Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meet the MONKEES – Part 2

Text by Joe Tortelli, intro by Robert Barry Francos
Article © 1985; RBF intro © 2011 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

The following Monkees retrospective was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #13, in 1985. It was researched and written by Boston-based rock’n’roll historian Joe Tortelli. For more info on Joe, please see the first part of this article.

A year after this second part of the article came out, I saw a version of the Monkees (sans Mike) play at the Jones Beach Playhouse in 1986. It was a fun, and high-scripted show, where even the ad-libs were pre-prepared. It was a good show and a solid crowd; the group had a bit of a revival, in part due to a new album, song, and MTV video, all titled
That Was Then, This is Now (the song was written by a member of the Long Island post-garage group, The Mosquitoes).
However, I had seen Peter Tork play his first New York solo show after his breakup from the band in 1977, where he played two sets at CBGBs, including a classical piece on piano (John Cale would later claim to be the first to play classical at the club, but Tork beat him to it).

In 1998, I saw Davy Jones perform as part of a Teen Idol Tour at the Westbury Music Fair, sharing a bill with Bobby Sherman and Peter Noone. While Sherman and Noone were gracious, Jones was vile and bitter, including graphic homophobic comments made towards his gig-mates. The woman next to me, who told me she was so excited to see her teen pin-up after all these years, started crying at one point and said to me, “Why is he being so

The same year this second part came out, I even had the opportunity to briefly meet Tommy Boyce at the apartment of Nancy Foster, who was interviewing him for
FFanzeen – RBF, 2012.

Monkeesmania lingered into early 1968. The quartet’s initial release of the year, “Valleri” b/w “Tapioca Tundra,” rested at the third position on the surveys. It was destined to be the group’s last million selling Top Ten single.

A steady rock’n’roll beat drives the smash “Valleri.” Davy’s solid vocal, upbeat horn lines and session man Louie Shelton’s flamingo guitar decorate this Boyce-Hart tune. “Tapioca Tundra” reveals Mike’s versatility as a singer and songwriter. Hi vocal suggests Rudy Vallee and the Roaring ‘Twenties, but the tempo is pure ‘sixties rock. “Tapioca Tundra” received a tad of airplay and went to No. 34 on the charts.

The Monkees’ final gold album surfaced in April 1968. Mike, Peter, Micky and Davy produced The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees (excluding “Daydream Believer,” a Chip Douglas production). Reflecting the band’s declining popularity, this Monkees album attracted little AM radio exposure and failed to reach the top of the LP charts.

The album includes five David Jones (as the maturing Britisher now billed himself) vocals. David handles the pop numbers, “We Were Made For Each Other,” “Dream World,” and his own composition, “The Poster.” He also sings “Valleri” and “Daydream Believer.”
Micky is heard on a couple of typical, mid-temp Monkees ditties, “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet,” and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s take-off on personal ads, “PO Box 9847.” The drummer also performs credibly on “Zor and Zam,” a clever anti-war ballad, and Mike Nesmith’s mildly psychedelic “Auntie’s Municipal Court.”
With a vocal style reminiscent of “Tapioca Tundra,” Nesmith simulates the old gramophone sound on “Magnolia Sims.” Nesmith’s most progressive composition, “Writing Wrongs,” consists of five minutes of avant-garde meanderings on voice and keyboards.

The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees effectively ended a year and a half of Monkee-inspired hysteria. The television series was given its pink slip by NBC in the Spring of ’68. Denied this constant exposure, the group lost its access to mass audiences. The Monkees’ final gold record had already been awarded: their last Top-Tenner had already charted.

In slightly over a year and a half, the Monkees achieved a level of popularity matched only by Elvis and the Beatles over a similar period of time. Like their two predecessors, the Monkees popularity was global. The series was televised in 39 nations around the world. The foursome attracted screaming fans to concerts in Britain, Japan and Australia, as well as the United States. Their international record sales are said to have exceeded 35 million units.

On the negative side, the Monkees were the first act to generate antipathy – not from parents, but from some rock fans. They were unmercifully criticized for their musical shortcomings and their dependence on outside songwriters. Kids into acid rock, psychedelia and progressive music complained that the Monkees were empty pop stars singing worthless bubblegum tunes. These young critics dug the Doors, Cream, the Jefferson Airplane and most of all, Jimi Hendrix.

Ironically, Micky and Peter spotted Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, before he became a sensation. They insisted that the Jimi Hendrix Experience fill the second spot on a Monkees tour that year. Hendrix’s big break turned into an embarrassing bust for his world-be mentors. The black guitarist’s onstage activities outraged the parents of young Monkees enthusiasts. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was quickly forced off the Monkees tour. The episode reinforced Jimi’s hip image, but left the Monkees looking squarer than ever.

Meanwhile, Mike Nesmith’s often overlooked songwriting talent was attracting the attention of other recording acts. A band called the Stone Poneys nearly cracked the Top 10 in early 1968 with Nesmith’s “Different Drum.” The group, which at times was billed as a supporting act at Monkees concerts, also recorded Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues.”

The young, attractive lead vocalist of the Stone Poneys gained a foothold in the recording industry with “Different Drum.” Superstardom awaited her in the mid-‘70s, but Linda Ronstadt’s signature song through the early, lean years of her career was this Mike Nesmith composition.
While Nesmith was placing songs with other artists, writing for the Monkees continued to be something of a cottage industry for professional composers. Turning Nesmith’s journey from pop star to songwriter inside out, the composing team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart tried their luck as a vocal duo.

Tommy Boyce actually placed “I Remember Carol” in the lower third of the Hot 100 in 1962. Prior to the Monkees, Boyce and Hart composed for other acts. Jay and the Americans took “Come a Little Bit Closer” all the way to No. 3 on the charts in 1964.

As a result of their unparalleled success with the Monkees, record labels vied for the talents of these two reflex hitmakers. Boyce and Hart signed with Herb Alberts’ A&M Records label and scraped the Top-40 during the summer of ’67 with “Out and About.” The duo struck their biggest seller, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” in the first quarter of ’68. With its bright melody and good-natured lyrics, “I Wonder…” bounced up the charts and into the Top-10. “Alice Long,” a similar sounding upbeat follow-up, skirted the Top-Thirty a few months later. [They would also make an appearance on Bewitched as themselves singing “Blow Me a Kiss in the Wind,” and provide the excellent and bouncy title song for the film Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows - RBF / 2012.]

A May 1968 release inaugurated the Monkees’ post-mania period. Davy Jones’ “It’s Nice to Be with You” backed the pleasant, but insignificant “D.W. Washburn.” The feeble sales of this record indicated that the era of automatic million sellers and Top-10 hits was over. The Monkees’ first non-gold record peaked at No. 19.

[The Monkees concluded a disappointing 1968 with a Gerry Goffin-Carole King composition, “Porpoise Song,” delivered a wonderful glimpse into psychedelic pop. Micky and Davy fronted the dirge-like tune with its musical and lyrical Beatle influences (Porpoise = Walrus – get it?).

Unfortunately, the youngsters wanted more yummy pop songs, while the skeptics refused to even listen. “Porpoise Song” didn’t crack the Top-40.

If the Monkees no longer appealed to small screen audiences, perhaps they could find a new life on the big screen. So Bob Rafelson hoped, when he brought the boys to the movies. (Rafelson would go on to acclaim for his work on Five Easy Pieces, but he made his directorial debut in this Monkees film.)

The surrealistic film featuring those fading pop idols was titled Head. The eclectic cast included movie star Victor Mature, beach queen Annette Funicello, and footballer Ray Ninschke. The reigning king of the underground, Frank Zappa, also had a bit part.

Neither Zappa’s appearance nor the druggish connotations of the movie’s title attracted hip viewers to this underrated slice of psychedelica. And teeny-boppers, who no longer purchased Monkees records, did not suddenly materialize at the box offices.

Like the movie, the soundtrack album bombed commercially. Head was an interesting step for the band musically, but the teen audience ignored it.

Peter Tork made his greatest contribution to a Monkees LP on Head. He wrote and produced two cuts, “Can You Dig It” and “Do I Have to Do This All Over Again.” The soundtrack also contained the semi-hit “Porpoise Song.” Mike Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” appeared as a studio track on vinyl, though it was recorded “live” for the film.

Though the Monkees now controlled their own music, Peter Tork announced his decision to leave the band. Tork was always irritated by the yoke which management placed on the group. He realized that his contribution to the Monkees’ first two albums was virtually nil. Ironically, he asserted himself most on Head, his final vinyl venture with the band. His overall unhappiness with what the Monkees seemed to represent simply grew too great.

Before he left the group, Peter taped one last television extravaganza with his mates. 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee starred the boys, along with rock veterans Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard. Brian Augur and the Trinity were added to lure the progressive audience [as was Julie Driscoll, who had a few hits at the time in England – RBF / 2012]. Though an interesting send-off to their video career, this 1969 program did nothing to revitalize the Monkees’ sagging popularity.

The three remaining Monkees pulled their first Torkless release from a one-year-old Boyce and Hart album. “Tear Drop City” recaptured the infectious “Last Train to Clarksville” formula – Micky’s confident vocal, familiar guitar riffs, and reliable songwriting a la Boyce and Hart. It failed to recreate “Clarksville’s” chart luster. “Tear Drop City” climbed only half way up the Hot-100 in February 1969.

The album which followed continued the downward trend. Instant Replay was comprised of the usual Boyce-Hart and Goffin-King tunes in addition to a few Monkees originals. Radio airplay was practically non-existent. Record sales slipped even more.

Realizing that the group was becoming a commercial basket case, Colgems Records issued the Monkees’ Greatest Hits the biggest hit singles and a few choice LP cuts were squeezed on this fourteen-song compilation.

The threesome nearly tasted success one last time in the last spring of ’69. The hit song was expected to be “Someday Man,” a syrupy Paul Williams tune sung by Davy.

Mike Nesmith’s “Listen to the Band” filled the record’s flip side. Driving, orchestrated music accompanied Mike’s sterling vocal performance. “Listen” muscled its way onto many AM stations’ playlists, and even confirmed Monkees haters nodded approvingly. The song earned the Monkees not another gold record award, but respect.

Finally, the Monkees had redeemed themselves artistically. Mike and ex-Monkee Peter always yearned for acceptance on musical terms. They disliked the hype and hysteria as much as their severest critics. Freed of the mania and freed from managerial constraints, the Monkees produced a gem of a song nearly three years after their first smash. They triumphed in a small way with a minor hit that was a pop masterpiece.

Mike Nesmith’s concluding Monkees album, Present, attracted little notice and fewer sales in the fall of ’69. The banjo picking on Mike’s “Good Clean Fun” unmistakably indicated the countrified direction of his coming solo career.

That neglected album coincided with the Monkees’ last live appearances. Concerts no longer attracted screaming, sell-out crowds. Television still occasionally welcomed the lads back home. On one evening the threesome guest stared on The Johnny Cash Show. Mike, Micky and Davy sang something called “Everybody Loves a Nut” with The Man in Black.

When the Monkees found themselves cutting television commercials for Kool-Aid, it could hardly have been the proudest moment of their career. They must have felt a tad more irritated when they checked out the latest music surveys. While their records were lucky to sneak into the charts, their former “music supervisor” was once again riding high: Don Kirshner’s cartoon character studio group, the Archies, nestled at Number One in September ’69 with “Sugar Sugar.” The contrast between Kirshner’s renewed gold-plated success and the Monkees dismal commercial failures could not have been greater.

The two actors, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, limped along after as the Monkees after Mike Nesmith departed. With producer Jeff Barry at the helm, they recorded the album Changes. The single from this inoffensive pop record, “Oh My, My,” crawled to No. 98 on the Top-100.

That final, totally ignored Monkees album was released in May 1970. Another band issued its last LP that same month and year. Only three years earlier, the Monkees had been favorably compared to this British act. In a cruel but appropriate twist of fate, these two bands concluded their public careers simultaneously.

The Beatles ended as they had begun – with a Number One album (Let It Be), artistic integrity, and immeasurable popular appeal. The revelation of the Beatles’ breakup was a major international news story.

The Monkees (or, what was left of the Monkees) disintegrated in the face of mass indifference.

* * *

Mike Nesmith pursed outside project before leaving the Monkees. Besides writing for other artists, he recorded an instrumental album, The Wichita Train Whistle Sings. Recorded in 1968 for Dot Records, Wichita featured country interpretations of Nesmith’s Monkees compositions.

Mike signed with RCA Records after leaving the Monkees. The RCA financial empire actually controlled the NBC network (which broadcast The Monkees series) and the Colgems label (the Monkees’ record company).

The former Monkee produced a string of respectable country rock albums during the early ‘70s. Critics finally accorded this multi-talented artist proper recognition.

Nesmith’s initial post-Monkees congregation, the First National Band, scored a couple of popular successes, “Joanne” nudged the Top-20 in the summer of 1970. A few months later, “Silver Moon” touched the Top-40.

Mike’s abortive attempt to form his own record label ended in disappointment. His deal with Elektra Records to record West Coast country acts collapsed after two releases. Unimpressed with the sales potential of the Countryside subsidiary, David Geffen dropped it when he assumed the presidency of Elektra.

After forming and then disbanding the Second National Band, the ex-pop idol went under the name (surprise!) Michael Nesmith. Following his departure from RCA, Nesmith helped develop the Pacific Arts Corporation. The 1975 album and books set, The Prison, was his earliest effort for this new label.

His second Pacific Arts LP, From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing, included “Rio,” a Top-Ten single in Australia on Island Records. The 1977 release also received attention in Britain, though it failed to attract American interest.

The guitarist’s most recent album, Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma, was issued in June 1979. Billboard magazine called the record, “Nesmith’s return to mainstream rock’n’roll.” Despite a major publicity push from Pacific Arts, neither the LP nor its single, “Magic (The Night is Magic),” reaped meaningful sales.

During the late ‘70s, Nesmith displayed a revitalized interest in the use of video as a musical medium. He was among the first in the rock world to appreciate this link. [His hour-long video, Elephant Parts, was the first video ever to win an Emmy – ed/1985.]

Nesmith has also involved himself in filmmaking. His name appears as producer in the 1982 futuristic western, Timerider .

* * *

Micky Dolenz dabbled in both television and music, following the Monkees’ breakup. His TV appearances included guest roles on Adam-12 and Owen Marshall.  He also worked on children’s programs and television commercials. He traveled to England at the close of the ‘70s to develop an animated series. During an interview at that time, Micky said that he viewed his years with the Monkees as another step in his long career as a professional entertainer.

As to prove his own point, Micky’s solo musical output has been singularly unimpressive. The man who sang lead on so many exhilarating Monkees tunes has been unable or unwilling to channel that talent on his own. A handful of Dolenz singles have reached the market” “Daybreak,” a 1973 release on the Romar label, caused a minor stir because it was composed and produced by Harry Nilsson.

* * *

While the individual Monkees pursed inconsistent solo careers, their televisions series was syndicated to many American and international broadcast outlets. Repeats of the program resuscitated the memory of the band and earned the foursome new fans. In Japan, this resulted in the rebirth of Monkeemania towards the end of the ‘70s.

Colgems Records had waved goodbye to their Golden Boys in 1970 with the release of a two-disc greatest hits set, A Barrel Full of Monkees. Bell Records secured the rights to the Monkees catalogue after Colgems folded. Hoping to tap into the syndicated television audience, Bell pressed yet another compilation, Re-Focus, in 1972. Record sales were sparse.

Outside of the band itself, songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were probably hurt most by the demise of the Monkees. Their ability to pen Monkees million sellers earned them hefty royalty checks. When the record sales and radio spins faded, Boyce and Hart must have felt the pinch.

It was not a total shock when the songwriting team turned up a half of a touring act dubbed “The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees.” Onlookers easily identified the other two performers – Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz.

The repeated showings of the television series achieved concrete results by the mid-‘70s. Young and old fans numbering up to ten or fifteen thousand crowded Midwest fairgrounds to hear their favorite songs. If audiences were disconcerted by the absence of half the original band, they did not show it. Nor did they mind when ‘60s semi-star Keith Allison stepped forward from his perch as guitarist to sing the ‘60s TV theme song, Action.

Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart toured together in 1975 and 1976. At one memorable July 1976 concert in Disneyland, a fair-haired, bearded fellow appeared with the group. For the firs time since 1969, three members of the Monkees were playing together. On that day, Peter Tork performed with his former comrades, Davy and Micky.

The reception accorded their live performance encouraged the four neo-Monkees to land a recording contract. A major record company, Capitol, signed the act. Because of legal impediments (not unlike the Lone Ranger mask hassle), the name “Monkees” could not be used. Instead, they recorded as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart. One self-title LP was produced.

That album neither recaptured the magical Monkees sound nor rekindled interest in that dormant pop phenomenon.

It was May 1976. Nearly a decade had passed since the Monkees’ first hit. Rock’n’roll had changed. Memories of the fast paced Monkees era had dimmed.

The Monkees phenomenon was a product of its time. It was an essential part of the ‘60s. It could not be re-created or relived. It was over.

For more recent (since 1985, anyway) developments with the band and it’s members, check Wikipedia, as they are more thorough as I could ever be without just repeating the information. – RBF / 2012.

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