The Monkees in 1967
|Origin||Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Genres||Pop rock, bubblegum pop, psychedelic pop|
|Labels||Colgems, RCA, Bell Records Arista|
|Davy Jones (deceased)
The Monkees were an American pop-rock band. The band was created originally for a comedy television series of the same name which aired on NBC, from 1966 to 1968. The members of the group were Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz. They had hits with "Last Train to Clarksville", "I'm a Believer", and "Daydream Believer". Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were songwriters and producers who worked with the Monkees. Another writer/producer for the Monkees was Chip Douglas. Many of the songs recorded by the Monkees came from the Brill Building writers in New York City.
Four actors with musical skills were chosen, out of 437 hopefuls who auditioned for the series. Britisher Davy Jones was under contract to Columbia Pictures, had issued records, and performed on British and American television. Columbia was looking for a project for Jones, and Screen Gems, who would produce the show, was their TV division. Nesmith was from Texas, played in country and rock bands, and had published his own songs. Dolenz was a grown-up child actor from Los Angeles, California, who sang and played in cover bands. Tork had been a working folk musician in New York's Greenwich Village. Each had their own wit and personality, could entertain an audience, and could also sing.
Other young men who auditioned for the show included Stephen Stills (who showed great talent, but looked too old for a role; he referred Tork, an old friend who looked a little like him), Danny Hutton (who later found fame with Three Dog Night), Harry Nilsson (who later met the Monkees, wrote for them, and recorded with them), and Paul Williams (who had lost a role in Circus Boy to Dolenz ten years earlier; the Monkees later recorded his song "Someday Man"). Charles Manson was later rumored to have auditioned, but he was imprisoned at the time.
Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider wanted to make movies, but had little experience in that. Schneider's father was president of Columbia Pictures, and offered them the chance to make a pilot episode for a television series. If the series was sold to a network, they could produce and direct episodes, and gain experience.
Rafelson had already wanted to produce something involving musicians, and their life. When the Beatles appeared in the movies A Hard Day's Night and Help!, people enjoyed watching them onscreen, both playing out their lives and performing slapstick comedy, along with playing music. Rafelson and Schneider adapted what they saw in the Beatles movies, and also in American movies and television. While the Beatles were always shown as a popular, well-known band, their show would be about an unknown band, looking for the chance to become famous.
The pilot episode was filmed in the fall of 1965. A first playing for a test audience did not score well, but a re-edited version scored very well, and the series was sold to NBC. To make sure there was enough music for the series, music publisher Don Kirshner was hired. His Brill Building songwriters were among the best young talent.
Actor James Frawley, the son of William Frawley (from I Love Lucy fame), wanted to become a movie director. He worked with Rafelson and Schneider, then with the Monkees as they were selected. Before the series began filming, Frawley spent six weeks working with the members, teaching them about improvisation in acting and comedy, and helping them learn to play characters.
The Monkees appeared for two seasons on NBC television, with 58 episodes made in all. The show won two Emmy Awards in 1967, for Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy. The series gave promotion to the Monkees's records, while their music made people interested in watching the show. While the show's natural audience was children and teenagers, there were also jokes and other things that older viewers could enjoy. The band sometimes talked directly to the audience, and made fun of the fact that they were on a television show. Many episodes ended with short interviews with the Monkees, where they talked about their careers and things that were important to them. This made their fans feel like they knew the members of the band.
Each episode featured two songs. One was normally a single side, and the other was a new song. The band lip-synched to recordings on camera, and also filmed unrelated scenes, in random places with whatever objects were there. These were edited together and called "romps". The romps looked much like music videos.
A large problem the Monkees faced was accusations that none of them could play a musical instrument, because the music on their first records was mostly made by studio musicians. Nesmith and Dolenz played guitar, and Dolenz took drum lessons, so he could play drums on camera. Tork played guitar, keyboards and banjo. Jones learned to play drums and guitar, and a custom bass guitar was made specially for him. He also played percussion instruments, like tambourine.
The band had little experience playing together though, and were not able to make the music needed to begin the show. The producers planned at first to use prerecorded music, and went ahead with that plan. Don Kirshner had good instincts for knowing what would sell well, and took charge of the recordings, limiting the input the Monkees themselves had in making the music. For most of the first season's songs, the members only sang, and did not play on the records. Boyce and Hart also noticed that when all four Monkees were together in the studio, they would try to make each other laugh during takes, and things did not get done. They began bringing the band to record in ones and twos. Kirshner also okayed Nesmith to produce two of his own songs, for each Monkees album. Nesmith could choose musicians and sing, but could not play on the records himself.
In time, the band improved musically, and wanted another chance to play on their own recordings. They also began to perform live for audiences. Kirshner would not change his mind, issued a whole album without even telling the band, and planned to issue a new single. Nesmith argued with Kirshner and his attorney (putting his own fist through a wall to show his anger), and called a press conference, telling the media about his unhappiness with how the music was made. Many people thought this proved the Monkees were phonies, and did not deserve to be popular. To prove themselves, the Monkees recorded a new single, then a new album, with each member playing instruments. Their new records did not sell as well as their first ones, but they felt better knowing the music was really theirs, and they still had hit records.
Kirshner issued the single "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (written by Neil Diamond), without getting an OK first. This was reason enough to fire him from the Monkees production team. Kirshner's career was not harmed, and he went on to produce other music his way, including songs for The Archies. He later hosted a show, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, which featured bands in a live setting.
End of the series
The Monkees became tired of the same "formula" used in episode after episode of the series (Davy Jones would fall in love with a girl, and the rest of the band would help him get together with her), and wanted to try doing a variety show instead. NBC and the show's producers did not want to change the way the show was done. The two sides could not agree, and the show was cancelled, even though it was still popular.
After the television series ended, the Monkees starred in a movie, Head, and a TV special, 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee. Neither was successful, and the band's later records were not hits. The Monkees kept performing for audiences, but less and less people went to their shows. The band members each quit one by one. Tork left at the end of 1968, saying he was exhausted. Nesmith left in 1970, to start his own band. Jones left during 1970, and went back to performing solo.
Each former Monkee tried different things during the next decade. Tork worked as a musician, teacher and singing waiter. Nesmith pursued a country music career, then began to make videos. Jones and Dolenz both sang on records. Jones did more theater work, while Dolenz made cartoon voiceovers.
Dolenz and Jones teamed up with Boyce and Hart in 1976, to tour and perform the Monkees' old hits. They also made a new album together. Later Jones and Dolenz went to England, to appear in a production of Harry Nilsson's The Point! Both stayed in England. Jones appeared in Godspell and other musical plays, and retrained as a jockey. Dolenz became a television director and producer. During these same years, Nesmith started his own company, to produce music and videos. Tork went back to performing and sometimes making records.
The Monkees appeared in syndication from 1975 on, usually playing on local television stations during afternoons. A compilation album, The Monkees Greatest Hits, was issued, and their old hits still played on radio stations. A second Greatest Hits album appeared later.
The 1980s and later
In 1986, Tork, Jones and Dolenz reunited, as part of an "oldies show" tour. MTV aired nearly every episode of their old series one Sunday, to promote the tour, and it became a surprise hit. Twenty years after they started, a new generation of young people were interested in the Monkees. The tour went from a small one to a major one, and the Monkees were back. MTV and the Monkees worked well together. Nickelodeon, a sister network to MTV, aired their series, and the band appeared on Nickelodeon and MTV during the late 1980s. Nesmith mostly did not join the reunion, because of his production career, but he did make a few rare appearances with them. The other members also kept their solo careers, between tours.
During the 1990s, the reunited Monkees continued to tour, and appear as guests on television. Nesmith rejoined them for a new album, Justus, a TV special, and he appeared with them onstage in England. He left when they began to tour the United States, though, and did not return. After 2000, they toured less often. Tork left again in 2001, and Jones and Dolenz last worked together in 2002.
Every episode of the TV series is for sale on DVD (as is their movie Head), and all their record releases are for sale on compact disc. Rhino Records bought the rights to all their works, and still oversees Monkees releases.
Dolenz, Tork and Jones toured the UK and USA throughout 2011. Davy Jones died on February 29, 2012 in Stuart, Florida. Since then The Monkees have continued to tour with Nesmith, Dolenz, and Tork.
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