The Monkees, a made-for-TV rock group created for a sitcom, became one of the most adored bands of the 60s. From a casual beginning to somewhat of a musical phenomenon, the four band members played together, on and off, for over 50 years.
But the story of The Monkees is one of turbulence and strain. It wasn’t all fun and games as their show led people to believe.
Today, we’re looking into what went right and wrong with The Monkees experiment.
About The Monkees
It was the late 60s. Rock and roll had been around since the early 50s. Thousands of young Americans were trying to become the next band to hit the big time. And producer Bob Rafelson wanted to make a tv show about it.
But before The Beatles, TV companies treated his script like the plague. That all changed after the 1964 Beatles movie, A Hard Days Night. The film showed The Beatles’ adventures and antics leading up to a TV gig. And the world loved it.
In 1965 Rafelson and Columbia Pictures held open auditions for their up-and-coming TV sitcom, The Monkees. The winners were Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork. Jones and Dolenz primarily sang, while Nesmith and Tork played guitar, keyboards, and bass. The show centered around their rock band shenanigans in America.
The quick success of the first season in 1966 catapulted this fabricated four into one of the most popular bands of the 60s. But they didn’t perform on most of their own recordings.
Instead, the producers got popular songwriters like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to make the songs. In addition, they hired session musicians to play all instruments. Consequently, the only thing any Monkee member was allowed to do on the recording was sing.
This caused a tremendous amount of tension. The band wanted a shot at playing the instruments themselves. And although the bosses let Dolenz, for example, play guitar occasionally, all of the restrictions led to an unhealthy work environment.
Although Columbia Pictures ended The Monkees TV show after season two, the band played on. They released nine albums before calling it quits in 1971. Although they endured many ups and downs, The Monkees remain legendary to this day.
The Monkees’ Best-Known Songs
The Monkees had over twelve hit singles during their short four-year career. Although they worked on and off together until recently, our list focuses on three of their greatest 60s tunes.
I’m a Believer
This poppy love song makes you feel as if you’re dancing in a park somewhere in London or San Francisco in the 60s. It’s filled with the groovy sounds of the organ and electric piano. Sadly, producer Jeff Barry banned The Monkees from contributing anything but vocals.
The good news is that I’m a Believer hit #1 on the 1966 Billboard charts and stayed there for seven weeks. And it was certified as gold within two days. So even though Neil Diamond wrote it, and session musicians played it, all parties involved reaped great benefits.
If you need to hear something that’ll make you believe in love again, this is the song for you.
Last Train to Clarksville
As with I’m A Believer, Dolenz sang lead on Last Train to Clarksville. And members of The Wrecking Crew played the instruments. Even though many artists sang vocals backed by session musicians in those days, The Monkees were ridiculed for it. Maybe no one would’ve cared if they weren’t visible on TV.
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote the lyrics in protest of the Vietnam War. The song is about a man pleading for his girlfriend to spend one last day with him before heading to war. But the words are subtle. And the lyrics, “I don’t know if I’m ever comin’ home,” in this case, means he may not come back alive.
Last Train to Clarksville put The Monkees on the map by charting worldwide shortly after its 1966 release.
The handsome Davy Jones took the lead on the 1967 hit Daydream Believer. He was the English Monkee who most resembled The Beatles. So the girls swooned when hearing him serenade them with this song.
Songwriter John Stewart penned Daydream Believer as an ode to suburban life. The lyrics are simple and playful. A happy piano melody accompanies Jones’ sweet voice. And the single sat at #1 for four weeks in a row. Unfortunately, it was The Monkees’ last hit before they broke up.
When Did The Monkees Reunite?
The Monkees reunited several times over twenty-five years. The first time came when MTV aired a Monkees marathon in 1986. The reruns were so popular that the band booked a 100-date world tour.
Jones, Tork, and Dolenz were on the 1986 tour, with Nesmith joining only for one date. And when it came time to reunite again in 2001, Tork left early due to band tension. Luckily, however, their third reunion in 2011 went surprisingly well. Fate would have it that Davy Jones died of a heart attack the following year.
Interestingly, the result of these Monkees reunions did produce three new albums. The best of which was Good Times!, released in 2016. Featuring old and new songs, the three remaining Monkees brought back the original sound with a new spirit. Guest songwriters include Noel Gallagher and Andy Partridge.
Is There a Documentary About The Monkees?
No, but there was a made-for-TV movie. The biopic Daydream Believers: The Monkees’ Story originally aired on U.S. television in 2000. It eventually reached Germany in 2001 and was available on DVD by 2002. The film centers around the core story of four guys who wanted to be taken seriously as musicians instead of mere television personalities.
Unfortunately, Daydream Believers got poor reviews. Critics gave the actors kudos for doing their best with a flat script and mediocre direction. And there’s even a funny scene where Jack Nicholson shares a play he wrote while working at The Overlook Hotel. But the humor isn’t enough to save the film.
Four Great Daydream Believers
The Monkees were a 60s television experiment that brought fame to four unknowns. The TV show led to chart-topping hits, tours, and worldwide admirers. In fact, generations were raised on The Monkees thanks to their 80s rerun explosion.
And despite loads of band drama and struggles to be taken seriously, their legacy remains strong. Cheer up, sleepy Jean, and listen to The Monkees if you ever feel down.
Are you a fan of The Monkees? Let us know in the comments below.