The Monkees were America’s answer to the British Invasion, and the answer was every bit as good as the question. They were quite literally made for television, but as a band, a show and a pop phenomenon, they became so much more than just four cute boys with instruments.
The idea for The Monkees as a TV show sprang from the success of those mop-topped Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. Producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafaelson wanted a foursome of fresh-faced young imps to play rock and roll music and act the fool in a half-hour series, and they auditioned more than 400 contenders for the parts. Eventually, the roles went to two musicians (Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork) and two former child actors (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones), and The Monkees were born.
On television, The Monkees chronicled the adventures of a madcap rock and roll band, with Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike all playing cartoonish versions of themselves—Davy as the cute one, Micky the zany one, Peter the shy one, and Mike the smart one with the deadpan wit and the perpetual knit cap. Really, the whole show resembled a sort of live-action rock and roll cartoon, with the boys always being drawn into the strangest adventures. The Monkees had big hearts, always wanting to help out someone in need, but they always ended up in some sort of outrageous caper: heading to England to save Davy’s family estate, having to spend the night in a haunted castle, trying to win a horse race, promoting Davy as a prize fighter, and trying to help Micky after he was mistaken for a mobster.
The guys lived in a great loft on the beach and cruised around in the Monkeemobile, a modified GTO. Dreamboats that they were, along the way they managed to attract their fare share of romantic crushes, often resulting in a conflict with a disapproving father or a jealous boyfriend. Through it all, this band stood for one thing only, and that thing was having a good time.
To fill the rock and roll quotient, each episode featured two Monkees songs, usually set to a filmed accompaniment in a sort of early version of MTV. Like those videos, the style of the whole show was loose and inventive—The Monkees would address the camera, the action would sometimes leave the set, and even in the opening credits, those wacky kids were pushing a king-size bed down a busy street.
The show actually only ran for two seasons (enough to win an Emmy), but Monkee-mania was much larger than a weekly half-hour comedy. The band released several albums, headlined a major tour, and everywhere they went, adoring female fans mobbed the boys. Even more impressively, in 1966 The Monkees sold more albums than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. With hits like “Stepping Stone,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Daydream Believer,” “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” The Monkees cemented their place in rock history. They also starred in a feature film, Head, co-written by Jack Nicholson and featuring the first screen appearance of Terri Garr.
A one off 1969 60 minute special(14 April) called 33 and a third revolutions per monkee also appeared and after the end of The Monkees on television, Peter left the band to pursue a solo career. The three remaining Monkees released another pair of albums, followed by one more album with just Micky and Davy after Mike left. After four years of wild success, The Monkees officially broke up in 1970.
The four former Monkees pursued their separate interests through the 1970’s, but a funny thing happened in the mid-80’s: as MTV began airing episodes of The Monkees to a new generation, the group entered a whole new phase of popularity. Peter, Micky and Davy re-formed The Monkees, released a few albums (including one more with a temporarily returned Mike), and watched the launch of The New Monkees in syndication (featuring a brand new cute foursome).
The new series didn’t take off, but the reunited Monkees became a highly popular touring act. They may have started as a made-for-TV band, but more than thirty years of success has proven that The Monkees were the real deal.
“Here we come,
Walking down the street,
Get the funniest looks from,
Everyone we meet…
Hey hey, we’re The Monkees,
And people say we monkey around,
But we’re too busy singing,
To put anybody down…”
USA / NBC – Raybert – Screen Gems / 58×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 12 September 1966 – 9 September 1968
Creator and Producers: Bob Rafaelson, Bert Schneider
Davy Jones as Davy
Micky Dolenz as Micky
Michael Nesmith as Mike
Peter Tork as Peter