The Most Influential Pop-Rock Band Ever? The Monkees!

Michael Nesmith is a bona fide pop-culture polymath. He’s a godfather of the MTV period, having pioneered the trendy music-video style. (His Elephant Elements, a set of comedy and musical shorts, gained the very first Grammy for video of the 12 months in 1982.) He was additionally the manager producer of the 1984 punk comedy Repo Man, among the best American films of the Reagan period. Earlier than that, he was a foundational determine within the Laurel Canyon country-rock scene, having handed Linda Ronstadt certainly one of her first hit singles together with his music “Totally different Drum.” Oh, and he occurred to play the guitar-picking wiseacre with a Texas drawl and ski cap within the The Monkees tv collection, a large success that aired from 1966 to 1968. I say “occurred to play,” as a result of whenever you hear Nesmith, who’s 78 and certainly one of two surviving Monkees, discuss, you get the impression that he sees himself much less as a member of an enormously common band than as an actor on a TV present referred to as The Monkees.

The implication, as ever, is that the Monkees aren’t—and have been by no means—fairly actual.

Of their heyday, they have been famously the “Prefab 4”—a bubblegum fantasy dreamed up by a few younger Hollywood hustlers named Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. The 2 of them caught the Beatles in Richard Lester’s A Onerous Day’s Night time and had the sort of concept that makes individuals within the leisure trade very wealthy: They might take A Onerous Day’s Night time, set it in L.A., forged 4 hungry actor-musicians, christen them the Monkees, and switch them into an enormous, enormous band. It was synergy earlier than synergy was a factor, a totalized imaginative and prescient of media saturation: The collection, of their daydream imaginings, could be the hit on the hub of a Monkees franchise, spawning million-selling data, enviornment excursions, and merchandising galore. Radio listeners would grow to be TV watchers, TV watchers would purchase data…round and round and round it could go.

Because it turned out, Rafelson and Schneider had gotten it exactly proper: That’s simply what went down. Now, 55 years after the collection premiered, Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, the Monkees’ drummer and lead vocalist, are heading again on the street in a tour billed as a farewell. The dates start September 10, in Spokane, Washington, wind across the nation (with a cease at New York’s City Corridor on October 24), and end November 14 on the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. As a victory lap, it’s bittersweet, coming within the wake of COVID and following the deaths lately of fellow members Davy Jones and Peter Tork. It’s additionally a sign, if anybody cares in regards to the semantics anymore, that the Monkees are, in truth, very a lot actual, it doesn’t matter what Nesmith or Dolenz might imagine—a gifted and unique band, a pop-culture power, a touchstone for a number of generations, a long-lasting affect, and even in the present day, a viable commodity. Nesmith’s huge résumé alone virtually proves the purpose.

It started in September of 1965, when 437 hopefuls responded to adverts in The Hollywood Reporter and Every day Selection to check out for one of many 4 roles in a brand new TV collection for NBC. Amongst them have been Stephen Stills, Paul Williams, and Harry Nilsson—however not, as the urban legend goes, Charlie Manson. Stills was dinged, however his roommate, Tork, a Greenwich Village folkie sort, acquired a component. A 12 months later, the Monkees—the collection and the group—grew to become a sensation. The primary season of The Monkees gained two Emmys. In 1967, 4 Monkees albums landed at primary on the Billboard chart in a single 12 months—a feat which may by no means be duplicated. (The Beatles got here shut, with three prime LPs in three separate years.) Hits like “Final Prepare to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Nice Valley Sunday,” and “Daydream Believer” clogged the radio airwaves—simple earworms, each one.

After which one thing humorous occurred on the best way to teenybopper fame and ignominy. In its second season, The Monkees swerved into the avant-garde, internet hosting such unimpeachably credible visitors as Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley. Howard Kaylan of the Turtles and Moms of Invention gazed upon the present and professed, “I liked it.” Whereas The Monkees beamed into thousands and thousands of American dwelling rooms week after week (and would later get pleasure from a strong life in syndication), the assorted Monkees themselves have been usually discovered within the firm of their exalted friends. Some have been welcomed by the Beatles (Nesmith was a home visitor of John Lennon’s) and a few members have been seen hobnobbing at Monterey Pop. Later, Crosby, Stills, and Nash would conduct rehearsals at Tork’s home in Studio Metropolis earlier than they signed with Atlantic Information. The Tork lair was additionally the place the Stones rehearsed for his or her 1969 American tour, with its fateful cease at Altamont.

When the Monkees determined it was time to implode, having grown bored with the teen-idol recreation because the counterculture took maintain, they did it in excessive type, with a film that may be finest described as completely batshit: the surreal 1968 cult movie Head, written by Jack Nicholson. Dennis Hopper made a cameo, seeming to beg Rafelson for improvement cash, a little bit of borderline cinema verité. That 12 months, Rafelson and Schneider freed up the funds that allowed Hopper and Peter Fonda to make Simple Rider, a movie that arguably rearranged the panorama of Hollywood. In different phrases, cinema’s enduring image of the Nineteen Sixties—the film that pushed Hollywood into the last decade of Scorsese, Coppola, and Bogdanovich—was made with Monkees cash.

The music? Effectively, it was bubblegum—in one of the simplest ways. Reality be instructed, the musicians who joined the Monkees on their first two albums have been L.A. session-player superstars who may have blown most “actual” ’60s bands off the stage. The songwriters—Carole King, Harry Nilsson, Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond, John Stewart—have been top-shelf, and Nesmith’s personal contributions put him in firm with Gene Clark and Neil Younger as a major exemplar of post-Dylan songwriting. The puppy-dog-cute Davy Jones was inevitably handed the band’s sweeter materials to sing, however he had legit pipes: He’d even landed a Tony nomination as a road child in Oliver! Tork—adept as he was on banjo, guitar, bass, and keyboards—introduced multi-instrumental aptitude. Dolenz, the drummer with the incandescent leer, could have been a baby actor in TV’s Circus Boy, however as a rock vocalist, he was arduous to prime. There’s a motive, in any case, why bands just like the Intercourse Pistols and Minor Menace coated “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” a music Dolenz delivered with proto-punk perfection.

The joke the Monkees have by no means been in a position to dwell down is that Jimi Hendrix—the Zeus of rock’s guitar gods—opened for them on tour. That is typically considered hilarious irony and/or mind-boggling injustice. Two issues on that. First, the Monkees helped break Hendrix in America: credit score the place credit score is due. (Additionally they tapped Ike and Tina Turner for opening slots, displaying they knew epochal artists after they noticed them.) And second, amongst my very own era (X; I’m too younger to recollect the Monkees as stars of NBC and High 40 radio) and my music-snob, vinyl-obsessed friends, I’ve in all probability had extra conversations in regards to the Monkees—about their influence, their skill to create pleasure and wonderment, the best way they launched the entire realm of pop music to us as younger individuals—than I’ve had about Hendrix. I’m guessing the identical is perhaps mentioned of MSNBC’s Brian Williams; he’s a Monkees obsessive and even had a weblog for some time whose title was borrowed from a Monkees music, 1967’s “Every day Nightly,” considered the first rock recording to function a Moog synthesizer. (Dolenz had purchased the third Moog ever offered.) | The Most Influential Pop-Rock Band Ever? The Monkees!


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