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Watch & Listen
In November 1965, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz came together as The Monkees to film a pilot television program for creator/producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider’s Raybert Productions. The group members were selected via a casting call, word of mouth and just plain luck. All four had prior musical and acting experience.
The Monkees series was sold to the NBC network in February 1966 and began shooting at the end of May. It debuted on September 12, 1966 and ran for two seasons. Fifty-eight half-hour programs were produced over an 18-month period, and the show won two Emmy awards in 1967.
During June ‘66, the Monkees started recording sessions for the show’s soundtrack with a variety of producers and songwriters. Contrary to popular belief, the Monkees did perform instrumentally on some of these sessions and provided the lead vocals for all of their recorded efforts. Additionally, group member Michael Nesmith produced and wrote some of the Monkees’ earliest recordings.
Without a doubt, the architects of the Monkees’ sound were Music Coordinator Don Kirshner and songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. In addition to composing and performing the music featured in The Monkees pilot from November ’65, Boyce and Hart’s creations included “Last Train To Clarksville” (#1 in 1966), “(Theme From) The Monkees,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (#20 in 1966), “Valleri” (#3 in 1968), “Words” (#11 in 1967), “I Wanna Be Free” and “She".
The Monkees scored their biggest hit in late 1966 with Jeff Barry’s production of the Neil Diamond song, “I’m A Believer.” Despite this success, friction developed between the group and Music Coordinator Don Kirshner. Stung by the criticism that they did not participate in their own records, the Monkees took control of their musical destiny.
During 1967, the Monkees created two albums (Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.) and two singles (“Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer”) as a full-fledged musical unit with only minimal use of outside musicians. However, by November of ‘67, the individual Monkees had decided to pursue their recorded exploits separately.
In 1968, the Monkees starred in their one and only feature film, Head. A collaborative effort with Jack Nicholson, the movie found only a limited initial audience, but has gone onto to become a cult classic. Towards the end of ’68, the Monkees taped a television special for NBC called 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. It was to be Peter Tork’s last original project with the band. Dissatisfied with the separate direction the group’s recordings had taken, he split in December ’68.
Micky, Davy and Michael continued as a trio for the next year. They mounted a nationwide tour with a backing band called Sam & The Goodtimers, but found their popularity diminishing. Record-breaking Saturday morning reruns of The Monkees series in ‘69 provided something of a rebirth, but record sales did not rebound. In early 1970, Michael Nesmith split from the Monkees to form the First National Band. Micky and Davy recorded one further album (Changes) and single (“Do It In The Name Of Love”) before going their separate ways.
In 1975, Micky and Davy reunited with songwriters Boyce and Hart for live shows and records as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. Ten years later, promoter David Fishof organized a massively successful tour featuring Micky, Davy and Peter. Just a few days short of the 20th anniversary of The Monkees series’ debut, Nesmith briefly rejoined his bandmates on stage at Los Angeles’ Greek Theater for performances of “Listen To The Band” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” After this, the four Monkees taped a Christmas video for MTV, but this reunion was fleeting.
Nevertheless, 1986 proved to be a phenomenal year for Monkeemania. By November, seven Monkees albums were on the Billboard charts and a new single from Micky and Peter (“That Was Then, This Is Now”) went Top 40. This success was due in large part to the re-airing of The Monkees series by MTV (in a deal worked out by Bert Schneider).
In 1987, Micky, Davy and Peter recorded a new album together, Pool It! (for Rhino) and two years later the entire group reunited to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. After this event, all was quiet on the Monkee front until 1994 when producer/creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider sold the entire Monkees legacy of films and recordings to Rhino. Two years on, Nesmith regrouped the Monkees for an album called Justus. As the title implied, this was a group effort ala 1967’s Headquarters. An ABC network television special, Hey Hey We’re The Monkees, directed by Nesmith returned the group to prime time for one night only.
Forty years on from their initial debut, the Monkees are all pursuing different avenues of creativity. Their first two albums have just been reissued by Rhino as deluxe two-CD sets and the future looks exciting for Monkees enthusiasts.