Synopsis of Pop Music
"Hey, hey, we're the Monkees,
And people say we monkey around,
But we're too busy singing,
to put anybody down..."
When The Monkees hit television in 1966, no one could have predicted the influence they would ultimately have on pop music. Their ability to be simultaneously successful on television and on record paved the way for later double-threat teen idols like David Cassidy, while their combination of music and film paved the way for MTV. They also proved their value as musicians by progressing from being a studio creation to a real band. In they process, they recorded plenty of classic pop hits like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “Daydream Believer.”
The Monkees were the brainchild of producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who later produced the counter-culture classic Easy Rider. Their idea was to create a Beatles-style unit of four performers who could both sing and crack jokes for a half-hour television show that would mix pop music with comedy. After auditioning over 400 contenders, they settled on two musicians (Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork) and two former child actors (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones) to create their fictional quartet. The four men threw themselves into filming the show while top pop tunesmiths wrote and recorded catchy tunes for them to sing.
The first episode of The Monkees aired on September 12th, 1966. The show’s innovative blend of sophisticated comedy and well-crafted music soon won over viewers and made the show a hit. The band also did well on the pop charts. They scored back-to-back #1 hits with “Last Train To Clarksville,” a folk-rock tune that blended poppy harmonies with jangly guitars, and “I’m A Believer,” a keyboard-driven paean to love penned by Neil Diamond. These hits were followed by the bubblegum-styled “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” a #2 smash with an infectious ”la, la, la” chorus.
By 1967, the Monkees were stars of music and television. However, they attracted controversy in the press because they didn't play their own instruments on the recordings and only wrote a few songs themselves (though Nesmith did pen the hit "Mary, Mary"). This critical carping annoyed the group, who wanted to contribute to the music, and they used the clout they earned with their success to take creative control of their music. Headquarters featured the group playing on the majority of the songs and also contributing several tunes. One of the most notable songs was Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git,” which balanced clever lyrics about swinging-era London with ragtime-styled music.
The Monkees also went on a successful U.S. tour in 1967, giving Jimi Hendrix his U.S. debut as the opening act. The group blended their developing skills with contributions from session musicians on their next album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones. The result was an album with plenty of hit songs. “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” a groovy send-up of suburbia with nice harmony vocals, became a Top-5 hit. It was also one of the first albums to feature a synthesizer (on the song “Star Collector”) and featured an early song from Harry Nilsson (“Cuddly Toy”).
The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees continued the group’s hit streak in 1968. This album also featured “Daydream Believer,” a charming, piano-driven pop tune that became a #1 hit. Their television show aired its last episode in March of 1968, but the Monkees continued to stay active on record. They also moved into the film world with a psychedelic comedy called Head. The film, based on a script written by Jack Nicholson, combined off-beat gags with psychedelic music at a machine-gun pace. This ahead-of-its-time film continues to be a favorite amongst film cultists today.
Peter Tork left the Monkees to pursue solo work at the end of 1968. The Monkees continued as a trio for another two albums, Instant Replay and The Monkees Present, before Mike Nesmith decided to pursue his own solo career. Dolenz and Jones released one last Monkees album, Changes, before splitting up in 1970. The group’s members pursued music throughout the 1970’s while The Monkees went into syndication and picked up a whole new group of fans. The continued success of the television show paved the way for later reunions.
In the late 1980’s, the Monkees’ albums were reissued and the show was given a high-profile re-screening on MTV. Both were successful and led to Dolenz, Jones and Tork reforming to record a Monkees reunion album, Pool It, and a successful tour. In fact, the second wave of Monkee-mania was so strong that it led to a new television show, The New Monkees, with four fresh young faces picking up the Monkee mantle. In 1995, all the episodes of The Monkees were issued on home video. Nesmith also returned to the group for a reunion that led to the album Justus and another tour.
Today, the Monkees are a beloved and vital part of pop culture. The frequent revivals of their television work and music prove that the Monkees were much more than a pre-fab pop group. Their songs pop up regularly on oldies radio and the group has been cited as an important influence by pop musicians as diverse as XTC and American Music Club. All the group’s members continue to perform around the country to happy fans everywhere. Their continued success proves that the Monkees truly transcended their fictional origins to become an important and well-respected pop group.
Artist Release History1966 - The Monkees
1967 - More of the Monkees
1967 - Headquarters
1967 - Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
1968 - The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees
1968 - Head
1969 - Instant Replay
1969 - The Monkees Present
1970 - Changes
1971 - A Barrel Full of Monkees
1986 - Pool It!
1987 - Live 1967
1996 - Hey Hey We're the Monkees
1996 - Justus
1996 - Concert in Japan (live)
1991 - In the Movies
1995 - The Monkees
1999 - Live at the Hotel Seville
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsThe Monkees’ Greatest Hits (Rhino)
Band MembersDavy Jones vocals, guitar
Mike Nesmith vocals,guitar
Peter Tork vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Micky Dolenz vocals, drums