The Monkees Made Me a Believer
By Mark Bego
For me, The Monkees are one of the most important rock & roll groups in musical history. They sold millions of records, they caused a global sensation, and they still continue to make headlines whenever they appear individually and collectively. As far as I am concerned, they are still all about the music, the fun, and the excitement that they created. While some rock critics questioned their validity by labeling them as a manufactured group, in my eyes their success is best measured the terms of the joy than they made, and on the “joy scale,” they obviously created one hell of a lot or it!
When I was a teenager in suburban Detroit, the first dozen albums in my collection were The Mama’s & The Papas’ “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Your Ears,” their self-titled second album and “Deliver,” “Meet The Beatles,” “The Supremes Greatest Hits,” “The Supremes A Go Go,” “The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland,” Sonny & Cher’s “Good Times,” Three Dog Night’s “Suitable For Framing,” The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” as well as The Monkees’ first album, “More of The Monkees,” and their self-produced “Headquarters.” For me, these were literally the groups, and the albums that shaped my lifelong musical taste.
As a rock & roll journalist, I have been fortunate enough to have met, interviewed and / or worked with members of every one of those groups. Once I became a million-selling rock & roll author, I found that my original musical taste, and those 12 first albums that I bought were ones that made my adult writing career as well. I helped Mary Wilson of The Supremes write her two best selling autobiographies, I wrote two books about Cher, I essayed the career of The Beatles in my 1980s book on “TV Rock,” I helped Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night write his memoir, and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & Papas was one of the first rock stars to share a recipe with me on my 2014 food blog: “Cook Like a Rock Star.” And, how fortunate I have been to have been the co-writer of the most popular authorized Monkees book ever published: Micky Dolenz’ memoir “I’m a Believer.” Who could have predicted that the first 12 albums I ever owned would so heavily shape my adult writing career? And yet it did.
Never once while listening to “Mary, Mary,” “Your Auntie Grizelda” and “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” did it concern me that Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork were originally “cast” to become the stars of “The Monkees” TV show. All I cared about was the music, their well-constructed albums, the passion in their songs, and the excitement that they caused. To use the vocabulary of that era, in my teenage mind at the time: “They were the coolest!”
I bought every 45 rpm single they put out, and I still have them—picture sleeves and all! I religiously watched their weekly Monday night TV series on NBC, I read about them in “Hit Parader” magazine, and when their “More of The Monkees” album came out, I insisted that my mother take me to J.C. Penney’s so I could get Carnaby Street “Mod” shirts like the ones that they wore on the cover of that million-selling album.
I have always maintained that the popular culture of the decade of the 1960s is divided into three distinctly different eras. There was the early third which was musically dominated by post-GI-in-Germany Elvis Presley, Lou Christie, Frankie Avalon, and Leslie Gore. Then from 1964 to 1967 it was the middle third where The Beatles, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and The Byrds were the rage. Then from 1967 to 1969 came the dawn of the psychedelic era where Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Jefferson Airplane, and Aretha Franklin emerged. It was in the middle phase where The Monkees had their greatest influence. It was during that era, when “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Daydream Believer,” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” all hit Number One that The Monkees truly reigned on the musical charts and cemented their lifelong fame that continues to this day.
Like The Beatles and The Supremes, in the 1960s everyone knew the names of the individuals in the The Monkees. There was Davy who was the cute and cuddly “teen idol” one, Mike who was the serious musician, Micky who was the wise-cracking clown, and Peter who was the shy and comic one. They each had their own individual fan base, and their antics, their images, and their lives were avidly followed by their devoted followers.
Pop and rock music popularity is a fickle thing. Like The Byrds’ song that proclaims that everything has its season of time, the mega-red-hot popularity of The Monkees burned quickly for three years, and then seemed to subside. Whenever a fad or fashion is insanely hot, it is often subject to rotating revivals of popularity, yet they are left with a fan base who never let the flame die. The Monkees are one such group. Even though their absolute zenith of popularity was 1966 to 1968, they have always had their fans who will still buy every reissued album, attend their revival concerts at every tour, and avidly await the next wave of creativity from the band.
The Monkees are fortunate enough to have survived disco, the electronic ’80s, the new millennium, and even the digital era. While the 2010s have witnessed the tragic and sudden death of Davy Jones, and the return to the band of Mike Nesmith, The Monkees continue to exist and astonish their fans. Yes, whenever I hear “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” I can still vividly see in my mind’s eye the day in Clarkston, Michigan I bought that 45 rpm single I still have in my possession. However, I get an equally broad smile on my face knowing that as recently as the spring of 2014 there was yet another Monkees tour by the three original band members who preformed that hit song once again. Some rock groups are so welded in our memories of the past that it is there that they live in our hearts. How delightful it is to know that the remaining trio of The Monkees are still around with us, still creating the music that made us fall in love with them right up to this very year.
Long live The Monkees!