Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Happy 40th Anniversary to the Monkees!
It was 40 years ago today Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider taught the band to play. They’ve been going in and out of style but they’re guaranteed to raise a smile. So may I introduce to you Bob and Bert’s pre-fab four get no respect club band. The Monkees! Ok so I paraphrased the lyrics of a Lennon- McCartney song but the description fits. On September 12th of 1966 NBC aired the first episode of the Monkees TV series. The idea for the series came to Bob Rafelson in 1962. It was to be about the life of a struggling folk music group. It was based on a group that he had been in earlier. He couldn’t get anyone interested in his idea until The Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” was released. With changing the group into a pop rock band and help from Bert Schneider he was able to sell his idea to Screen Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures.
They placed a now famous ad calling for all “Ben Frank types” to audition for parts in their project. Ben Franks was a popular restaurant in the area where a lot of teens and 20 somethings hung out at in the evenings. Of those chosen only one saw the ad. Another was already under contract to Columbia Pictures. One was set up for a private audition by his manager and the fourth was referred to the auditions by a friend who had tried but failed his audition. They were in order Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. So with a recently discharged from the military guitar player, a former amateur Jockey turned Broadway star, a former child star and a full time dishwasher part-time musician all signed to the show and the series was under way. It sounds like a recipe for disaster with four very different personalities trying to blend together but the show was a hit but it looked more like a TV version of "Help!" then it did "A Hard Day's Night". Rafelson said they tried at first to cast existing groups like the Lovin’ Spoonful into the roles but they found thier memebers to have almost the same personalities. TV audiences like to watch personalities that are in conflict with each other. So they decided to cast four different personalities.
The pilot was filmed in November of 1965. There was a fifth member of the cast in the pilot. An actor was hired to play their manager in order to give them some parental authority. When it was screened for test audiences the pilot failed. The producers noticed that most of the poorly rated parts were the slow scenes with the manager. Also the audiences seemed to be getting the four younger band members mixed up. They edited out most of the managers scenes and added on Davy and Mike’s screen test at the beginning. They hoped this would solve any confusion and tested the pilot again. This time it became one of the best tested pilots in the history of television at that time. The show was on the air in the fall of 1966 and was a big hit. It was such a big hit that the Monkees even had an influence on Star Trek. Star Trek was not doing very well in the ratings. In order to get some of the teenage television audience Roddenberry created the character of Ensign Chekov in 1967 and hired Walter Koenig to play the part because he resembled Davy Jones. This didn’t help ratings much but it did add to the Star Trek legacy that is still felt to this day. Trouble started to come early on when the four stars had been promised to play their own music but Don Kirshner, the musical supervisor for the series, would only allow them to sing on the records but not play their own instruments. While Micky was probably happy with this as he was not a real drummer, Mike and Peter were not. The music press got hold of this. Mike got furious and spearheaded a campaign that in the end got Krishner fired and The Monkees got to produce their next album themselves. Credit has to be given to Micky Dolenz for learning to play the drums so fast in such a short period of time. He was now competing on the charts with drummers like Ringo Starr, Dennis Wilson and Keith Moon. These men had been playing the drums almost all their lives. Micky had only been playing them a few months and was expected to hold his own in that competition. I think he did pretty well.
No one had ever expected Leonard Nimoy to become a Vulcan or for Richard Chamberlain to perform surgery or for Raymond Burr to defend a client in a court of law. However, the Monkees were expected to become a real group and they did. By 1971 after many gold records, sold out concerts, Emmy awards, a movie and a television special, the Monkees were over. The show was a hit in syndication and radio stations still played their hit records. Mike Nesmith had a successful country music career, Peter Tork was teaching and Davy and Micky were trying to get their show business careers back on track. They were the two most identified with the Monkees and were severely typecast. It’s hard to escape a role you were typecast in when you and the character you played on the show have the same name. Micky did voice acting in many cartoons and even tried out for the part of Fonzie on Happy Days. Henry Winkler said that when he saw Micky Dolenz trying for the part he thought Micky would get the part instead of him. Micky himself said when he went up for roles the producers would ask him “What are you doing here? You’re a drummer.” He had to remind them he was only playing a drummer. Micky and Davy formed another group with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and released an album and did a brief tour of the U.S.A. and Japan and did a television special. Later they disbanded too.
By the 1980’s it was coming to light that just as the Beatles influenced the Monkees, the Monkees had an influence on bands that were emerging in the 80’s. The Bangles was a huge all female group at that time and have said they were influenced by the Monkees music. Micky, Davy and Peter reformed the group. Micky said that over the years people have asked what it would take to get him and the others together. For him he said it would take a huge amount of money. Usually they went away shaking their heads. This time they didn’t. With the help of MTV running the old shows the Monkees reunion tour and album was a success. They even had another hit song on the charts with “That Was Then, This Is Now.” Eventually the group members went their separate ways again. In 1996 all four members reunited for their 30th anniversary for a tour of England, a TV special and a new album called “Justus.” Fans in America were saddened when only 3 of the Monkees toured there as they had been waiting for a complete reunion for years. Bootleg copies of concerts in England have surfaced in the States but so far no complete reunion concert tour live or otherwise has happened here.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Monkees TV show. No special concert has been announced but Rhino records has released special CD’s of their first two albums and the show is back in syndication. You can catch the four members in separate concerts from time to time. So happy 40th to the Monkees! Long may your music and TV show play.
The above photo is from TVGUIDE.com and you can go to their fan club site if you click here.
Posted by Rick L. Phillips at 5:35 AM