evolution

Inspired by the burgeoning pop phenomena and armed with an advance from Columbia's Screen Gems subsidiary, US television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider began auditions for a show about a struggling pop band in 1965. When extant acts, including the Lovin' Spoonful, proved inappropriate, an advertisement in the Daily Variety solicited 437 applications, including Stephen Stills, Danny Hutton (later of Three Dog Night) and Paul Williams. Following suitably off-beat auditions, the final choice paired two musicians - Michael Nesmith (b. Robert Michael Nesmith, 30 December 1942, Houston, Texas, USA; guitar/vocals) and folk singer Peter Tork (b. Peter Halsten Thorkelson, 13 February 1942, Washington, DC, USA; bass/vocals) - with two budding actors and former child stars - Davy Jones (b. 30 December 1945, Manchester, England; vocals) and ex-Circus Boy star Mickey Dolenz (b. George Michael Dolenz, 8 March 1945, Los Angeles, California, USA; drums/vocals).

On 12 September 1966, the first episode of The Monkees was aired by NBC-TV and, despite low initial ratings, the show quickly became hugely popular, a feat mirrored when it was launched in the UK. Attendant singles "Last Train To Clarksville" (US number 1) and "I'm A Believer" (US and UK number 1), and a million-selling debut album confirmed the band as the latest teenage phenomenon, drawing inevitable comparisons with the Beatles. However, news that the quartet did not play on their records fuelled an already simmering internal controversy. Early sessions had been completed by Boyce And Hart, authors of "Last Train To Clarksville', and their backing band, the Candy Store Prophets, with the Monkees simply overdubbing vocals. Musical supervision was later handed to Screen Gems executive Don Kirshner, who in turn called in staff songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Diamond and Jeff Barry to contribute material for the show. This infuriated the Monkees" two musicians, in particular Nesmith, who described the piecemeal More Of The Monkees as "the worst album in the history of the world". Sales in excess of five million copies exacerbated tension, but the band won tacit approval from Schneider to complete several tracks under their own devices.

An undeterred Kirshner coaxed Jones to sing on the already-completed backing track to "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" which was issued, without the band's approval, as their third single. The ensuing altercation saw Kirshner ousted, with the quartet gaining complete artistic freedom. Although not issued as a single in the USA, "Alternate Title" (aka "Randy Scouse Git"), Dolenz's ambitious paean to London, reached number 2 in Britain, while two further 1967 singles, "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and "Daydream Believer" (composed by John Stewart), achieved gold record status. Headquarters, the first Monkees album on which the band played, was a commercial and artistic success, consisting largely of self-penned material ranging from country-rock to vaudevillian pop. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. featured material drawn from associates Michael Murphy, Nilsson and Chip Martin as the unyielding call on the band's talents continued. This creative drain was reflected in the disappointing The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees and its accompanying single, "Valleri". The track itself had been recorded in 1966, and was only issued when "pirate" recordings, dubbed off-air from the television series, attracted considerable airplay. "The Monkees are dead!", declared an enraged Nesmith, yet the song sold over a million copies, the band's last such success.

The appeal of their series had waned as plots grew increasingly loose, and the final episode was screened in the USA on 25 March 1968. The quartet had meanwhile embarked on a feature movie, Head, which contained many in-jokes about their artistic predicaments. Although baffling their one-time teenage audience, it failed to find favour with the underground circuit who still viewed the Monkees as bubblegum. However, Head has since been rightly lauded for its imagination and innovation. A dispirited Peter Tork left following its release, but although the remaining trio continued without him, their commercial decline was as spectacular as its ascendancy. Nesmith left for a solo career in 1969, and the following year the Monkees' name was dissolved in the wake of Dolenz/Jones recording Changes. However, in 1975, the latter-day duo joined their erstwhile songwriting team in Dolenz, Jones, Boyce And Hart which toured under the banner "The Great Golden Hits Of The Monkees Show".

The project drew cursory interest, but the band's reputation was bolstered considerably during the 80s, when the independent Rhino Records label reissued the entire Monkees back catalogue and the entire series was rescreened on MTV. Although Nesmith demurred, Dolenz, Jones and Tork embarked on a highly successful, 20th anniversary world tour which engendered a live album and a new studio set, Pool It!. They then disbanded as members pursued contrasting interests, while attempts to create the New Monkees around Marty Roos, Larry Saltis, Jared Chandler and Dino Kovas in 1987 were aborted. Although reviled by many contemporary critics, the original band's work is now regarded as among the best American pop of its era. Rhino Records released an ambitious 21-volume video collection in 1995 containing all 58 episodes of their television series. The following year's Justus was the first recording by the original band (including Nesmith) for over 20 years, and was followed by their first tour of the UK as a quartet.

Discography:
The Monkees (Colgems 1966)****, More Of The Monkees (Colgems 1967)****, Headquarters (Colgems 1967)***, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (Colgems 1967)**, The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (Colgems 1968)***, Head film soundtrack (Colgems 1968)**, Instant Replay (Colgems 1969)***, The Monkees Present (Colgems 1969)***, Changes (Colgems 1970)***, 20th Anniversary Tour 1986 (No Label 1987)**, Live 1967 (Rhino 1987)***, Pool It! (Rhino 1987)**, Justus (Rhino 1996)**.

Compilations:
Greatest Hits (Colgems 1969)****, Golden Hits (Colgems 1970)***, Barrel Full Of Monkees (Colgems 1970)****, Re-focus (Bell 1973)***, The Monkees (Laurie House 1976)***, Monkeemania: 40 Timeless Hits From The Monkees Australia only (Arista 1979)***, Monkeeshines (Zilch 1981)***, The Monkees Golden Story (Arista 1981)****, More Greatest Hits Of The Monkees (Arista 1982)***, Monkee Business (Rhino 1982)***, Tails Of The Monkees (Silhouette 1983)**, Monkee Flips: Best Of The Monkees, Volume Four - 14 Swinging Songs (Rhino 1984)***, Hey-Hey-It's The Monkees: 20 Smash Hits (Circa 1985)***, Hit Factory (Pair 1985)***, The Best Of The Monkees (Silver Eagle 1986)****, Then & Now ... The Best Of The Monkees (Arista 1986)****, Missing Links (Rhino 1987)***, Missing Links Volume Two (Rhino 1990)***, Listen To The Band 4-CD box set (Rhino 1991)***, Greatest Hits (Rhino 1995)****, Missing Links Volume 3 (Rhino 1996)**, 30th Anniversary Collection (Rhino 1996)***, Here They Come ... The Greatest Hits Of The Monkees (Warners/Telstar 1997)****, Anthology (Rhino 1997)****, Music Box 4-CD box set (Rhino 2001)****, The Definitive Monkees 2-CD set (Warners 2001)*****.

CD ROMS: Hey Hey We're The Monkees (nu.millennia 1996).

Videography:
The Monkees Collection box set (Rhino 1995), 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee (Rhino Home Video 1996).

Bibliography:
Love Letters To The Monkees, Bill Adler. The Monkees Tale, Eric Lefcowitz. The Monkees Scrapbook, Ed Finn and T. Bone. Monkeemania, Glenn A. Baker. The Monkees: A Manufactured Image, Ed Reilly, Maggie McMannus and Bill Chadwick. I'm A Believer: My Life Of Monkees, Music And Madness, Mickey Dolenz and Mark Bego.

Filmography:
Head (1968).

Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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