They’re not the “Fab Four.” In fact, they are best known for being the “Prefab Four,” but they were good. Like, really really really really good. (above) Vintage Monkees promotion photos. (upper right) Some of their album covers (lower left) Jimi Hendrix actually opened for the Monkees on tour in 1967. The Monkees crowds had no idea what Jimi Hendrix was playing, much less playing his guitar with his teeth. (lower right) Peter Tork, Davey Jones and Micky Dolenz pose during portrait session to announce the bands 45th anniversary tour held at The Groucho Club on February 21, 2011 in London, England.
Some Monkees to listen to while reading this post:
Some Monkees to watch if you have some time on your hands:
- Check it out. This is the original screen test for the show: 19 minutes. Rare black and white footage of Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones auditioning for The Monkees
- Close your office door and take in a full episode of The Monkees TV show: 25 minutes
- The story of the time Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees
Ever have an idea? You know, something that feels right at the time. Not with some crazy big goal so much, or the “twenty years from now, people will…” kind, but just an idea. We have them here all the time. Dad started this thinking back in the day, and it’s helped us build a great company, founded on solving your PIA (Pain In The @#$) Jobs! Just the other day I had one of the guys say, “Steve, what if we tried it this way?” And it worked. I love it, and really encourage my gang to have ideas and give them a try! Our best ideas have always started with WHAT IF…
In 1965, over 400 people responded to a talent call ad seeking zany young men for a new television show about a mythical rock group. Kind of quirky, kind of fun, and just the right ingredients at the right time. And so was born – The Monkees, starring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork premiered in September 1966. Audiences adored the humorous antics of the band. Though made especially for TV, The Monkees had real-life hits. Some of their best-loved and number one hits included Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”, “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Little Bit Me, Little Bit You”, Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, and “Daydream Believer” by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio. I remember watching the show with my brothers and sisters, and dancing around the house to the “stereo” sound – it was just plain old fun. Here’s some trivia I thought you’d enjoy. (thx Wikipedia)
- Aspiring filmmaker Bob Rafelson developed the initial idea for The Monkees in 1962, but was unsuccessful in selling the series. He had tried selling it to Revue, the television division of Universal Pictures. In May 1964, while working at Screen Gems, Rafelson teamed up with Bert Schneider, whose father, Abraham Schneider, headed the Colpix Television and Screen Gems Television units of Columbia Pictures, and ultimately formed Raybert Productions.
- The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night inspired Rafelson and Schneider to revive Rafelson’s idea for The Monkees. As “The Raybert Producers”, they sold the show to Screen Gems Television on April 16, 1965. Rafelson and Schneider’s original idea was to cast an existing New York folk rock group, the Lovin’ Spoonful, who were not widely known at the time. However, John Sebastian had already signed the band to a record contract, which would have denied Screen Gems the right to market music from the show.
- On July 14, 1965, The Hollywood Reporter stated that future band member Davy Jones was expected to return to the United States in September 1965 after a trip to England “to prepare for a TV pilot. Jones had previously starred as the Artful Dodger in the Broadway theatre show Oliver!, and his performance was later seen on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night as the Beatles’ first appearance on that show, February 9, 1964.
- On September 8, 1965, Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter ran an ad to cast the remainder of the band/cast members for the TV show. Out of 437 applicants, the other three chosen for the cast of the TV show were Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz. Nesmith, to work alongside Davey Jones. Of the final four, Nesmith was the only one who actually saw the ad in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Tork, the last to be chosen, had been working the Greenwich Village scene as a musician, and had shared the stage with Pete Seeger; he learned of The Monkees from Stephen Stills, whom Rafelson and Schneider had rejected as a songwriter. Dolenz was an actor (his father was veteran character actor George Dolenz) who had starred in the TV series Circus Boy as a child, using the stage name Mickey Braddock, and he had also played guitar and sung in a band called the Missing Links before the Monkees, which had recorded and released a very minor single, “Don’t Do It”. By that time he was using his real name – he found out about The Monkees through his agent.
- The band’s music was initially supervised by producer Don Kirshner, backed by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. For the first few months of their initial five-year career as “the Monkees”, the four actor-musicians were allowed only limited roles in the recording studio. This was due in part to the amount of time required to film the television series. Nonetheless, Nesmith did compose and produce some songs from the beginning, and Peter Tork contributed limited guitar work on the sessions produced by Nesmith. They eventually fought for and earned the right to collectively supervise all musical output under the band’s name.
- Dolenz described the Monkees as initially being “a TV show about an imaginary band … that wanted to be the Beatles, [but] that was never successful”. The actor-musicians became, ironically, one of the most successful bands of the 1960s. The Monkees sold more than 75 million records worldwide and had international hits, including “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “Daydream Believer”, and “I’m a Believer”. At their peak in 1967, the band outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.
- During the casting process Don Kirshner, Screen Gems’ head of music, was contacted to secure music for the pilot that would become The Monkees. Not getting much interest from his usual stable of Brill Buildingwriters, Kirshner assigned Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to the project. The duo contributed four demo recordings for the pilot. One of these recordings was “(Theme From) The Monkees” which helped get the series the green light.
- When The Monkees was picked up as a series, development of the musical side of the project accelerated. Columbia-Screen Gems and RCA Victor entered into a joint venture called Colgems Records primarily to distribute Monkees records. Raybert set up a rehearsal space and rented instruments for the group to practice playing in April 1966. Kirshner called on Snuff Garrett, composer of several hits by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, to produce the initial musical cuts for the show. The producers quickly found that when brought into the studio together, the four actors would fool around and try to crack each other up. Because of this, they would often bring in each singer individually.
- According to Nesmith, it was Dolenz’s voice that made the Monkees’ sound distinctive, and even during tension-filled times Nesmith and Tork sometimes turned over lead vocal duties to Dolenz on their own compositions, such as Tork’s “For Pete’s Sake,” which became the closing title theme for the second season of the television show.
- The Monkees’ first single, “Last Train to Clarksville” b/w “Take a Giant Step”, was released in August 1966, just weeks prior to the TV broadcast debut. In conjunction with the first broadcast of the television show on September 12, 1966, on the NBC television network, NBC and Columbia had a major hit on their hands. The first long-playing album, The Monkees, was released a month later, spent 13 weeks at #1 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 78 weeks. Twenty years later, during their reunion, it would spend another 24 weeks on the Billboard charts. This first album is also notable, in addition to containing their debut single, for containing band member Nesmith’s first foray into country-rock, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” which mixed country, rock and Latin flavors.
- In assigning instruments for purposes of the television show, a dilemma arose as to which of the four would be the drummer. Both Nesmith (a skilled guitarist and bassist) and Tork (who could play several stringed and keyboard instruments) were peripherally familiar with the instrument but both declined to give the drum set a try. Jones knew how to play the drums and tested well enough initially on the instrument, but the producers felt that, behind a drum kit, the camera would exaggerate his short stature and make him virtually hidden from view. Thus, Dolenz (who only knew how to play the guitar) was assigned to become the drummer. Tork taught Dolenz his first few beats on the drums, enough for him to fake his way through filming the pilot, but he was soon taught how to play properly.Thus, the lineup for the TV show most frequently featured Nesmith on guitar, Tork on bass, Dolenz on drums and Jones as a frontman, singer and percussionist.
- Unlike most television shows of the time, The Monkees episodes were written with many setups, requiring frequent breaks to prepare the set and cameras for short bursts of filming. Some of the “bursts” are considered proto-music videos, produced to sell the records. The Monkees Tale author Eric Lefcowitz noted that the Monkees were—first and foremost—a video group. The four actors would spend 12-hour days on the set, many of them waiting for the production crew to do their jobs. Noticing that their instruments were left on the set unplugged, the four decided to turn them on and start playing.
- After working on the set all day, the Monkees (usually Dolenz or Jones) would be called into the recording studio to cut vocal tracks. As the band was essential to this aspect of the recording process, there were few limits on how long they could spend in the recording studio, and the result was an extensive catalogue of unreleased recordings.
- Pleased with their initial efforts, Columbia (over Kirshner’s objections) planned to send the Monkees out to play live concerts. The massive success of the series—and its spin-off records—created intense pressure to mount a touring version of the group. Against the initial wishes of the producers, the band went out on the road and made their debut live performance in December 1966 in Hawaii.
- They had no time to rehearse a live performance except between takes on set. They worked on the TV series all day, recorded in the studio at night and slept very little. The weekends were usually filled with special appearances or filming of special sequences. The last show of the premiere season, “Monkees on Tour”, was shot in a documentary style by filming a concert in Phoenix, Arizona.
- During the summer 1967 tour of the United States and the UK (from which the Live 1967 recordings are taken), they were backed by a band called the Sundowners. In 1968 the Monkees toured Australia and Japan. The results were far better than expected. Wherever they went, the group was greeted by scenes of fan adulation reminiscent of Beatlemania. This gave the singers increased confidence in their fight for control over the musical material chosen for the series.
- With Jones sticking primarily to vocals and tambourine (except when filling in on the drums when Dolenz came forward to sing a lead vocal), the Monkees’ live act constituted a classic power trio of electric guitar, electric bass and drums (except when Tork passed the bass part to Jones or one of the Sundowners in order to take up the banjo or electric keyboards).
- The Monkees went on to produce three years of television, countless concerts and individual recordings. To learn more, visit: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-monkees-mn0000478603/biography.
What’s your idea today?