Guilty pleasure confession. I love The Monkees. Roll your eyes if you want, but 2016 celebrates their 50 years together. Still going after a half century shouts that I’m not alone, and many feel the same as me.
I can’t remember the first time I watched the show or heard the Monkees sing, but here’s a little history. In 1965, over 400 people responded to an ad seeking young men for a new television show about a rock group called The Monkees. The Monkees, starring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork premiered on September 12, 1966.
The premise was the life of four clean-cut aspiring young musicians. The series ran two seasons from 1966 to 1968. The idea for the fictional group came from the 1965 Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night. The show ended its initial run when the group and the network could not agree on a format for the third season. The band wanted to update and become a variety show, while the network wanted keep the program the same.
I remember friends and my disappointment when the show no longer aired.
But we fans were granted a reprieve. Saturday morning began airing reruns in the mid to late 70’s. Resurrected again in 1986, I parked in front of my television with my year old son to watch MTV’s Monkees marathon, and one more time in the mid-nineties, my son and daughter gathered to view the series in syndication on Nick At Nite. Shows became available on VHS, DVD and recently over-the-air digital subchannel Antenna TV. Full episodes are also on YouTube for viewing.
Numerous reunion tours evolved to celebrate benchmark anniversaries with various members and occasionally all four participating. Their record company, Rhino Records re-released their recordings, including unreleased bonus tracks or alternate takes. First additions came with trading cards.
Their eleventh album Justus was issued in 1996 to coincide with their 30th anniversary. It was the first since 1968. All four original members performed; they played every instruments and sang all vocals; songs were written by one of the four Monkees, which was the inspiration for the album title and spelling. Justus = Just Us.
Plans for celebrating year 50 are extensive. A tour, of course; the first Blu-ray distributed of the full TV series, and the first new album in nearly 20 years, Good Times! (Released May 27, 2016) This is the first album since the death of Davy Jones, but his voice is heard, thanks to the discovery of lost tracks by record company. These were recorded in ’67, ’68 and intended to be releases, songs written by Harry Nilsson, Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry, Carole King, but then the show went off the air. The production company dissolved, and this music has sat in a vault for 50 years. A creative twist was added by bringing the album full circle with the insertion of younger rock collaborators, turning the music into a wonderful ‘what’s old is new theme.’
Monkees Tidbits you may or may not know.
Prior to the show Mike and Peter were in bands. Micky was a child actor on a show called Circus Boy under the name Mickey Braddock. Davy won a Tony Award for his role as the Artful Dodger in the original Broadway cast of Oliver.
The group did not play their own instruments on their first two albums – music was played by session musicians. The Monkees vocals were recorded over the tracks.
Although manufactured bands were common during that period, they suffered backlash for not playing instruments on their recordings. In 1967, the men insisted on performing their material, and received producer credits.
The Monkees, as a band was confusing. They were not a band. They were a television show about a band, and actors playing a part as musicians trying to make a living as a band.
Headquarters was the only Monkees album recorded with all four in the studio at the same time. On other albums each member recorded their part separately and was mixed by engineers.
Critics dubbed the Monkees the “Pre-Fab four”, a made-for-TV knockoff of the Beatles; the Beatles, however, thought they were great and hosted a party for them on an England visit.
Gene Roddenberry was inspired to introduce the character of Chekov in his Star Trek TV series in response to the popularity of Davy Jones, complete with hairstyle and appearance mimicking Jones.
One of the first groups to simultaneously have number one songs in the US and UK.
Peter Tork taught Algebra and coached baseball at a private school in the late 1970s. He also worked as a singing waiter at the Sleeping Lady Cafe in Fairfax California in the mid ’70s. An accomplished musician, he plays 12 different instruments.
Monkees MTV marathon produced their best ratings to date.
Many of their songs have been covered by a different variety of singers and bands. In 1988, Run – D.M.C. recorded “Mary, Mary” on their album Tougher Than Leather
Their 45th reunion tour was the final tour for Davy Jones, who died of a heart attack on February 29, 2012 at the age of 66.
The surviving three members did not attend Davy Jones funeral in Indiantown, FL, so not to draw attention. They were present at a New York City memorial, and they also organized their own private memorial with the Jones family in California.
Okay, fess up! Who was your favorite Monkee, and what was your favorite Monkee song?
Mine- Monkee, Micky and Song, I’m a Believer.
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