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.