The Phenomenal Monkees
The four very talented young gentlemen who came together to form The Monkees where put together just to create a TV show. What resulted was a strong friendship between the guys and they showed that they were very talented not only musically but also with creative acting. The four guys were Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith. They showed everyone that they could sing and wound up creating a musical style that became known as their very own. When you heard one of their songs there was no doubt that the group playing was The Monkees.
They achieved what perhaps another band might not have achieved. Instead of just being a fictitious rock band trying to make it big on TV they became a real American rock band and gained many loyal fans and became heartthrobs to lots of teenage girls as well. Once their TV show ended in 1968 they continued to play and record until 1971. They also began touring once more when their TV show gained new recognition in 1986 and started recording again. It was unfortunate when Davy Jones suddenly died on February 29, 2012 but the surviving member reunited for a tour in November – December 2012 and once again in 2013 for a tour lasting 24 days. All together The Monkees have sold over 75 million records all over the world and among their international hits are great songs like “Daydream Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. What is truly amazing is that at their peak which was in 1967 The Monkees outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. They were truly the phenomenal Monkees so let’s take a look at the guys and the band.
It all started when their first single was released in August of 1966. It was “Last Train to Clarksville” with “Take a Giant Step on the flip side and The Monkees debut album came along a month afterwards winding up at number one on the Billboard charts for a total of 78 weeks. When these talented guys started getting together for reunions their first album hit the charts again this time for 24 additional weeks. The album also included the song “Papa Gene’s Blues” which showed Mike Nesmith talent for composing country-rock with a bit of Latin flair. When it came to playing instruments Nesmith was a guitarist and bassist and Tork could play several stringed and keyboard instruments so they were ready to show off their amazing talents. Dolenz also knew how to play the guitar but since a drummer was needed he was chosen to learn how to play the instrument. So their line-up was Jones as a singer and percussionist, Dolenz on drums, Nesmith on guitar and Tork on bass. It is interesting to note that for the video of the song “Words” Jones is seen on the drums with Tork playing lead guitar, Nesmith on bass and Dolenz as lead singer. At other times Dolenz would also play rhythm guitar onstage.
Soon The Monkees were giving live performances and their very first one was in Hawaii in December 1966. Sometimes the live performances they gave on the weekends were filmed and used on their TV show. The guys just had no time to practice and spent filming the show all day and then recording at night. Their second album More of the Monkees was very well received due to the success of their single “I’m a Believer” with “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” on the flip side.
Once again the album hit number one on the Billboard charts when the album first came out and again in 1986 with renewed interest in The Monkees for an additional 26 weeks. Most of their songs were written by songwriters Boyce and Hart. Their music coordinator Kirshner felt that these songwriters weren’t moving The Monkees in the direction he wished them to go so he made the choice to move the production over to the east to New York where he had writers and producers he trusted. Unfortunately the guys were being forced to make music which they were not always happy with. Finally some four months after their debut single had come out on January 16, 1967 The Monkees had their first full recording session as a fully functioning music group. At this time they recorded Nesmith’s composition which became a top 40 hit “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere”.
Here is video of a concert The Monkees gave in 2014 singing this same song and personally I really sadly feel the emptiness that Davy Jones has left.
Along came their album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. and this particular album would become the soundtrack for the second season of their TV show. It also brought along their third single “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”.
This video is from their TV show and that gentleman with the silver hair is none other than at one time popular rock singer Bobby Sherman.
Before this s their album Headquarters came out in May 1967. This album did not include any previously released singles. It would remain at number one on the charts until The Beatles released their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. This album included a composition by Dolenze “Randy Scouse Git” and Tork’s composition “For Pete’s Sake” would be used as the closing theme for their TV show.
Other noteworthy songs on the album included Nesmith’s “You Just May Be the One”, “Shades of Gray” with the piano intro composed by Tork, “Forget That Girl” and “No Time”. However with time The Monkees would disagree on musical styles and Dolenz, who was not an avid drummer would not play the drums on their future recordings. By their fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The Monkees were fully in charge of their music and the songs that they chose to sing. This album included “Pleasant Valley Sunday” with “Words” on the flip side. The album also had two Nesmith songs “Daily Nightly” and “Star Collector”. Another song that was featured on this album was “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” and is considered to be a landmark song when it comes to fusing together country and rock.
Their next single was “Daydream Believer” which I have always considered to be a perfect song for Jones. The piano intro was written by Tork and it rose to number one on the charts. After The Monkees 1986 reunion both albums Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. returned to the charts for 17 weeks.
Similar to The Beatles, The Monkees also had a period which was referred to as their “White Album” Period. Dolenz sang pop songs like “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” and doubled up with Nesmith on vocal on the song “Auntie’s Municipal Court”. Jones sang ballads such as “Daydream Believer” and “We Were Made for Each Other”. Nesmith came in with some experimental songs such as “Writing Wrongs” and “Tapioca Tundra”. There was also “Magnolia Simms” with special effects to make it sound like an old record playing. Into this mixture came another popular song “Valleri” and the result was their album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. The album straight away rose up to number three on the Billboard charts after its release in April 1968. This album came out after the announcement had already been made that NBC would not renew The Monkees TV show. This was their last album to come out in separate, dedicated mono and stereo mixes but again once the 1986 reunion happened the album returned to the charts for another 11 weeks.
Worth mentioning is that after their show was cancelled The Monkees became movie stars. They appeared on the silver screen in the feature film “Head”. The film had a lot of silly cameo appearances by such actresses as Annette Funicello and Terri Garr and an appearance by musician Frank Zappa. It was filmed at Columbia Picture Screen Gems studios and on location in California, Utah and The Bahamas. It premiered in New York City on November 6, 1968 with a debut in Hollywood on November 20th. Since the film followed the pattern on The Monkees TV show it was not very successful. Advertising was also poor but an album of the songs was released. A single from the album, “The Porpoise Song” a psychedelic pop song with lead vocals by Dolenz and Jones just barely made it to the charts at number 62. The soundtrack album Head made it to number 45. Over the years the film developed a cult following.
The Monkees were and are truly phenomenal. Now with the death of Davy Jones the three of them Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith continue to tour and spread their magic. Jones has been made immortal in all of the great song videos and The Monkees TV show episodes. In remembrance of Jones two versions of his song “I’ll Love You Forever”.