11 Things You Might Not Know About The Monkees

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.

Additional source:
Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band, by Eric Lefcowitz

15 Clever Breaking Bad Easter Eggs Hiding in Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
Patrick Fabian, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tony Dalton in Better Call Saul.
James Minchin/AMC

As evidenced by Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his cohorts have an eye for detail that’s nearly unrivaled. If anything, Better Call Saul—which is originally set several years before the events of Breaking Bad—only proves the point. The series, which is about to kick off its fifth season, focuses on Jimmy McGill (soon to become Saul Goodman) and is full of references to its progenitor, some of which are pure fun, and some of which add a deeper meaning to what we already know. Here are 15 clever Breaking Bad Easter eggs hiding in Better Call Saul.

**Warning: Plenty of spoilers ahead for both series.**

1. Being Kevin Costner

In a throwaway moment in Breaking Bad, Saul mentions to Walt that he once convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner (“If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work”), and in the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, we see the exact moment he was referring to. In case we thought that Saul was just making the story up for the sake of a pep talk, here’s the proof otherwise.

2. Neighborhood mainstay

If the diner where Jimmy first meets with the Kettlemans looked familiar to you, it’s for good reason. Loyola’s Diner featured in Breaking Bad as a mainstay of Mike’s—he met with Jesse there, as well as Lydia. It’s also, incidentally, a very real restaurant in Albuquerque. And while we’re on the subject of Mike and food, he’s been shown to be fond of pimento cheese sandwiches in both series.

3. Address unknown

David Costabile as Gale Boetticher in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In Better Call Saul, it’s shown that Jimmy's office is at 160 Juan Tabo Boulevard (which is a real nail salon). Those of you with a head for directions might also recall that that’s the same street that the ill-fated chemist Gale Boetticher lives on, at 6353 Juan Tabo Boulevard. Breaking Bad fans were thrilled when the karaoke-loving chemist appeared in Season 4 of Better Call Saul (with hopefully more to come).

4. The Ignacio connection

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul
Michael Mando as Nacho Varga in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When he’s kidnapped by Walt and Jesse after refusing to help a busted Badger, Saul spits out a variety of nonsense in an attempt to stay alive. He also drops a name: Ignacio. So who is he talking about? As we learn in Better Call Saul, this refers to Nacho, who’s become one of the secondary leads on the show. “Nacho” is a nickname, short for Ignacio, which makes sense as a connection given how closely he’s been working with Jimmy/Saul.

5. Cheap tricks

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Michele K. Short, AMC/Sony Pictures

There’s another callback to the first time that Walt, Jesse, and Saul meet. Despite still having his hands tied behind his back, when Saul agrees to help Walt and Jesse, he tells them to each put a dollar in his pocket in order to secure attorney-client privilege. It seems that Saul got that idea from Kim, who, when she decides to help Jimmy after discovering he’s falsified evidence, tells him to give her a dollar for exactly the same reason.

6. Old afflictions

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill and Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak in Better Call Saul.
Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In yet another reference to that fateful first meeting, we learn that Saul isn’t bluffing when he tells Walt and Jesse that he has bad knees. He says the same thing when cops apprehend him in the first season of Better Call Saul. As to why he’s got bad knees to begin with, it all comes from his time as “Slippin’ Jimmy,” when he used to stage falls in order to earn a little bit of money.

7. Car talk

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Saul Goodman drives a white 1997 Cadillac DeVille with the vanity plate “LWYRUP.” Jimmy McGill’s ride is much more modest: a yellow Suzuki Esteem with a red door. That said, in the pilot of Better Call Saul, we very briefly see a white Cadillac DeVille—Jimmy parks his car next to it, in a truly blink-and-you-miss-it allusion to what’s to come. (Gus, notably, is driving the same blue Volvo in both shows.)

8. Home sweet home

In Better Call Saul, one of the retirement homes that Jimmy visits in his quest to find new clients for his growing elder law business is Casa Tranquila. If it sounds familiar, that's because it's a key location in Breaking Bad as the home of Hector Salamanca, and the place where he kills his longtime nemesis Gus Fring. It’s a nice touch to revisit the location, especially given the fact that Better Call Saul gives us the story as to how Hector wound up in a wheelchair in the first place.

9. What's your poison?

There’s also a nice bit of brand continuity with the made-up tequila Zafiro Añejo. Gus poisons a bottle to get back at Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, and we see the same blue bottle pop up in Better Call Saul when Jimmy and Kim scam a cocky stock broker named Ken. Ken, for his part, seems to be reaping a constant stream of bad karma, as he’s also in Breaking Bad as a victim of Heisenberg’s wrath. He swipes Walt’s parking spot—and has his car set on fire for his trouble.

10. The little piggy

Though Mike is hard as nails, he’s got a soft spot the size of Texas for his granddaughter Kaylee. He gifts her a pink pig plush in Better Call Saul, which crops up again in Breaking Bad under slightly less cute circumstances. He uses the doll as a distraction when an assassination attempt is made on his life.

11. Word games

Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring in 'Breaking Bad'
Ursula Coyote, AMC

The first letters of the episode titles of the second season of Better Call Saul are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” It’s a granular sort of trick that the creators have pulled off before: four of the episodes of season two of Breaking Bad spell out “Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ.” In the season finale, a 737 plane does indeed go down over Albuquerque, or ABQ.

12. Sentimental value

Given that Saul’s Breaking Bad office has a lot of strange objects in it, it’d be easy to miss the octagonal desk. As it turns out, the offices of Saul Goodman aren’t the desk’s first home: it’s seen in the background of Kim’s office in Better Call Saul. It’s retroactive, sure, but it’s still nice to know that Saul has some mementos around.

13. Movie night

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in 'Better Call Saul'
Ursula Coyote, AMC/Sony Pictures Television

There’s also a little sentimental value in the name of Saul’s holding company, Ice Station Zebra Associates, which he uses to help Walt launder money in Breaking Bad. As we discover in Better Call Saul, Ice Station Zebra is Kim’s favorite movie, due to her father’s affection for it. Though Kim is physically absent from Breaking Bad, small details seem to tie back to her all the time.

14. Set dressing

Krazy-8, may he rest in peace, also shows up in Better Call Saul. The van that he drives has the logo for Tampico Furniture on it, and he’s wearing a uniform with the logo as well. Tampico is where Walt, as he recalls in Breaking Bad, bought Walter Jr.’s crib. Unfortunately, those fond memories aren’t quite enough to save Krazy-8’s skin.

15. Beware of bugs

Before Mike leaves Philly for Albuquerque, a bartender tells him to be mindful of tarantulas. The spider plays a key role in Breaking Bad later on, as a young boy’s pursuit of the bug puts him in Walt’s path—and Todd’s path, by proxy. Determined to make a good impression on Walt, and knowing that there can’t be any witnesses to what they’re doing, Todd shoots the boy in one of the most shocking and cold-blooded moments in the entire series.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2018.

This Land Is Your Land: The Story Behind America's Best-Known Protest Song

American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
American singer Woody Guthrie, circa 1960.
Woody Guthrie: Getty Images. Landscape: iStock/mammuth

Few songs are more ingrained in the American psyche than "This Land Is Your Land," the greatest and best-known work by folk icon Woody Guthrie. For decades, it's been a staple of kindergarten classrooms "from California to the New York island," as the lyrics go. It's the musical equivalent of apple pie, though the flavor varies wildly depending on who's doing the singing.

On its most basic level, "This Land Is Your Land" is a song about inclusion and equality—the American ideal broken down into simple, eloquent language and set to a melody you memorize on first listen. The underlying message, repeated throughout the song, makes the heart swell: "This land was made for you and me."

But there's more to "This Land Is Your Land" than many people realize—two verses more, in fact. Guthrie's original 1940 draft of the song contains six verses, two of which carry progressive political messages that add nuance to the song's overt patriotism. These controversial verses are generally omitted from children's songbooks and the like, but they speak volumes about Guthrie's mindset when he put pen to paper 80 years ago.

 

Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in a divey hotel room in New York City. He'd just landed in Manhattan after years of rambling across the country and meeting impoverished people affected by the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. Throughout his travels in the late '30s, Guthrie was haunted by Kate Smith's hit recording of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." Guthrie found Berlin's song to be jingoistic and out of touch with the reality facing many of his fellow citizens. So he set about writing a response.

Guthrie originally titled his rejoinder "God Blessed America"—emphasis on the past tense—but eventually changed his tone. Instead of doing a sarcastic parody, he wrote a song that pulls double-duty, celebrating America's natural splendor while criticizing the nation for falling short of its promise. In the "lost" fourth verse, Guthrie decries the notion of private property, suggesting America is being carved up by the wealthy:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said: 'Private Property.'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

The sixth and final verse in the original manuscript references the poor folks Guthrie saw living on government assistance during the Great Depression:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me?

When Guthrie first recorded the song in 1944, he included the verse about private property but left out the one about the relief office. That original recording was lost until the '90s, however, so for years, all anyone knew was the version Guthrie recorded for 1951's Songs to Grow On. Guthrie's rendition on that album features neither the "no trespassing" verse nor the one about the relief office, which he never actually recorded.

It's unclear why the 1944 recording with the "private property" verse was never released, or why Guthrie edited out the radical stuff for the 1951 version. (He also chopped out both controversial verses when he first published the lyrics in the 1945 pamphlet Ten of Woody Guthrie's Songs.) It may have had something to do with the mounting anti-communist furor that would lead to the Red Scare of the late '40s and early '50s. As a pro-union communist sympathizer, Guthrie and his fellow rabble-rousing folky buddy Pete Seeger had already faced industry blacklisting in the early '40s.

"We did one program on CBS Radio, and a newspaper reported out, said, 'Red minstrels try to get on the networks,'" Seeger told NPR. "And that was the last job we got."

Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Woody Guthrie, circa March 1943.
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Regardless of which verses are included, "This Land Is Your Land" is terrific for singing. That was by design. Guthrie likely stole the melody from the Carter Family's 1935 tune "Little Darling, Pal of Mine," which itself was patterned after an old gospel hymn titled "When the World's On Fire" (sometimes called "Oh, My Loving Brother"). "This Land" was a perfect fit for classrooms and campsites, where the song would take on new life.

 

In the early '50s, famed American folklorist Alan Lomax came up with a nifty plan for preserving the nation's musical heritage. He approached legendary music publisher Howie Richmond with the idea of including rural folk songs—the kind he'd been documenting for the Library of Congress—in school music textbooks. Richmond, who had become Guthrie's publisher in 1950, loved the idea, and to sweeten the deal for textbook publishers, he lowered his usual licensing rates and offered "This Land Is Your Land" for just $1.

That's how "This Land Is Your Land" went viral and became nearly as ubiquitous as the national anthem, even without the radio play and jukebox real estate of Smith's "God Bless America." While the versions distributed to America's impressionable youth lacked "no trespassing" and "relief office" verses, the song's original lyrics were never forgotten. Following Guthrie's death in 1967, artists like Seeger continued performing the "lost verses," lest people forget the anger that inspired the song.

But regardless of Guthrie's intentions, "This Land Is Your Land" has come to mean different things to different people. That's part of what makes it so timeless. When President Ronald Reagan used the song at his victory party in 1984, after it had been used by Walter Mondale's campaign, both sides were probably trying to evoke feel-good patriotism. The same goes for Reagan's advisors and allies who were invoking Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." during rallies and in newspaper articles. Reagan himself name-checked Springsteen and his "message of hope" during a rally in Hammonton, New Jersey. The president either didn't know or didn't care that "Born in the U.S.A." was another song about loving your country but hating how poorly it treats some of its citizens.

Ironically, the Boss had begun performing "This Land Is Your Land" in the early '80s. On the version included on the Live 1975–85 box set, Springsteen gives his audience the backstory about Irving Berlin and refers to "This Land" as "just about one of the most beautiful songs ever written." And, when given the opportunity to perform the song with Pete Seeger at Barack Obama's pre-inauguration concert in 2009, he readily agreed to sing all the verses at Seeger's insistence.

Over the years, "This Land Is Your Land" has been covered by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed the song in Zuccotti Park during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011. Lady Gaga sang a snippet to open her Super Bowl halftime show in 2017, causing fans and critics to speculate about whether she was making a political statement. She mashed it up with "God Bless America," so it's a safe bet she knew the history of the song.

 

There may be even more officially recorded versions in years to come. Much like what has been done with ubiquitous songs like "Happy Birthday" and "We Shall Overcome" (which Seeger toured with and taught across the country at rallies and protests throughout the '50s and '60s), there is a push to have "This Land Is Your Land" enter the public domain. The Brooklyn rock band Satorii filed a lawsuit in 2016 challenging the copyrights held by the Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, and maintain that since Guthrie only wrote the lyrics and not that pilfered melody, he shouldn't have been able to register the song in the first place, nor should Ludlow have been able to own the copyright. The suit is ongoing.

Whether it enters the public domain, as one imagines Guthrie would have wanted, or doesn't, "This Land Is Your Land" isn't going anywhere. The song has been adopted and modified by Native Americans, Swedish anti-Nazi troubadours, and people all over the globe who find truth and comfort in Guthrie's words, however they choose to interpret them.

"The whole idea of a land is your spot on Earth, you know," Woody's daughter Nora told NPR. "A spot where you can claim safety, sanity."

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