The most influential pop-rock group of all time? The Monkees!


Michael nesmith is a true pop culture mathematician. He is a godfather of the MTV era, having pioneered the modern music video genre. (His Elephant Parts, a collection of comedy and musical shorts, won the very first Grammy for Video of the Year in 1982.) He was also the executive producer of the 1984 punk comedy. Man rest, one of the best American films of the Reagan era. Prior to that, he was a fundamental figure in the Laurel Canyon country-rock scene, having handed over Linda ronstadt one of his first successful singles with his song “Different Drum”. Oh, and it turned out he was playing the guitar picking wiseacre with a Texan sled and a ski cap in the The monkeyTV series, a huge hit which aired from 1966 to 1968. I say ‘got to play’, because when you hear Nesmith, who is 78 years old and one of the two surviving Monkees, you feel like he is. sees less as a member of an extremely popular group than as an actor in a TV show called The Monkees.

The implication, as always, is that the Monkees are not – and never were – quite real.

In their heyday, they were known to be the “Prefab Four,” a chewing gum fantasy dreamed up by a couple of young Hollywood scammers named Bob rafelson and Bert Schneider. The two caught the Beatles in Richard Lester’s A hard day’s Night and had the kind of idea that makes people in the entertainment industry very rich: they would take A hard day’s Night, set it up in LA, cast four hungry comedians-musicians, christen them the Monkees, and turn them into a huge bunch. It was a synergy before synergy was a thing, a totalized vision of media saturation: the series, in their daydreams, would be the hit at the heart of a Monkees franchise, generating millions of records sold, arena tours and merchandising galore. Radio listeners would become viewers, viewers would buy records… around and around and around it would go.

It turned out that Rafelson and Schneider got it right: that’s exactly what happened. Today, 55 years after the series premiered, Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, the drummer and lead singer of the Monkees, hit the road again in a tour presented as a farewell. Dates start September 10 in Spokane, Washington, tour the country (with a stop at New York City Hall on October 24), and end November 14 at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. As a victory lap he is bittersweet, in the wake of COVID and after the deaths in recent years of his colleagues Davy Jones and Peter Tork. It’s also an indication, if anyone cares more about semantics, that Monkees are, in fact, very real, no matter what Nesmith or Dolenz may think: a talented and original band, a force in pop culture, a touchstone for generations, a lasting influence, and even today, a viable commodity. Nesmith’s extensive resume alone practically proves the point.

It all started in September 1965, when 437 hopefuls responded to advertisements in Hollywood journalist and Daily variety to try out one of four roles in a new television series for NBC. Among them were Stephen Stills, Paul Williams, and Harry Nilsson, but not, as urban legend Charlie Manson says. Stills was ringing, but his roommate, Tork, a folk guy from Greenwich Village, got a part. A year later, the Monkees, the series and the band are causing a stir. The first season of The Monkees won two Emmys. In 1967, four Monkees albums landed at number one on the Billboard charts in one year, a feat that might never be duplicated. (The Beatles have come together, with three best albums in three separate years.) Hits like “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m a Believer”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer” have blocked the radio waves – undeniable earworms, everyone.

And then something funny happened on the way to teenage glory and ignominy. In its second season, The Monkees swerved into the forefront, welcoming guests of impeccable credibility like Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley. Howard kaylan Turtles and Invention Mothers watched the show and said, “I loved it.” While The Monkees Aired in millions of American salons week after week (and would later enjoy a robust life in syndication), the various Monkees themselves often found themselves in the company of their elated peers. Some were greeted by The Beatles (Nesmith was a guest of John Lennon’s house) and some members were seen having fun at Monterey Pop. Later, Crosby, Stills, and Nash would conduct rehearsals at Tork’s Studio City before signing with Atlantic Records. The Tork lair was also where the Stones rehearsed their 1969 U.S. tour, with its fateful stop in Altamont.

When the Monkees decided it was time to implode, tired of the teen idol game as the counterculture set in, they did it in style, with a film that can best be described as totally crazy: the cult surrealist film of 1968. To manage, written by Jack Nicholson. Dennis Hopper made an appearance, appearing to ask Rafelson for development money, some real borderline cinema. That year, Rafelson and Schneider unlocked the funds that allowed Hopper and Peter Fonda to make Easy rider, a film that has undoubtedly rearranged the Hollywood landscape. In other words, the enduring symbol of 1960s cinema – the film that pushed Hollywood into the decade of Scorsese, Coppola, and Bogdanovich – was made with Monkees’ money.

The music? Well, it was chewing gum, in the best possible way. Truth be told, the musicians who joined the Monkees on their first two albums were Los Angeles session superstars who could have blown most of the ‘real’ ’60s bands off the scene. The songwriters—Carole Roi, Harry Nilsson, Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond, John Stewart — were upscale, and Nesmith’s own contributions put him in the company of Gene Clark and Neil young as a great example of post-Dylan songwriting. Cute-dog-puppy Davy Jones was inevitably given the band’s sweetest material to sing about, but he had some legitimate tips: He even landed a Tony nomination as a street kid in Olivier ! Banjo, guitar, bass and keyboards enthusiast Tork brought a multi-instrumental flair. Dolenz, the glowing gazing drummer, may have been a child actor in TV series Circus boy, but as a rock singer he was hard to beat. There’s a reason, after all, why bands like the Sex Pistols and Minor Threat covered “(I’m Not Your) Steppin ‘Stone,” a song Dolenz delivered with proto-punk perfection.

The joke the Monkees could never live by is that Jimi Hendrix, the Zeus of the rock guitar gods, opened for them on tour. This is generally viewed as a hilarious irony and / or a mind-boggling injustice. Two things on this. First, the Monkees helped break Hendrix in America: credit where credit is due. (They also patted Ike and Tina turner to open up niches, showing they knew period performers when they saw them.) And second, among my own generation (X; I’m too young to remember the Monkees as stars of NBC and radio Top 40) and my music snob, vinyl – obsessed peers, I’ve probably had more conversations about the Monkees – about their impact, their ability to create joy and wonder, how they have us. introduced the whole field of pop music as a youngster – which I had on Hendrix. I guess the same could be said of MSNBC Brian Williams; he’s a Monkees obsessive and even had a blog for a time whose title was borrowed from a Monkees song, “Daily Nightly” from 1967, considered the first rock recording to feature a Moog synthesizer. (Dolenz had bought the third Moog ever sold.)

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