I debated on whether to write this or not. When the Monkees are mentioned some people cringe but they have a place in my 5-year-old self…plus how many bands can say that Jimi Hendrix opened up for them… though maybe the worst pairing ever.
While writing this I’m not saying they deserve to be remembered as a top rock group. Not at all but they do need to be recognized for their influence on a couple of generations. They influenced a lot of kids to form bands…mostly because of their weekly prime-time television show and ensuing hit singles. In the 80s they had a big comeback with a tour and massive airplay on MTV… I got to see them then…without Nesmith though.
When I was around 5-6 years old and watched the Monkees in syndication many years after they did the show. I loved them. I thought WOW… I must be in a band one day. Little did I know that being in a band was not living in a cool place at the beach and having adventures at every turn…not to mention everyone getting along…it doesn’t happen. They had fun songs and influenced me…After I went through the Monkees faze I discovered the Beatles, The Who, Stones, Kinks…anything British but I have a soft spot for some of the old Monkees songs.
The Monkees basically took A Hard Days Night movie humor and made a television show around a life of a mid-sixties rock band. Kids wanted to form bands after seeing them romp around the screen with girls…who wouldn’t want that gig? Michael Stipe from REM is one that states he was influenced by the Monkees.
They were not allowed to play on their first couple of albums…only sing…The Monkees were put together by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider for Screen Gems with two real musicians in the band…Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork… Micky Dolenz (he did sing in cover bands before The Monkees) and Davy Jones could sing and act…. and Mickey quickly learned drums.
When news came out that they didn’t play on their albums they were roundly criticized in the 1960s. They fought Don Kershner who controlled what they sang…. and won… The funny thing is many sixties pop bands didn’t play on their records and the Monkees actually started to play their own instruments on their third album (Headquarters) and writing some songs for every album afterward.
In the second season of their tv show they started to gain more control there also… Some of those last episodes are very pot influenced…especially the episode called “The Frodis Caper”… The episodes started to get surreal and break the fourth wall…the second season is worth a watch…all of them are fun but the 1st season is more formulaic.
HEAD The Movie…they made a trip movie called Head that Jack Nicholson helped to write… Personally, I like it but I like 60s movies like this. The one song that stands out is The Porpoise Song. The movie tears down the Monkee myth… One song/chant is the “Ditty Diego “… The first lines are “Hey, hey, we are the Monkees You know we love to please A manufactured image With no philosophies“…They didn’t take themselves seriously at all…they knew where they were at as far as a band goes. When they made the movie they knew it would destroy their image…that was the point.
I do still like some songs by them…anything wrote by Michael Nesmith (famous also for Elephant Parts), Pleasant Valley Sunday, Randy Scouse Git, Steppin Stone and Saturday’s Child.
All in all, they ended up singing and playing on some of the best-known sixties pop-rock hits….plus they drove one of those cool sixties tv cars…the Monkeemobile.