Sunday, December 31, 2006

This Day in Music History: The Monkees and I'm a Believer

On this day in music history, December 31 1966, two worldwide recording stars were made when I’m a Believer by the Monkees went #1 not only on the Billboard charts in America but also was #1 in many countries overseas. The previous song, Last Train to Clarksville, only went to the top of the charts in the USA a few weeks earlier. With the help of their TV show being shown overseas, as it had not shown in other countries yet when Last Train to Clarksville was released, the Monkees became worldwide rock and roll stars. I’m a Believer was #1 in the USA for 7 weeks.
Who was the other star that got a boost from this song? It was of course the writer Neil Diamond.
Their first single and album sold well but their musical supervisor, Don Kirshner, didn’t think they had reached their full potential. He asked his friend and producer Jeff Berry to find a song that would sell millions. Mr. Berry had recently discovered Mr. Diamond when he saw him singing in a Greenwich Village coffee house. He was working with Neil at that time and he thought I’m a Believer would be the song that Kirshner was looking for to have the Monkees record. Of course he was right. While the label the Monkees recorded for was Colgems they were distributed by RCA. I’m a Believer had the largest advance order of any RCA record since Elvis. While headlines overseas may have made many of their albums and TV show producers happy when they said “Europe’s Gripped by Monkeesteria”, the Monkees themselves were not. Especially...Mike Nesmith. The second album was released without any advance notice given to Mike, Micky, David or Peter. They found out while on tour and had to go buy a copy and listen to it in their hotel room to hear what it sounded like. The covers of the albums upset Nesmith also. He knew they were not a real rock and roll group and the albums were only soundtracks to the TV series. While TV audiences know they were only the cast of a sit-com, radio listeners who had not seen the show yet would think they were a band who happened to be cast in a sit-com based on the photos on the albums. He said that he thought they had crossed a line here and were conning the public. Therefore, if they were going to make them look like a real band then they should allow the four guys to play their own music on the albums. Nesmith continued to rally in this direction. While he eventually won the battle there were some casualties in this war. The press was starting to be denied access to the Monkees and to strike back at them they made a big deal that they didn’t play their instruments on the records. Never mind that the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, etc. were not playing all the instruments on their records. No one seemed to care about that but the world was going to come to an end because the Monkees didn’t play theirs. The press kept that up even after the Monkees started playing and producing their own music. It still comes up today.
Another causality to the Monkees was that Kirshner was going to have Mike Nesmith sing lead on I’m a Believer. There were recording sessions with him singing the song but the war between Nez and Kirshner became so heated that they abandoned those sessions. Rhino may have those recordings locked away for future release or perhaps they are lost. Either way it is a shame we have not heard any of those recordings. The song was given to Micky Dolenz. Micky was the best singer in the group and it became his signature song.
When it became a huge hit it made Neil Diamond an in demand songwriter. As we all know he started to record his own material and became a bigger star then the Monkees. But it all started with I’m a Believer. When Mr. Diamond was in concert here a local paper reported that his contract stated that he had to have a satellite dish so he could watch reruns of The Monkees. What better way to pay tribute to the men who helped jump start your career?

I'm A Believer

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