According to our traffic metrics your favorite band is The Monkees. Yes, you. You may disagree but pageviews don’t lie.
We’ve had three Monkees stories this year: A review of Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz at Sketchfest, a review of Nesmith and Dolenz’s live album and an interview with Dolenz. They all had a frankly shocking number of people read them. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m a Monkees fan, but I didn’t know there were that many of us out there.
So to feed the public’s insatiable desire for fresh Monkees content, and to educate my undoubtedly young and hip readership about what’s apparently the most popular band in the world in 2020, here’s the latest in my now two-part series on old bands you should appreciate more.
The Monkees — “Last Train to Clarksville”
The rumors are true: The Monkees were invented by TV producers for a sitcom.
Originally, the concept for the show was being about a band that desperately wanted to be The Beatles but were lovable failures. To that end they hired Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork. They were all actors with experience in music, but they were primarily comic actors, nonetheless.
Their first couple albums were seen as an extension of the show, and thus mostly overseen by the show’s music supervisor, Don Kirshner, with the actual members of the then-“band” in quotes contributing as much as they could fight for around their shooting schedule.
That said, if it resulted in a song as good as “Last Train to Clarksville,” it couldn’t be all bad.
The Monkees — “I’m a Believer”
The band’s second album, creatively titled More of the Monkees, is notable for a few reasons.
First, it had a couple songs, including this one, written by Neil Diamond. Yes, that Neil Diamond. Really!
Second, More of the Monkees actually sold more copies than The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is arguably (by me) the greatest album of all time. Really. Look it up.
Third, and I’m also not making this up even though it absolutely sounds like I am, Jimi Hendrix’s first American tour was opening for The Monkees after the release of this album.
The world is weird, guys.
The Monkees — “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”
This song is notable for getting Kirshner fired and making The Monkees a real, proper band.
Kirshner liked two things: his stable of songwriters and Davy Jones as the band’s frontman. The former was understandable since one of those songwriters was aforementioned legend Neil Diamond, but the latter was more a point of contention since all the band members shared vocal duties.
But Kirshner, the power going directly to his head, ignored them and released two Jones-sung songs as the A and B sides of a single in Canada, with this being the A-side. He didn’t ask the band for permission. He didn’t really ask anyone for permission, and to top it all off, he had “My Favorite Monkee — Davy Jones Sings” printed on the albums.
And that was about it for him.
The Monkees — “Daydream Believer”
From the Monkees’ third album onward they were a normal band, albeit one that were also shooting a sitcom in an era where they were expected to have an episode every week pretty much perpetually. So they didn’t sleep much.
Their first album as a legit, proper band with creative control was Headquarters, but it’s not one of my favorites so we’re skipping to a single recorded during the sessions for their fourth album and released on their fifth. It was their last huge, timeless hit.
Also, most of all, anyone who claims to not like “Daydream Believer” is lying to you. It’s a great song.
The Monkees — “Listen to the Band”
The year 1968 was not kind to the Monkees. First, their show was canceled. Then their movie debut, Head, tanked along with its soundtrack. Their TV special was even worse. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Peter Tork quit the band.
All that said, they did prove the perception that they were actors who didn’t play their own instruments wrong, even if it was initially true to their chagrin. Their show was canceled in 1968 but the band kept releasing albums.
Their eighth of nine albums included this song, which was considered for their very first album but ultimately passed over. It topped out at No. 100 on the Billboard chart, showing that perhaps that was a good decision. After its was released, Nesmith quit to pursue a critically acclaimed career as a folk singer-songwriter. He wrote the song that became Linda Ronstadt’s first hit. The band made one more album as a duo, and broke up in 1970.
But of course you all knew that already, and are probably already correcting me in the comments if you disagree with any of my assessments.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.