Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork. A year ago they were unknown in Britain. But their BBC-1 show and three top discs changed all that. Now they have a bodyguard each. Two permanent hairdressers between them; and a staff of thirty-four. They are all dollar millionaires, and they only talk to the Press when they want to. Overleaf, Jack Lewis brings you up to date with The Monkees
‘We are booked for another year in America. We think we can keep going for another year after that’
Prophecy by Monkee Mike Nesmith. June 1967
If all the millions of words that have been written about The Monkees were strung together, there would be enough to encircle the Regents Park Zoo with a tight, verbal cocoon. Some people might like to see the pop group put inside there first.
It would be a harsh judgment. This is the age of the young and the young have seemingly grown very fond of this quite extraordinary amalgam that sprang to life a year ago in a quite extraordinary way.
The Monkees have been accused of aping the Beatles but the manner of their birth suggests they were created in the image of a Frankenstein monster.
Inspired by the success the Beatles achieved in the Dick Lester film A Hard Day’s Night, two American television producers, Bob Rafelson and his cousin, Bert Schneider, decided to manufacture a group and cash in on the product. The raw material would be supplied by America’s own zany youth.
Into the show business newspaper Variety went the following advertisement:
MADNESS. Wanted, a quartet of hip, insane, folk-orientated rock ’n’ rollers, 17 to 21, with the courage to work.
More than 400 hip, insane, folk-orientated rock ’n’ rollers answered the call. Rafelson and Schneider put them through a series of daft tests. Stupid questions were fired at them and the replies noted.
Sometimes the interviewers remained silent for long periods; or juggled with golf balls; or, as when they had Dolenz before them, balanced a pile of bottles, glasses, and cups and watched his reaction.
It was a swift one. Micky took a paper cup, placed it at the top of the pile and said, grinning: ‘Checkmate!’
Potty behaviour and quick wits were not the only criteria. Health was another factor — poor health. Fit young men would be liable for call-up to serve in Vietnam.
Micky Dolenz earned points with his sharp, amusing reactions but his place in the group was clinched when they discovered that his back and eyesight were weak.
Tork reported that the U.S. Army authorities had classified him as 1Y because he had failed the mental tests. Nesmith had already done his military service. Jones, from Manchester, couldn’t be called up.
The four were duly chosen but now they had to be welded into a group—a musical group— although only two could read music professionally and none could sing well. It hardly mattered. They were bundled into a locked studio room with a door-sign which read: MONKEES — KEEP OUT.
A single entity emerges
A talented twenty-nine-year-old director, Jim Frawly, was put in charge of them. His job was to put the four-man robot together and tighten its nuts. He took three months to do it.
They had entered as four, rather bewildered youths. They emerged as a single entity, thinking alike, acting alike, utterly responsive to the show-business scientists who had created them in the likeness of The Beatles.
In this respect, the timing of their presentation to the pop public was lucky. The Beatles were already moving away from the crazy, practical-joke era.
Filling a gap
Yet the fans’ appetite for mad fun (it wasn’t new — The Marx Brothers and Olsen and Johnson had done it thirty years before, but it was new to the 1960s) had been whetted. Who could fill the gap? The answer was, of course, The Monkees.
Musically — and they themselves agree — they are far behind the Beatles. In fact, despite a few hits like ‘Last Train to Clarksville,’ ‘I’m a Believer’ and their theme tune, all written, incidentally, by others, they can hardly claim more than a moderate success as a pop group.
Television, however, was another matter. If aurally they just secured a pass mark, visually they roared to distinction. The crazy capers they cut in their TV series earned them a stupendous popularity.
Frawly — the first backroom boffin of pop — had done his work faithfully. The electronics of its TV show had brought the robot to life with a vengeance. There were those who prophesied that the monster would soon blow itself up.
But, artificially sparked off though it was, the mad machine didn’t short-circuit simply because it didn’t short-change the public.
Signs of metal fatigue?
Yet, are there signs now of metal-fatigue? Will Nesmith’s forecast of a short, merry life prove correct? It is difficult to say. There are no apparent indications that the trend for berserk humour is on the wane.
There are plans for a Monkees full-length feature film. Movies could keep them in business for years.
But something quite fascinating is happening to the erstwhile-ersatz pop group. The Monkees are developing their own individual personalities! They are struggling to free themselves and to show themselves as real, flesh-and-blood people.
Lulu, who appeared with The Monkees on their tour here last summer, knows them well. ‘My conception of them was that, as a group, they might last only a few years,’ she told me. ‘But then, they said that about Elvis Presley and even the Beatles.
‘Then I grew to understand them. I found that each had a personality trying to burst through the artificial barriers. Each, in his way, had the potential of a star.
‘Micky is a top-class comedian. Davy may one day be the heart-throbbing romantic hero. Peter will always evoke sympathy while Mike is sure to emerge as the cool, untouchable type. And the Beatles really like them. They don’t care that they’re being imitated.
‘When George Harrison was told that the robot group wanted to meet them, he said: “Great—we dig them!” As George explained to me later, “You can’t knock success.”’
A recent article in Spotlight Weekly asked: ‘Is the Monkee craze finished?’ It pointed out that there had been a marked falling off in the attendance of the group’s show at the Forest Hills stadium, New York. It was only half-filled.
Maybe they had better make that film. Or perhaps a new hit record will give this most human of groups the fillip it needs. But over here, I can almost hear a million young fans shouting hoarsely: ‘We still love you, Monkees! ‘
P S from Hollywood
An up-to-the-minute report from our correspondent in America…
The Monkee success story goes on and on. World-wide fame has its attendant hazards. The home addresses of the four boys here in Hollywood is one of the city’s most closely guarded secrets. On their tours over here, the security arrangements are practically Presidential.
A hundred policemen at least are always on duty—a dozen of them in the Monkee hotel, where the whole floor the boys always book is searched and sealed off two hours before the group are due in.
They still get 70,000 letters a week from American fans alone.
The television series is now showing in thirty-nine countries — the most recent convert being Japan. The boys sent over a trailer with them speaking in Japanese! They’d learnt it phonetically from a local university professor.
Davy Jones has just bought himself a farm near the famous Malibu Beach where he hopes to train race horses—a throwback to his days as a jockey. At the moment, he plans to spend Christmas in Britain, and there’s a chance that Peter Tork will join him for a holiday before the group start their first full-length feature film in February.
The earliest opportunity of seeing the whole group in England will be in June, when they will be touring.
On the record scene, the boys are planning to produce their own records at more informal recording sessions in a full-scale studio, rigged up in Mickey Dolenz’s home. And there’s also discussion about changing the format for the TV show. ‘Situation comedy is very confining,’ says Peter. ‘We’d rather do TV specials or a variety series.’
Article source: the Radio Times published 26 October 1967.