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The Monkees: from Comedy to Fame

Member Since
Jun 2020
Published Books
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Many families have specific CD’s that they like listening to on long family drives. One of our favorites is: “The Monkees greatest hits”, a compilation of 20 songs which came out in 1995. Two previous albums with the same name exist and a few more compilations of their songs have been made since.

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The Monkees: from Comedy to Fame by Yasmin Bohak - Ourboox.com

The Monkees began their musical career in the 60’s as the cast of a sitcom about the adventures of a rock group not yet discovered. Their music was originally the soundtrack for the series and used to promote the series.

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How it all began…

In 1962, Bob Rafelson developed the initial idea for the series but was unsuccessful in selling it.
A few years later, while working at Screen Gems (a subsidiary of Colombia Pictures), Rafelson teamed up with Bert Schneider and on the 16th of April 1965 they sold the series to Screen Gems Television. The show was inspired by the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” (The trailer of the movie is on the next page).

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The Holywood reporter reported on July 1965 that Davy Jones will return from England in order to prepare for Rafelson and Schneider’s TV pilot. He became the first cast member.
That September, the daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter ran an ad in order to find the remainder cast members.

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The Monkees: from Comedy to Fame by Yasmin Bohak - Ourboox.com

Three new cast members were chosen:
Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz.
All 4 cast members already had music and/or acting experience at the time.

(Top center: Davy Jones, left: Peter Tork, right: Micky Dolenz, bottom: Michael Nesmith).

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The Monkees: from Comedy to Fame by Yasmin Bohak - Ourboox.com

The Monkees’ debut single: Last Train to Clarksville”
was released on the 16th of August, 1966, just  a few weeks before the TV debut.
The song was written by: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
The idea for the lyrics of the song came to Hart while listening to the Beatles’ song: “Paperback Writer”, as he thought Paul was singing: “take the last train” instead of “Paperback Writer”.
The song was intended to imitate the Beatles’ style.
The instrumental session was not done by the four cast members, but was done instead by Boyce and Hart’s band: Candy Store Prophets.

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The first broadcast of the TV show was on September 12, 1966 on NBC. Together with the single “Last Train to Clarksville” they were a major hit. The single hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

Their fist album: “The Monkees” was released a month later and also hit #1, remaining at the top of the chart for three months.
The management didn’t permit the band to function as a working band for this album, and yet the album cover credits them as the players. Their true contribution is almost entirely limited to vocal tracks.

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The first song in the Album is also the theme song of the TV show: “(Theme From) The Monkees”. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who wrote the song admitted that it too was based on an existing model: “Catch Us if You Can” by the Dave Clark Five.
A mild anti establishment message is included in the song: “we’re the young generation and we’ve got something to say”.
Several other of their early songs are also based on existing songs.

 

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Assigning instruments…

Instruments were assigned to the four band members for the purpose of the TV show. Jones, who was the best drum player, was short, and the producers feared that behind the drums he would be hidden from view. It was decided that Dolenz, who didn’t know how to drum at all, will become the band’s drummer. He faked his way through the pilot, and later was thought how to play properly. On TV Nesmith played guitar, Tork played bass, Dolenz drums and Jones lead singer and percussionist. In reality, Tork was a better guitarist than Nesmith, who was a better bass player than Tork, and Dolenz had the most distinctive voice. On stage they often played the instruments they were more skilled at playing.

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In the years 1967-1968, The Monkees went on tour in the USA, UK, Australia and Japan. They were greeted everywhere by adoring fans in a manner which reminded people of Beatlemania.

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More people were buying the music than watching the show and the producers decided they needed to focus more on the music.

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The Monkees’ second album “More of the Monkees” was a huge success remaining #1 for 18 weeks. This album includes the well known song “I’m a believer”.

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The Monkees wanted to play their own instruments on their records and use more of their own material.
Don Kirshner, the monkees’ record producer, disagreed and even moved the track recording from California to New York. This meant the Monkees took no part in the musical process at all until they were asked to add their vocals.
The second Album, released without their knowledge while they were on tour, annoyed the Monkees. Their opinions on track selections were ignored, and they weren’t even given copies of the album, they had to buy it from a record store.

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Interestingly, one of the songs included in the album: “Mary Mary” was actually written by Nesmith.

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Following a big argument Kirshner was dismissed.
Their next album: Headquarters was recorded as a real band and dispensed almost entirely of session players.
The album was released on May 22th, 1967 and was #1 in the USA for only one week, after which they were replaced by the Beatles’: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
They remained at #2 for 11 weeks.

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Their 4th album: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., also hit #1, and was their last album to do so. In this album session players were used more than in their third album for various reasons.
In this album was featured the hit song: “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.

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Their next single, “Daydream Believer” was also a #1 hit which meant the Monkees held #1 simultaneously for a single and an ablum.

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In their next album: “The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees”, they largely produced their own sessions, and the songs are mostly solo efforts (though credited to the entire band). The contributions of the different band members reflects their different musical tastes. It reached #3, shortly after being released in 1968.
The album was released after NBC announced they will not be renewing the TV series for a third season.

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After the cancellation of the TV series in 1968, Rafelson directed a feature film about the Monkees called: “Head”. The movie wasn’t a commercial success.
It intended to ruin the Monkees’ carefully crafted image and reputation.

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Tension within the group increased and in 1969 Tork bought out the remaining four years of his monkees contract and left the band.
In February that year, the band released their album: Instant Replay without Tork (who only played guitar on one of the songs).

In October 1969, the Monkees released their final album with Nesmith (who resigned in 1970), The Monkees Present. This album included the country-rock song: “Listen to the Band” written by Nesmith. This album hit #100 at it’s peak.

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Dolenz and Jones recorded together the Monkees’ final album: “Cahnges”, before loosing the rights to use the name: The Monkees in several countries (USA included).

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After the 60’s, many revivals, reunions and compilations of their greatest hits still came out, including the 1995 compilation of “The Monkees Greatest Hits” which played in our car for years.
Even though the Monkees began as a TV comedy show intended to imitate the Beatles, I would argue that they have become a band in their own right and their music lives on ’till this day…and is even used in Movies!
You may know this…

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