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James R. Stout

The Monkees: What Were They Doing Hanging Round?

If there was ever a living breathing real-life example of a "catch-22", then it was The Monkees. Think about it for a minute or at least let me think about it for a minute and share my thoughts with you. The Monkees would never have existed without their television series. Yet, the television series itself is probably the single biggest reason they were never taken seriously as a rock group. There is no doubt in my mind that they have received massive unfair treatment at the hands of the snobs of rock and roll and probably the single biggest reason for that was due to their silly television show.

The show was on the air originally when I was 11-13 years old. Did I watch it? Yes, so long as my father would allow us to. One of the seasons it was up against his favorite show, "Gunsmoke", and meant we got to watch it only after they started showing reruns of his show OR if he happened to not be at home. My sister Debbie was THE "Monkees" show fan of the family. I liked the music mostly. Oh, it's true that I probably laughed at some of the bits on the show, but it wasn't exactly the kind of show that made you think. But then, that was never it's purpose either. It was there to capture the young pre-teen girl audience and it succeeded in doing that quite well. I've had a chance to watch some of the episodes over the years and the truth is I can't hardly stand to watch the show now. It is silly. Mickey overacted, Mike underacted, Davy was the kind of guy other guys wanted to pound into the sand just for the fun of it, and then there was Peter. Peter was actually the best actor of the bunch in my humble opinion. Now, that doesn't mean he was in the same class as Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford, but he was believable most of the time. But let me get down to basics. The music.

It was the music that made me tune in and watch the show. Even the music had me groaning at times, but by and large it was darned good music. And it darned well should have been. Why? Well, the first season was primarily built around their first two albums. Despite Mike Nesmith's dislike for the first two albums, it was and is great music for the most part. Let me tell you why. Keep in mind that they were originally hired to ACT and pretend to be a band. So, they mostly were doing what they were told to do where the music was concerned. The sad truth is that they all possessed (well, maybe not Davy as much) considerable musical talents. Mickey Dolenz could sing with the best of them. In fact, he pretty much sang the majority of the songs on those first two albums. His vocal range was and still is amazing. His control was amazing. Listen to him when he does jazz scat on "Goin' Down". That song is an excellent song and his vocals on it are top notch. Mike Nesmith was a talented guitarist, vocalist (much underrated), and songwriter. It's true that he didn't really get to shine until their fourth album, but shine he did. Peter Tork was a multi-instrumentalist who was forced to act the buffoon on the show. He didn't come into his own as a vocalist until after The Monkees' heyday, but he could carry a tune despite being given only a very few opportunities to sing. Davy, well, Davy was Davy. Yes, he could sing. But for me it was like going into a sugar-induced coma. Way too icky sweet for me. He had a few good moments such as "She Hangs Out" and "Valeri", but there were those gawd-awful moments when he told us all about "The Day He Fell In Love" and that "He'd Be True to You". I get the shivers thinking about those songs now. And then there was his great "jawbone" playing on one of the albums. What, praytell, is a "jawbone" in the world of musical instruments.

Anyway, the truth is that the biggest rap against The Monkees was the whole "they weren't playing their own instruments" crud. Well, newsflash. In those days that was not uncommon. Every hear of "The Wrecking Crew"? Look 'em up. Guess what, with the exception of Brian Wilson playing a little on "Pet Sounds", the other Beach Boys didn't play on that album nor did they play on most of the albums from about 1965 onward. Yes, they could play their instruments, but they weren't as good as the pros were AND they were spending a lot of time on the road. Brian wrote most of their songs, but with help too. Van Dyke Parks and even Mike Loveshimselftoomuch wrote some lyrics. Remember, in the summer of 1966 when most of the first two albums by The Monkees were recorded they were also filming. Besides that the musical production was given to Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart for the most part with some songs being produced by Mike Nesmith and various other guest producers such as the songwriters of some of the songs. We're talking cream of the crop songwriters here. Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart, King-Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Carol Bayer Sager, and list goes on. Those two albums are two of the best Pop albums to come out of the 60's. Maybe that's part of the problem too. The rock and roll snobs didn't like the word "Pop". Yet their heroes, The Beatles, were masters of Pop music. I love the song by The Byrds " So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star". But I hate the fact that Roger Mcguinn was poking fun at The Monkees with it. Yea, I know. The Byrds are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Monkees probably never will be. But they should be.

Sadly, by the time the Monkees wrestled control over the music with their third album, they were just not being taken seriously by the snobbies and to the pre-teen girls who loved them so much it just didn't matter. That third album, "Headquarters" is an excellent album. Most of the songs were written by them and they had creative control in the studio as well as they played most of the instruments. But nobody cared about that by then. So many of the groups that were thumbing their noses at The Monkees were not playing their own instruments or writing their songs. They still sounded good and got credit, but none of them stood up for The Monkees and said, "Hey, these guys really are talented and you should give them a fair chance." Why? Because the snobbies might have taken aim at them for standing up for The Monkees. Their fourth album was kind of weird. I like it much better today than I did at the time. Oh, I liked fully half or more of the songs at the time, but they were actually beyond my 12 year-old brain at the time. Mike Nesmith's vocals are outstanding. We got to hear a song or two by future mega-hit songwriters too. Harry Nilsson wrote "Cuddly-Toy" and Michael Martin Murphy wrote "What Am I Doing Hanging Round?" The latter of these two is probably my all-time favorite Monkee song. Oh, and let's not forget that the album also contained the Carol King-Gerry Goffin penned hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday". But then there was Davy doing "Star Collector" and someone or other ran amuck with the Moog Synthesyser. But the album has really grown on me through the years. Their last decent album (again, in my humble opinion) was "The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees". It's a success in that it has 4 good songs on it. "Daydream Believer", "Valeri", "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet Again", and "P.O. Box 9847". It suffers too much from Davy and the experimental, probably helped along with drugs, songs such as "Zor and Zam" and "Tapioca Tundra". Whatever that is. I don't want to get into what followed this album. Let's just say it was definitely headed in the wrong direction.

By 1969 The Monkees were unable to get a hit, Peter had already left, and they were just out of step with the progression of music. The only one of them that had success on his own was Mike. Some minor hits such as "Joanne" and then a decade later he had a great album called "Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma". I love that album and especially the song "Cruisin". Mike pioneered the music video format and won a Grammy for "Elephant Parts". Mickey and Davy couldn't seem to get past their Monkee glory days. Mickey should have had some hits in the 70's. He was certainly capable of it. Peter kind of went incognito for a few years. There was a resurgence in their popularity in the mid-80's when reruns of their old show became popular on MTV. But to be honest with you THE best Monkee album of all-time wasn't recorded in their heyday. Not even close. It was recorded and released in 2016. It's called "Good Times". There isn't a bad song on it and some of the songs are the final realization of their talents. Yes, Davy passed in 2012, but there are a couple of songs that they had recorded way back in the 60's that were never released (why is still a mystery) that feature Davy. So you do get the four of them.

All of this mumbo jumbo and now to my main point. These guys belong in the Hall of Fame. Their music was an inspiration for many musicians. I wanted to learn to the play the guitar after watching their show at 11 and 12. I am not the only person who was inspired by them. They had no less than 6 top 3 hit singles, 4 number 1 albums, and you hear their music on the radio all the time to this day. They belong in the Hall. They aren't the only ones that have suffered at the hands of the snobbies. Mention Paul Revere and The Raiders and many people think of their silly uniforms in their early days and they somehow or other got put in the "Pop" genre when they were rocking it with the best of them. Mark Lindsay had one of the best rock vocals ever and he wrote many of their hits and produced many of them as well. Their career spanned 6 years of making hits in a time when many bands were lucky to last a year. If the likes of Green Day and The Ramones are in the Hall, then Mark Lindsay and The Monkees should be. But we are talking about a bunch of dunderheads who took until 2017 to induct The Moody Blues and Chicago. In the words of Roger Waters, "Is there anybody in there?"

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