Monkees – Last Train To Clarksville

When I first heard this song as an eight-year-old in 1975 I thought wow…The Monkees are singing about Clarksville Tennessee…right up the road from me! Well no they were not but ignorance is bliss. It ended up fitting Clarksville TN very well because Bobby Hart (co-writer) said the song was written as a protest song against Vietnam but they had to hide that because it was The Monkees.

The song is about a guy who gets drafted and goes to fight in the war. The train is taking him to an army base, and he knows he may die in Vietnam. At the end of the song, he states, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

Bobby Hart said: “We were just looking for a name that sounded good. There’s a little town in Northern Arizona I used to go through in the summer on the way to Oak Creek Canyon called Clarksdale. We were throwing out names, and when we got to Clarksdale, we thought Clarksville sounded even better. We didn’t know it at the time, [but] there is an Air Force base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee – which would have fit the bill fine for the storyline. We couldn’t be too direct with The Monkees. We couldn’t really make a protest song out of it – we kind of snuck it in.”

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a songwriting team came up with many songs for The Monkees. They also wrote songs for Chubby Checker and Jay & the Americans.

The only Monkee to appear on this was Mickey Dolenz singing the lead vocal. The Monkees would get beat down by the music press because they didn’t play their own instruments. Some bands like the Beach Boys used the same session musicians. Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were good musicians who played long before the Monkees. Later on, they DID play their own instruments starting with their 3rd album Headquarters and still had hits. As far as Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame…they should be inside the Hall. The Monkees influenced many young kids through more than just one generation.

Last Train To Clarksville peaked at #1 on the Billboard 100 in 1966. They followed this up with another number 1 with I’m A Believer.

 

 

From Songfacts

Bobby Hart got the idea for the lyrics when he turned on the radio and heard the end of The Beatles “Paperback Writer.” He thought Paul McCartney was singing “Take the last train,” and decided to use the line when he found out McCartney was actually singing “Paperback Writer.” Hart knew that The Monkees TV series was pitched as a music/comedy series in the spirit of The Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night, so he knew emulating The Beatles would be a winner. To do that, he made sure to put a distinctive guitar riff in this song, and wrote in the “Oh No-No-No, Oh No-No-No” lyrics as a response to the Beatles famous “Yeah Yeah Yeah.”

The only Monkee to appear on this song was Micky Dolenz, who sang lead. The four members of the group were chosen from over 400 applicants to appear on a TV show based on The Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night. The show was about a fictional band, so the members were chosen more for their looks and acting ability than for their musical talent.

Session musicians played on the Monkees albums, usually some combination of Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, James Burton, David Gates, Carol Kaye, Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine. According to the liner notes on the 1994 reissue of the album, however, members of a group called the Candy Store Prophets did the instrumental backing on this track at a session that took place July 25, 1966 at RCA Victor Studios in Hollywood. The Candy Store Prophets were Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s band, and included Boyce on acoustic guitar, Gerry McGee on electric guitar, Larry Taylor on bass and Billy Lewis on drums. Additional musicians on this track were Wayne Erwin and Louie Shelton on guitar, and Gene Estes on percussion.

Often reported as having played guitar on this track is Jesse Ed Davis, a Native American whose accomplishment included backing George Harrison at the Concert for Bangla Desh and playing the solo on Jackson Browne’s first hit, “Doctor My Eyes.”

This was The Monkees’ first single. It was released shortly after their TV show started on NBC and got a lot of publicity as a result. The Monkees followed it up with another hit, “I’m A Believer,” and had several more chart entries before their show was canceled in 1968. Eventually, the group wrote their own songs and played their own instruments.

When this song was released as a single, it went straight to #1, knocking “96 Tears” by ? & the Mysterians down to #2.

The Monkees took a lot of heat when they became successful recording artists without playing on their songs. Their drummer Micky Dolenz explained in The Wrecking Crew film: “I think there was a lot of resentment in the recording industry that we’d come out of nowhere, left field, and sort of just shot right to the top without having to kind of go through the ropes. The music industry back then was pretty crooked, and some people say even to this day. And I didn’t know at the time anything about the business end of it, but all of the sudden, the radio stations, the rack jobbers, the distributors, all these people that had a lot of power at that time – all of the sudden, they had to start playing the Monkees songs; they had to start racking them, they had to start distributing them. They had no choice. It was just so huge because of the television show. And that’s the first time anything like that had ever happened. And I think that probably created a lot of resentment.”

There is a certain lyrical dissonance in this song, as the upbeat music is contrasted with lyrics about being shipped off to war. Carol Kaye, who played bass on the session, told Songfacts, “The tempo of the tune was a good tempo. And that’s the main thing is to keep that tempo going. Back in the ’60s, you’re playing for people who dance. And if the tempo is 1-2-3-4, that’s a dance tempo. So you’re going to keep the tempo up, that’s important. So no, the mood of the song is not critical if the tempo is high, if the tempo is fast. If it’s slow, yeah, it’s kind of critical, and it depends upon how much is happening in the tune, too.”

One of the key elements of the song came out of sheer exhaustion. Micky Dolenz explains: “We were working 24/7. Normally, you do a TV series – eight, 10 hours a day – and go home. But after filming the show, I would go into the studio and sometimes record two or three lead vocals a night. So, it’s all a bit of a blur. That middle bit, there were words to that. Bobby Hart tells the story that I said, ‘It’s midnight, I have to be on the set at six. I can’t learn to sing that.’ He said, ‘Okay, just go ‘Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo…’ You never know, if I’d sang all those words, it might not have worked.”

Last Train To Clarksville

Take the last train to Clarksville
And I’ll meet you at the station
You can be there by four-thirty
‘Cause I’ve made your reservation, don’t be slow
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no

‘Cause I’m leaving in the morning
And I must see you again
We’ll have one more night together
Till the morning brings my train and I must go
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no

And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home

Take the last train to Clarksville
I’ll be waiting at the station
We’ll have time for coffee-flavored kisses
And a bit of conversation
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no

Take the last train to Clarksville
Now I must hang up the phone
I can’t hear you in this noisy railroad station all alone
I’m feeling low
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no

And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home

Oh

Take the last train to Clarksville
And I’ll meet you at the station
You can be here by four-thirty
‘Cause I’ve made your reservation, don’t be slow
Oh, no, no, no
Oh, no, no, no

And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home
Take the last train to Clarksville
Take the last train to Clarksville
Take the last train to Clarksville
Take the last train to Clarksville

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

30 thoughts on “Monkees – Last Train To Clarksville”

    1. I would have NEVER thought that. I just found out yesterday. I grew up thinking it was about Clarksville Tn…someone told me no it was about a Clarksville in England but no it was Clarksdale.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh…Clarksville has a big Army base…the 101st Airborne…Fort Campbell… so the guy in the song could be coming into Clarksville getting ready to go to Vietnam

        Like

      2. Yea…I’m so accustomed to it that it doesn’t register that everyone else doesn’t know it. I live maybe 20-30 minutes from it. I live halfway between Nashville and Clarksville.

        Like

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