The Monkees

Let’s take a step back, my dear reader, and delve into the fascinating tale of The Monkees. Born in the aftermath of the Beatles’ triumph in the film “A Hard Day’s Night,” Hollywood craved a television series centered around a fictional group of four young men with charming mop-top haircuts. And so, The Monkees came into being, captivating audiences with their infectious music and charismatic presence.

The Monkees as a Fictional Band

The story of The Monkees begins with a visionary filmmaker named Bob Rafelson. In 1962, Bob conceived an idea that would eventually evolve into The Monkees. He aspired to sell his brainchild to Revue, the television division of Universal Pictures. However, his dreams were met with disappointment, as his concept failed to find its footing.

The Monkees

Yet, as fate would have it, Bob’s path intersected with Bert Schneider in May 1964. Bert Schneider, the son of the esteemed Abraham Schneider, who held influential positions in Colpix Records and Screen Gems Television. Together, they formed Raybert Productions.

Inspiration struck Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider as they immersed themselves in the Beatles’ cinematic masterpieces, “A Hard Day’s Night”, comedy television in 1964, and “Help!” in 1965. These groundbreaking films reignited their creative flames, prompting them to resurrect Bob Rafelson’s original concept for The Monkees. United under the moniker “The Raybert Productions,” they embarked on a mission to breathe life into their brainchild once more.

Initially, Bot and Bert aimed to cast the Lovin’ Spoonful, an established folk-rock group from New York. However, their plans were thwarted when John Sebastian, a pivotal member of the Lovin’ Spoonful, had already committed the band to a record contract. Such an arrangement would have hindered Screen Gems’ ability to utilize the show’s music for commercial purposes.

Undeterred, Bob and Bert shifted their focus to Davy Jones. 

Davy Jones had already forged ties with Screen Gems, signing a comprehensive contract in September 1964. This agreement encompassed his involvement in television programs, film projects under the Columbia Pictures banner, and music recordings for the Colpix label.

Out of a staggering 437 applicants, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz emerged as the chosen few to complete the cast.

Michael Nesmith, a musician since early 1963, had been tirelessly honing his craft. He had delved into the realm of music under various aliases, including Michael Blessing and “Mike & John & Bill.” Notably, Michael had also pursued drama during his college years, making him a well-rounded candidate for the project. Interestingly, which ultimately led him to the auditions for The Monkees.

Micky Dolenz, on the other hand, brought a wealth of acting experience to the table. Being the son of the esteemed character actor George Dolenz, he had previously graced screens in the Screen Gems-produced TV series “Circus Boy” during his childhood. Under the stage name Mickey Braddock, Micky had showcased his talents as an actor. Moreover, he had also explored his musical abilities, played the guitar and lending his vocals to a band called Micky and the One-Nighters The band had even released a single titled “Don’t Do It.” It was through his agent that Micky learned about the auditions for The Monkees, which would ultimately lead him on a path towards pop culture stardom.

Peter Tork, the last member to be chosen, had been carving his path in the vibrant Greenwich Village music scene. As a musician, Peter had shared the stage with the esteemed Pete Seeger, his talents resonating within the folk music circles. Curiously enough, Tork’s introduction to The Monkees came through Stephen Stills, a talented songwriter who Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had regrettably rejected (his hair and teeth were not photogenic). It was Stephen who acquainted Peter with the tantalizing opportunity to join the ranks of The Monkees.

The Monkees graced American television screens with their lively presence as a sitcom that aired on NBC for two seasons. From September 12, 1966, to March 25, 1968, viewers were captivated by the adventures of these four young men, affectionately known as The Monkees, as they embarked on a quest to establish themselves as a renowned rock ‘n roll band.

This groundbreaking series introduced a range of innovative film techniques, infusing a breath of fresh air into the realm of television. The Monkees brought a wave of newness and creativity to the small screen, earning them recognition and acclaim. In 1967, they were honored with two Emmy Awards, including the esteemed title of Outstanding Comedy Series.

However, all good things must come to an end, and so did The Monkees’ television journey in 1968, at the culmination of its second season. Yet, their legacy endured through the passage of time. The show experienced a vibrant afterlife, captivating audiences through Saturday morning repeats on both CBS and ABC. 

The Monkees as a Band

Thus, my dear reader, The Monkees left an indelible mark on the landscape of television, captivating viewers with their infectious energy, comedic charm, and unforgettable music. Their legacy lives on, ensuring that their spirited journey continues to be cherished and celebrated.

inspired by the tremendous success of The Beatles’ iconic films, The Monkees emerged as a band in search of work during a transformative period in the American music scene, known as the British Invasion. While numerous talented songwriters from Aldon Music contributed to The Monkees’ repertoire throughout their existence, the primary songwriting duties fell upon the shoulders of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. At the time, Tommy and Bobby were budding songwriters who were just beginning to make their mark in the industry. To pave the way for The Monkees’ success, they offered four demo recordings for the pilot episode. Among these demos was “(Theme From) The Monkees” 

Once The Monkees was picked up as a full-fledged series, the development of the musical aspect gained momentum. Columbia-Screen Gems and RCA Victor joined forces in a collaborative venture called Colgems Records, primarily dedicated to distributing records by The Monkees. Additionally, Raybert Productions, the brainchild of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, arranged a dedicated rehearsal space for the band in April 1966. Instruments were rented, allowing the group to hone their musical skills and practice playing together.

It was in this vibrant atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, and dedicated preparation that The Monkees embarked on their musical journey, poised to make their mark in the ever-evolving landscape of popular music.

 While the sitcom aspect of the show flowed smoothly, the music side encountered its fair share of tension and controversy right from the start.

Don Kirshner, the music supervisor, Screen Gems’ head of music, held reservations about the quartet’s musical abilities. Consequently, he imposed restrictions on their involvement during the recording process, opting instead to rely heavily on professional songwriters and studio musicians. This approach yielded a series of chart-topping albums and hit singles.

When it came to assigning instruments for the television show, a dilemma arose regarding who would be the drummer. Both Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were skilled on various instruments but declined to give the drums a try. Meanwhile, Davy Jones had some drumming experience and initially showed promise on the instrument.

However, the producers were concerned that his shorter stature would be exaggerated by the camera angle, potentially hiding him from view behind the drum kit. As a result, Micky Dolenz, who only knew how to play the guitar, was designated as the drummer.

Peter Tork taught Micky Dolenz a few basic beats on the drums, enough for him to fake his way through filming the pilot. However, Micky Dolenz was soon properly trained on how to play the drums. Thus, the lineup for the TV show most commonly featured Michael Nesmith on guitar, Peter Tork on bass, Micky Dolenz on drums, and Davy Jones as the frontman, lead singer, and percussionist. 

It’s worth noting that this lineup didn’t necessarily correspond to each member’s musical strengths. Peter Tork, in fact, had more experience as a guitar player than Michael Nesmith, while Michael had trained on the bass. Although Davy Jones had a powerful lead voice and sang lead on several Monkees recordings, Micky Dolenz’s distinctive voice, particularly according to Michael Nesmith, became a hallmark of The Monkees’ sound.

Snuff Garrett, renowned composer of hits by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, was entrusted with the initial musical cuts for the show. In June 1966, Garrett had the opportunity to meet the four Monkees, and it was at this encounter that he made the decision for Davy Jones to take the lead as the primary vocalist. However, this choice was met with disapproval from the group, leading to a cool reception.

As a result of this reaction, Don Kirshner, the music supervisor, decided to part ways with Snuff Garrett. This opened the door for Michael Nesmith to take charge of producing sessions, with the condition that he refrained from playing on any tracks he produced. Nesmith, utilizing the talents of his fellow Monkees, particularly Peter Tork as a guitarist, enlisted Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart as regular producers. Additionally, he brought in Jack Keller, a respected associate from the East Coast, to provide his expertise to the sessions.

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart soon noticed that when all four actors were brought into the studio together, they engaged in playful banter and attempted to amuse one another. Due to this dynamic, the decision was made to have each singer record their parts individually. According to Michael Nesmith, it was Micky Dolenz’s distinctive voice that gave The Monkees their unique sound. Even during times of tension, Nesmith and Tork occasionally entrusted lead vocal duties to Dolenz on their own compositions. One notable example is Peter Tork’s “For Pete’s Sake,” which became the closing title theme for the second season of the television show.

The debut and second albums of The Monkees were intended to serve as soundtracks for the first season of the TV show. Interestingly, the first album did not credit any other musicians, leading to doubts among listeners regarding the band’s musical abilities. 

Within a few months of the debut album’s release, Music Supervisor Don Kirshner was dismissed, and the Monkees took full control as a genuine band, steering their own musical direction. This marked a significant turning point in their journey, granting them the autonomy to shape their sound and artistic vision.

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