The Monkees represent a challenge to fans of music. They are at once a marketing vehicle and a band that changed the musical scene in the Sixties. Debates continue on the merit of their artistic efforts.
I think this makes them an interesting case study for the creative process. They found ways to embrace their identity despite having to work within the limitations of being a “boy band.” I think there are many lessons about working as a creative person that we can learn from their history and influence on pop culture.
1. Selling out
The one film the Monkees produced hit you hard with the manufactured reality of the band. They set the tone early in the film. The opening lines mock the critical reception of the show, their image, and the movie itself.
“Hey hey we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies”
2. Ruining a good thing
Speaking of “Head,” the film is the product of intense brainstorming that took place over one weekend. The movie was a flop and alienated their fan base. This film will last as a testament to the creative and surreal ideas of the men behind the phenomena.
3. Breaking free
There was much tension behind the scenes of the show when it came to choosing songs. By the second album, Tork and Nesmith pushed for more creative control. They got their wish and soon the Monkees became a real band writing their own music.
Some of the best musicians from the 60′s submitted music for the group to perform. Including one of my favorites, Harry Nilsson. Two of his songs would be used by the band, “Cuddly Toy” and “Daddy’s Song.”
Every member of the band was a musician and could play an instrument. Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz already had some success in the music business before they were cast. Davy Jones was a rising star and was already locked into a contract with Screen Gems before the series began.
One of the first uses of the Moog synthesizer in popular music appears in the Monkee’s song, “Daily Nightly.” Dolenz was the third musician to ever purchase a Moog.
Famously, the Beatles held an exclusive party for the Monkees that became the inspiration for “Randy Scouse Git.” Peter Tork was even invited to play on George Harrison’s solo album, “Wonderwall.” His contribution is missing from the record release, but it is heard in the film.
Some musicians have produced well-known covers of Monkees’ tunes. Here is a particular favorite, They Might Be Giants performing “Zilch.”
Monkee Mania was inescapable in the 60′s. Just like other bands in the popular culture, they had their own marketing machine pumping out merch. I was actually able to buy a vintage set of Monkee pin buttons that I proudly display on my messenger bag.
The producers of the Monkees wanted to capture the counter-culture, a growing market. They saw the success of the Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” and wanted to replicate that experience. The Monkees were part of a marketing scheme to tap into the youth demographic, but it was one of the few acts that recognized their growing influence.
“We’re just trying to be friendly,
Come watch us sing and play.
We’re the young generation,
And we got something to say.”
“’Goin’ Down’ has nothing to do with drugs, obviously… And I certainly don’t condone meth — that is nasty stuff that kills a lot of people and ruins a lot of lives. … On the other hand, I like the TV show, it’s very well-made. … And no, I didn’t make a penny.”
In 2011, The Monkees celebrated their 45th anniversary. This would be the last time the trio of Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones would perform together. Jones passed away in February of 2012.
In Jones’ honor, Mike Nesmith will reunite with Tork and Dolenz for a brief tour this year. The last time Nesmith played with the band was 1986. The tour kicks off in November — I am buying my ticket, will you be there?
Featured image courtesy of origamidon licensed via Creative Commons.
@midnightonmars The humor of the show is evergreen because it was character based. So even though the clothes have changed, the humor has not. Pretty awesome, I am hoping they will bring the show back in syndication. When I was a kid the show was on nick at night.
A good article. I was one of the writers on the show. It was an amazing experience! After Davy's death, a British TV company produced a documentary about Davy and the Monkees. They interviewed several of us who had been on the show. It's on Youtube, titled, "We All Love the Monkees." The four Monkees were wonderful to work with, and I've stayed in touch with them all these years. Great friends!
David Evans, @evansinnovates, www.InnovationCenterBlog.com
@evansdavid43 David, thank you so much for reading this post and replying. The greatest compliment for me is when someone takes the time to read my words. I always try to write off the cuff. Whatever I am feeling at the time. When the tour was announced, the words just poured out of my head.
It is hard to explain the connection I feel to the band. Obviously the show made me laugh. I really love silly, frenetic , non sequitur humor. Not surprised to find out that the director of the show was an improv performer.
I did see the documentary and it was very well done. I knew that Davy was a child actor, but didn't know he was on Coronation Street or that he was from Manchester. I also did not know that he had four daughters ! As a girl, I must say, that had to be somewhat challenging. *lol*
Since you wrote for the show, do you have a favorite bit? How well did it translate from the page to performance?
@susansilver@evansdavid43 I thought it translated very well from script to show. Partly that was because I was so immersed in the show, and knew the four Monkees so well.
As I mentioned to you, that British documentary was obviously slanted to Davy, but I thought they did a very good job with it. A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Writer's Digest about comedy writing, that included some of my experiences as a writer on the Monkees. I've since expanded it a bit. I'll share it with you if you'd be interested. I also share a story about Davy on my earlier blog at www,InnovationCenterBlog.com (I'm moving over to a new website and blog very soon, but the earlier blog is still up.) Also take a look at my piece on the Kardashian Sisters there. It's fun.