Turn It Up!: A Monkees’ Fan Re-Evaluation of The New Monkees
by Fred Velez
(Parts of this article were originally published in the 2007 online edition of Television Chronicles Magazine)
Let me state right up front that I’ve been an original Monkees fan since 1967. I loved the original TV series that started airing in September, 1966, the same month Star Trek premiered. My first Monkees album was ‘More of The Monkees’, which I won at a carnival at my local Boys’ Club. I followed the group up to their 1970 break-up, ironically the same year the Beatles, the group the Monkees were modeled after, also broke up. In regards to the Monkees I played ‘catch up’ by collecting all their album up to ‘Changes’, the last album to feature the last two remaining members of the band, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones.
In the fall of 1969, CBS started rerunning the Monkees series on Saturday mornings and I was able to view the episodes I missed during the first primetime season of the show. I also followed the career of Michael Nesmith, the most visible of the ex-Monkees as a solo artist, who released a series of excellent albums that were unjustly ignored, due in part to his past association with the group.
In 1975, Micky and Davy approached Peter Tork and Nesmith about reuniting. When Tork and Nesmith declined, Dolenz and Jones united with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the song writers who wrote some of the Monkees best songs, including ‘Last Train To Clarksville’, ‘I Wanna Be Free’, Valleri’, among many others, and formed the band Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart, touring Japan and the States in 1975 and 1976 and starting a mini-revival of Monkeemania. In some of the press they received, they were briefly referred to as the ‘New’ Monkees. Peter Tork even made a surprise appearance at a D,J,B&H’s Disneyland concert in July, 1976. After a brief tour of just Dolenz and Jones in the summer of 1977 (with another surprise appearance by Tork at one of the concerts), there was another long drought in the Monkee universe. To alleviate the drought a bit, Monkee fans gathered at Monkees conventions between 1979 to 1983, meeting other fans, watching episodes of the show and the Monkees movie ‘Head’, and reliving great memories. Peter Tork was the first Monkee to attend one of the conventions in 1982.
Fast forward to 1985, when Peter Tork attended a Turtles ‘Happy Together’ concert in New York at the behest of promoter David Fishoff to discuss the possibilities of reuniting the Monkees for a 20th anniversary tour to take place in 1986. (I attended the same concert and spotted Peter and said ‘Hi’ to him, not realizing till later the significance of his attendance.) Tork and Fishoff managed to convince Dolenz and Jones to participate in the reunion. Michael Nesmith, who since the late 70’s into the 1980’s became one of the founding fathers of the video music revolution, producing and starring in the Grammy Award winning ‘Elephant Parts’, had to beg off on the reunion due to prior commitments, but he wished the other three great success.
The reunion ball first started rolling when MTV began running ‘Monkee Marathon’s of the series on its network, delighting older fans and winning the group a new generation of younger fans. When the Monkees 20th Anniversary Reunion tour was announced, tickets for the tour were immediate sell-outs, and The Monkees became as big a concert draw in 1986 as Bruce Springsteen was the previous year. The reunited Monkees played before packed houses of delirious fans of all ages, from those who followed them since the 1960’s and 70’s to younger fans who discovered them on MTV. The group, who were was once derided by the music press as being illegitimate because they ‘didn’t play their own instruments’, a ridiculous claim when one considers that Nesmith and Tork were musicans and Dolenz and Jones were quick studies, and one needs to fairly factor in that their TV schedule limited their studio recording time. Interesting to note that the music press ‘conveniently’ forgot the fact that the Beach Boys didn’t play a note on the Brian Wilson produced masterpiece ‘Pet Sounds’, and the use of studio musicians like the famous Wrecking Crew was a common industry practice, were now garnering some of the respect that they’ve long sought after.
The Monkees 1986 Today Show appearance. The New Monkees come up at the 3:45 point of the clip.
Amidst this euphoria of rekindled Monkeemania, a wet blanket was thrown into the ring. Around the same time The Monkees announced their reunion tour, Columbia Pictures through their television subsidiary Colex (formerly Screen Gems) that created the original Monkees series, smelling a goldmine, announced that it was going to hold auditions for a brand new TV series featuring a new set of Monkees for a younger generation. Steve Blauner, who was involved with Monkee-creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider as an executive producer for the original series, was going to produce the new series under the banner of Straybert, a continuation of Raybert Productions. The reunited Monkees dismissed the idea from the start, citing that lightning couldn’t be captured in a bottle twice. Blauner and Straybert, however, decided to press on and auditions were held in mid-1986 in New York and Los Angeles to find the ‘New Monkees’.
I auditioned for the New Monkees, and all I got was this lousy visor!
Out of curiosity and future research, I tried out at the New York auditions. I knew off the bat that I wasn’t the type they were looking for and sure enough I was passed over. Still, I found the experience interesting and got a firsthand look on what goes on at the auditions.
After countless auditions with many young hopefuls, Colex introduced to the world Larry Saltis, Jared Chandler, Dino Kovas and Marty Ross as the ‘New Monkees’. Of the four, Marty Ross was the least enthusiastic about being involved in the project. He went to the auditions at the urging of his agent, and when the interviewers asked why he thought he should be a New Monkee, Marty replied, “What makes you think I want to be?”. While he was intrigued with the idea of a ‘new’ Monkees series, Marty recognized the folly of planting the ‘Monkees’ name on a new group. He knew “the fans would skewer” the whole project. With the original Monkees receiving the respect that fans felt the group long deserved, the New Monkees were seen as upstarts and usurpers of the Monkees name. While not recognized at the time, the New Monkees were as much victims of the Colex/Screen Gems producers as the original Monkees. Being contracted players, they pretty much had to do what they were told to do. The New Monkees had as little creative input on their own show as the original Monkees had initially on theirs.
Work was begun on both the new TV series and a debut album for the band. Of these two branches of the project, more thought appeared to have been put into the music of the New Monkees than in the actual series. The Elvis Brothers who were first approached and declined to be on the series, contributed their song ‘Burning Desire’. The song ‘Boy Inside The Man’, was written by Tom Cochrane, who was soon have a hit of his own with ‘Life is a Highway’. New Monkees members Larry Saltis and Marty Ross managed to get two of their own songs onto the album, ‘Corner of My Eye’ and ‘Affection’ respectively. (Though it didn’t make the album, Ross’s ‘One of the Boys’ was heard in the show’s pilot.) Top musicians backed the vocals of the band, very much the way it was done with the original Monkees. Like the original Monkees, members of the New Monkees got to play some of the music on their album too. As I would later discover, the finished debut album was top notch 80’s pop/rock.
The quality of the album, however, didn’t carry over into the TV series. Where the 1960’s Monkees series initially presented the characters as a struggling rock band who went through wacky situations while pursuing the next paying gig, the 1980’s update presented the New Monkees as an already successful band living in a huge, computer-controlled mansion, in which ‘funny’ things happened to them. While the New Monkees series had some interesting comic ideas, such as Marty being cloned by a copy machine, and a short sketch segment called ‘Fable-Town’, the majority of the comedy was very poorly written and not creatively executed. While in the original Monkees series the group interacted with other characters and situations on the outside world, most of the situations on the New Monkees series took place inside the mansion, with limited interaction with characters outside their sphere. This unintentionally gave the New Monkees an aloof distance the Monkees never had. The Monkees sang ‘So you better get ready, we may be coming to your town!’ With the New Monkees, the impression appeared to be that you had to knock on the mansion door just to see what was going on.
Where the original Monkees series was well-calculated to succeed, the New Monkees project had miscalculation slopped all over it. The Monkees debut single, ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ was issued a month before the series aired, with the result that ‘Clarksville’ became a number one hit before anyone even saw the show. The New Monkees debut album was issued about the same time the series aired in the fall of 1987. The first and only single from the album, ‘What I Want’, came out at the same time as the album. While the Monkees had the buzz of ‘Clarksville’ to help insure viewer interest and support, the New Monkees were just thrown cold out into the public spotlight. The series, single and album, despite some early hype, weren’t well publicized and the campaign was mishandled. What positive press coverage the group and show received was regulated to a few entertainment and teen magazines, and once the initial buzz evaporated, the New Monkees quickly disappeared from those pages.
Any comic will tell you that the essence of good comedy is timing. As it turned out, good timing was an option the New Monkees never had. As Marty had predicted, the New Monkees slammed into obstacles from day one. Right off the bat, fans of the original Monkees developed an instant dislike for the series and group. By labeling them ‘New Monkees’, a target was practically placed on the band’s backs. While the New Monkees did manage to accumulate an initial following which is still loyal, at the time they never clicked with the majority of fans of the original Monkees.
The original Monkees themselves were hardly charitable to the New Monkees, and from their perspective, it was hard to blame them. After years of being dumped on by the rock community, the renewed interest in the group and the sold-out crowds at their reunion concerts was sweet retribution. However, the group never owned ‘The Monkees’ name, and had to license it from Columbia Pictures for their concerts. They couldn’t even call the live album from their 1986 tour ‘The Monkees Live Reunion Tour’ because of licensing hassles, and had to use their individual names instead.
So, when the New Monkees project popped up, there was some understandable trepidation on the part of the original band. The danger of the ‘Monkees’ name being denied them and given to the younger group was a perceived threat to the original band, which would have cut into their livelihood and possibly cause confusion amongst their fans. The name confusion was not that farfetched. A fan recalled entering a record store in the fall of 1987 and requesting the ‘new’ Monkees single ‘Heart & Soul’. The store clerk instead handed him a copy of the New Monkees single ‘What I Want’. The fan pointed out the error to the clerk and was given the correct record. I myself recall seeing New Monkees albums mistakenly placed in the Monkees bin in a couple of record stores, and I just placed them in their proper listing without raising a big stink about it.
Dino Kovas relates a story of wanting to state his case to Micky Dolenz at an autograph session, to assure Dolenz that the band wasn’t happy about the ‘New Monkees’ label either and that they weren’t out to replace the Monkees, and the meeting was to say the least, a bit tense. Another occasion saw both groups booked at the same recording studio facility on the same day, an ill-conceived publicity stunt Marty later theorized. Both bands were there to record their respective 1987 albums, and were chagrin in having to share the same drum kit for their tracks. The tension in the air could be cut with a knife, with a no man’s land set up between the two groups, each giving the other nervous glances from across the room. When Steve Blauner was quoted as suggesting that maybe the two groups might play together someday, then tour promoter and Monkees manager David Fishoff derisively said, “Yeah, they can be [The Monkees] opening act!”
The New Monkees debuted about the same time the original Monkees were still enjoying a little of their 1986 reunion buzz. However, in the space of a year, MTV, which presented marathons of the original series which helped in the success of the 1986 concerts, lost their amour of the Monkees when the band failed to show up at an MTV event in early 1987, an event the Monkees weren’t even aware they were a part of. MTV instantly banned the Monkees from their network and refused to play the Monkees new video ‘Heart & Soul’ from the band’s 1987 album ‘Pool It!’. (Out of spite, MTV gave more airings to Tapau’s similarly titled ‘Heart & Soul’ single, purposely ignoring documented requests from Monkee fans). The New Monkees were inadvertently swept into the MTV Monkees ban and none of their videos ever appeared on the network.
Where the Monkees debuted as a major prime-time network show in the Fall of 1966, the New Monkees were regulated to a syndicated Saturday morning spot by the fledgling Fox Network. Any hope for any kind of rock credibility was thrown out the window when the show aired in this Saturday morning cartoon ghetto. (The Bay City Rollers suffered a similar fate when they headlined a Saturday Morning show in the late 1970’s that succeeded in killing-off their careers.) The bad comedy writing of the series was a major stumbling block for the show. The New Monkees were placed in very unfunny situations on their own show to which they had no creative say. Marty revealed that the group had gone through very rigorous improv sessions only to be told to stick to the scripts. There were sporadic moments of creativity, especially in the music videos, but not enough to salvage the series.
Michael Nesmith, the only member of the Monkees to publicly say anything positive about the New Monkees, stated that he watched some episodes of the series and recognized that a few good creative ideas were there and given the time, those ideas could have been fleshed out. He added that trying to repeat the Monkees phenomenon was a major mistake with no chance of succeeding because lightning couldn’t be captured in a bottle twice. (Ironically, Nesmith’s son Jason had auditioned for the New Monkees, and it’s theorized that if he had been in the group, it might have given the project some credibility. Fortunately for Jason, he heeded his dad’s advice and instead pursued his education rather than become a Monkee.)
Nesmith’s observation sadly came true. After 13 episodes, the New Monkees television show was canceled. Ironically, the last episodes showed some improvement in the comedy writing and visual ideas, but not enough to save the series. One of the last few good ideas originated from Marty who suggested that he be filmed alone singing his song ‘Affection’ on acoustic guitar. It was a visually brilliant idea, with Marty, sitting on a stool in the middle of a huge, empty warehouse, playing and singing while the camera slowly dolly in on him to a full face close-up, then pulled out for the song’s finale. While it echoed Bruce Springsteen’s similar ‘Brilliant Disguise’ video, the warehouse setting gave the video a unique extra visual touch. But again, it was too little, too late. Even an attempt to rewrite the flop single ‘What I Want’ with Christmas lyrics for the Holiday season proved futile, the song ending up on the Warners Records 1987 ‘Yulesville’ compilation, which contained Christmas greetings from George Harrison and Brian Wilson.
The series was over (“It was a mercy killing” Micky Dolenz was seemed to be saying in a fan-made parody video) and the now ex-New Monkees went off into separate directions of their careers with various degrees of success.
As an original Monkee fan at the time, I was as vehemently against the New Monkees as any other Monkees fan. I was an emcee for the Monkees conventions at the time, and I knew the best way for the fans to protest the new series was to ignore it. However, my animus was never, ever against the New Monkees themselves, but towards Straybert and the producers for coming up with the idea. The argument of the original fans always was if the band and the series were not labeled as ‘Monkees’ but given a different name, the fans would have given the series a fairer chance to stand or fall on its own merits. (These arguments were also voiced by the New Monkees themselves, which fell deaf on the producers’ ears.) While there were some obsessed Monkees fans who unfairly blamed the New Monkees personally, (it’s been shockingly revealed by Marty Ross that the group had received death threats from some so-called Monkees “fans”) I recognized that the group had absolutely no control over the situation, and were themselves the greater victims of the whole fiasco.
Shortly after the series crashed and burned, I noticed that some record stores placed the New Monkees only album into the discount racks. Since I no longer considered the group a threat to the original Monkees, I felt intrigued enough to purchase the album at the princely sum of 88 cents. (Some of my friends in Monkee fandom circles joked that I still over-paid!) When I played the New Monkees album I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t bad at all. I thought if it hadn’t been burdened with the title ‘New Monkees’, it might have had a serious chance at the charts.
One of the songs that stood out for me was ‘Boy Inside The Man’. With a lead vocal sung by Marty Ross, I thought this song really rocked, especially with Larry Saltis’ blistering guitar solo. So imagine my surprise one day in hearing the song being played on WNEW-FM, at the time the biggest Rock station in New York and I queried, ‘WNEW is playing the New Monkees?’ When the song ended the DJ revealed that the song was sung by its writer Tom Cochran. Since ‘Boy’ was my favorite song off the New Monkees album, I picked up the Tom Cochran CD with his version of the song, and at the time I reluctantly thanked the New Monkees for introducing me to Cochran.
In the mid-1990’s, I discovered a wonderful magazine called ‘Television Chronicles’, which was dedicated to classic television series. The second issue of the magazine featured cover articles on both the Monkees and New Monkees series. The article on the Monkees TV show was one of the best I’ve ever read, but the article on the New Monkees really intrigued me. I learned some facts about the project and series that were really illuminating. Members of the New Monkees were interviewed for the article, with a feature interview with Marty Ross which I found both funny and informative.
Fast forward an additional 10 years, into the era of computers and the internet. I was already a member of several Beatles and Monkees online groups, among various interests. I’m a member of a Yahoo music group whose main topic was obscure pop songs. One day to my chagrin, the subject of the New Monkees came up. Someone posted that the video of ‘Boy Inside The Man’ was up on a new website called YouTube.com, a site were folks could post all types of videos. On a lark, I clicked on the YouTube link to the video and watched the New Monkees perform the song in a recording studio setting. I watched the video in amazement, thinking, “Wow! These guys are really good! They look like a real band!”. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
I replayed the ‘Boy’ video several times and saved it as a favorite. Watching the other NM music videos and some of the better comedy sketches posted, it confirmed my original opinion on the band that they were really very talented. Next to ‘Boy Inside The Man’, my next favorite New Monkees video was the black & white ‘noir’ version of ‘Carlene’. It was imagitively filmed and well-constructed. The band looked great, all four members giving enthusiastic performances. In the video Jared really looked like he was into the moment, and Marty gave a very understated performance that stood out. Dino on the drum kit looked very focused and cool. And Larry as the front man particularly shined. Watching these videos got me to thinking that if the show had concentrated more on the music, a distinct visual style and if the comedy writing had been more imaginative, it would have stood a better chance of surviving.
Further research on the web turned up several New Monkees fan sites and a Yahoo group dedicated to the New Monkees formed by fans. Feeling the last walls of my resistance against the band falling on the wayside, I joined the group and shared in the discussions on the group with the other members. To my surprise and delight, I found that some of the former members of the New Monkees were also members of the group, and the other members and myself have shared many fun and interesting discussion sessions with the ex-NM’s. Twenty years ago, I never would have thought I’d be sharing friendly banter with members of the New Monkees. As they say in New York, “Who knew?”
One really interesting fact that was revealed on the New Monkees Yahoo group was that at least one of the original Monkees made peace with one of the former New Monkees: “Sometime in the 1990s Peter Tork and Marty Ross were auditioning for the same part in a show that does not merit further mention….what DOES merit further attention is the fact that Tork And Ross jammed!!! They played guitars and sang Lady Madonna…..and the others waiting to audition were silent and gave applause at the end…….THAT was meant to be filmed….not the part they were trying out for!” My reaction to the story today is the same as when I first read it: “TOTALLY COOL!!!!”
I was able to locate and download the entire New Monkees CD online, and it’s become one of my favorite cd’s, a rocking example of 80’s pop. I was also able to collect some of the rare New Monkees outtakes from long time fans of the group. Some of the outtakes include ‘Late Night’, a great tune that should have been on the debut album, as well as their version of Marshall Crenshaw’s ‘Someday, Someway’. And the New Monkees take on the Beatles ‘If I Needed Someone’ is both respectful and faithful to the original. Repeated listenings of the songs have added to my appreciation of Larry Saltis as a lead guitarist, definitely an over-looked guitar hero of the late 1980’s. And yes, The Monkees and New Monkees peacefully co-exist on my iPod!
Once out of curiosity I went to the online Ticket Master site and typed in ‘New Monkees’, and found that the group was listed in the Ticket Master data banks. It appears at one time plans for a New Monkees tour were in the works for 1987-88 which never came to fruition. In the group’s Ticket Master Bio, an article from the All-Music Guide was quoted which was not very flattering towards the NM’s. The end quote of the bio was particularly snide:
“In 20 years time, will we see Marty, Larry, Jared and
Dino have their own MTV weekend? Will there be an
interest in their rare and previously unreleased
recordings? It’s highly doubtful.”
In 2007, that long ago question was definitively answered when the members of the New Monkees reunited at an intimate fan function meet and greet in Los Angeles that was arranged through the bands’ Yahoo group. Fans of the group gathered from all over the country to meet the members of the group and were treated to a loose and fun acoustic concert, the first truly live performance by the New Monkees in front of their fans. The small crowed enjoyed a lovely performance of the album favorite ‘The Way She Moves’ as well as a fun and rowdy version of the Monkees ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’ with Marty and Dino sharing vocals on a song the group obviously had a lot of affection for. Marty started the proceedings stating that this was this song that inspired him to audition for the New Monkees. I wanted to attend this fan gathering, but living in New York, I couldn’t financially swing the trip, but was grateful for all the photos and videos the fans who attended shot of the event, it made me feel like I was there. If anything, I would have liked to have been there in order to personally apologize to the New Monkees for the unjust mistreatment they received from so-called Monkees “fans” over the years.
More recently, the Zilch Monkees podcast posted an excellent and incredibly informative overview of the New Monkees with an amazing interview with Marty Ross, who humorously and honestly delved into the whole New Monkees trip with an insightful behind the scenes look on how the whole project was conceived and went down. It shed a new and a dark light on the involvement of the original Monkees producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider which ironically mirrored how they shabbily treated the Monkees as well as the New Monkees. Marty is very honest and philosophical in the interview about the entire experience, stating the best time for him and others were working on the music. And like the original Monkees, he considers his former partners as brothers who have all gone through the same experience with the scars to show that further cements their bonds to each other. The Zilch podcast interview with Marty Ross is a MUST LISTEN for all Monkees fans to hear. It might not make you a fan of the group, but it might give you a whole new and thoughtful perspective on them.
Since 1987, I’ve made a complete 180 on my initial opinions on the New Monkees. Through my own research and observations, I’ve grown to appreciate the New Monkees. My conclusions concur that they were as talented as the original Monkees and that they were just in a bad situation they had absolutely no control over. As Ken Mills observes in his Zilch interview with Marty Ross in the case of the New Monkees show, it’s the like the producers totally skipped the entire Monkees TV series and went right into the movie ‘Head’. It was a totally misconceived and poorly executed project who’s only redeeming values was the talents of the actual group.
Thanks to the grassroots efforts from original NM fan base, which included some Monkees fans who appreciated the group for their actual talents and didn’t give them undue blame for the fiasco the project became, they kept the fires burning and going strong for the past few years. In 1987 I never would have thought or conceived that I would ever support or even like the New Monkees. As I grew older and my opinions matured, I eventually realized how talented the group were and that they deserved much better than they got. I was glad to see them reunite in 2007 and regretted not being able to attend the event. As their experience paralleled that of the original Monkees, my appreciation for both groups has only grown stronger over the years. As Marty Ross observed in the Zilch podcast, he is only one of eight people in the entire world personally chosen by Rafelson, Schneider and Blauner to officially have the name ‘Monkees’ bestowed on them. And even if they are looked on as no more than a footnote in the Monkees history, the New Monkees are still a part of the legacy.
Appreciating the New Monkees doesn’t make me or anyone else any less a fan of the original Monkees, I’ll always be a huge fan of theirs, which will never change. With a renewed and growing fan interest, a reissue of the New Monkees album on CD with bonus outtakes along with a DVD release of their television show and music videos are hopeful possibilities, especially since Rhino Records not only own the rights to the original Monkees recordings, TV show and other media, they also own the rights to the New Monkees as well. So, any kind of future releases of the New Monkees show and music through CD and DVD is a very promising indeed.
Over thirty years later, it’s very silly and immature to keep holding a grudge over something that wasn’t even their fault. As a member of the Monkees fan community, I personally welcome the New Monkees with open arms into the fold and hope that other Monkees fans would be forgiving and do the same. The New Monkees are a part of the Monkees story and I myself would love to see them participate in a future Monkees convention, and be warmly accepted. I’ll even go so far right now as to offer my services in advance on introducing the group onstage and doing a convention interview with them. After all, I auditioned for the New Monkees too!
Peter Tork wrote that “Love is understanding” in his song ‘For Pete’s Sake’. In the case of the New Monkees, let’s put that philosophy to practice and learn to live by those wise words.
And if you happen to have a copy of the New Monkees album on vinyl, cassette or CD, by all means, put it on your turntable or player and TURN IT UP!!!
Click this link to hear the Zilch New Monkees Podcast and Marty Ross Interview:
Click these links to read the original Television Chronicles New Monkees article and Marty Ross Interview.
Fred Velez, 2014
Fred Velez is the author of the book ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees From A Fan’s Perspective’ and the CD ‘A Little Bit Christmas’.