Mention The Monkees to a group of people and watch the varied responses – it should be a sport unto itself. Even now – 47 years after the debut of The Monkees television show along with the start of a string of hits (top-selling act of 1967) – some of the reactions will be a scoff along with a dismissive “I guess somebody still likes them”. I discovered The Monkees during their mid 80’s revival, watching reruns of the television show on MTV. My Dad seemed to revel in the revival and could seemingly recite all the verses to the band’s bizarre (and funny) “Zilch” sketch / song. My name is Jason, and I LOVE The Monkees.
The problem people seem to have with The Monkees is the fact that the band did not write most of their songs (Michael Nesmith had songwriting credits even on the early albums) and did not play on their own records until the release of their 3rd record, Headquarters. My response is…who cares? Session musicians have long been used by popular bands and tons of famous artists use other songwriters (or collaborate). Check some of those songwriting credits (especially on popular country music records). See what I mean? The Monkees’ problem is that they were conceived of as a television show about a Rock ‘n’ Roll band (similar to the show Glee & a Glee club). No one counted on The Monkees becoming a real band. Amazingly, in a short period of time we came to know Micky Dolenz as the Proto-Punk, Rock ‘n’ Roll singer on “Steppin’ Stone” and “Randy Scouse Git” (the latter also written by Dolenz). Here comes Michael Nesmith with his groundbreaking, country rock anthems “You Just May Be the One” and “Listen to the Band”. Or how about Peter Tork with his psychedelic contributions to “Shades of Gray” and the closing theme to the TV show, “For Pete’s Sake”. Davy Jones (RIP) mixed it up with a Broadway feel on some tunes, and straight ahead Rock ‘n’ Roll on others. His most famous tune is this one:
It was 1996 by the time I had the opportunity to see the band live. A kid I grew up with who was developmentally delayed and called me Ralph (for reasons that are still unclear to me, 17 years later) was obsessed with The Monkees. A group of family friends decided to go see The Monkees at Valley Forge Music Center in the Philadelphia, PA region. At the time, my obsession with the band had mostly subsided and had been replaced by the Britpop bands of the day (Oasis, Blur, Pulp). Nevertheless, I wanted to see the show more than I let on to anyone around me. Sitting in the dark, waiting for the band to come on, I could hardly believe I was in the same room as Davy, Micky, and Peter (Michael was sitting this one out). My friend couldn’t believe it either – when the show started he was shouting “Ralph! Ralph! The Monkees are HERE!” The show was considerably heavy on nostalgia, but even included some of the mid 80’s tunes that sparked a 2nd wave of Monkees-mania. Personally, I reveled in the 60’s hits and thought that would probably be my only chance to see the band live.
As it turns out, I’d miss the reunion shows of 2001 and 2011 due to one thing or another. Davy Jones died in the spring of 2012 and suddenly my on and off infatuation with The Monkees was reawakened (it never goes away, really. Just lays dormant from time to time). An update in The Seattle Times caught my eye shortly after – Micky Dolenz would be playing a solo show for free at a venue that is about 5 minutes from where I live in the Seattle / Tacoma suburbs. I couldn’t believe it! Micky was in top form all night, displaying still shot photos of him and Davy Jones in the background all throughout the evening. Stories spilled forth from Mr. Dolenz, giving it a “stories ‘round the campfire feel”. In depth details about Jimi Hendrix opening up for The Monkees and the time “Monkee Man” Micky Dolenz met John Lennon. Honestly, it is probably one of my favorite shows that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. The human element was displayed throughout – this wasn’t just showbiz. The evening was capped with a touching tribute to Davy Jones, with Dolenz singing Davy’s signature song, “Daydream Believer”. Also highlighted – the songs from the Head soundtrack, which are among the strongest songs The Monkees ever cut.
Incredibly, just a short time after that Micky Dolenz show, it was announced that The Monkees would be touring with Michael Nesmith – something that hadn’t happened since a few shows in the UK during 1997. Unfortunately for me, there was no Seattle show on that 1st leg of the tour during late 2012. My disappointment turned to excitement when the “A Midsummer’s Night With The Monkees” tour was announced. August 17, 2013 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle seemed to be filled with the most rabid fans of The Monkees this side of 1967. The vibe of the show was different from the earlier ones I’d been to – a distinct, country-rock vibe permeated the air thanks to Michael Nesmith. This was a good thing. Interspersed among the Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork songs were a dozen or so Nesmith penned tunes, sung by the man himself. “Randy Scouse Git” is always a treat, but to hear it just a few minutes after Nesmith’s “You Just May Be The One” was amazing. Also notable was the way video was interspersed among the various set changes, really driving home the point that The Monkees had been a cultural force to be reckoned with. Davy’s presence was missed, but the band brought up an audience member to lead a sing-a-long for “Daydream Believer”. The Monkees were having fun and the good vibrations were positively infectious on the crowd, amped up for another round of Monkee-mania.
The Monkees may not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (yet). They might not be respected in the ways that The Rolling Stones and The Beatles are. Am I really comparing The Monkees to The Beatles? I’d have to say yes. The Beatles may have made incredible albums and received critical adulation, but since I’ve heard all of those songs so many times, I find myself reaching for The Monkees more and more. The diversity of the original 9 records is hard to overstate – there is something there for everyone. These are my experiences that highlight my love of The Monkees. For further reading (and in-depth consideration of the group), I’d highly recommend The Monkees: The Day by Day Story of the 60’s TV Pop Sensation by Andrew Sandoval as well as Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band by Eric Lefcowitz. After realizing the brilliance of The Monkees, you just may be left mouthing the lyrics to this gem from 1970’s Changes: