Monkees, The, the “Pre-Fab” four pop-group created to exploit the success of The Beatles on record and film. membership: Michael Nesmith, gtr., voc. (b. Houston, Tex., Dec. 30, 1942); Davy Jones, tamb., voc. (b. Manchester, England, Dec. 30, 1945); Peter Tork (Thorkelson), bs., voc. (b. Washington, D.C., Feb. 13, 1944); Michael “Mickey” Dolenz, drm., voc. (b. Tarzana, Calif., March 8, 1945).
The Monkees were created through auditions conducted by NBC television in September 1965. The principals were chosen from more than 400 applicants that included Stephen Stills and Jerry Yester. Mickey Dolenz had been a child actor, appearing in the TV series Circus Boy, using the name Mickey Braddock, from 1956 to 1958, and later was lead singer of The Missing Links. Davy Jones had been a racehorse jockey and appeared in the London and N.Y. productions of the musical Oliver before unsuccessfully attempting a solo singing career. Both Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith had performed music professionally. Tork had played Greenwich Village coffeehouses, whereas Nesmith had done session work in Memphis for Stax/Volt Records and played in the duo Mike and John with John London in Los Angeles.
The Monkees television series debuted in September 1966, with Don Kirshner as musical supervisor. His songwriting staff provided the group with many of their hits, starting with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s top hit “Last Train to Clarksville.” The series proved enormously successful as the group continued to record with sessions musicians such as James Burton, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, and Hal Blaine, scoring smash hits with Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” (backed with the major hit “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone”) and “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You.” The members, led by Nesmith, were finally allowed to play their own instruments beginning with Headquarters.
Touring the U.S. in 1967, briefly with Jimi Hendrix as the opening act, The Monkees’ fourth album yielded a smash hit with Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s wry “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” backed by the major hit “Words.” The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees produced the top hit “Daydream Believer” (written by John Stewart) and the smash “Valleri” (by Boyce and Hart). The final episode of the television show was broadcast in March 1968 and the show was cancelled in June. Following the major hit “D. W. Washburn” (by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), the group achieved only minor hits through 1970. The Monkees’ late 1968 comedy film Head, produced by their television producer Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, proved a commercial failure, although the soundtrack album contained some of the members’ finest offerings, including Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” and Tork’s “Can You Dig It.” Tork quit The Monkees in early 1969 and Nesmith left following The Monkees Present, which included his minor hit, “Listen to the Band.” Only Dolenz and Jones remained for 1970’s Changes. Dolenz and Jones resurfaced in 1975 and 1976 with songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart for one album and tour.
Of the four Monkees, only Michael Nesmith was able to establish himself as a solo artist. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band recorded his “Mary, Mary” on their East-West album; Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys scored their first and only major hit with his “Different Drum” in 1967; and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band managed a minor hit with his “Some of Shelly’s Blues” in 1971. After producing and conducting an instrumental album of his own songs for Dot while still a member of The Monkees, he signed with RCA in 1970 and formed The First National Band with old associate John London and steel guitarist Orville “Red” Rhodes. Regarded as one of the finest country-rock bands to emerge from Los Angeles, the group recorded two albums and scored a major hit in 1970 with Nesmith’s haunting “Joanne.” They subsequently fell into disarray during the recording of their third album, which was completed with legendary guitarist James Burton and keyboardist Glen D. Hardin, who were later members of Emmylou Harris7 Hot Band. Nesmith later formed the short-lived Second National Band and recorded the solo album And the Hits Just Keep on Coming, often regarded as his finest work, with stalwart Red Rhodes.
During 1972, Michael Nesmith founded his own label, Countryside, under the auspices of Elektra Records, but the label was later abandoned when David Geffen succeeded to the presidency of Elektra. After recording a final album for RCA with Red Rhodes, Nesmith allowed his contract to expire, purchased his old masters, and formed Pacific Arts Records in Carmel, Calif., in 1977. He recorded several albums for the label in the late 1970s and expanded the company’s operation into the production of videos. His award-winning 1981 television special, Elephant Parts, was one of the first to be specifically aimed at the home VCR market, and his Pop Clips, for cable television’s Nickelodeon network, provided the prototype for MTV months before the music network was launched. Nesmith further expanded into feature-length movies with 1983’s Timerider, scoring his biggest film success with the cult favorite Repo Man in 1984. Other film, television, and video projects followed, although none proved particularly successful.
In 1986, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Mickey Dolenz reunited as The Monkees for a surprisingly successful national tour. Spurred on by MTV’s airing of the group’s television show and the reissue of their first six albums (including Head) on Rhino Records, the group was introduced to a new generation and enjoyed renewed popularity. Dolenz and Tork even scored a major hit with ’That Was Then, This Is Now.” In 1987, the three toured again and recorded all new songs for Rhino on Pool It!, which produced a minor hit with “Heart and Soul.” In the 1990s, Mickey Dolenz recorded two children’s albums and Nesmith returned to recording with Rio Records. Peter Tork recorded Stranger Things Have Happened for the small Beachwood label in 1994. All four original members of The Monkees reunited for 1996’s Justus on Rhino Records and 1997’s ABC-TV special Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees. In the mid-1990s, Michael Ne-smith’s guitarist-son Jason was a member of Nancy Boy with Donovan’s son Donovan Leitch Jr.
the monkees:The Monkees (1966); More of The Monkees (1967); Monkees’ Headquarters (1967); Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. (1967); The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees (1968); Head (soundtrack; 1968); Instant Replay (1969); The Monkees Present (1969); Changes (1970); Barrel Full (1971); Live 1967 (1987); Pool It! (1987); Justus (1996). davy jones:David Jones (1965); Davy Jones (1972). dolenz, jones, boyce and hart:Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart (1976); Concert in Japan (1996). michael nesmith:The Wichita Train Whistle Sings (1968); And the Hits Just Keep on Comin (1972); Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Trash (1973); The Prison (1974); Rio (1994); From a Radio Engine to a Photon Wing (1977); Live at the Palais (1978); Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma (1979); Tropical Campfires (1992); The Garden (1994). mike nesmith and the first national band:Magnetic South (1970); Loose Salute (1970); Nevada Fighter (1971); Michael Nesmith and The First National Band (1993). michael nesmith and the second national band:Tantamount to Treason (1972). mickey dolenz children’s record:Mickey Dolenz Puts You to Sleep (1991); Broadway Mickey (1994). peter tork:Stranger Things Have Happened (1994).
D. Jones, They Made a Monkee out of Me (1987); M. Dolenz and M. Bego, I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness (N.Y., 1993).
E. Lefcowitz, The Monkees’ Tale (Berkeley, Calif., 1985, 1989); E. Reilly, M. McMannus, and B. Chadwick, The Monkees: A Manufactured Image (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1987).