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"The Monkees themselves are a harmless lot, little pop-idol puppies who can't sing, can't dance, can't talk, don't need to."
"Hey, hey we're the Monkees
—The Monkees television show theme
This article is primarily about the band; the series has a page here.
The Monkees started when two TV producers, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, placed an ad in entertainment industry trade papers calling for "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series". The "4 insane boys" who made the cut were Former Child Star and Garage Band singer Micky Dolenz, expatriate Brit turned Broadway musical headliner Davy Jones, singer/songwriter Michael Nesmith, and Greenwich Village folkie Peter Tork. While all four Monkees had previous musical experience, Nesmith and Tork had no professional acting experience (the two had some high school and college acting creds), but they adapted quickly.
The Monkees project was instantly successful--tellingly, the first single, "Last Train to Clarksville", started climbing the charts before the TV series went on the air--and the "4 insane boys" soon found themselves second only to The Beatles in popularity. Still, musical director Don Kirshner rarely let them play on their records (or write their own songs)--which was kept secret until the frustrated band revealed it to the media, losing some credibility in the process. Continuing conflict culminated in Kirshner getting fired, and the Monkees took of control of their music and show, which both became increasingly free-wheeling and psychedelic. Even though the four had gotten greater control of songwriting, the band continued to take advantage of the pool of songwriters assembled for the show, since -- paraphrasing Peter Tork -- if you had access to Neil Diamond and Carole King in their prime writing songs for your band, wouldn't you use those songs?
The hits continued for a while, even after the Monkees gave up their TV series after its second season. However, the group's 1968 film Head, a surreal, deliberately plotless Deconstruction of the band's journey through the Show Business meat grinder, was a flop (although it's become a Cult Classic). Eventually, their record sales dropped, and Tork left, followed by Nesmith. In 1969, Saturday morning reruns of the TV series got good ratings, which led to Dolenz and Jones doing Changes, a return to the bubblegum pop of the early albums. However, the songs on Changes were not as catchy or distinctive as the ones on the band's early albums. Changes didn't chart, and that was the end of the Monkees. The four ex-members went on with their lives--until 1986.
In 1986, MTV began celebrating the Monkees' 20th anniversary by rerunning their TV series. The reruns got great ratings, and suddenly the Monkees were a viable proposition again. The band had a top 20 hit with a new single ("That Was Then, This Is Now", which featured only Dolenz and Tork), started playing reunion concerts, and recorded a new album, Pool It (which featured Dolenz, Tork, and Jones). The independently wealthy Nesmith was missing from Pool It and most of the concerts, but he returned in 1996 for the band's 30th anniversary swan songs as a quartet--Justus, the only Monkees album not to feature any outside musicians or songwriters, and its followup TV special Hey, Hey, It's the Monkees. Since then, Creative Differences and Peter Tork's health problems (he was diagnosed with a rare form of head and neck cancer, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma in 2009; he is now cancer-free) seemed to have destroyed any chance of another reunion. However, in the summer of 2011, Jones, Dolenz and Tork embarked on a hugely successful concert tour commemorating the band's 45th anniversary.
Sadly, Davy Jones died of a sudden heart attack in 2012, making a full reunion impossible. Still, the Monkees' popularity and artistic legacy have remained strong to this day, and it seems likely that they'll endure into the foreseeable future.
The Monkees' studio discography before the original breakup in 1970:
- The Monkees (1966)
- More of the Monkees (1967)
- Headquarters (1967)
- Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967)
- The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees (1968)
- Head (1968)
- Instant Replay (1969)
- The Monkees Present (1969)
- Changes (1970)
Follow-up reunion albums:
- Pool It! (1987)
- Justus (1996)
The Monkees' musical career contains examples of:
- Bad Boss: Don Kirshner is arguably a Real Life example. Besides not letting the Monkees play or write their own material, he released their second album (More of the Monkees) without telling them, and finally got fired for breaking an agreement that each single should have one side written by band members.
- The Band Minus the Face:
- The 1970 album Changes featured only Micky and Davy; Mike and Peter had already left the band.
- Slight subversion in that Micky and Davy were the primary Faces Of The Band. However, Nesmith and Tork were the professional musicians of the group (rather than actor/singers like Dolenz and Jones), and the ones who gave the group credibility with critics and peers. At any rate, the album flopped and the remaining Monkees split up soon afterward.
- According to Tork, after the Monkees were reduced to a duo, there was a joke in the trade papers that either Jones or Dolenz would quit and the last remaining member would continue on as "The Monkee".
- Boy Band: Early example if not Trope Maker.
- Censored Title:
- When "Randy Scouse Git" (named after one of the Catch Phrases of Alf Garnett, the lead character of Til Death Us Do Part, which was later remade by US TV as All in The Family) was recorded, the British record label wouldn't allow it to be released on the grounds that the title was "offensive"(?!), so they insisted that it be given an alternate title. Hence it was initially released as "Alternate Title". (It has since been restored to its proper title.)
- In British slang, randy means horny, Scouse is a term for people or things from Liverpool, and git means idiot, so it's actually pretty offensive,or at the very least inappropriate for what is marketed as an all ages act.
- Micky Dolenz, who wrote the song, reportedly had no idea what the phrase actually meant; he simply heard it on British television and thought it sounded cool.
- Cut and Paste Suburb/Stepford Suburbia: The subject of "Pleasant Valley Sunday".
- Daydream Believer: One of the band's most popular songs is the Trope Namer.
- Days of the Week Song: "Saturday's Child".
- Fake Band:
- The Monkees were not allowed to play their own instruments on the show during the first season, until they overthrew label supervisor Don Kirshner.
- Peter Tork didn't even sing on their first record: He had to make do as being one of the five guitarists on Nesmith's composition "Papa Gene's Blues", which contained the only instrumental contribution from a Monkee until Kirshner was fired.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Listen to The Band".
- Garfunkel: Peter Tork.
- Gratuitous Panning: If you listen to the track "Zilch" with headphones on, it sounds like the four of them are surrounding you.
- Gray and Grey Morality: The subject of "Shades of Gray".
- Important Haircut:
- During the psychedelic period, Micky stopped straightening his hair, while Davy cut his hair shorter.
- Borderline example: Mike, during the same period, stopped wearing his famous wool hat and grew killer sideburns.
- It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time: The band were fans of Jimi Hendrix and wanted him to open for them on their tour. Somehow, the managers of both parties actually set up the arrangement. This went about as well as you expected; whenever Hendrix went on stage, he was booed off by Monkee fans. Both the Monkees and Hendrix were upset at this development and while there was no bad blood between them, Hendrix dropped out of the tour when "Purple Haze" started climbing the charts.
- Jerkass Don Kirshner
- Last-Note Nightmare: "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Cuddly Toy", written by Harry Nilsson, is a rather dark song, with lyrics that seem to be telling the latest victim of The Casanova to just get over it ("You're not the only cuddly toy / that was ever enjoyed by any boy... You're not the only choo-choo train / That was left out in the rain / The day after Santa came... I never told you that I loved no other / You must've dreamed it in your sleep"). You'd never know it by the bouncy, cheerful way Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz sing it, though. Additionally, the line "You're not the only cherry delight / That was left in the night / And gave up without a fight" implies that the woman was a virgin -- and an easy "conquest" as well.
- An alternate interpretation may be that the "Cuddly Toy" is a male being harassed by a gang of bikers.
- The Man Behind The Band: Evidently, Don Kirshner thought this was his role in the group's career. Consider his liner notes for More of the Monkees; he devotes much more text to the team of veteran songwriters he assembled for the band than the band itself.
- Motor Mouth: Micky in "Goin' Down"
- My Nayme Is: Micky. It is not spelled with an E before the Y.
- Non-Appearing Title/Refrain From Assuming:
- Many of Mike's songs. Examples include "Good Clean Fun", "Daily Nightly", "Tapioca Tundra", and "Papa Gene's Blues", among many others. He adores this trope.
- "Randy Scouse Git" aka "Alternate Title" is a double dose of this.
- "For Pete's Sake" -- Peter wrote it, but says (unsurprisingly) that Mike named it.
- "Early Morning Blues and Greens", for a non-group-written example.
- One-Woman Song: "Valleri" was a deliberate invokation of this trope; Don Kirshner asked Boyce and Hart to write a song with a girl's name in it.
- Patter Song: "Goin' Down".
- She Is All Grown Up: Basically what the song "Valleri" implies.
- The Something Song: "Porpoise Song" and "Daddy's Song" from Head and "French Song" from The Monkees Present.
- Spoken Word in Music:
- The simulated nightclub chatter at the beginning and end of "Don't Call on Me".
- Davy and Micky cracking jokes during "Gonna Buy Me a Dog".
- Davy recites the lyrics to "The Day We Fall In Love", and he also does spoken interjections in "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)".
- Train Station Goodbye: The subject of "Last Train to Clarksville".
- Who's on First?: In "Gonna Buy Me A Dog"
Davy Jones: I just got back from Africa, y'know. I was playing cards with the natives.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Several of Mike's lyrics during the psychedelic period.