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History of the series
The Monkees were a four-man musical band created to be the stars of an American television series of the same name, which ran on NBC from 1966 to 1968. The Monkees were formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, California and disbanded in 1970. At their peak they were one of the most popular musical acts of their time.
Several reunions of The Monkees have taken place. The first reunion lasted from 1986 to 1989 while another regrouping took place between 1996 — 1997. The Monkees last worked together in 2001.
The television show first aired on September 12, 1966 on the NBC television network and lasted for two seasons (58 episodes); its final primetime episode ran on September 9, 1968 (see List of The Monkees episodes). Modeled on The Beatles' theatrical films A Hard Day's Night and Help!, The Monkees featured the antics and music of a fictional pop-rock group which, due to the massive success of the records, and the public's expectations, became a real pop group.
The four young men who became The Monkees were British-born David Thomas ("Davy") Jones (percussion/vocals), Hollywood native George Michael ("Micky") Dolenz (drums/vocals), Texan Robert Michael ("Mike") Nesmith (guitar/vocals), and Peter Halsten ("Peter Tork") Thorkelson (bass/keyboards/vocals), who had lived with his family in both the eastern United States and Germany.
The success of the first season lands The Monkees on the cover of TV Guide, January 1967
They were cast after ads were placed in trade publications like Variety calling for "folk & roll musicians" to play "4 insane boys" on a new television series. 437 hopeful actors and musicians auditioned for the parts; a then relatively unknown Stephen Stills was shortlisted for a role, but was eventually knocked out because he didn't want to assign his music publishing rights to Columbia Pictures, with friend Peter Tork finally winning the role Stills had hoped to get. (False rumors have circulated that Charles Manson had also auditioned. He was incarcerated at the time.)
Nesmith (releasing pre-Monkees singles as "Michael Blessing") and Tork (part of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village) were both already professional musicians. Dolenz (who starred in the 1950s series Circus Boy) and Jones (who appeared with the cast of Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show the night of The Beatles' debut on live American TV) were better known as actors but also had musical and recording experience, with Jones performing in musical theatre in England and in Broadway theatre in New York, and releasing a solo album, and Dolenz singing and playing guitar in Los Angeles area bar bands.
All four were trained in both improvisational comedy and stage presence as a group before the pilot episode was filmed, so that they could look and act like a cohesive band even though it was only their voices being used on the initial recordings. Each was given a different personality to portray: Dolenz the funny one, Nesmith the smart and serious one, Tork the dumb one, and Jones the cute one. Their characters were loosely based on their real selves, with the exception of Tork, who was actually a quiet intellectual. Choosing someone to play the drummer proved tough; Nesmith and Tork didn't want to give up their guitars, and Jones nearly vanished behind the drums. Dolenz ultimately took the job, and began drum lessons.
As a television show, The Monkees used techniques rarely seen on television≈characters breaking the fourth wall and talking to the camera and sometimes even to people off-camera in the studio, fantasy sequences, jump cuts, and at least once a week a musical romp which might have nothing to do with the story line. In fact, many of the episodes included what now look very much like music videos: short, self-contained films featuring one of the songs from a Monkees album.
The Monkees were put together by a number of people who went on to later success. The show was produced by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who later produced the film Easy Rider ; Rafelson went on to direct such films as Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens. The 1965 pilot episode was co-written by Paul Mazursky and the late Larry Tucker, who later co-wrote the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which Mazursky directed; he went on to direct such films as Harry and Tonto and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
The Monkees won two Emmy Awards in 1967: Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy (James Frawley).
During the filming of the second season, the band tired of scripts and storylines they deemed monotonous and stale. Various band members proposed switching the format of the series to become more like a variety show, with musical guests and performances. This desire was partially fulfilled within some second season episodes, with guest stars like musicians Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley and Charlie Smalls (composer of The Wiz), performing at the end of the show. However NBC wasn't interested in changing the existing format, and the group expressed little desire to continue for a third season.
After the television show was cancelled, Rafelson directed the four Monkees in a feature film, Head, originally titled "Untitled." The film was executive-produced by Schneider and co-written and co-produced by Rafelson with a then relatively unknown actor named Jack Nicholson.
Nicholson also assembled the film's soundtrack album. The film, created and edited in a stream of consciousness style, featured cameo appearances by movie stars Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, a young Teri Garr, boxer Sonny Liston, famous stripper Carol Doda, and musician Frank Zappa. It was filmed in Screen Gems Studios and on location in California, Utah, and The Bahamas between February 19 and May 17, 1968 and premiered in New York City on November 6 of that year. (The film later debuted in Hollywood on November 20.) It was not a commercial success. This was in part because Head, being an antithesis of The Monkees TV show, comprehensively demolished the group's carefully-groomed public image, as evidenced by the stanzas from Rafelson and Nicholson's "Ditty Diego-War Chant" (recited at the start of the film by The Monkees), which ruthlessly parodies Boyce and Hart's "Monkees Theme."
But over the intervening years Head has developed a cult following for its innovative style and anarchic humor, and the soundtrack album (long out of print but now available in an expanded CD version) is counted among their best recordings. Members of The Monkees, Nesmith in particular, cite Head as one of the crowning achievements of the band.
From TV to stage
Critics of The Monkees complained that they were a made-for-TV knockoff of The Beatles (although John Lennon was a fan of the show, comparing its humor to The Marx Brothers), and that The Monkees were a group chosen by television producers Schneider and Rafelson.
The massive success of the series and its spin-off records had created intense pressure to mount a touring version of the group by late 1966. Against the initial wishes of the producers, Dolenz, Jones, Nesmith and Tork went out on the road. The results were far better than anyone had a right to expect, and wherever they went they were greeted by scenes of fan hysteria not seen since The Beatles. This gave the four stars increased confidence in their battle for creative control over the music used in the series.
The Monkees had complained that the producers would not allow them to play their own instruments on their records. This campaign eventually forced the series' musical coordinator Don Kirshner to let them have more participation in the recording process (against his strong objections), which included Nesmith producing his own songs and band members making some instrumental contributions. Led by Nesmith, the band eventually rebelled against Kirshner, who was later fired, and beginning with their third album, Headquarters, the four Monkees wrote and played on much of their own material. They did, however, continue to employ session musicians (reputable players like Louie Shelton, members of The Byrds and The Association, and newcomers, like Neil Young) throughout their recording career.
Kirshner was reported to have been incensed by the group's rebellion and swore never to repeat his mistake. This experience led directly to his later ventures The Archies and Josie and The Pussycats, which were animated series ≈ the "stars" existed only on an animation cel and obviously could not demand creative control over the records issued under their name.
When the group toured Britain in 1967 there was a major controversy over the revelation that the group did not play on their own records, and the news made the front pages of several UK and international music papers, with the group derisively dubbed "The Pre-Fab Four." Nevertheless, they were warmly welcomed by many top British stars including The Beatles, who knew the group included some skilled musicians and sympathised with their wish to have more control over their music.
Many Monkees fans now feel that the controversy unfairly targeted The Monkees and conveniently ignored the fact that a number of the leading British and American groups (including critical favorites such as The Byrds and The Beach Boys) habitually used session players on their recordings, and that this practice had always (until then) passed without comment. However, The Beatles had led a wave of groups who played their own instruments and wrote their own songs, and The Monkees' output paled by comparison in the eyes of many.
Supporters and critics of the group agree that the producers and Kirshner had the good taste to use some of the best songwriters of the period, including Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Harry Nilsson and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, as well as using top-ranking Los Angeles session musicians on the records. The Monkees had several international hits ≈ which are still heard on pop and oldies stations ≈ including "I'm a Believer," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," "Daydream Believer," "Last Train to Clarksville" ≈ and even a number of social criticism songs, the best known of which is probably "Pleasant Valley Sunday."
The Monkees also deserve credit for helping bring America's attention to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, who they took on as an opening act during their Summer 1967 concert tour, even though Hendrix quit after only a few shows.
Reports circulated at the time that he had been removed from the tour after complaints from the conservative women's group Daughters of the American Revolution. This was later proved false and it has since been revealed that the story was concocted for publicity purposes by the late Australian journalist and music writer Lillian Roxon, who had been accompanying the tour with her friend, the Australian singer Lynne Randell, who was one of the supporting acts and who was romantically involved with Jones at the time. Most likely, Hendrix and his group were frustrated at appearing before audiences largely populated by young women who had no interest or appreciation of their brand of musical innovation.
The End of The Monkees
Six albums were produced with the original lineup (four of which went to Number 1 on the Billboard chart), which was supplemented by a series of successful world concert tours. But tensions within the group were increasing, and Tork quit shortly after the band's Far East tour in late 1968, but not before completing work on their 1969 NBC television special, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. Three more albums would follow while Tork (in December 1968) and then Nesmith (in March 1970) left the group, leaving only Dolenz and Jones to record as The Monkees. Eventually, Jones too departed, leaving Dolenz as the sole remaining recording Monkee, and so marked the end of the first phase of The Monkees' recording career.
At the same time, The Monkees TV series enjoyed a resurgence on Saturday Afternoon television for four seasons on CBS (September 1969 — September 1972) and on ABC (September 1972 — August 1973), after which its 58 episodes were sold to local markets for syndication in September 1975. The show appeared on independent television stations on weekday afternoons.
A new collection, The Monkees Greatest Hits, charted in 1976 due to a new generation of young fans viewing the show for the first time during the syndicated repeats. Dolenz and Jones subsequently took advantage of this exposure. They linked up with ex-Monkees songwriters Boyce and Hart ("Last Train to Clarksville," "Steppin' Stone," "Words," "Valleri," etc.), forming the group Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart. The group released one album on Capitol Records and successfully toured smaller venues in America, as well as making stops in Japan, Thailand and Singapore, from 1975-1977. A possible reunion of the full group at that time failed to materialize when Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith would not participate, though a Christmas single with Dolenz, Jones and Tork was released in 1976.
Brushed off by critics during their heyday as manufactured and lacking talent, The Monkees experienced a critical and commercial rehabilitation in 1986. A Monkees TV show marathon on the video music channel MTV re-launched the group, sparking worldwide interest by both original fans and their children, who flocked to see Dolenz, Jones and Tork on their "20th Anniversary Tour." The marathon effectively resurrected Monkeemania, and the tour was forced to move from smaller venues to larger stadiums. Nesmith was forced to sit out most of these reunion projects because of prior commitments to his bustling Pacific Arts video production company.
Spurred on by massive MTV promotion, the reunited trio quickly became one of the hottest acts of 1986 and 1987, with their original albums selling in the millions and a new greatest hits collection reaching platinum status. To show his support, Nesmith appeared onstage with Dolenz, Jones and Tork twice, both times in Los Angeles, in 1986 and 1989. He also appeared with the band in a 1986 Christmas medley music video for MTV and took part in a dedication ceremony at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where The Monkees received a star in 1989.
The sudden revival of The Monkees in 1986 helped move the first official Monkees single since 1970, "That Was Then, This Is Now," into the American Top 20. A new album by the touring trio, Pool It!, appeared the following year and met with moderate success. From 1986 to 1989, The Monkees would conduct major concert tours in the United States, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Straybert Productions capitalized on the revival by creating a new television show called The New Monkees. Four young musicians were placed in a similar series based on the original show, this time "updated" for the 1980s. The show and its accompanying album sank quickly without a trace.
Michael Nesmith rejoins his bandmates in Los Angeles, 1989
In the 1990s, The Monkees continued to create new musical material, eventually recording an album which all four members performed and produced, Justus, in 1996. The trio of Dolenz, Jones and Tork reunited again for a successful 30th anniversary tour of American amphitheaters in 1996, while Nesmith joined them onstage in Los Angeles to promote the new songs from Justus. For the first time since the initial reunion in 1986, Nesmith returned to the concert stage full-time for a tour of the United Kingdom in 1997, and two sold-out concerts at Wembley Arena in London highlighted the success of the band in the 1990s. The full quartet also appeared in an ABC television special (written and directed by Nesmith) in 1997, spoofing the original series that had made them famous. However, once the revival craze died down, so did Michael Nesmith's interest in the group, and The Monkees disbanded once again. In fact, Davy Jones has gone on record to say another reunion of The Monkees as a complete unit "will never happen again." The remaining three Monkees (Dolenz, Jones and Tork) tour sporadically, most recently in 2001.
Impact of The Monkees
The Monkees, selected specifically to appeal to the youth market with their manufactured personae and carefully produced singles, can be seen as the original precursor to the modern proliferation of studio and corporation-created bands, or the modern boy band. However, The Monkees differ from typical modern boy bands in several respects. The Monkees did not perform the tightly harmonized ballads or synchronized dance routines boy bands are noted for today. The group was shown playing musical instruments on the show, or actually played instruments during live shows, unlike boy bands. The Monkees also frequently contributed their own songwriting efforts on their albums. Most notably, the critical appeal of the band has only increased since their original inception, while it remains unproven that modern day boy bands will experience the longevity that the Monkees have enjoyed.
The critical appeal of The Monkees has only increased in the decades since their original inception. The Monkees found unlikely fans among musicians of the punk rock period of the mid-1970s. Many of these punk performers had grown up on TV reruns of the series, and in keeping with the prevailing anti-industry, anti-Establishment trend of their music, they adopted The Monkees as symbols of rebellion against the mainstream music industry, citing the group's insistence on breaking out of their manufactured TV image and proving that they could write and perform as a real band. The Sex Pistols and Minor Threat went as far as recording a version of The Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." Modern day bands continue to cover their work, with the alternative rock group Smash Mouth most recently having a hit with "I'm a Believer" in 2001.
Millions of people still listen to their music. In fact, their legacy has been further strengthened by Rhino Entertainment's acquisition of The Monkees' franchise from Columbia Pictures in the early 1990s, with remastered editions of both the original television series and their music library having now surfaced in stores on DVD and compact disc collections.
The Monkees (1966) #1
More of the Monkees (1967) #1
Headquarters (1967) #1
The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees (1968) #3
Head (1968) #45
Instant Replay (1969) #32
The Monkees Present (1969) #100
Changes (1970) #152
The Monkees Greatest Hits (1976) *
More Greatest Hits (1982) *
Monkee Business (1983, picture disc) *
Monkee Flips (1984) *
Hit Factory (1985) *
Then And Now...the Best of The Monkees (1986) *
Pool It! (1987)
Live 1967 (1987)
Missing Links (1987) *
20th Anniversary Tour Live (1987)
Missing Links, Volume II (1990) *
Listen to the Band (25th Anniversary boxed set) (1991) *
Greatest Hits (1995) *
Missing Links, Volume III (1996) *
Anthology (1998) *
Music Box (35th Anniversary boxed set) (2001) *
The Best of The Monkees (2003) *
"The Monkees — Headquarters Sessions" (3-CD set) (for sale on internet only)
(* denotes a compilation)
The Monkees in 1996.
"Last Train to Clarksville" (1966) #1 /
"Take A Giant Step"
"I'm A Believer" (1966) #1 /
"(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (1966) #20
"A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (1967) /
"She Hangs Out" (1967) (Unreleased)
"A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (1967) #2 /
"The Girl I Knew Somewhere" (1967) #39
"Randy Scouse Git" (Alternate Title) (1967) #2 /
"Forget That Girl" (1967) (U.K. release)
"Pleasant Valley Sunday" (1967) #3 /
"Words" (1967) #11
"Daydream Believer" (1967) #1 /
"Goin' Down" (1967) #104
"Valleri" (1968) #3 /
"Tapioca Tundra" (1968) #34
"D.W. Washburn" (1968) #19 /
"It's Nice To Be With You" (1968) #51
"Porpoise Song" (Theme from HEAD) (1968) #62 /
"As We Go Along" (1968) #106
"Teardrop City" (1969) #56 /
"A Man Without A Dream" (1969)
"Someday Man" (1969) #81 /
"Listen to the Band" (1969) #63
"Good Clean Fun" (1969) #82 /
"Mommy and Daddy" (1969) #109
"Oh My My" (1970) #98 /
"I Love You Better" (1970)
"Do It In The Name Of Love" (1971, credited to Dolenz and Jones) /
"Lady Jane" (1971)
"That Was Then, This Is Now" (1986) #20 /
"(Theme From) The Monkees" (1986)
"Heart and Soul (1987)" #87 /
"MGBGT" (live) (1987)
"Every Step of the Way" (1987) /
"(I'll) Love You Forever" (live) (1987)
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