“Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll musicians-singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank’s-types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview.”
We all know what happened after this ad was published in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter in September 1965. Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones may have had varying levels of success “coming down” for their interviews, but interview they did, and one year later, they could all be seen glaring out from the cover of their debut album and capering on a new hit series The Monkees, which debuted on this very day in 1966.
Fifty years later, The Monkees seem to be as popular as ever, and more importantly, have finally gotten the critical approval they should have been getting since Micky first crooned “Last Train to Clarksville”. For many of us, The Monkees also provided an accessible introduction to the pop world when we were still a little too young for The Beatles’ complexity, the Stones’ luridness, or The Who’s violence (yet, somehow, we were ready for “Writing Wrongs”. Go figure). I’ve been a Monkees freak for thirty years now, and my obsession with the TV/recording/stage/screen sensations has left me with a wealth of Monkee facts and figures I am about to bounce off your million-dollar head in a feature I call…
Here we come...
OK, let’s address the big, smelly ape in the room with our very first entry. So, The Monkees did not form in a garage the way most bands do. They were put together by TV show producers for mostly commercial reasons, to cash in on the ongoing phenomenal success of The Beatles (see B), and to attempt to recreate the irreplaceable magic of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! for boob-tube audiences. This does not mean The Monkees weren’t artists. Micky had done his time in a garage band sometimes known as Micky and The One Nighters, and more coincidentally, The Missing Links, and possessed a voice of magnificent range and dramatics. Peter Tork was a hat-passing folkie with an extraordinary knack for picking up instruments (piano, guitar, banjo, bass, French horn, etc.) that made him The Monkees’ own John Entwistle or Brian Jones-style jack-of-all-trades. Davy Jones had been an acclaimed Broadway song-and-dance man, and Mike Nesmith was a composer, performer, and recording artist. The boys brought their individual talents to a project that didn’t necessarily need and really didn’t want them. By asserting their artistry on records that were going to sell millions whether or not Peter picked his banjo on the sessions, he, Micky, Mike, and Davy made the Monkees’ albums better than was necessary. Consequently, efforts such Headquarters; Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD.; and Head became albums as timeless as much of what The Monkees’ organically formed peers were making in the mid-sixties.
The guys’ original compositions also made for some of the most interesting tracks on those records, and we’re not just talking about those of seasoned composer Mike Nesmith, whose pure country (“Good Clean Fun”, “Don’t Wait for Me”), pure rock (“Mary Mary”, “Circle Sky”), country-rock (“Sunny Girlfriend”, “You Told Me”), and country-psychedelia (“Tapioca Tundra”, “Auntie’s Municipal Court”) were consistently invigorating. Peter Tork’s “For Pete’s Sake” was strong and vital enough to serve as the series’ closing theme during season two, and his “Can You Dig It?” and “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?” helped bring the ultra-hip Head soundtrack to life. Micky Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git” was strong enough to become the first Monkee-composed single A-side (at least in England where it was retitled “Alternate Title” and went to #2), and his “Mommy and Daddy” was a piece of unflinching agit-prop aimed at pre-teen revolutionaries. Even Davy Jones matured into a composer capable of such fine pieces as “Dream World” and the tough-as-shit “You and I”. Had The Monkees never expressed themselves as artists on songs such as these, it is likely I would not be writing about them right now and you wouldn’t care to read about them.
To repeat (see A), The Monkees started as a big Beatles rip. Their show was a small-screen A Hard Day’s Night with the pop-art aesthetics and color of Help! Davy was the Paul-patterned heartthrob. Micky was the John-derived wacko. Mike was the dry, quiet George of the group. And Peter was left to play the Ringo-esque goofball. There’s was even an abortive attempt to establish some sort of rivalry between the two groups on the series by having Mike chuck a dart at a poster of The Beatles in the pilot episode. Many probably expected The Beatles to recognize The Monkees for the Fab Phonies the hip press insisted they were. Sorry, hipsters. The Beatles loved The Monkees.
Not only did John Lennon supposedly tell Mike Nesmith that he never missed their show and considered them to be the best comedy team since The Marx Brothers, he also befriended Mike, famously inviting him to rub elbows with fellow luminaries such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, and Donovan at the recording session for the orchestral crescendo on “A Day in the Life”. Paul McCartney struck up a similar comradeship with Micky, who writes delightfully of getting stoned and zoning out to a TV tuned to static with the Fab one in his autobiography I’m a Believer. Micky was so taken with his encounter that he name-checked “the four kings of EMI” in “Randy Scouse Git”. A couple of tracks earlier on Headquarters, he name-checked Ringo on “No Time” in homage to The Beatles’ version of “Honey Don’t” (The Monkees’ discography also abounds in less explicit references to the four kings: Boyce and Hart were inspired to write “Last Train to Clarksville” after hearing the fade out of “Paperback Writer” on the radio; the baroque arrangement of “I Wanna Be Free” was clearly cribbed from that of “Yesterday”; the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” riff is a variation on that of “I Want to to Tell You”; Davy’s “The Poster” was inspired by the circus themes of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”; the false count in to “You Told Me” winks at the one that begins “Taxman”, etc.). In an unprecedented move, The Beatles gave Micky permission to use their “Goodmorning, Goodmorning” in “Mijacogeo”, the Monkees series finale he wrote and directed. Meanwhile, Peter one-upped both Mike and Micky by actually playing on a session with a Beatle: when George recorded the soundtrack for the goofy “art” movie Wonderwall in 1968, he called on the Goofy One to contribute his prodigious banjo talents. Who’s goofy now?
Legend has it that when The Monkees played to a test audience in 1966, it received the worst reaction of any show in the history of shows. By simply losing Bing Russell as the boys’ manager (and adding Mike and Davy’s screen tests), “Here Come The Monkees” went from a bomb of atomic proportions to a hit of Sputnik ones. The theory is that no one wanted to see the wild young Monkees under the watchful eye of some patronizing adult figure. The series quickly tapped into this anti-adult-authority vibe by bringing in the series’ only recurring character who never sported a mop top: the villainous landlord Mr. Babbit. Here was adultness in all its authoritarian, ignorant, soulless, party-pooping, horse-hating glory— a mustache-twirling foil for our four youthful heroes.
Embodying the role was Henry Corden, a character actor with a resume that could choke the Monkeemobile’s exhaust pipe. Corden had been a TV staple since he turned up as a deliveryman on The Life of Riley in 1949. In the fifties he appeared on such shows as The Adventures of Superman, My Little Margie, The Count of Monte Cristo, Soldiers of Fortune, Perry Mason, and Dragnet. In the sixties, he was even more of a living room presence, showing up on Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip, Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Jonny Quest, I Dream of Jeannie, Mister Ed, and Gilligan’s Island. He also flaunted his vocal talents in a number of roles on The Flintstones, which sparked a major sideline for the actor in cartoons. In fact, with 1977’s A Flintstone Christmas, Corden actually took over the coveted role of Fred Flintstone from the recently deceased Alan Reed, who’d originated the character on the sixties series. Fred was a big feather in Henry Corden’s cap, but Monkees fans will always remember him best as rotten Mr. Babbit… and, to a lesser extent, the slightly less-rotten hotel manager Mr. Blauner (see R) in the post-Babbit episode “The Wild Monkees”.
Everyone knows that The Monkees are Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter. Well, except when they’re Mike, Micky, and Davy. Or Micky and Davy. Or Micky and Peter. Or…bah-dum…here I come, walking down the street, I get the funniest looks from, everyone I meet…Hey, Hey, I’m a Monkee…
Yes, as has been the case with The Threetles (Paul, George, and Ringo without John) or The Two (Pete and Roger without John and Keith), The Monkees have not always been a foursome. In fact, for the majority of their career, they were not really a foursome. Even on their only true “we’re a band!” record, Headquarters, Chip Douglas, Jerry Yester, and John London regularly contributed bass tracks that swelled their ranks to a quintet. On their first two albums, it was rare to have more than one Monkee on a single track. However, the band was always seen as a foursome... at least for their first couple of years.
The first to jump ship was Peter, when he bought himself out of his contract in late 1968 after shooting the last-gasp TV special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee. When the next album, Instant Replay, was released less than two months later, Peter was absent from the album cover, though his guitar and Danelectro bass work were actually buried within Mike’s wall-of-sound production of an old track from the Monkees-’66 archives, “I Won’t Be the Same Without Her”.
After the next album and a notoriously odd tour with a lounge R&B band called Sam & The Goodtimers (see T), The Monkees shed another member, reducing the act to a duo of Micky and Davy. Without the two most dominant musical forces in the band, The Monkees made their final album as they made their first two: leaving the music completely in the hands of a producer (tin-pan alley hit-maker Jeff Barry). Consequently, Changes was the most bubblegum and least experimental record the guys ever made. It is telling that the band’s most bubblegum and least experimental member, Davy, basically disowned the record, though it had Micky’s relatively un-bubblegum and experimental C&W ramble “Midnight Train” going for it. After that came a flop Micky/Davy single, “Do It in the Name of Love” and the end of The Monkees’ classic years, but not the permanent end of The Monkees. 1986 saw a major twentieth-anniversary Monkees revival (see P) that found the guys back on the road playing to sell-out crowds and releasing their first top-twenty hit since “D.W. Washburn”. But not only was serial hold-out Mike Nesmith not on that record, Davy was missing too because of his bitterness over how Arista records had handled his seventies solo career when the label was still called Bell Records (see X). This left vocalist Micky and guitarist Peter as the only Monkees on “That Was Then, This Is Now”. Davy pointedly left the stage whenever his band mates performed the hit on stage.
In the years to come, The Monkees almost always worked as less-than-four, with the sole exception being 1996’s Justus album, the only Monkees LP cut without any outside input. However, even its companion tour was a case of the missing Monkee as Mike fled after receiving some bad notices from the British press. Sadly, Davy’s death in 2012 guaranteed that all future Monkees ventures would always lack involvement from the four individuals… which, in a strange and sad way, is kind of true to how the guys made music for most of their existence.
Taking The Monkees seriously was a mistake “serious” music journalists never dared make during the band’s heyday. They were posers to be scoffed at and mocked. Their music was chart-clogging puffery. Their image was family-friendly counterrevolutionaries. They symbolized the crassest, anti-art corners of capitalism. Blah blah. Then in 1985, a writer named Erik Lefcowitz bravely stood up and said, “I’ll take ‘em seriously!”, publishing the first serious look at The Monkees, The Monkees Tale, through hip San Fran publishers Last Gasp. Sure the book was slim as a CPR leaflet. Sure, Lefcowitz didn’t seem to actually like The Monkees that much. But it was a watershed moment, and I’m sure more than one aspiring pop writer decided to become an aspiring pop writer after reading The Monkees Tale (I know I did).
In the years to follow, serious reevaluation of The Monkees ceased to be an embarrassment. One Monkees historian, Andrew Sandoval, actually really loved the band and wrote the first truly great and exhaustive Monkees book: 2005’s The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the 60s TV Pop Sensation. Lefcowitz subsequently fattened out The Monkees Tale a bit more (though seemed even less impressed by the band than he was in ’85) and republished it as Monkee Business in 2013. Meanwhile, other serious studies of The Monkees continue to pop up in books such as Rosanne Welch’s Why the Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Pop Culture and Peter Mills’s upcoming The Monkees, Head, and the 60s or sites such as The Monkees Live Almanac and Monkees.net, which counts the original Monkee scholar, Eric Lefcowitz, among its contributors. Most of these print and online publications were valuable resources in the creation of this very feature you’re reading right now!
The Monkees can count making hippies family friendly among their myriad accomplishments. Fortunately, the older generation was pretty clueless, otherwise they might have understood why the guys’ eyes were so red, why they kept giggling for no reason in “The Monkee’s Paw”, and why the Frodis alien in “Mijacogeo” mostly consisted of a plant that mellowed out the villains by emitting plumes of fragrant smoke. Yes, The Monkees were big potheads (even sweet little Davy!), and Frodis was their code name for the demon weed. According to Dolenz, he derived the word from the name of everyone’s favorite weed-smoking hobbit, Frodo Baggins, a favorite mascot of the hippie culture. In fact, in the photo below, Mick can even be seen wearing a “Frodo Lives” badge.
As is obvious from the episodes mentioned above, the guys did not keep their pot consumption to off-business hours (not that The Monkees had many of those), and even had a refrigerated room dubbed “The Black Box” installed on set for them to puff their brains out between takes while filming their show. Despite how seemingly blatantly The Monkees flaunted their indulgences—their one and only movie was called Head for the love of crimony!— they were strictly instructed to never let on about their drug use in interviews, and would cheekily taunt over-inquisitive journalists by claiming they were hooked on Ex-Lax.
With fame comes parody, and few bands were as famous as The Monkees in the sixties. However, there wasn’t a great Monkees parody of note until 1992, the year that young people across the U.S. adapted disaffected poses and swathed themselves (OK, fine, ourselves) in unflattering baggy sweatshirts, flannels, ripped jeans, and combat boots. Comedian Ben Stiller recognized the faddishness of grunge and spoofed it by imagining four Seattle twangers living together in a laugh-track-haunted flat and enjoying surreal adventures, trying to impress a record exec, joining arms to do “the walk,” and getting starry eyed at the sight of cute grunge chick Goo (Jeanne Tripplehorn channeling Kim Gordon). Hey, hey… Jonsie (Stiller), Dolly (Andy Dick), Stone (Bob Odenkirk), and Tork (guest star Rob Morrow) are The Grungies, a spot-on parody of Gen-X bullshit and The Monkees that appeared on the short-lived, fondly remembered sketch comedy series The Ben Stiller Show. Adding extra legitimacy to an already hilarious sketch, record exec Josh Goldsilver is none other than a smarm-oozing Micky Dolenz.
“(Theme from) The Monkees”. “Last Train to Clarksville”. “Valleri”. “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. “Words”. “She”. “I Wanna Be Free”. They’re all considered Monkees classics and they were all written by the super-pop team of Boyce & Hart. Together, Sidney “Tommy” Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote 18 songs placed on Monkees vinyl in the group’s 1966-1970 hey-hey-day (while Boyce also co-wrote “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” with Steve Venet, tying himself with Mike Nesmith for most compositions on classic Monkees vinyl). Having also produced most of the debut album, Boyce & Hart are more associated with the “Monkees sound” than anyone save for Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter. Although the boys would rely less on their inaugural hitmakers as their music became more self-produced and more experimental, Boyce & Hart would continue to place songs on every Monkees record except for Head (and though The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees was labeled “Produced by The Monkees,” Boyce & Hart secretly handled one of that album’s most inventive and experimental productions, their own “P.O. Box 9847”, and the group’s last top-five hit, “Valleri”).
Boyce & Hart may be best known as Monkee handlers, but they had a prolific career outside of that multi-media project. In their pre-Monkees days they were responsible for The Goodies’ “Dum Dum Ditty” (best known by The Shangri-La’s later version) and Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer” (co-written with Wes Farrell and the song that caught Don Kirshner’s golden ear). Bobby also co-wrote Little Anthony’s gut-wrenching smash “Hurts So Bad” with Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein. And before The Monkees took a crack at “Steppin’ Stone”, Paul Revere and the Raiders had first dibs on it with a slightly less renowned version on their Midnight Ride LP.
Boyce & Hart also had a pop career of their own, starting as the frontmen for The Candy Store Prophets, whose Gerry McGee (guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), and Billy Lewis (drums) played on their share of Monkees sessions (especially ones for the first album). They also had a well-deserved top-ten hit under their own names in 1968 with the exhilarating “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight”.
Five years after the official dissolution of The Monkees, the duo who saw it out the longest became a foursome again when Micky and Davy recorded and toured with Tommy and Bobby as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce, & Hart. Ironically, their only album was not exclusively stacked to the gills with Boyce & Hart originals, although it did contain two landmark Dolenz/Jones originals.
At the end of the decade, Tommy Boyce reemerged with his own group, The Tommy Band. Bobby also recorded his solo debut, titled, rather appropriately, The First Bobby Hart Solo Album. In the mid-eighties both composers reunited on stage to tap into the renewed fascination with The Monkees (see P). Sadly, Tommy Boyce also suffered from physical and mental health issues and took his own life in 1994.
Bobby Hart, however, lived to tell his tale in last year’s Psychedelic Bubblegum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem into Miracles, and naturally, when Micky, Peter, and Mike reunited earlier this year to record their first album in twenty years, Good Times!, they were compelled to finish off “Whatever’s Right”, a Boyce & Hart tune left unfinished since 1966. After all, it wouldn’t be a Monkees album without at least one Boyce & Hart tune.
It’s ironic that the guitars, basses, drums, and—yes, cool spies—red maracas The Monkees used are so iconic considering that they were often derided for not “playing their own instruments.” Ironic, but hardly confounding considering that Mike strapped on his six-string, sunburst Gretsch, Peter put on his Les-Paul-shaped Gretsch bass, and Micky sat behind his Gretsch Broadkaster kit every week in living rooms across the world. These were not necessarily the instruments they actually played in studios and on stages, but they became instantly recognizable as “Monkees” instruments because of all the TV exposure they received. When the guys weren’t contractually obligated to hawk Gretsch gear, Mike might be seen thrashing his white Gibson SG (as he did during the “Circle Sky” sequence of Head) or a black custom Les Paul (ditto 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee). Peter only plucked his feedback-prone Gretsch bass on stage for the briefest period before he switched to the uniquely shaped Guild Jetstar bass he could be seen playing on stage, in Head, and in the “Rainbow Room” videos sprinkled throughout season two (even Davy takes a crack at the instrument for the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” sequence in which Peter moves to the piano). Micky also broke Gretsch’s stranglehold in season two when he started using a Rogers drum kit. Mike, however, stuck with the brand as he played one of the most recognizable of Monkees instruments: his blonde Gretsch twelve-string. In its way, that guitar and several other instruments The Monkees used are almost as iconic as Lennon’s Rickenbacker, McCartney’s Hofner, Page’s Les Paul, King’s Lucille, and Van Halen’s Frankenstrat.
Lugging around equipment is the bane of the musician’s existence (I once regretfully passed on a groovy ’68 Volkswagen Beetle because I couldn’t fit my bass and amp into its tiny trunk). Fortunately for The Monkees, they had a cushy ride they dubbed the Monkeemobile to transport their Gretsches to gigs. This was key since a band that had so much trouble getting auditions and record deals could hardly afford roadies. Don’t ask how they were able to spring for a custom GTO though. That will have to remain yet another mystery of Monkeeland.
Less mysterious is the history of the Monkeemobile. It is the handiwork of Dean Jeffries, the Hollywood stunt coordinator and car customizer tasked with making wheels for Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter. Jeffries’s buddy Jim Wangers was doing promo with Pontiac at the time and figured there was no better way to get his product in front of car buyers than to feature it every week on a network sitcom. He furnished Jeffries with a couple of 1966 GTO convertibles, and the dude got to work dropping in a bench where the trunk had been, extending the tail lights, installing a parachute on the rear, and doing other modifications that transformed these vehicles into Monkeemobiles. As a slick bonus, the real Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter got their own GTOs.
The Monkeemobile was rarely a major player in the series, though Micky could sometimes be seen working on it. However it was always group leader Mike who got to drive it…perhaps not the wisest decision since Mike was known to rocket his own GTO down the Hollywood Freeway at speeds up to 125mph. The car only really got to shine in season two’s “The Monkees Race Again” when it was pitted against the Klutzmobile, piloted by a couple of Hogan’s Heroes rejects.
Shortly after that episode aired, The Monkees was no more, and the Monkeemobile ended up in the possession of George Barris, who had his own impressive automotive pedigree as the designer of the Batmobile and the Munster Coach. In 2008, Barris auctioned off the Monkeemobile to a private owner who is no doubt driving it to auditions and gigs all over Michigan.
Every week couch potatoes could watch The Monkees face off against hot-rodding Nazis, unscrupulous kiddie show hosts, gangsters, hypnotists, vampires, Martians, dragons, and the devil, himself. In real life, The Monkees had their own adversary, and if their story has a villain, he is Don Kirshner.
To be clear and fair, Kirshner wasn’t really a villain, and he wasn’t even a bad guy. As the music supervisor on the whole “Monkees” project, he actually did a very good job bringing in Tin Pan Alley hit makers to supply the series and its accompanying soundtrack discs with catchy pop tunes. Kirshner even helped The Monkees get a major hit before the series went on the air. Kirshner’s problem was that he lacked flexibility and refused to recognize the talent or ambitions of the young men playing a phony band on TV. It would be one thing if Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter lacked a feel for pop music or experience in the business, but they really were fine musicians, performers, singers, and composers. When Mike understandably reacted against the critical drubbing he and his cohorts were receiving for not functioning as a “real” band (a pretty unfair expectation of the press in any event), he demanded that he and the other guys play on their records (a businessman as well as an artist, Mike also surely realized the money-making potential of getting more of his own compositions on Monkees vinyl). Kirshner, an old-school record industry bigwig, saw this as insubordination and lack of gratitude from a sitcom actor.
Had this conflict occurred a couple of years earlier, the trophy surely would have gone to Kirshner, but 1967 was a turning point that found young people, particularly young musicians, being taken more seriously. Plus, “The Monkees” was a hit and the project’s producers were afraid Mike would make good on his threat to walk if he didn’t get his way. Amazingly, these four guys who barely had any experience playing together would be allowed to cut their own records, and the first would be a single B-side slated for early ’67: Mike’s “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”. Kirshner had other plans and issued back-to-back songs by proven hit makers Neil Diamond and Jeff Barry recorded after coaxing the rather counterrevolutionary Davy Jones into the studio. This act of insubordination earned Kirshner the heave-ho, and The Monkees were now in charge of their own recordings.
The following year, Kirshner found a band more likely to follow orders: cartoon characters The Archies. Their #1 smash “Sugar Sugar” must have tasted like sweet victory to Kirshner since it far outsold any Monkees single of ’69 and because he claimed he’d pitched it to The Monkees, who rejected it (Jeff Barry says this is a myth). Kirshner continued to enjoy success as the host of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in the seventies, though his bitter feelings about getting canned from the “Monkees” seemed to last until his death in 2011.
Like any hit-racking band or landscape-changing TV series, that thing called “The Monkees” left paw prints running up and down the pop culture terrain. The Monkees may not have been TV’s first pop singers (Hiya, Ricky Nelson! How you enjoying your chart success, Shelley Fabares? Umm, good for you, Paul Peterson), but they were its first band of any note, and it would be wrong to fail to recognize their influence on The Partridge Family, The Heights, Josie and the Pussycats, The Banana Splits, and of course, The Archies (see K), even if, as far as legacies go, it’s not the most dignified one. More agreeably, actor Walter Koenig has claimed that the popularity of Davy Jones inspired Gene Roddenberry to add his own diminutive mop-top, Mr. Chekov, to the Star Trek crew. Nevertheless, The Monkees were always strongest on record, and the future artists who grew up digging their music is impressive: The Bangles, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, The Go Gos, R.E.M., XTC, Guided by Voices, Nirvana, U2, Weezer, among scores of others. Several of these artists even contributed material to Good Times!
The Monkees’ legacy can also be felt in the bands who chose to play their music. The songs they made famous have been covered by Robert Wyatt, The Sex Pistols (can we agree they were playing tribute to The Monkees and not Paul Revere and the Raiders...especially since Malcolm McLaren's assembling of The Pistols was so similar to the way Rafelson and Schneider put together The Monkees?), The Four Tops, Bong Water, The Violent Femmes, The Specials, U2, They Might Be Giants, The Replacements, The Church, Magnapop, The Wedding Present, and many, many more. Samples of Monkees music have driven records by Run DMC and Del the Funky Homosapien. And during an era many agree to be a new golden age of television, their songs have returned to the small screen on some of the very, very best series of the twenty-first century. On Mad Men, Don Draper pondered his ever out-of-control life to the swirling strains of “Porpoise Song” (and earlier that season, a character with the last name Torkelson was introduced. Coincidence?). On Breaking Bad, Walter White cooked up a batch of meth to the pounding “Goin’ Down”. Now that’s a legacy.
As the increasingly undisciplined Monkees went to work on their second season, a more professional comic presence was deemed necessary to add a touch of polish to the anarchy. Enter Scottish actor Monte Landis, who got his start as a child vaudeville performer in the forties before moving to the theater. In the sixties he became a TV presence in England before coming to America to appear on series such as The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Batman, and the show for which he is best known. Landis appeared in seven episodes of The Monkees, and six of those appearances found him playing the villainous middle-aged foil to The Monkees’ young heroes. Whether he was a shady health club proprietor trying to cheat Micky out of a few dollars or the biggest bad of them all trying to cheat Peter out of his soul, Landis always made an imposing impression. His work was frontloaded toward the beginning of that season (though “The Devil and Peter Tork” and “Monkees Blow Their Minds” didn’t actually air until much closer to the end of the series’ run). One wonders how he would have sparred with the more improvisational, more herbally-influenced Monkees of episodes such as “The Monkees Paw” and “Monkees on the Wheel”.
When he ceased to find a place on The Monkees, Landis never exactly had to go begging for work, as he turned up on Hawaii Five-O, McMillan & Wife, Columbo, and Police Woman, as well as features such as Young Frankenstein, Body Double, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and (a-hem) Candy Stripe Nurses. He still looks back fondly on his Monkees days, recalling a particular rapport with fellow UK vaudevillian Davy Jones. Monte Landis hasn’t appeared on TV since showing up on the short-lived Golden Girls spin-off The Golden Palace back in 1992, but at age 83, the devil is still very much with us.
In 1967, The Monkees were the biggest band on the planet. In time, Jack Nicholson would be the world’s biggest actor. However, in ’67, he was scrounging work on TV series such as The Andy Griffith Show and schlocky movies such as Hells Angels on Wheels. Nicholson was already exuding the star power he’d later put to work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Prizzi’s Honor, and Chinatown, but quality projects simply weren’t coming in. So when his buddy Bob Rafelson asked him to help write the first feature by the biggest band on the planet, Nicholson could hardly turn down the job. Of course, by the time Head finally plopped in theaters in late ’68, The Monkees’ star had shrank considerably, and a surreal feature that found them trapped in Vietnam, Victor Mature’s hair, and a big black box was not really the thing to recapture their commercial mojo. Nicholson faired much better, cementing the relationship with Rafelson that would place the actor in the movies that would establish his star status: Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces.
Head may have flopped upon release, but the edge that Nicholson brought to the project helped it become an enduring cult classic for Monkees freaks and people who think they suck alike. Nicholson’s anarchic wit and sardonic tone, best embodied by his corrosive “Ditty Diego”, is a constant presence in the film. Nesmith, for one, has claimed the film was more Nicholson’s vision than that of co-writer/director/producer Rafelson, and had such lingering fond feelings that he dedicated his biggest solo hit, “Joanne”, to Nicholson and his girlfriend Mimi Machu (the woman who makes out with all four Monkees at the beginning of Head). Tork, whose relationship with Rafelson was apparently pretty sour by this point, added that Nicholson’s presence made the filming bearable.
Even without its TV-connection, the “Monkees” project was like no other. Recording went on nearly constantly throughout its brief duration, hungry composers and producers dying to get their work on guaranteed hit albums. The fact that these producers had four guys to choose for their sessions probably didn’t hurt either. Maybe Boyce & Hart were recording with Micky in one studio, Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer had Davy in another, Peter was crooning for Jeff Barry and Jack Keller down the hall, and Mike was singing on his own session elsewhere. Consequently, there are tons and tons of outtakes for which there simply could not be room on the group’s nine albums.
With all the material recorded for the first two Monkees albums alone, twice as many LPs could have been assembled. Several of these outtakes (“All the Kings Horses”, early versions of “You Just May Be the One”, “I Wanna Be Free”, “Words”, “Valleri”, and “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet”) ended up on the series’ first season to keep the soundtracks from being overly reliant on the mere two-dozen songs that had been properly released thus far. With a sole producer (Chip Douglas) at the helm for Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD., the sessions were more focused and the outtakes far less plentiful, but the glut resumed as soon as Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter began producing their own sessions after Pisces. So The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees became another project with an excess of material. There were so many recordings at music supervisor Lester Sill’s disposal that he assembled the seventh Monkees record (Instant Replay) as a veritable outtakes compilation, mingling some of the earliest recordings (“Tear Drop City”, “I Won’t Be the Same without Her”) with some of the latest.
Decades after the whole operation had folded, Rhino Records took over and started dusting off the plethora of tracks that were denied release during their own time. The first compilation, Missing Links, appeared in 1987, and while it was not consistent enough to crown a “revelation”, there were some truly wonderful tracks, particularly the intended single “All of Your Toys”, Nesmith’s wistful Birds remnant “Carlisle Wheeling”, and his earlier production of Goffin & King’s “I Don’t Think You Know Me”. Such pieces have inspired endless fan debates about how records such as More of the Monkees, Birds, and Instant Replay could have been improved with keener track selection. Swap out “The Day We Fall in Love” and swap in “Of You”… now there’s a More of The Monkees that would never make me want to slap the needle off the vinyl!
That first Missing Links disc was just the beginning, as Rhino rolled out two more volumes, supplemented the Listen to the Band box set with several exclusive tracks, and filled out its CD reissues of the proper albums with leftovers. Astoundingly, there was still enough material to pad out those albums even further for Rhino’s ongoing series of Super Deluxe handmade box sets. I still suspect that there are a few more versions of “I Don’t Think You Know Me” and “Prithee” somewhere in the can.
On February 23, 1986, MTV aired a Monkees marathon dubbed Pleasant Valley Sunday. Almost instantly, the fifties nostalgia that began in the early seventies with American Graffiti and continued with retro items such as Happy Days and Grease finally flipped the calendar to the next decade. Suddenly, peace signs, the Vietnam War, and other sixties signposts dominated pop culture. At the forefront of it all was the band that arguably sparked the whole sixties revival. Not only did The Monkees practically dominate MTV for the remainder of ’86—their twenty-year-old series airing three times a day by April to appease fan demand (who might have also taken in the series on Nick-at-Nite and select local stations)—Micky, Peter, and Davy also reformed for a smash-success tour, and Peter and Micky reformed in the studio to record three new tracks for Arista (ongoing bad vibes with the label that had mismanaged Davy’s solo career in the seventies prevented the cute one from the recording reunion). With their antiseptic mid-eighties production, “Kicks”, “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere”, and “That Was Then, This Is Now” may not have exactly been the second coming of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” or “Steppin’ Stone”, but that didn’t stop MTV-fave “That Was Then” from being the first top-twenty Monkees single in 18 years. Unfortunately, a turnover in management at MTV in 1987 ended the massive Monkees revival almost as suddenly as it began, but many of we new fans the group earned in ’86 would remain fans for decades to come.
“Dy-no-Mite!” “Kiss my grits!” “Norm!” “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?!?” “Hello, my name is Matlock!”
Quotable catchphrases are natural byproducts of classic TV series. The Monkees was no different. Who among us has not retorted “I am standing!” after being commanded to stand up? Who has not sneered “Don’t do that!” after being the victim of doing we have not wanted done? Who has not shrieked “Take that, Wizard Glick!” before smacking the nose of someone named Wizard Glick? Who has not trumpeted “Frodis!” when requesting a second helping of marijuana? Our most socially conscious brethren have clearly wailed “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken!” from the sidelines of protest marches through the ages. Just this morning you noted the absence of a loved one by breathlessly gasping “He’s gone!” and “Isn’t that dumb?” would be an appropriate thing to say in nearly a half dozen possible scenarios, which is why you’ve said it. Such exclamations reveal how thoroughly the Monkees influence has crept into each and every life of every man, woman, child, and prairie chicken on Earth.
“Ray” is Bob Rafelson. “Bert” is Bert Schneider. Raybert is their production company, and its flagship product was “The Monkees”. Rafelson and Schneider actually set out to make feature films, but their love for The Beatles’ films (see B) inspired them to create a small screen equivalent. Rafelson had already had some TV experience as a story editor on Play of the Week, writer of episodes of The Witness and The Greatest Show on Earth, and producer of Channing, and had been ruminating on a concept for a pop music sitcom since the fifties. Schneider was on staff at Columbia’s TV division, Screen Gems, which also had a rich line to the music world, particularly the Brill Building base that housed such smash songwriting teams as Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (see H), Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jeff Barry, and Andy Kim among others who would compose Monkees tunes.
Even as The Monkees took television hostage, Rafelson and Schneider still intended to ride that success into cinemas. Unfortunately, their first feature production, Head starring The Monkees and co-written and directed by Rafelson, was a flop of monumental proportions. Their follow up, Easy Rider (which they hoped to promote as “From the Guys who Gave You Head” before realizing the joke would fall flat since no one actually saw Head), was not. Following that film’s success, Rafelson and Schneider welcomed Screen Gems producer Steve Blauner, who’d worked closely with The Monkees, into the fold, and Raybert became BBS Productions.
Of course, Rafelson and Schneider would not be best known for Five Easy Pieces or The Last Picture Show. They would always be known as the guys who created one of the hugest and longest-lasting pop sensations of the sixties. Not that Bob and Bert always had an easy relationship with that legacy or the guys. Schneider was unable to comprehend why his partner would want to make a feature film starring The Monkees. Peter Tork has enduring bitter feelings about Rafelson, which resurfaced when the Criterion Collection released a BBS box set in 2010 and public discussion turned to Head, which Peter criticized as a product of Rafelson’s cynicism.Jack Nicholson claimed that Rafelson specifically set out to end The Monkees with Head.
Yet the movie is largely sympathetic to The Monkees’ plight, showing that they were a killer live band in spite of accusations that they couldn’t play their own instruments (see I) and the unfairness of the series’ depiction of Peter as “the dummy.” Fifty years down the road, Head stands as a surprisingly humane—and audaciously inventive—portrait of Monkeemania. With the end of BBS’s seventies success, Rafelson and Schneider both backed off of film considerably. Bert Schneider died at the age of 78 in 2011. According to Andrew Sandoval, Schneider professed his love for the group and project he co-created shortly before his death.
Contrary to his actual intelligence, Peter played the dummy on The Monkees. At least he wasn’t an actual dummy. That distinction belongs to the official fifth Monkee. Taking residence with Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter in their Malibu beach pad was one Mr. Schneider. Ever-grinning, ever-bespectacled Mr. Schneider was the one member of the household who always kept a stiff upper lip. He never fretted about getting a gig. He never worried about the rent. He could even be counted on to dispense a word of wisdom here or there (“It’s a shame to waste youth on children!” “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all!”) as voiced by regular series director Jim Frawley, who was still playing with puppets years later as the director of The Muppet Movie (though, in a disturbing turn of events the defies logic and nature, Davy voices Schneider while Schneider is having a conversation with Davy in “I Was a 99 lb Weakling”).
Mr. Schneider’s wise and calming presence was supposedly a substitute for the manager character who didn’t sit well with test audiences (see C). Despite Mr. Schneider’s multitudinous admirable qualities, one must wonder how Bert Schneider (see R) felt about being the namesake of a big lump of wood. And despite being the only guy in the pad who was working, you could not count on Mr. Schneider to cough up a lousy buck-eighty to pay for an important telegram. Nobody’s perfect.
Considering all the guff The Monkees got for not being a “real” band, you’d think they’d get some credit for putting their careers in jeopardy by demanding they be allowed to become a real band that played on their own records (see K). Sadly, this was not really the case… at least not until more recent reevaluation of the band’s worth.
That initial backlash was actually unfair from the get go, since The Monkees played as a live band from almost the very beginning of the project’s existence. Less than three months after The Monkees debuted, The Monkees were on tour across the U.S. as players of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and maracas (see I). They walloped audiences with pure Monkee performances of hits such as “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer”, and “Steppin’ Stone”, LP cuts such as “Mary Mary”, “I Wanna Be Free”, and “Sweet Young Thing”, and oddities such as “She’s So Far Out She’s In”, “If I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate”, and “Prithee” (see O). They may not have been the most polished band in the world, but they had plenty of garage band spirit. The Candy Store Profits (see H) provided a bit of professional polish as the backing band during solo spots in which Peter played wicked banjo on “Cripple Creek”, Mike freaked out on the maracas while howling Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover”, Davy did his Broadway thing on “Gonna Build Me a Mountain”, and Micky did his epic James Brown impersonation while shrieking Ray Charles’s “I Got a Woman”. Key moments from the tour were incorporated into Bob Rafelson’s documentary-like “Monkees on Tour”, one of the most compelling and unique episodes of The Monkees.
After completing their most complete artistic statement, Headquarters, The Monkees were back on tour with better material and more confidence than ever. Infamously, Jimi Hendrix opened for several shows on the tour before storming off in frustration over a teenybopper audience not quite ready for his Stratocaster humping. As for The Monkees’ portion of the tour, some of it would be captured on the first official live Monkees album released twenty years after the fact: Live 1967.
In the fall of 1968, The Monkees would traverse other corners of the world, visiting Australia and Japan with more recent material such as “Salesman”, “Daydream Believer”, “D.W. Washburn”, and “Cuddly Toy” in the set list. This would be their final tour with the now bearded Peter Tork, but not their final one of the sixties. In 1969, Mike, Micky, and Davy resumed as the front men of Sam & The Goodtimers, a lounge R&B band who backed them on an extensive tour from March through December. Critics were baffled by the combination of Monkees pop and Goodtimers soul. They apparently hadn’t been paying close attention to a band that often traveled an unconventional road. Don’t even get me started on the 1987 tour with Weird Al.
1986 was the year The Monkees returned with a vengeance, commandeering MTV (see P), the charts (see “That Was Then This Now”), and the stage as if it was 1967 all over again (assuming everyone wore mullets and played keytars in 1967). With so much cash-making potential, one probably can’t really blame Columbia Pictures Television for trying to slip an updated version of The Monkees past fans new and old. The big surprise was that New Monkees was a smashing success, the series’ wacky comedy and wonderful music becoming as beloved by critics as the stars were by second generation Monkeemaniacs, who unanimously agreed that Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter couldn’t lick the boots of new idols Jared, Dino, Marty, and Larry.
Wait a minute. No… that’s wrong. Actually, New Monkees was a colossal failure, croaking after just thirteen episodes (22 had been planned for season one). Its accompanying album sold about three copies. But everyone loved The Monkees in ’87. What the hell went wrong? Well, first of all, there were no actual Monkees in New Monkees. The Powers That Be seemed to underestimate the fact that wacky adventures were just a small part of why everyone had become so re-enamored with the original Monkees. We loved the guys—the real guys. Bringing the original foursome together was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment for Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, and it was a bit presumptuous to assume that kind of thing could be done twice, even if old Raybert partner Steve Blauner (see R) helped produce the new project.
I personally think another factor in the failure of The New Monkees was the fact that for many of us The Old Monkees were a welcome antidote to the off-putting synthetic atmosphere of eighties pop. After being force fed a steady diet of Starship, White Snake, Bon Jovi, Debbie Gibson, and Phil Collins’s Genesis, those old, organic productions by Mike Nesmith, Boyce & Hart, Chip Douglas, and the rest sounded wonderfully, invitingly real… a delightful irony considering The Monkees’ reputation for being ersatz. Instead of trying to tap into that sound, The New Monkees sounded as synthetic and contrived as Mr. Mister. After suffering through the pilot episode and failing to feel that old Monkee magic, we tuned out, put Headquarters on the turntable, flicked on the VHS copies of “Mijacogeo” we taped off Nick-at-Nite, and never looked back.
As we have seen, The Monkees was pretty short on regular players aside from Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter. Sure there was Henry Corden as Mr. Babbitt (see C). There was Monte Landis in a variety of nefarious roles (see M). There was Mr. Schneider (see S). And there was…ummm…that girl. You know the one. Pretty. Blonde. A little drowsy eyed. Groovy dancer. Maybe she was falling in love with Davy by getting those cartoon stars in her eyes. Maybe she was unconvincingly tapping sticks across a drum set behind The Westminster Abbeys. She might come sauntering by after Wolf Man Micky wolf whistled in “The Monstrous Monkee Mash”. Or she might invite the whole gang at the Vincent Van Gogh Gogh to a party at The Monkees’ pad. However, she rarely had a line… well, at least aside from the “Monkees A La Mode” episode in which she enjoyed her one prominent part as fashion journalist Toby Willis, the only episode where we could check the credits for her name. And there it is! Valerie Kairys!
Valerie Kairys has come to be known as the “Monkees Girl” because of her starring role in “A La Mode” and her appearances as an extra in fourteen other episodes and Head. She’d been doing such background work since the 1964 Hank Williams bio-pic Your Cheatin’ Heart. She was also a stand-in for Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie and Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched. Bert Schneider actually hired her to do that very job as Davy’s stand in, though the union took issue with a woman standing in for a man. As a pretty slick consolation prize, she got to actually appear on camera, making such an impression on viewers that her reputation remains tied to The Monkees, though she also appeared in another very sweet item: the “Sandman Cometh”/ “Catwoman Goeth” arc that gets my vote for best Batman episodes.
Kairys has another interesting Monkees connection: she was married to the late Nik Venet, who produced Mike Nesmith’s song “Different Drum” for The Stone Poneys and was the brother of Steve Venet, who co-wrote “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” with Tommy Boyce (see H). More apocryphally, some have speculated that she inspired Boyce & Hart to write the band’s final top-ten hit, “Valleri”. Even if that songwriting duo wasn’t actually smitten enough with the extra to dedicate a song to her, there’s no doubt that one guy was totally taken with Ms. Kairys: Peter Tork confessed to having a huge crush on her during his commentaries on Rhino’s old Monkees DVDs. Kairys, herself, got a chance to do the same when she contributed new commentary tracks to “Monkees A La Mode” and “Some Like It Luke Warm” on the latest blu-ray box set. In 2012, she appeared in “Breaking Bread”, a pro-frodis short for Funny or Die.com co-starring fellow Monkees serial-extra Roxanne Albee.
Keith Moon had his target shirt. Freddie Mercury had his diamond-print unitard. Ian Anderson had his codpiece. And Michael Nesmith had his wool hat. Perhaps the most iconic garment in pop history, Mike’s hat has a special history all its own. It all started when he came galumphing into his audition with a sack of laundry over one shoulder and a wool hat upon his pate. By Davy’s estimation, it made the intellectual Monkee look like some sort of mountain man. But we all have to wash our clothes and we all have to keep our heads warm, so cut Papa Nes some slack, Davy!
Nesmith’s green hat so enchanted Bob and Bert that they actually considered naming his character “Wool Hat” in a move that would have been even dumber than shortening the name Thorkleson to one that rhymes with “dork.” Nes put his foot down about adopting that idiotic moniker, although he did briefly use it as alias in the premier episode “The Royal Flush”. In the pilot episode, he is saddled with the silly screen name both when being himself in his anarchic interview with Rafelson and when in character, as Bing Russell’s manager edited from the episode (see C) calls him “Wool Hat” (Mike is not the only Monkee with identity issues in the unaired version of “Here Come The Monkees”; Dolenz is credited as “Micky Braddock”, the screen name he used as a child when starring in his first TV series, Circus Boy). Nevertheless, Mike did continue to wear a pom-pommed dome-cover throughout nearly every episode of season one and often on stage during The Monkees’ tours of ’66 and ’67 (see T). Interestingly, the only album covers that depict him in his signature cap are the eponymous debut and Bernard Yezsin’s illustration on the cover of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD.
Mike was not as crazy about his hat as his fans were, so he surely made himself and one young woman very happy indeed when he pulled the original off his head and chucked it to her during a show at Cleveland’s Public Hall on January 15, 1967 (contradicting rumors that he’d had the hat cast in bronze!). Nes couldn’t be rid of the damn thing so easily, and he would soon be seen in a fresh hat of blue (unveiled in “Monkee Mother”, the first episode shot after the Public Hall gig) or a new green one bedazzled with four buttons in mimicry of the band’s almost-as-iconic double-breasted shirts (first worn in “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”). Mike’s hat remains a cultural force to this day, and you can be sure that any blog article about The Monkees includes the comment “That’s not even Michael Nesmith’s real hat!” posted by some joker who mistakes the ability to quote The Simpsons for possessing original wit. Joke’s on you, because it is his real hat.
Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter had all tried to go the solo performer route before their days as Monkees. As each one departed, all four ex-Monkees attempted to continue their extra-Monkee musical careers with varying levels of success.
In late 1968, Peter was the first to go, and he quickly put together a new group called Peter Tork And/Or Release with bassist Riley Cummings (formerly of a group called The Gentle Soul) and drummer Reine Stewart (who’d played on the 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee sessions and later become Mrs. Tork). The band never managed to go anywhere, nor did a six-song demo Peter recorded for Sire in 1980 featuring versions of “Shades of Gray” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. Tork’s most enduring post-Monkees project was a rock and blues band called Shoe Suede Blues, which began in the mid-eighties and exists to this day. He also managed to slip out a proper solo album called Stranger Things Have Happened (featuring contributions from Dolenz and Nesmith) in 1994. Despite synth-based arrangements that make it sound like it was recorded a decade earlier than it was, there is some fine material on the record, such as the title track and a much better version of “Getting’ In” than the one on Pool It!
Mike Nesmith left next in late 1969, and without question, he enjoyed the most satisfying musical career after The Monkees. His first album, Magnetic South recorded with his First National Band, was an ingenious extension of his 1968 Nashville sessions for The Monkees, using Sgt. Pepper’s-style musical gimmicks (non-musical sound effects, segues, etc.) in a pure-country setting. The album also produced a bona fide top-twenty-one hit called “Joanne” featuring Nes’s previously unheard yodeling skills (so does the ass-kicking album cut “Mama Nantucket”). Nes followed his debut with the similar though still very good Loose Salute before mixing things up more with eclectic albums such as the intimate And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ (featuring his solo rendition of “Different Drum) and the groundbreaking, award-winning, synth-pop video album Elephant Parts on his own Pacific Arts label. In 1994, Pacific Arts morphed into Rio Records (named after the biggest hit on Elephant Parts) and Nes released another four albums on Rio over the next twenty years.
Although he was the voice of more Monkees hits than anyone else, Micky Dolenz seemed less interested in a solo career than his former band mates. In the seventies he recorded a number of singles for MGM (recently compiled for the first time by +180 Records). Not until the nineties did Micky start taking his solo career at least a little more seriously when he cut the lullaby disc Micky Dolenz Puts You to Sleep (bookended by new versions of the Monkees classics “Pillow Time” and “Porpoise Song”) and an album of standards (“The Neverending Story” is a standard? Awesome!) called Broadway Micky for Kid Rhino. More recent releases include the Carole King tribute King for a Day (featuring Dolenz fave “Sometime in the Morning”) and the Monkees-classic-loaded live disc A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock & Roll.
As the face of The Monkees, Davy seemed most primed for solo success. However, his 1971 eponymous album for Bell Records couldn’t even crawl into the top two hundred. Its very Monkees-like single “Rainy Jane” just missed the top fifty. Not even an appearance on The Brady Bunch to promote “Girl” could rescue a solo career hampered by a contract that largely shut Davy out of the creative process. The holiday themed Christmas Jones faired no better, and Davy was left embittered by his time with the label that would become Arista (see D). He didn’t take a crack at the solo scene again until 1986’s Incredible Revisited, which was probably intended to take advantage of the revived interest in The Monkees but was ultimately flattened by Davy’s commitments to that band (see P). Davy managed to put out two more studio discs—2001’s Just Me and 2009’s She—as well as several live ones before his death in 2012.
OK, so now that we’re nearing the end of The Monkees A to Z and we’ve successfully refuted the notion that The Monkees didn’t play on their own records, I think we can acknowledge some of the other cats who did. Because as able-bodied as The Monkees were, they always relied on outside help when making their music. These musicians included a crowd of LA pros such as Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, “Fast” Eddie Hoh, Louie Shelton, Paul Beaver, James Burton, Jim Gordon, Tommy Tedesco, and so many more. The Monkees also got a hand from folks who were pop stars in their own rights, such as Glen Campbell (who ripped out those killer blues riffs on “Mary Mary”), Raider Keith Allison (who co-wrote the divine “Auntie’s Municipal Court” with Nes), Harry Nilsson (who also wrote two beloved Davy-sung numbers: “Cuddly Toy” and “Daddy’s Song”), and of course, Turtle Chip Douglas, who famously ditched that band as soon as they had their biggest hit to produce and play bass with The Monkees. Peter Tork’s pals in Buffalo Springfield (who he’d introduced as his favorite band at the Monterey Pop Festival) were also known to show up at sessions. Stephen Stills—who had to pass along his potential Monkees position to buddy and doppleganger Peter when Bob and Burt rejected him because of his bad teeth and hair—can be heard on the outtakes (see O) “Come on In” and “Lady’s Baby” and the intense “Long Title” from Head. That soundtrack also pounds with the rhythms of Springfielder Dewey Martin, who drums on “Long Title” and “Can You Dig It?” If there is any question about The Monkees’ hip credibility at this point (there isn’t, is there?), all one needs to know is that none other than Neil Young played the lilting lines on “As We Go Along” and the lacerating ones on “You and I”.
Still doubting The Monkees’ hipness? Still think they were a bunch of bubble-gum peddling, manufactured, no talent, not-worthy-of-the-Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame puppets? Well, then you are an asshole… and quite possibly, an asshole named Jann Wenner.
So, assuming you are such an asshole (I’m kidding…you’re not an asshole! I love you!), I offer one final argument: Frank Zappa loved The Monkees. Yes, kids, the guy who was known for mercilessly lampooning pop commercialism and championing freedom of expression thought The Monkees were A-OK. As I’m sure you’ll recall, when The Monkees were allowed to invite their personal favorite talents to appear on the final few episodes (Micky selected Tim Buckley and Davy chose future The Wiz composer Charlie Smalls), Mike Nesmith dragged in the leader of The Mothers of Invention to swap personalities, facial hair, and outfits (see W). This teaser for “The Monkees Blow Their Minds” ended up as one of the series’ most anarchic moments, as Frank “played” a car by smashing it with a sledgehammer while Mike conducted.
But was Frank Zappa done with The Monkees? Did their cancellation and fall from public favor cause him to distance himself from his former pop associates? Nope, because there he was again, towing a bull in Head and instructing Davy that it was the cute one’s duty to lead the way for the youth of today. Did it end there? Nope again. In fact, Zappa even asked Micky to join the Mothers of Invention as drummer. Accepting his own limitations on the instrument—and the fact that he was still under contract with The Monkees— Dolenz declined despite being flattered that such a respected musician and composer thought so highly of his abilities. He’s not the only one, Micky! Much love to you and the rest of The Monkees on this momentous day!
Further Monkees Reading on Psychobabble:
Not Bad for a Long-Haired Weirdo: The Monkees and Radical Television
Revolution Rock: The Monkees Take Control with ‘Headquarters’
Cult Club: 'Head'
21 Underrated Songs by The Monkees You Need to Hear Now!
The Monkees Meet the Monsters
Further Monkees Reading on Psychobabble:
Not Bad for a Long-Haired Weirdo: The Monkees and Radical Television
Revolution Rock: The Monkees Take Control with ‘Headquarters’
Cult Club: 'Head'
21 Underrated Songs by The Monkees You Need to Hear Now!
The Monkees Meet the Monsters