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 The Monkees 
by Bill Harry

America’s NBC Television network previewed two new series on 5th September, 1965. They were called ‘Star Trek’ and ‘The Monkees.’

The Monkees were a pop group created specially for television by two American producers: writer/director/producer Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. They formed Raybert Productions (Ray for Bob Rafelson and Bert for Bert Schneider) to produce a pilot sitcom for Screen Gems, based on the Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’

Acknowledging the work of director Richard Lester on the Beatles debut film, Schneider commented, “The Beatles made it all happen, that’s the reality. Richard Lester is where the credit begins for the Monkees and for Bob and me.”
They initially considered using an existing group, the Lovin’ Spoonful, but then decided to use actors and organised a casting call by advertising in the newspaper Variety:
“MADNESS! Auditions – folk and rock ‘n’ roll musicians/singers. Running parts for four insane boys, ages 17 to 21. Want spirited Ben Frank’s types with the courage to work." (Ben Frank’s was a late-night drive-in in L.A. where zany musicians gathered every night).
437 hopefuls were interviewed, including Steve Stills, Paul Williams, Danny Hutton (who became leader of Three Dog Night) and Charles Manson, who was to become involved in the murder of Sharon Tate and others.

David Thomas Jones, vocals/guitar, more familiarly known as Davy Jones, had already been selected. Born in Manchester, England on 30th December, 1945, he had appeared in 'Coronation Street',as the Artful Dodger in ‘Oliver!’ on Broadway, in the stage version of ‘Pickwick’ and in the TV series ‘Ben Casey.’

The other three who were accepted following auditions were: Robert Michael Nesmith, vocals/guitar. He was born in Dallas, Texas on 30th December, 1942 and later moved to Los Angeles where he appeared in some bands. Peter Halsten Thorkelson, vocals/keyboards/bass guitar, more familiarly known as Peter Tork, was born in Washington. D.C. on 13th February, 1944. Late in his childhood he moved to Germany where his father was stationed with the U.S. Army. He finished growing up in northwest Connecticut in New England. George Michael Dolenz, vocals/drums, more familiarly known as Micky Dolenz, was born in Los Angeles on 8th March, 1945. Under the name Mickey Braddock he’d appeared as Corky in the series ‘Circus Boy’ and had made appearances on shows such as ‘Peyton Place’ and had formed several bands.
The first name considered for the group was the Turtles, then the Inevitables and finally the Monkees. A month before the series’ debut, a Monkees single ‘Last Train To Clarksville was released – and it was to top the charts.
Although the group had been formed especially for the series, it was decided to include music in all the shows and the producers hired Don Kirshner to produce the material. He gathered songs from a variety of writers including Neil Diamond, Leiber & Stoller, Neil Sedaka, Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann and produced backing music to which the Monkees only had to add their voices.

By 1967 the group were at odds with Kirshner and wanted to produce their own material and perform the music themselves, which they were allowed to do. Their first million-seller had been followed by ‘I’m A Believer’, written by Neil Diamond, which topped both the British and American charts.

This was followed by a million-selling debut album. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who’d penned ‘Last Train to Clarksville’, together with their backing group, the Candy Store Prophets, had provided the music.
This situation began to irritate the two musicians in the group, Nesmith and Dolenz, particularly when ‘More of the Monkees’ was released, which Nesmith described as “the worst album in the history of the world.” After Kirshner was ousted, the group began to perform on their own records and continued to have hits with numbers such as ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and ‘Daydream Believer.’
There were 58 episodes in the TV series and the final episode was screened in America on 25th March, 1968. During that year the group starred in a feature film, ‘Head’, written by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson which also featured Annette Funicello, Victor Mature, Carol Doda, Teri Garr, Sonny Liston and Frank Zappa, with choreography by Toni Basil. Although a relative failure on its release, it has now gained a reputation as a cult movie.

Tork left the band as soon as ‘Head’ was released and the group continued as a trio, recording a TV special ‘33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee’ in April 1969. This was conceived and produced by Jack Good and also featured Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1969 Nesmith left to begin a solo career and the Monkees dissolved following the release of an album by Micky and Davy called ‘Changes.’ In addition to the TV series, the Monkees had nine albums and 14 singles released between August 1966 and May 1970.

In 1974 Dolenz and Jones teamed up with songwriters Boyce and Hart in a group called Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart which began touring America in a show called ‘The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees Show.’ In the meantime, Mike Nesmith had a hit in 1977 with ‘Rio.’ There was a revival of interest on the group’s 20th anniversary in 1986 and Dolenz, Jones and Tork got together again, although Nesmith refused to join them. The trio then embarked on a highly successful world tour which resulted in a live album ‘Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork’, which they released themselves – and they also recorded a new studio set ‘Pool It!’ which came out the following year. The group disbanded again and the individual members continued with their own particular pursuits. An attempt to create the New Monkees, a group with Marty Roos, Larry Saltis, Jared Chandler and Dino Kovas failed in 1987. In 1996 Nesmith reunited with the other three for a studio reunion called ‘Justus.’

Interestingly enough, when the Beatles made their debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ on 9th February 1964, which drew the biggest audience in television history up to that time: 73 million viewers, Davy Jones also appeared on the bill as a cast member of ‘Oliver!’

Because of that appearance, Davy Jones now appears as a guest at Beatles conventions in America. He also continues to appear on solo tours, when he’s not training horses, and has also appeared on a tour called The Monkees Show with Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz.

Dolenz was also touring in 2006 and appeared in the play ‘Aida.’ Peter Tork tours with his blues band Shoe Suede Blues while Mike Nesmith continues to record albums.

Tommy Boyce, who had auditioned unsuccessfully to be one of the Monkees, but together with Bobby Hart co-wrote and produced a great deal of the Monkees material including ‘The Monkees Theme’ and ‘Last Train to Clarksville’, teaming up with Dolenz, Jones and Hart as the Monkees in the 1970s, committed suicide by shooting himself in Nashville early in 1997.

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