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The Monkees — punk rock?

April 5, 2011 by  
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Going to Work Takes a Ride (to Clarksville) with the Monkees

When I first saw a copy of the Monkees greatest hits at the Los Osos library, I passed. But each time I returned, it was still there, begging me to check it out.

So I finally obliged. And, I have to say, it was a good move.

The Monkees, of course, were a totally fabricated band, a group of guys assembled, based on looks, for a TV show about a band that resembled the Beatles. But, unlike manufactured boy bands of the 80s and beyond, the Monkees actually became a real band. While they initially didn’t write their own songs or play their own instruments, they eventually insisted on having greater control of the music.

“Last Train to Clarksville,” which I listened to on the way to work this morning, was not written by anyone in the band. In fact, the 1966 single was the band’s first hit, released just before the TV show debuted, to build buzz for the upcoming musical comedy. While most Monkees songs were feel-good, poppy tunes, this was subversively about the Vietnam war. Written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and styled after the Beatles song “Paperback Writer,” it never mentions the war, but it does include the line, “And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home,” which was meant to suggest a draftee leaving for war. (The Clarksville they wrote about is a town in northern Arizona, though many have assumed it was about the Clarksville in Tennessee, which features an Air Force base.)

Interestingly, Jimi Hendrix opened for the Monkees for a short time before he became famous in the United States. (And, in fact, it was Monkee Mike Nesmith who introduced Hendrix’s music to John Lennon, playing a tape of “Hey Joe” for the Beatle.) Except the crowds — heavy with adoring teenage girls — grew impatient with Hendrix and chanted “We want the Monkees!” during Hendrix’s set. One time the heckling was so bad, Hendrix actually flipped off the crowd and walked off stage.

The Monkees have all said they were embarassed by this. But Hendrix ended up doing ok. Soon after he left the Monkees tour, “Purple Haze” became a hit. And soon the Guitar God label would be bestowed upon him.

While Hendrix’s meteoric career would be cut short by his tragic death, the Monkees’s time in the spotlight didn’t survive Hendrix by much. Their TV show only lasted from 1966-1968. And a bizarre, surreal Monkees movie, which poked fun of their manufactured genesis, failed to draw audiences, despite being directed by Jack Nicholson.

That 1968 movie, “Head,” would go on to achieve cult status, however. And in the 70s, many punk bands took a liking to the Monkees and their anti-industry transformation. Eventually others followed, and their songs were recorded by acts like Run-DMC, The Sex Pistols, Paul Westerberg and Smash Mouth.

via The Monkees — punk rock? | Sidetracked.

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