It's time to show some love and respect for the so-called Prefab-Four who not only starred on an Emmy Award-winning series but also had many Top 40 hits. Yes, they were a rip-off of the Beatles, but contrary to snarky news articles at the time, all four of the Monkees could actually sing and play musical instruments.
In the Beginning
Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were aspiring filmmakers who believed that Beatlemania could be somehow translated into a US phenomenon. Their ultimate inspiration came from the "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence in the 1964 Beatles film A Hard Day's Night. They came up with the concept of a sitcom about a pop band in which each episode would include an original song and a fun film "romp," similar to the one featured in the Beatles' film. The pair placed ads in trades like the Hollywood Reporter during the summer of 1965 requesting "folk & roll musicians-singers for acting roles in new TV series" while simultaneously mining the songwriting talents of yet-to-be-discovered future stars such as Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson and John Stewart. Some 400 hopefuls auditioned for the show, and eventually the final four chosen were:
Davy Jones: The Boy Who Would've Been a Jockey
Michael Nesmith: Songwriter to Linda Ronstadt
Micky Dolenz: Circus Boy
Peter Tork: Suggested to the group by Stephen Stills!
John Lennon Praised Them
The show was an immediate hit and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series after its first season. Their success was something of a double-edged sword, however, because the group felt compelled to go out on tour to prove themselves to those critics who claimed the Monkees weren't musicians. However, in the record business, it's always a matter of striking while the iron is hot, so the band had to write and record songs in between gigs. And then there was the matter of filming the next season of the series in their "spare time." As John Lennon later said when asked his opinion of The Monkees: "They've got their own scene, and I won't send them down for it. You try a weekly television show and see if you can manage one half as good!"
Just a Word about the Songwriting
Neil Diamond's First Hit
If nothing else, the Monkees gave some fledgling songwriters their first national exposure. "I'm a Believer" gave Neil Diamond his first number one hit as a songwriter. They also gave Harry Nilsson (who would later go on to have hits on his own with "Without You" and "Everybody's Talkin'", to name a few) his chart success when they recorded his tune "Cuddly Toy":
Davy Jones wasn't a Believer
One of the Monkees' number one hits was "Daydream Believer," a song Davy Jones hated at first. He felt that it wasn't in his key, and he didn't understand the lyrics. (He was from England and didn't know what a "homecoming queen" was.) It wasn't until after the tune topped the charts that he grudgingly admitted, "Maybe it's not that bad of a song after all."
The Alternate Title of "Alternate Title"
Micky Dolenz composed a tune that he named after a phrase he'd heard on a British TV series called Til Death Us Do Part. When the song was released, however, BBC censors insisted that its name, "Randy Scouse Git," be replaced with an alternate title, since it was some sort of obscenity in British slang. Dolenz complied by re-naming his song "Alternate Title," and it went all the way to #2 on the British pop charts in 1967.
When Hip-hop started Monkee-ing around
Lest you think the Monkees are simply a 1960s relic, we submit for your consideration the 1991 hit single "Mistadobalina" by rapper Del the Funkee Homosapien. His inspiration (and vocal sample) came from a bizarre throwaway track by the Monkees called "Zilch." Peter Tork had been in an airport one day when he heard "last boarding call for Mr. Dobalina, Mr. Bob Dobalina" over the intercom. The rest of the primitive "rap" was improvised in the studio:
And a final word of Monkee Love
And, in the spirit of the holiday season, we leave you with this a capella version of the Spanish Christmas carol "Riu Chiu." All Monkee naysayers please note: They are singing four-part harmony on their own, no instruments, no electronic enhancement. So there!
Please feel free to share your Monkees love and favorite TV moments/songs/whatever at this time. And thanks so much for reading and commenting on TVHolic this past year. Happy Holidays to All!!