Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:15 March 2024 


Sneeringly dubbed "the pre-fab four" at the time, The Monkees sang and clowned their way into the hearts of millions of fans around the world during the mid-60s and are still regarded with great affection. Here’s how it happened.

Seeing the success (and profits) accompanying the British invasion of the US pop charts in the wake of The Beatles phenomenal rise to stardom, a couple of smart TV executives hit upon the idea of forming a fictional band to star in their own television show and hopefully, sell some records as well. They held auditions that attracted the likes of Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash) and Danny Hutton (later of Three Dog Night) and after an exhaustive process selected two musicians—Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork—and two former child actors—Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones. The brief for the television series clearly included words like zany, madcap, fun. And probably also "fab", "mop top" and "groovy". Story structures seem to have flowed directly from the Beatles second celluloid adventure, Help! (1965), with lots of running about, jumping in the air, and magically bursting into song (twice per 25 minute episode).

Although three of the four Monkees had instrumental skills and all four could sing, the songs were written, and largely recorded, by others…at least initially. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were already Sixties successes in the songwriting domain and contributed a large portion of the songs on the debut album. That LP was released in October 1966, roughly a month after the TV show premiered and two months after the Monkees first single, "Last Train To Clarksville". All three were very successful.

  • The single reached the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in November ’66.
  • The self-titled album (on which it appeared) spent an impressive thirteen weeks at #1.
  • The TV series was watched by millions, distributed around the world, and scored a second season in 1967, making a total of fifty-eight episodes.

It was the perfect piece of marketing. Four likeable young men clowning about and performing songs twice per episode. They even advertised Kelloggs cereals. Almost all the LP tracks appeared in early episodes, with the hit single appearing in Ep. 2, "Monkee See, Monkee Die". Interestingly, "(Theme From) The Monkees", which leads off the album,  was only released as a single in February 1967. Yet that immensely catchy song—written by Boyce and Hart and sung by Mickey Dolenz—is, along with the wild Monkees car, one of the most enduring memories of a hyper-vibrant TV show.

The Monkees "Theme" and "Last Train To Clarksville" open sides one and two respectively, setting the bar high. Next up (on side one) is Dolenz taking the lead vocal on "Saturday’s Child", a fine song by David Gates, later of Seventies balladeers Bread. It has a great guitar solo by an uncredited session muso and is a lovely slice of sunny Sixties pop. "I Wanna Be Free" is another Boyce-Hart composition, a not especially memorable ballad sung by Davy Jones. It appeared in Ep. 6.

Mike Nesmith steps up to the mic for "Papa Gene’s Blues" (misprinted on the album cover as Papa Jean), a solid country-flavoured mid-tempo number. It featured in Ep. 7, "Monkees in a Ghost Town", a Western/Gangster mash-up that included a guest appearance from Lon Chaney, Jr. The side closes with Dolenz once more taking lead vocals on the Gerry Goffin / Carole King penned "Take a Giant Step", a super little song.

Golden classic "Last Train To Clarksville" is a hard act to follow, but there are some nice touches throughout side two. The middle-eastern flavoured guitar solo in "This Just Doesn’t Seem To Be My Day", a cool organ part in "Let’s Dance On", a neat garage-country hybrid on "Sweet Young Thing" (a co-write between Mike Nesmith and Goffin-King).

This debut remains a fun, enjoyable spin as it leaps towards a sixtieth anniversary. Add in the sweet Rhino re-issue with translucent splatter vinyl and a thoughtful inner sleeve and you have a disc that’ll make you smile. Just like the pre-fab four did way back when.


© Bruce Jenkins—March2024

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