This is Now : San Francisco Chronicle Article 12/27/94
From the San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 27, 1994
Making Monkee Business for the ’90s / The ’60s rock foursome plans a
massive comeback campaign
MICHAEL SNYDER, Chronicle Staff Writer
`The Monkees? I used to watch them on TV,” said 17-year-old Jessica,
a San Francisco high school senior standing in line at Tower Records’
North Beach store. She was waiting to buy a copy of the new Pearl Jam
CD, but she knew the Monkees.
“They were on right before the Sonny and Cher show on Nickelodeon
(the cable TV network) a few years ago,” she said. “I thought Sonny
and Cher were funnier, but I liked the Monkees. Especially Peter. He
was weird, but I thought he was cute.”
Behind her in line, Sam — a cheery, burly, middle-aged lawyer
purchasing the latest by the Stones and Tori Amos — piped up. “I
used to watch `The Monkees’ when I was a teenager,” he said. “When
Mike left the band, I even bought his country stuff.”
Rhino Records — the eclectic, successful archival label based in Los
Angeles — is banking that Jessica and Sam and multitudes of others
are ready to rediscover the Monkees.
Now into multimedia, Rhino recently acquired the complete audio and
video catalog of the Monkees — the ’60s rock phenomenon that swiftly
leaped from television to the top of the pop music charts. A massive
reissue campaign is under way. This may be a precursor to reunion
concerts; a feature film reuniting the band is in the planning stages.
It soon will be 30 years since the first episode of “The Monkees” —
a youth-oriented situation comedy about a lovable rock quartet —
originally aired on NBC. In 1967, the band — assembled by auditions
for the TV show — had three No. 1 singles. In the 2 1/2 years after
the series began, the Monkees sold 16 million albums and more than 7
The original foursome of Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith
and Peter Tork — now all pushing 50 — stayed together until Nesmith
left in 1969 to establish the seminal country- rock ensemble First
National Band. He went on to start the music video revolution with his
company, Pacific Arts, developing long-form video clips such as
“Rio” and selling the idea of MTV to Time-Warner in the late ’70s.
Nesmith, who fashioned an image as a “tropical cowboy” for his solo
recordings, also produced films such as “Repo Man” and
“Tapeheads,” and he helmed a short-lived comedy series on NBC,
“Television Parts,” with contributions by Jerry Seinfeld, Garry
Shandling and Jay Leno.
The three other Monkees have carried on the name in various
configurations — Dolenz and Jones with or without Tork — until the
When Tork isn’t on the road with Dolenz and Jones, he is teaching
guitar in Venice, Calif., and occasionally performing in Southern
Dolenz has written a book about his experiences with the Monkees, and
he and Jones are both involved in the current road show of “Grease,”
the musical comedy tribute to the ’50s.
When “Grease” plays the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco from
January 10 to February 15, Jones — the only British Monkee — will be
in the role of disc jockey Vince Fontaine. Dolenz takes over the part
after the “Grease” company leaves the Bay Area.
NESMITH AS INNOVATOR
Nesmith, however, remains the innovator. The CD version of his latest
solo album, “The Garden,” has encoding that enables CD-ROM systems
to call up elaborate digital liner notes.
Reached by telephone at his headquarters in Los Angeles, Nesmith
sounded thrilled at the prospect of Rhino’s new Monkees onslaught. He
was particularly pleased about the efforts of Harold Bronson,
co-founder of Rhino and a longtime Monkees fan.
“Harold bought it all, even the name and the logo,” Nesmith said.
“He’s done a sensational job of repackaging it all. I first met him
on the set of the TV show. He wrote for a little fold-over newspaper
at the time and he was doing a story about us. He eventually built
Rhino into a multimillion-dollar company, and he says that he’s
realized a lifelong dream to release all of the Monkees’ work.”
In the mid-’80s, Rhino reissued the Monkees’ original albums on vinyl
and a collection of new material by members of the band. That was
followed by sets of previously unreleased material from the vaults and
a sprawling 1991 boxed anthology, “Listen to the Band.”
Now Rhino is pulling out all the stops. The company’s renewed assault
on the marketplace started in September with the rerelease of three of
the band’s classic albums on CD.
By the middle of next month, Rhino will have reissued all nine
original Monkees albums on CD, with previously unavailable tracks,
alternate takes and B-sides added onto each one. There are the
requisite hits — “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Daydream Believer,”
“(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” — and forgotten sparklers that
range from Brill Building balladry to California folk-rock to
On January 25, the Monkees’ bizarre feature film “Head” will be
released on Rhino Home Video. Made in 1968, “Head” was directed by
“The Monkees” series producer Bob Rafelson (director of “Easy
Rider”). It was co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and featured a cameo by
In the spring, Rhino Home Video will begin to issue the entire run of
58 episodes of the TV show, plus the television special “33 1/3
Revolutions Per Monkee.” Initially they will be distributed through
mail order, but there are plans to go through retail outlets within a
The biggest news is a proposed feature film reuniting all four
Monkees, to coincide with the band’s 30th anniversary in 1996.
Everyone, including Nesmith, has agreed to participate, but a
screenplay has not yet been written.
There’s considerable irony in the idea of the Monkees as a real band.
In truth, “The Monkees” was a perfect example of life imitating
artifice. The TV series was inspired by the zany comedy-plus-rock
music formula that made the Beatles’ movie debut, “A Hard Day’s
Night,” such a winning effort.
Screen-Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures, and
Colgems, the company’s subsidiary record label, had visions of a
cross- pollinating project that would generate megabucks.
Instead of waiting for an American Fab Four like the Beatles to come
along, emerging from some stateside version of Liverpool’s Cavern
Club, Screen-Gems would build its own Beatles — as a fully realized,
hit-making entertainment package.
Thus, after a few rounds of Hollywood auditions in search of the right
actors and/or musicians, the company had its prospective cash cow. As
charming as the TV show was, the Monkees — the Prefab Four, as some
clever pundit dubbed them — gave off the scent of conniving scam. Yet
the show was a ratings triumph and the first Monkees single, “Last
Train to Clarksville,” was an instant smash.
Although most of the Monkees’ songs were written by professional
tunesmiths including Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Harry Nilsson, Neil
Diamond, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Nesmith made certain to include
at least one of his own compositions on each album.
At first, the tracks were dominated by session musicians such as
soon-to-be-stars Ry Cooder, Leon Russell, Neil Young, Stephen Stills
and Buddy Miles. But the band was doing most of its own playing by the
time the third Monkees album, “Headquarters,” was released. Nesmith
played guitar, with Tork on bass and keyboards and Dolenz on drums.
“The press had jumped on the notion that we weren’t a real band,”
Nesmith said. “It’s true that we were hired to play a band on a TV
show, but we had to go out on tour. We played concerts, basically as a
power trio, even though the screaming was so loud that we couldn’t
hear ourselves onstage.”
“We decided we might as well do it in the studio, too. The force of
the individuals and their personalities took over. It was organic. We
started doing it, and the make-believe band became real.”
Is there enough interest in the Monkees today to make a rebirth
“I’m interested in seeing if people get it this time,” Nesmith said.
“It looks good. On the Internet, there’s a fan group designated
`alt.monkees.’ They used to carry the singles around in Stones or
Sinatra sleeves. Now they’re saying, `I love this stuff. Get used to