also a recording artist having reached the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1965 with What are We Going to Do?.

The main man was Micky Dolenz, born George Michael Dolenz Jr. (March 8, 1945). Dolenz like Jones was a child actor (Circus Boy) who later formed a rock band and actually auditioned for the Monkees by singing Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode.  The producers wanted him to play the lead singer and drummer in the band so he needed lessons to be able to fake it for the TV show but by the time the Monkees went on tour he was good enough to play on all the songs.

Peter Tork (Peter Halsten Thorkelson) February 13, 1942 – Feb. 21, 2019. Tork was auditioned for the show after his friend Stephen Stills was turned down for the role and thank goodness for that as we’d never would have had Crosby, Stills and Nash! Tork was an accomplished musician playing bass and keyboards among other instruments. None of the band played any instruments on the first two Monkees Albums, so Tork was left to ‘fake’ play on the TV show as the keyboard player.

Robert Michael Nesmith was born December 30, 1942, at age four his parents divorced and he then lived with his mother. In 1955, Bette Nesmith Graham (March 23, 1924 – May 12, 1980) invented was then known as “mistake out”, she later formed her own company and called it “White Out”. She sold the company to Gillette in 1979 for $47.5 million.

Nesmith was a legitimate musician and songwriter having penned Different Drum for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1965. Apparently his blase attitude and wool hat from the audition was exactly what they were looking for, Nesmith was hired as the lead guitarist for the Monkees and also wrote several of their songs.

The Monkees next #1 song was I’m a Believer was written by Neil Diamond. Covered over 100 times this song had a grand resurgence after being used in the movie Shrek performed by ‘Smash Mouth’ (2001).

The last of their three #1’s was Daydream Believer (Dec. 1967) written by John Stewart (Kingston Trio). Featuring Davy Jones on lead vocals this song spent four weeks at the top and 16 weeks in the top 100. Anne Murray hit #3 on the Country Charts and #12 on Billboard in 1979 with a beautiful version, one of 60 covers. Here is the songwriter himself from 1971, John Stewart.

The list songwriters of the Monkees songs reads like a veritable who’s who of  stars from that time period, in addition to those already mentioned are; Carole King and Gerry Goffin Pleasant Valley Sunday (1967) which reached #3. A lesser known song these days that reached #19 in 1968 was first released by the Monkees but actually first recorded by the Coasters, D.W. Washburn was written by the very successful pair of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.  Oh My My was written by Jeff Barry (who along with his wife Ellie Greenwich wrote dozens of hits including (Do Wah Diddy) and Andy Kim (Rock Me Gently). Others were; Carole Bayer Sager (“Arthur’s Theme”, Best That You Can Do), Neil Sedaka (Breaking Up Is Hard to Do), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (Here You Come Again and dozens of other hits), Chip Douglas (The Turtles), Bill Martin (Puppet on a String), Denny Randell (Let’s Hang On by the Four Seasons), and Jack Nicholson, and yes I mean that Jack Nicholson who along with Bob Rafelson wrote  Ditty Diego – War Chant from the Monkees psychedelic pop movie Head which was co-written by Nicholson as well and ranked as one of the top Movie Soundtracks of all time (Rolling Stone #25).

My favorite Monkees song is actually a cover of  I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone (Nov. 1966) written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who along with Don Kirshner deserve most of the credit for the Monkees sound and originally recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders (May 1966).

Trivia. We know Chicago born Walter Koenig was cast as Ensign Pavel Chekov in the TV show Star Trek: The Original Series. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants so the accent came naturally to him. What I at least didn’t know was it was because of his resemblance to Davy Jones. The series creator deliberately sought out to have a Monkees or Beatles looking character to try and attract teenage girl viewers.

References:  1, 2, 3

A Spotify playlist  of the Monkees greatest hit songs

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