The Monkees

  • Formed in 1965, in Los Angeles. The members were Mickey Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones (the only Brit in the group).
  • The band was created to support a TV show about a rock/pop 60s band. The original idea was developed in 1962, but the producers were unable to get a TV contract until 1965, after the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night was successful.
  • The producers originally wanted to cast the group The Lovin’ Spoonful as the Monkees, but existing contracts prevented that.
  • Davy Jones was signed first. Jones was a singer and actor in Broadway musicals, and had been nominated for a Tony award for his work in Oliver!  For the other 3 roles, an ad was run in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter: “Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank’s types. Have courage to work. Must come down for interview.” There were 437 applicants. Dolenz, Nesmith and Tork were chosen. All three had some skills as musicians, though they were far from legendary.
  • Producer Don Kirshner was the musical brains behind the project. He contracted with 2 writers who wrote 4 songs for the pilot, including (Theme From) The Monkees. Nesmith was allowed to produce sessions, and he allowed the others to create the Monkees sound. Jones was initially to be the lead vocalist, but they settled on Dolenz to be the primary vocalist. Nesmith played guitar, Tork played bass. There was a dilemma on who would play drums. Jones was competent enough, but the producers wanted Jones to be more visible to the audience. So, Dolenz became the drummer, even though he only previously played guitar. Jones settled into the role of frontman/percussionist. However, while the TV show portrayed this, much of the actual music was played by other musicians, with the vocals primarily provided by Dolenz and Jones.
  • In August 1966, their first single was released, Last Train to Clarksville, one month before the TV show debut. Their debut album, The Monkees, was released one month after the TV show debut. It was a huge hit – it spent 13 weeks at #1, and was on the charts for 78 weeks. During a reunion tour 20 years later, it hit the charts again for another 24 weeks.
  • The TV show was popular (it received 2 Emmy awards), but the music was even more popular, so more attention was given to development of the music. Their second album, More of the Monkees in 1967, became their biggest seller, thanks to the strength of the single I’m A Believer. It stayed at #1 for 18 weeks, and it was the third biggest selling album of the 60s.
  • The band was unhappy that the producers would not allow them to play the instruments in their recordings, which led to a separation of Kirshner from his role with the band. The band has full control of their music starting with their third album, Headquarters. They did not release any singles from this album, but it still reached #1 on the album charts. Their fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., also hit #1.
  • The Monkees are the only recording act ever to have 4 albums reach #1 over a 12 month period.
  • By 1969, Tork resigned, claiming exhaustion, and Nesmith followed in 1970 to pursue recording in a country-rock group.
  • There were occasional semi-reunions for the next 15 years. By the mid-80s, pop culture had embraced the Monkees, and MTV and Nickelodeon started showing reruns of the TV show. This created interest in reforming the band.
  • The band released 13 studio albums. Of these, 4 were released after the band reformed in 1986.
  • Jones died in 2012, at the age of 66, of a heart attack. The band’s last albums, Good Times! and Christmas Party, were released in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Good Times! reached #14 on the Billboard album chart, and it received good reviews.
  • Tork’s died of cancer in 2019, at the age of 77. Dolenz and Tork were involved in all tours dating from 1966 to 2016, with Nesmith rejoining for tours in 2012 and after. Jones was active in tours until his death. Nesmith died in 2021 of heart failure at 78 years old. Mickey still performs as a solo artist – you can be sure that he plays a few Monkees songs while performing.
  • When the Monkees first hit the music scene, they were scorned by the music snobs of the time, ridiculed as not legitimate talents. Over time, the critics have softened. Their work pioneered the music video format. Many of their songs have been covered over the years. I loved the TV show, and never worried about whether or not the songs were going to make the world a better place. Besides, it was easy to sing along with a song by the Monkees. Here’s one the best…I’m A Believer.

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