Before the mob with torches starts marching to my castle, let me hasten to assure you that I’m not equating the Monkees with the Beatles. Far from it. On the one hand, you have a band that was a pop icon in the 1960’s and on the other hand you have the Beatles. Wait — that came out wrong. Let’s try doing this another way.
Everyone knows that the Beatles were one of the most significant forces in the history of pop, and helped create nothing less than a revolution in music. But to be fair, you can make a case for the Monkees as pop icons of a different sort, because they also had an impact on the music scene in the 1960’s. Maybe they weren’t in the same league as the Beatles – or even in the same universe – but they certainly left a mark at the time and are well-remembered today, and isn’t that the real definition of a pop icon?
The band was originally created for a TV show, and was obviously patterned on the Beatles — or at least the whimsical side of the famous group. The show was cast like any other TV program, from a combination of auditions and other factors. (Two rejects were Harry Nilsson and Stephen Stills.) For example, Micky Dolenz was a former child actor and Hollywood veteran, and Davy Jones was primarily an actor too. Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith had both bounced around for a while on the fringes of the music business, although without much success.
The music for the show was written by some of the best pros in the business, including Neil Diamond and Carole King. The catchy, bouncy songs, combined with likable, attractive performers, proved to be a very potent mix — even if the guys weren’t allowed to play instruments at first. When added to the format of the show itself, which was well-written, funny and quirky, the formula was a success. The show became a hit and big sales of recordings soon following. Over a relatively short period the Monkees managed to create a surprising number of hit records, including “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer”, and “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)”, among others.
Nesmith was always the most frustrated of the four by the group’s lack of input into the music they performed, but as time went on it began to wear at all of them.Eventually the members of the group became more polished, playing their own instruments and even beginning to work some of their own music into the act, but – as usually happens – their time in the spotlight passed, and the fickle public moved on.
During the intervening years, occasional reunions have met with mixed success. But the Monkees still have a core of solid fans and even beyond that, I’d be willing to bet that their music is still a guilty pleasure for a lot of listeners.
4 thoughts on “The Monkees – More Than Just Beatles Wannabes”
Hi, BG. My name is Anthony Pomes. I am the marketing director for a book publisher in New York called Square One Publishers. I just read your essay on The Monkees and I wanted to join in with appreciation on the Pre-Fab Four. Starting last year, I have had the very unique pleasure of working with former Monkee Micky Dolenz on a rock ‘n roll trivia book called MICKY DOLENZ’ ROCK ‘N ROLLIN’ TRIVIA. Talking with him about how he met The Beatles in England when they were recording SGT. PEPPER’S in 1967 and hearing some great stories about his friendship with the late Harry Nilsson was incredible. For what it’s worth, his trivia book is a celebration of all that remains great and memorable about rock music, the most consistently popular music of at least the past fifty years. If you and your fellow Geezers want to have some great fun remembering all that has been great in rock music since the whole thing got started in 1955, I highly recommend Micky’s trivia book. Stay well, and keep listenin’!
Thanks for the info, Anthony.
Hi Big Brother,
You had moved out of the house by 1967 so I don’t know if you were aware of how much I enjoyed the Monkees then(my senior year in high school). I talked Mother into letting me have several aftergame parties that year, when our basketball team went to the semi-state and their music was played a lot at those parties. Hearing their songs always take me back to those happy, carefree times.
Years later reruns of their shows on tv created new fans, one of which was my daughter Kerry, a 5th grader. Kerry had Monkees’ posters all over her room and she had a MAJOR crush on Davy. One day when they were scheduled to be on a tv talk show to promote their upcoming reunion I called her to come watch them with me and she was so SHOCKED to see they had gotten OLDER!! She stopped dead in her tracts and blurted out “they’re old!!” She was heartbroken. I could relate to her disappointment in a way because I grew up watching “The Little Rascals” on tv and was very upset when I realized that they had all gotten old and were no longer the kids I loved to watch. I liked to hear the family folk lore about how Mother was distantly related to Alfalfa and how he had come to town and acted like such a brat. I was so disappointed when I saw a picture of him as an adult in a magazine talking about his death by shooting. Actually it’s also kind of like when you told me there was no santa (but that’s another story, heh heh).
I enjoy your reviews and musings and it’s nice when you throw in about your growing up experiences. Love, Linda
Thanks for the comments, little sis. Guess I didn’t remember your fondness for the Monkees. If I realized it at the time, I probably didn’t agree with you. I came to appreciate them much later, when I began to realize that they had some good songs that stood the test of time.
PS Didn’t know that about Kerry — funny story.