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Micky Dolenz (drums, vocals), born Michael Dolenz, March 8, 1945, in Los Angeles, CA; son of George (an actor) Dolenz; second wife's name, Trina; four children, one daughter named Amy; resides in Nottinghamshire, England. Davy Jones (vocals), born David Jones, December 30, 1946, in Manchester, England; father was a railway engineer; second wife's name, Anita; daughter, Jessica. Mike Nesmith (guitar, vocals), born Michael Nesmith, December 30, c. 1942, in Houston, TX; son of Warren and Bette (an inventor); first wife named Phyllis, second wife's name, Kathryn; sons, Christian and Jonathan, daughter, Jessica; served in the U.S. Air Force, 1960-62; resides in Carmel, CA, office at Pacific Arts Corp., 50 North La Cienga Blvd., Suite #210, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Peter Tork (bass, vocals), born Peter Thorkelson, February 13, 1942 (one sources says 1944), in Washington DC; son of John (a professor of economics) Thorkelson; married three times; attended Carleton College; resides in New York, NY.

The advertisement in Variety in the summer of 1965 read: "MADNESS!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers. For acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17-21." 437 young men auditioned. According to People magazine, the winners--Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork--were expected to "clown on camera and sing catchy tunes written by some of the top professionals in the business." They were the American answer to the Beatles--playful, cute, hilarious; thus, the "pre-fab" four, as they were called, were born. Two television seasons and a movie later, the group disbanded, leaving behind some small-screen glory, several albums of varying success, and a host of solid pop tunes.

An elaborate campaign was launched in September of 1966 to give the Monkees their chance. Their first single, "Last Train to Clarksville," was vigorously promoted, resulting in sales of over 500,000 copies in only three weeks. Even before their television debut, over 2,000 teenagers--mostly girls, described by the New York Times as "too old for Barbie dolls and too young for miniskirts"--crowded the Broadway Theater in New York City to see the group perform. An album, The Monkees, followed, the group providing vocals on a variety of catchy tunes. The instrumentation, however, maintained several sources, was provided by studio musicians, for which the group would later be criticized, though by then all could in fact play their instruments. From the beginning, both Nesmith and York were capable guitarists. The former became known as an accomplished songsmith for both the Monkees and other performers; Nesmith penned "Different Drum," the song that would make a star of Linda Ronstadt.

While teens across America embraced the Monkees' wacky, song-filled television program, critics gave them mixed reviews, almost unanimously agreeing that they would have little if any impact on the music industry--even if the show itself was good, clean fun. Said the co-manager of the English band Herman's Hermits, as reprinted in People, who themselves were called Beatles imitators, "The Monkees don't rate at all as musicians. They have been artificially created and nothing in show business sticks around very long if it's false." Even Beatles manager Brian Epstein deigned to comment, again as recalled in People, "I can't see a synthetic talent lasting."

But Richard Goldstein, writing in the New York World Journal Tribune, recognized something significant about the Monkees. Though "as unoriginal as anything yet thrust upon us in the name of popular music," the Monkees seemed to have power in the very fact that they were created in the image of something great. For "ultimately," Goldstein pointed out, the group was "a tribute to the originals.... The Beatles are so good, even their imitators are interesting." Equally important were the actors themselves. All four were gifted with the ability to project their natural qualities on screen and connect with their audience. Said the show's co-producer, Robert Rafelson, in the New York Times, "It's important to listen to what they're saying and not just tune them out because they have long hair."

In their first season, 1966-67, the Monkees won an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series, an event that foreshadowed the craze for "music television" that would take American youth by storm 15 years later. Tom Freston, general manager of cable network MTV, said in Rolling Stone, "They were the first video band. We all made fun of their music back in the Sixties, but they're classics." Monkees albums, the covers of which shamelessly mimicked early Beatles albums, contained a mixture of hits and misses. Years later, however, many of these songs remain fresh, despite their relatively primitive origins.

The television series helped propel six of the Monkees' singles into the Top 10 during the show's first season. While their first album was considered weak by some critics, Cream contributor Bill Holdship called their second, More of the Monkees, a "pop lover's dream feast, ranging from the inspired Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart classics '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' and 'She' to Neil Sedaka's Buddy Holly-ish 'When Love Comes Knockin' (at Your Door),' one of the happiest love songs ever recorded." The record also included the popular numbers "I'm a Believer"--written by Neil Diamond--"Auntie Grizelda," and "Mary, Mary." The band's third effort, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, was a surprising combination of synthesizer and psychedelic leanings that featured the hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday." Pisces was followed by Headquarters, which Cream termed a "hodge-podge of styles, ranging from the exciting Little Richard/Chuck Berry-influenced 'No Time' ... to the beautiful, moving, magnificent, splendid, wonderful 'Shades of Gray,' which rates as one of the '60's best compositions--and sounds as beautiful today as it did then." The Monkees mounted well-attended worldwide tours in both 1967 and 1968. Guitar hero Jimi Hendrix even opened for them on a few domestic dates in 1968, though the pairing was a mismatch, Monkees fans making their negative opinion of Hendrix quite clear.

Despite these heady accomplishments, by late 1968 the popularity of the Monkees began to fade and their television show was canceled. They had nothing to lose when they launched a feature film project, aided by actor and screenwriter Jack Nicholson and director Robert Rafelson. The result was Head, the overall effect of which was something like a typical Monkees episode "laced with a bit of R-rated cynicism and worldliness," according to Stereo Review. The Monkees, like the Beatles they had been cast to imitate, were growing up, changing in response to the turbulent times, as was their audience. The group's 1968 album, The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees, was disappointing. Uneven at best and lacking focus, the record nonetheless showcased Nesmith's electric "Valleri," with its sharp guitar licks, and Jones's memorable rendition of "Daydream Believer."

Tork had departed immediately following the demise of the television series. Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith continued to perform without him for a few years, but eventually the four actor-musicians went their separate ways. As reported in People, Tork has little memory of the period between 1969 and 1971. Plagued by substance abuse, he found failure at almost every turn. Three marriages ended; all attempts to form musical groups were unsuccessful. He taught for a short time, finally finding his niche in modest performances at folk festivals and small clubs, and coaching pop and rock performers. "The 60's were a very schizoid period," he told People in 1985. "We had, on the one hand, a lot of hope and good cheer and gentility going on, and on the other, a lot of pretty brutal stuff. I think in some ways the Monkees were the distillate of the cheery side. They were the epitome: ultrasharp, ultragood cheer, ultraharmless."

Dolenz too needed a period of recuperation after the Monkees' heyday. The Monkees' initial success, he recalled in People, was mind-boggling and exhausting. "It was a devastating experience for anyone. I don't remember much about it, subjectively. I'm told I had a great time. But so much happened so quickly, I think I was probably quite an ass at times." Rising above the ashes of his Monkees career and a failed marriage, Dolenz, currently remarried and the father of four, went on to become a television and theatrical director and producer in England.

Unlike Tork and Dolenz, Jones emerged from the Monkees experience and his own divorce ready to play it all again. "That was a real important time for me and a real fun time in my life," he admitted in People. "I have no regrets whatsoever. We went straight to the top with a million dollars worth of publicity, stayed there three years and sold millions of records." Reuniting the Monkees, to Jones, had seemed a wonderful idea for years. "There are only a few groups that can generate that kind of nostalgia," he said in 1985. "A good thing is worth repeating, but time is running out."

Running out of time seems never to have mattered to Michael Nesmith. Perhaps the most talented of the Monkees, Nesmith has thrown himself into his music, feature-film writing and producing, and television video production, the latter of which garnered him a Grammy Award. Nesmith has shown no inclination to discuss his affiliation with the Monkees, nor has he ever considered a reunion. "We were totally a video group," he commented in a 1985 People feature. "We were no more a rock group than Marcus Welby is a real doctor. It was all an illusion."

Back in 1975 Jones and Dolenz had gone on tour with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the principal songwriters for the Monkees. They toured fruitfully for several years, even releasing an album of original material. When that foursome split, interest remained. Finally, in 1986, after much talk from promoter David Fishoff, Dolenz, Jones, and Tork were convinced that a Monkees reunion was worth undertaking.

Be it the comfort of nostalgia or the timelessness of their pop hits, the Monkees' performances in the latter half of the 1980s were a success. They reunited without Nesmith--who sent a stuffed dummy of himself to join his former cohorts at the press conference heralding the reunion--and hammed it up across the United States and Canada, shamelessly parodying their television personas and proving to unbelievers once and for all that they could indeed sing and play. Audiences were divided between adults who, as youngsters, had watched the Monkees' slapstick television program, and their children, who were catching the pre-fab four for the first time in syndication. A new song "That Was Then, This Is Now" seemed to please both. Although Spin contributor Mark Blackwell later deemed the reunion "very unfortunate," Cream' s Holdship said of the reunited Monkees, "They were better than the last two times I saw the [Rolling] Stones and the last five times I saw the Kinks."

by Meg Mac Donald

Monkees, The's Career

Group formed in 1965 through general audition for television series; series ran two seasons, 1966-68; released first album, The Monkees, RCA, 1966; starred in feature film Head, 1969; group disbanded, early 1970s; three original members staged reunion tour, 1986.

Monkees, The's Awards

Television show won an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series, 1967.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Monkees, The Lyrics

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