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Hey Hey, It's The Monkees! The Story Of The Pre-Fab Four

Editor Picks | September 20, 2017

The Monkees, left to right: Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith. (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

The story of The Monkees, a television show that would chronicle the imaginary rise to fame by an imaginary Beatles-esque band, would make a good TV show in itself. The Monkees (Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith) were musically talented, but famously didn't play the music on their songs. The Monkees did sing the vocals -- and what vocals they were! This TV band, four young men who didn't know each other and were brought together by producers -- a "fake" band, you might say -- had real hits, bigger hits than anyone could have expected. The Monkees were intended as a parody of The Beatles, but at their peak they were dueling with The Beatles on the pop charts. "I'm A Believer," "Last Train To Clarksville," "Daydream Believer," and "Steppin' Stone" were '60s anthems, and they came from a TV show. In addition to recording some of the '60s most memorable songs, The Monkees sold out concert halls across the country. The four actors who answered the audition ad in Daily Variety became icons of the decade and heartthrobs to teenage girls from coast to coast.

The Monkees premiered in 1966 and was on TV until 1968. The audience fell in love with Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith. MTV revived the sitcom again back in 1986 and a whole legion of new fans were born again, with reunion tours and new records. 

The Beatles 'Hard Day’s Night' Film Inspired the TV Show Developers

Source: IMDB

The initial idea for the television show The Monkees actually began in 1962 as the brainchild of aspiring filmmaker, Bob Rafelson. But he was unsuccessful in selling his pitch to TV executives. Rafelson shelved his idea and went to work for Screen Gems where he met Bert Schneider, whose father was an executive for the TV unit at Columbia Pictures. Encouraged by his father, Schneider and Rafelson formed their own production company, Raybert Productions. Then, in 1964, the Beatles film Hard Day’s Night hit the big screen and further heightened Beatlemania. The success of Hard Day’s Night led Rafelson and Schneider to resurrect Rafelson’s old idea for a television series on a similar vein. This time around, the concept for The Monkees was more favorably received. Rafelson and Schneider sold the idea to Screen Gems Television in 1965.

The Original Idea Was To Feature An Existing Band

Source: IMDB

Rafelson and Schneider originally wanted to use a real band in their TV show. In fact, they had a band in mind already. At the time, a New York-based rock band, the Lovin’ Spoonful, was an up-and-coming group that was slowly gaining a following. Rafelson and Schneider wanted to document the antics of this real-life band as they sought to find stardom. But it was not meant to be. Just before being approached by Rafelson and Schneider, the Lovin’ Spoonful signed a record contract which meant that Screen Gems would not own the rights to the group’s music. The deal fell through, leaving Rafelson and Schneider with a TV show about a band, but with no band. 

Enter Davy Jones

Source: IMDB

When the Lovin’ Spoonful idea dissolved, Rafelson and Schneider knew who they wanted to contact for their show. Davy Jones was a young British actor and singer who had garnered attention for playing the Artful Dodger in Broadway’s Oliver! In fact, he performed a scene from the musical on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 -- the same night that the Beatles made their historic appearance on the late night show. Jones was talented, attractive and British -- the perfect candidate for a role on The Monkees.

Madness! The Producers Ran An Ad Looking For Other Cast Members

Source: Monkeeslivealmanac.com

Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter both ran audition ads in early September 1965. The ad read:

Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running Parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21. Want spirited Ben Frank's types. Have the courage to work. Must come down for interview.

The ad caught the attention of 437 young men who came down to audition for a part on the show. Ironically, only one of the boys who ended up being  cast -- Michael Nesmith -- had actually seen the ad. Nesmith had been working as a musician for a few years and even recorded a few of his own songs. Additionally, he had studied drama in college. His combined acting and musical experience helped him land a spot on The Monkees. 

Peter Tork And Micky Dolenz Learned About The Auditions Elsewhere

Source: IMDB

Micky Dolenz was the son of an actor and had appeared in his own television show as a child. His agent told him about The Monkees and suggested he audition. Dolenz could sing and play the guitar, and had even recorded a minor hit with the band, the Missing Links. His agent thought he had the right combination of talent to join The Monkees.

Peter Tork was the last cast member to join The Monkees. Prior to making the leap to television, he was a Greenwich Village musician. One of his friends and fellow musicians, Pete Seeger, had been rejected for The Monkees and he told Tork about the auditions.

For Strangers, the Four Boys hit it off…Too Well at Times!

The Monkees in May 1967. Source: Wikimedia Commons

For a musical group that didn’t come together organically, Jones, Nesmith, Tork, and Dolenz got along quite well, but they weren’t ready, musically, for the debut of The Monkees. The television studio first assigned Jones the lead singing position, but the rest of the members did not take favorably to that. Nesmith later said that it was Dolenz’s unique voice and style that helped to create The Monkees sound. The music producers, at first, didn’t allow the boys to play their instruments on any of the recordings but relented once they realized the talent of the four. The producers learned quickly that they had to take each guy into the studio and record him individually. If they put all four together in the studio, the four would goof around and make each other laugh too much. 

The Monkees Took Control of Their Own Music

Source: IMDB

Although the premise of the television show was one of following the adventures of a wannabe rock band on their way to stardom, the music of The Monkees soon overtook the television series. Tork, Nesmith, Dolenz, and Jones eventually took over creative control of their own music. The group’s first single, “Last Train to Clarksville” spent 13 weeks at number one and helped to launch the popularity of the TV show and the band. The Monkees television show ran from 1966 to 1968. The series was considered groundbreaking in that many of the scenes were shot like proto-music videos, a genre that was still more than a decade away.

The Monkees Continued Their Music After The TV Show Ended -- For A Time

Source: IMDB

When the television series ended in 1968, The Monkees continued to record their music and go on concert tours. They released hits such as “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” “Daydream Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m A Believer.” In 1970, Peter Tork left the group. Soon after, Michael Nesmith left.

The Monkees Were The Forerunners Of Other 'Invented' Bands

Source: IMDB

The Monkees were unique in their creation. Prior to The Monkees, bands formed organically when musicians met each other and decided to perform together. But The Monkees were individually selected and put together as strangers to make music. It was an unusual approach but one that would happen more and more after The Monkees. One of the best-selling groups of all time, One Direction, was formed the same way, as was the TV show band-turned real band, Big Time Rush. In many ways, The Monkees laid the foundation for other, studio-created bands that would follow. 

Tags: 1966 | Hey Hey Its The Monkees | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The 1960s | The Monkees | TV In The 1960s

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.