The Monkees Biography
The Monkees were a four-man musical band created for an American television series of the same name, which ran on NBC from 1966 to 1968. The Monkees were formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, California and disbanded in 1970. At their peak, they were one of the most popular musical acts of their time.
Several reunions of The Monkees have taken place. The first reunion lasted from 1986 to 1989 while another regrouping took place between 1996–1997. The Monkees last worked together in 2001.
The television show first aired on September 12, 1966 on the NBC television network and lasted for two seasons (58 episodes); its final primetime episode ran on September 9, 1968 (see List of The Monkees episodes). Modeled on The Beatles' theatrical films A Hard Day's Night and Help!, The Monkees featured the antics and music of a fictional pop-rock group which, due to the massive success of the records, and the public's expectations, became a real pop group. It was sponsored by Kellogg's Cereals and Yardley Cosmetics of London. The series would later be rerun on both the CBS and ABC television networks on weekend mornings.
During the filming of the second season, the band tired of scripts and storylines they deemed monotonous and stale. Various band members proposed switching the format of the series to become more like a variety show, with musical guests and live performances. This desire was partially fulfilled within some second season episodes, with guest stars like musicians Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley and Charlie Smalls (composer of The Wiz), performing on the show. However, NBC was not interested in changing the existing format, and the group expressed little desire to continue for a third season.
After the television show was cancelled, Rafelson directed the four Monkees in a feature film, Head, originally titled "Untitled." The film was executive-produced by Schneider and co-written and co-produced by Rafelson with a then relatively unknown actor named Jack Nicholson.
Nicholson also assembled the film's soundtrack album. The film, created and edited in a stream of consciousness style, featured cameo appearances by movie stars Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, a young Teri Garr, boxer Sonny Liston, famous stripper Carol Doda, and musician Frank Zappa. It was filmed in Screen Gems Studios and on location in California, Utah, and The Bahamas between February 19 and May 17, 1968 and premiered in New York City on November 6 of that year. (The film later debuted in Hollywood on November 20.)
Head was not a commercial success, in part because it was the antithesis of The Monkees television show, intended to comprehensively demolish the group's carefully-groomed public image. Rafelson and Nicholson's "Ditty Diego-War Chant" (recited at the start of the film by The Monkees), ruthlessly parodies Boyce and Hart's "Monkees Theme." Sparse advertising (with no mention of The Monkees whatsoever) squelched any chances of the film doing well, and it played briefly in nearly-empty cinemas.
Over the intervening years Head has developed a cult following for its innovative style and anarchic humor, and the soundtrack album (long out of print but now available in an expanded CD version) is counted among their best recordings. Members of The Monkees, Nesmith in particular, cite Head as one of the crowning achievements of the band.
Critics of the Monkees complained that they were simply a made-for-TV knockoff of the Beatles, but they didn't seem to mind. John Lennon was a fan of the show, comparing its humor to The Marx Brothers. George Harrison praised their self-produced musical efforts, saying "When they get it all sorted out, they might turn out to be the best." (Peter Tork was later one of the musicians on Harrison's Wonderwall Music, playing Paul McCartney's five-string banjo.) Longtime Beatles confidant Peter Shotton commented in his book The Beatles, Lennon and Me, "The Monkees are what the Beatles pretend to be."
The massive success of the series and its spin-off records had created intense pressure to mount a touring version of the group by late 1966. Against the initial wishes of the producers, Dolenz, Jones, Nesmith and Tork went out on the road. The results were far better than anyone had a right to expect, and wherever they went they were greeted by scenes of fan hysteria not seen since The Beatles. This gave the four stars increased confidence in their battle for creative control over the music used in the series.
The Monkees had complained that the producers would not allow them to play their own instruments on their records. This campaign eventually forced the series' musical coordinator Don Kirshner to let them have more participation in the recording process (against his strong objections), which included Nesmith producing his own songs and band members making some instrumental contributions. Led by Nesmith, the band eventually rebelled against Kirshner, who was later fired. Beginning with their third album, Headquarters (which was produced by Chip Douglas), the four Monkees wrote and played on much of their own material. However, they continued to employ session musicians (reputable players like Louie Shelton, members of The Byrds and The Association, and newcomers, like Neil Young) throughout their recording career.
Kirshner was reported to have been incensed by the group's rebellion and swore never to repeat his mistake. This experience led directly to his later venture The Archies, which was an animated series — the "stars" existed only on an animation cel and obviously could not demand creative control over the records issued under their name.
Six albums were produced with the original lineup (four of which went to Number 1 on the Billboard chart), which was supplemented by a series of successful world concert tours. But tensions within the group were increasing, and Tork quit shortly after the band's Far East tour in late 1968, but not before completing work on their 1969 NBC television special, 33? Revolutions Per Monkee. Three more albums would follow while Tork (in December 1968) and then Nesmith (in March 1970) left the group, leaving only Dolenz and Jones to record as The Monkees. Eventually, Jones too departed, leaving Dolenz as the sole remaining recording Monkee, and so marked the end of the first phase of The Monkees' recording career.
At the same time, The Monkees TV series enjoyed a resurgence on Saturday afternoon television for four seasons on CBS (September 1969–September 1972) and on ABC (September 1972 - August 1973), after which its 58 episodes were sold to local markets for syndication in September 1975. The show appeared on independent television stations on weekday afternoons.
A new collection, The Monkees Greatest Hits, charted in 1976 due to a new generation of young fans viewing the show for the first time during the syndicated repeats. Dolenz and Jones subsequently took advantage of this exposure. They joined ex-Monkees songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to tour the United States. As the "Golden Hits of the Monkees" show ("The Guys who Wrote 'Em and the Guys who Sang 'Em!"), they had success in smaller venues, including state fairs and amusement parks, and also overseas, making stops in Japan, Thailand and Singapore. Adopting the name Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart, they also released an album on Capitol Records (they could not use the Monkees name due to legal reasons). A possible reunion of the full group at that time failed to materialize, with Nesmith not interested and Tork saying later he had not been asked, although a Christmas single with Dolenz, Jones and Tork was released in 1976.
Unless noted, all releases listed are American releases.