The Monkees: Two of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll

l-r: Peter Tork, Davy Jones
Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith
The Monkees
Origin: Los Angeles, California
Genres: Pop, folk-pop, rock, psychedelic rock
Peter Tork, Davy Jones, 
Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith

NBC created The Monkees for a television show. The idea was for a fictional music group inspired by the 1964 Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night. Four hundred and thirty-seven struggling musicians and actors auditioned for the roles. Steven Stills and John Sebastian were in that group but weren't accepted. Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork made the final cut.

Nesmith was the most accomplished musician in the group. He wrote "Different Drum," recorded by The Stone Ponies with Linda Ronstadt. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band did his "Propinquity" and "Some Of Shelley's Blues."

The series produced fifty-eight episodes and lasted from 1966-1968. Two of The Monkees' hits are among the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock n' Roll.

Last Train to Clarksville
Single: The Monkees
Album: The Monkees
B-side: Take a Giant Step
Released: August 16, 1966
Genre: Rock
Songwriter: Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart

"Last Train to Clarksville" is one of the two songs the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame included among their list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock n' Roll. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote it. The Monkees' first single was released shortly after their show started on NBC, so it got a lot of publicity. 

It's a protest against the Vietnam War. They had to keep this quiet to get it recorded. It is about a guy who gets drafted and fights in the war. The train is taking him to an army base, and he knows he may die in Vietnam. At the end of the song, he states, "I don't know if I'm ever coming home." Bobby Hart said of writing this song: 

"We were just looking for a name that sounded good. There's a little town in Northern Arizona I used to go through in the summer on the way to Oak Creek Canyon called Clarksdale. We were throwing out names, and we thought Clarksville sounded even better when we got to Clarksdale. We didn't know it then, but there is an (Army) base near Clarksville, Tennessee - which would have fit the bill fine for the storyline. We needed to be more direct with The Monkees. We couldn't make a protest song out of it - we kind of snuck it in."

Mickey Dolenz
Micky Dolenz

The only Monkee to appear in this song was Micky Dolenz, who sang lead. Session musicians played on the Monkees albums. The liner notes of the album credit The Candy Store Prophets with the instrumental backing on this track. They were  Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's band. Jesse Ed Davis, a Native American who played the solo on Jackson Browne's first hit, "Doctor My Eyes," was also at this session. 

Hart knew The Monkees TV series was a music/comedy series in the spirit of The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night. He emulated The Beatles by putting in a distinctive guitar riff. The "Oh No-No-No, Oh No-No-No" lyrics were a response to the Beatles' famous "Yeah Yeah Yeah."

I'm a Believer
Single: Monkees
Album: More of the Monkees
B-side: (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone
Released: November 12, 1966
Genre: Pop
Songwriter: Neil Diamond 

"I'm a Believer" is the other Monkees song included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock n' Roll. Neil Diamond wrote this for the  Country artist Eddy Arnold. Instead, Don Kirshner gave it to The Monkees with permission for Diamond to record it. Neil released this track on his 1967 album Just For You. This was The Monkees' second single, also released during the first season of their TV show.

The Monkees sang on this but did not play any instruments. The producers needed to be convinced The Monkees could play like a real band. Monkees' drummer Micky Dolenz sang lead. Dolenz also handled lead vocals on "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Mary Mary," and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." Monkees' guitarist Michael Nesmith didn't believe this would be a hit. He complained to the producer, Jeff Barry, "I'm a songwriter, and that's no hit." Barry banned him from the studio while  Dolenz recorded the vocals. The single had an advance order of 1,051,280 copies and went gold within two days of release.

Smash Mouth

A cover version of "I'm a Believer" by Smash Mouth was featured in the 2001 movie Shrek and went to number 25 in the US. Neil  Diamond wrote the song "You Are My Number One" for Smash Mouth's next album. In July 2008, Mojo magazine asked Diamond if he resented the Monkees' success with his song. He replied:
Shrek 2001 movie poster

"I was thrilled because I was still a songwriter and wanted my songs on the charts. It was one of the songs that were going to be on my first album, but Donny Kirshner, who was their music maven, heard 'Cherry, Cherry' on the radio and said, 'Wow, I want one like that for The Monkees!' He called my producers, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich - 'Hey, does this kid have any more?' 

And they played him the things I had cut for the next album, and he picked 'I'm A Believer,' 'A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,' and 'Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),' and they had some massive hits. But the head of my record company freaked. He went through the roof because he felt I had given #1 records to another group. I couldn't have cared less because I had to pay the rent, and The Monkees were selling records, and I wasn't being paid for my records."


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