It was a zany sitcom unapologetically riding on the coattails of The Beatles phenomenon, but who would’ve guessed that 50 years after its premiere on NBC—and subsequent cancellation following a measly two seasons—The Monkees would remain a topic of never-ending fascination. Starring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, The Monkees was a TV show about a struggling rock group that featured early incarnations of music videos and plenty of (family-friendly) psychedelic vibes.
Following its 1966 to 1968 run, the series gained new generations of fans through marathon airings on MTV and Nickelodeon in the 1980s. So since it’s never too late to become a fan of the Pre-Fab Four (yes, that’s what they were called), here are some fun factoids that will help you jump onto the timeless Monkeemania bandwagon.
1. DAVY JONES DIDN’T KNOW WHO THE BEATLES WERE THE NIGHT OF THEIR SHARED ED SULLIVAN SHOW PERFORMANCE.
Two and a half years before The Monkees premiered, English heartthrob and tambourine player extraordinaire David “Davy” Jones had his first brush with the four moptops who, unbeknownst to him, would change his life forever. As a cast member of the Broadway musical Oliver! (he played the Artful Dodger), Jones just happened to be performing on the same historic Ed Sullivan Show broadcast featuring The Beatles. But probably the craziest part of this story was how the 19-year-old Brit was completely oblivious to who John, Paul, George and Ringo were. As he tells the story in this interview, the late Monkee (Jones died in 2012) had never heard any of The Beatles’s songs. He only took interest in what they were doing because he wanted to figure out how to make girls scream too.
2. THE ORIGINAL MONKEES CASTING CALL AD WAS RIDDLED WITH HIPPIE-ISH REFERENCES.
The creators of The Monkees TV show, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, knew exactly the kind of guys they wanted for their new series. So the ad they took out in the September 8, 1965 edition of Variety had to reflect the attitudes of the burgeoning youth culture. In the ad, “spirited Ben Frank’s-types” are requested. According to the book Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-for-TV Band, Ben Frank’s was a popular Sunset Strip restaurant “where the mods mused over burgers and fries.” Or, as Davy Jones called them, “long-haired beatnik weirdos.” The ad also included the line, “Must come down for interview.” Per Rafelson in Monkee Business, that was “a sly reference to being high.”
3. MICHAEL NESMITH ATTENDED THE CELEBRITY-FILLED RECORDING SESSION FOR THE SGT. PEPPER SONG “A DAY IN THE LIFE.”
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Donovan … and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees? It seems like a round of “Which of These Things Are Not Like the Other?” but the Texas guitarist was indeed there among the cream of the British musical crop in February 1967. He appears at around 2:26 in the above promotional “A Day in the Life” clip, and if you have a steady hand it is possible to pause the video right when he shows up. But you have to look sharp, as it is a quintessential blink-and-you’ll-miss-him moment.
4. THE MONKEES MANAGED TO SQUEEZE IN SUBVERSIVE BEHAVIOR WHENEVER THEY COULD.
In the season two episode “The Devil and Peter Tork,” the boys took on the issue of censorship by slipping in a subversive joke about how, back in 1967, you couldn’t say the word “hell” on network television. “This episode was a point of controversy, between The Monkees production crew and the network,” says Tork in the DVD commentary (above). The bit, which starts at 9:50, has the boys talking about hell (Tork’s character sold his soul to the devil) and getting bleeped every time they uttered the word. This leads Micky Dolenz to observe, “You know what’s even more scary? You can’t say ‘hell’ on television” (and, yes, “hell” was bleeped as he said it). The bit “annoyed the daylights” out of NBC, according to Tork. Dolenz also devotes a paragraph to this incident in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness.
5. THE “MONKEEMANIA” OF THE MONKEES IN PARIS EPISODE WAS STAGED.
In June 1967, The Monkees headed off to Paris for a season two episode that would ostensibly show them being mobbed by French fans. Whether it was because the series hadn’t started airing in France or French audiences just hadn’t caught onto the craze yet (the truth is murky—this 1967 article says the show was on at the time; Monkee Business says it wasn’t), director Bob Rafelson had to get creative with the squealing girls. The “cinéma vérité”-style “Monkees in Paris” episode is thus described in Monkee Business as “the episode that features The Monkees pretending to run from their non-existent French fans.”
6. TWO MONKEES STEPPED BEHIND THE CAMERA DURING THE SHOW’S RUN.
Toward the end of the second and final season, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz were given the opportunity to direct an episode. Tork, using his full name in the credits—Peter H. Thorkelson—directed “The Monkees Mind Their Manor,” which aired in February 1968. Dolenz then helmed “Mijacgeo” (a.k.a. “The Frodis Caper”), which also ended up being the series’s finale. The Monkees would officially be canceled later that year.
7. THE SERIES’S UNOFFICIAL FINALE FEATURES NOT ONE, BUT TWO BEATLES TUNES.
This Micky Dolenz-directed episode opens up with a real bang: The intro to The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band track “Good Morning Good Morning.” It was, in Dolenz’s words (heard in the above video doing the DVD commentary), “a big moment.” Mainly because, as he also mentions, it was “the first time, to my knowledge, that The Beatles ever let one of their songs on another show.” (And anyone who remembers the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode from Mad Men’s fifth season is well aware that getting a Beatles song for your TV series is no small feat.) The choice of “Good Morning Good Morning” also had special meaning for Dolenz, who had the rare opportunity to hear an early version of the track during a visit to The Beatles’s studio at Abbey Road in 1967.
In addition, there are two instances where, if you listen closely below, Davy Jones is singing the Beatles song “Hello, Goodbye” to himself. Once at 7:06, then again at 8:18:
8. THERE WAS A VERY WEIRD MONKEES EPISODE WHERE FRANK ZAPPA SHOWED UP.
It was the ’60s, The Monkees was winding down, and Michael Nesmith, according to Randi L. Massingill, in her book Total Control: The Michael Nesmith Story, “was trying to show the rock community that he was not just a kiddie show guy.” Nesmith achieved this by not only bringing The Mothers of Invention frontman Frank Zappa onto The Monkees, but by also conducting a bizarre interview with him in which the two men switched roles (which allowed Nesmith, as Zappa, to refer to The Monkees’s bubblegum music as “banal and insipid”). It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: Frank Zappa in a Monkees double-button blue shirt and Nesmith’s signature green wool hat, or Mike Nesmith donning a Zappa-eque wig and fake nose (which keeps falling off during the bit).
9. THE MONKEES OUTSOLD THE BEATLES AND THE ROLLING STONES IN 1967.
Yes, you read that correctly. In 1967, the year of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Between the Buttons, and Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Monkees outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—combined. Probably because neither British band had a hit TV show on its hands. Pretty impressive considering, at least in the beginning, as discussed at length in Monkee Business, The Monkees were a manufactured group whose only contributions to the records were their voices.
10. LIBERACE ONCE MADE A STRANGE, UNCREDITED CAMEO ON A MONKEES EPISODE, USING THE SAME GOLDEN SLEDGEHAMMER AS FRANK ZAPPA.
The renowned pianist Liberace was never known for being subtle, so when he showed up on The Monkees’s season two episode “Art, For Monkees' Sake,” a flashy performance was a given. But what people didn’t expect to see was the famed entertainer taking a golden sledgehammer to his piano. One could argue this possibly inspired the aforementioned Frank Zappa appearance from later in the season, in which Zappa proceeded to destroy a car with the same golden sledgehammer (it was deemed “playing the car”). It doesn’t seem a coincidence now that Michael Nesmith appeared in both bits.
11. THE TITLE OF THE MICKY DOLENZ-PENNED TUNE “RANDY SCOUSE GIT” WAS DEEMED SO OFFENSIVE IN BRITAIN THAT IT HAD TO BE RENAMED.
Micky Dolenz wrote his first Monkees tune, “Randy Scouse Git,” for the group’s third album Headquarters, which he describes in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness, as all about his experiences in England in 1967. (“The Beatles, Samantha [Juste, his eventual wife], the parties, the chemicals … everything.”) Trouble was, even though the title sounds tame to us Yanks, over in Britain it directly translated to, according to Dolenz, “horny, Liverpudlian jerk.” For the song’s U.K. release, the drummer chose “Alternative Title” for its alternative title, and the track still made it to number two on the British charts.
Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band, by Eric Lefcowitz