Is Monkee-Mania Still Alive?

Yesterday, I coincidentally listened to a new live album by The Monkees. And, nope, this isn’t some old material somebody had dug out from an archive. It was actually recorded in March 2019 from the so-called Mike & Micky Show and is the first live album released by Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz, who toured as The Monkees in 2018/2019. No matter how you feel about what initially was a fictitious band created for an American television show in the mid-’60s, listening to the 24 tracks isn’t only fun but also vividly illustrates how many great songs The Monkees have had. Plus, let’s not forget that Nesmith and Peter Tork had instrumental skills from the beginning and Davy Jones was a capable vocalist, while Dolenz eventually learned how to play the drums.

The collection spans the entire 50-plus year catalog of The Monkees. Frankly, I had not realized how active the band had remained in more recent years. Their latest studio album Christmas Party appeared in October 2018. And while it has a Christmas theme, it’s not just pop versions of holiday tunes. It also came out only less than two years after Good Times!, their previous studio release from May 2016. By the way, both of these albums were co-produced by Fountains of Wayne co-founder and key song contributor Adam Schlesinger, who passed away last Tuesday from complications caused by COVID-19. It’s kind of crazy how much the coronavirus already has impacted the music industry in less than two months!

Michael Nesmith & Micky Dolenz
Michael Nesmith (left) & Micky Dolenz

Even after The Monkees had become a “real” band, they largely continued to rely on outside writers like the songwriting duos of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and Jerry Goffin and Carole King. But they also penned some of their songs themselves, especially Michael Nesmith. The album features various tunes he wrote, such as The Girl I Knew Somewhere, Listen to the Band and Papa Gene’s Blues. Two of them, St. Matthew and Auntie’s Municipal Court, the band didn’t perform during their heyday. ‘Nuff talk, let’s get to some music!

The album kicks off with Last Train to Clarksville, the band’s debut single released in August 1966. It’s one of the tunes written by Boyce and Hart. And it’s certainly no coincidence that it sounds very Beatle-esque. Frankly, this is an awesome song that is comparable to some of the mid-’60s tunes by The Beatles, and I say this as a fierce Fab Four fan! Here’s the official video.

Nesmith wasn’t the only member who contributed to the band’s own songs. For Pete’s Sake was co-written by Peter Tork and Joey Richards. The tune appeared on The Monkees’ third studio album Headquarters from May 1967.

A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You, a tune written by Neil Diamond, was the band’s third single released in March 1967. It didn’t quite match the chart success of their previous smash hit I’m a Believer, but still climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 1 in Canada, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. It’s a fun tune that reminds me a bit of That’s What I Like About You by The Romantics.

Next up, one of the above noted Nesmith tunes: Papa Gene’s Blues. As Nesmith points out, it’s an acoustic version. Originally, that song appeared on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966. Apart from the track, it’s kind of entertaining to listen to the announcement, with Nesmith and Dolenz trading jokes.

Let’s do two more. I’ve always loved these tunes and simply couldn’t skip them. Daydream Believer, written by John Stewart, is a track from the band’s fifth studio album The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees released in April 1968. It’s the perfect sing-along, and not surprisingly, Mike & Micky asked the audience to join them – feel free to follow their lead!

And, of course, no concert by The Monkees would be complete without I’m a Believer. Their second single from November 1966 and biggest hit topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and numerous European countries is another Neil Diamond composition. It also was included on the band’s sophomore album More of the Monkees, which came out in January 1967.

At the time Nesmith and Dolenz were planning their 2018/2019 tour, Tork was still alive but declined to join. Sadly, he since passed away in February 2019. Jones had died seven years earlier in February 2012. Initially, Nesmith and Dolenz had planned to take their show out on the road again in the U.S. and Canada starting later this month. But given COVID-19, most dates have been pushed back until July and September. The current schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Monkees website; YouTube

13 thoughts on “Is Monkee-Mania Still Alive?”

  1. I still really like a lot of those songs. I like Nesmith’s country rock sounding songs. Listen to the Band was always a favorite of mine.
    It’s good to see them out and touring. I saw them in the 80s on the reunion tour.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You will have a lot of fun. Funny note. I was closer to the speakers than usual…it was seats though…It was at that time the loudest concert I went to…My ears rang for days. I had seen Kiss and a few bands by that point.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. As you can see, only a true math genius could come to the conclusion that 2019-7=2019! 🙂

      On a more serious note, thanks for pointing out my obvious mistake, which I just fixed. I always appreciate if folks read my posts in their entirety and pay attention to the details.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Suppose you dig these guys and also, frankly, have the balls to put it out there. A lot of bloggers would think “Well, they’re not cool enough because they weren’t a real band.” But I think appreciation for them has grown over time. I fucking loved these guys back in the day. So tuneful, so melodic. I think that what a lot of the haters miss is how much they helped a generation enjoy good pop music. I never saw them, never really wanted to, very much doubt if I would today, especially with two of the key guys gone. (Although come to think of it, I did go see the Who not too long ago.). Well, if you do go, see if you can get Micky to sign something for me. 🙂

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    1. I have to admit I used to be kind of dismissive about The Monkees as well for exactly the reason you noted – that they were not a real band, at least not initially. But then I came to realize that many of their songs were very well crafted.

      Take “Last Train to Clarksville.” It’s just an awesome tune that – dare I say it – could have been on a mid-’60s Beatles album.

      Plus, eventually The Monkees became a profressional band. I feel that’s a fact some of their critics seem to overlook.

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      1. Well that’s exactly the problem. (Me now taking the other side.) The Monkees didn’t write “Believer” nor did they write most of their hits. Hell they didn’t even PLAY on the first two albums. So the rap against them was that they were just cute props who sang well. A boy band, if you will. (The only real musicians in the band were Nesmith and Tork.) They had to fight just to play their instruments. And by far the best songwriter was Nesmith. So this is what hurt their credibility especially when you had bands like Beatles and Byrds who were the real deal. I personally didn’t give a shit. But that was the rap.

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      2. That’s all true, as far as I can tell, though Jones was a pretty good vocalist from the get-go, while Dolenz apparently knew how to play the guitar, but since they wanted him on drums, he ended up learning that instrument.

        Still, there’s no question that initially The Monkees were a fictitious band created for a TV show. As such, they were asked to focus on their acting and shooting episodes first and foremost, which reduced their time available to be in the studio. I think it’s also safe to assume nobody anticipated the show would become such a big hit and the band would find itself in such high demand.

        Nesmith and Tork contributed to the songwriting (Nesmith as early as the debut album). But it’s correct their best known songs were written by others.

        I guess what it comes down to is whether or not you can look past the band’s beginnings and simply acknowledge they had great songs.

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      3. Well I know I can ‘coz I dig them. But my initial response was to your saying that “Clarksville” could be on a Beatles album. Sure. But credit Boyce/Hart for that not the Monkees.

        Also, as a side note, the truth of the matter on studio musicians – and I think you know this – is that they can get further faster. Studio time is expensive and so they’d get those guys to play just to keep costs down. This is true not only of The Monkees but for many bands of that era – Kinks, Beach Boys, etc. The Wrecking Crew stayed busy. And the bands were not always happy with this but management felt it was their problem.
        Your statement that the guys were too busy is not exactly correct. Mickey was not a drummer and so could not have played, not well anyway.None of those guys could have played the run in Valleri. They were good but not good enough. It took them a while to really get up to speed.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. As much as it pains me to admit it, your point about using experienced studio musicians to keep costs down is well taken. Well, I suppose nowadays you can use technology to fix any imperfections. In fact, oftentimes you don’t even need any real instruments any longer, which is kind of sad!

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      5. Imagine how disheartening it must have been in those days of great rock musicianship to have the producer say, “We’re gonna have someone else play your part.” I’d be mortified. George Martin did it to Ringo on “Love Me Do” and Ringo never entirely forgave him.

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