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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Hey, Hey, It's the Monkees!!!!!!

Of course they weren't a real group! They were manufactured for a TV show! They don't even play on all of their instruments! Those little snippets of non news actually created much controversy in 1967 when a UK newspaper ran reports on the band who were currently in the UK hanging out with the real fab four. The American band were forever dubbed, The pre-fab four by the British Press and then the story went international which was bizarre since no secret had ever been made that the band had been formed for a television show that hoped to capitalize on the success of The Beatles.

"The press went into a full-scale war against us, talking about how 'The Monkees are four guys who have no credits, no credibility whatsoever and have been trying to trick us into believing they are a rock band.' Number 1, not only was this not the case; the reverse was true. Number 2, for the press to report with genuine alarm that the Monkees were not a real rock band was looney tunes! It was one of the great goofball moments of the media, but it stuck." Mike Nesmith.

The recent death of Davy Jones got me thinking that it would be nice to do a Monkees based post - I've never done one before. And whilst the band may have started out manufactured they certainly developed into a very good band indeed and one that was out of the control of the studio that spawned them.

The press reports stung the band and in 1967 they went into Goldstar Studios in Hollywood determined to prove to the world that they were a bona fide group and could play their own instruments. The result was Headquarters, which still stands as a great pop/rock album. Produced by Chip Douglas and issued in May 1967, the four Monkees wrote and played on much of their own material. Nearly all vocals and instruments on Headquarters were performed by the four Monkees (the exceptions being few, usually by Chip Douglas on bass). The album shot to No. 1, but was quickly eclipsed the following week by a milestone cultural event when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. However the album contains some great tracks - Shade of Gray,  For Pete's Sake and Mr Webster being just three of an impressive set of songs.

"the four kings of EMI are sitting stately on the floor." Wrote Mickey Dolenz in Randy Scouse Git, a song penned after the band had spent time with the Beatles during the Sgt. Peppers sessions. Lennon told the band that they were the greatest comic geniuses since The Marx Brothers and Mike Nesmith later played on George Harrison's Wonderwall album, so it is clear that The Beatles themselves considered The Monkees a real band - and in these days of the X Factor becoming so dominant manufactured musicians have become the norm, but it is doubtful that any of the winners of TV's glitzy talent show will ever reach the heights the Monkees managed.

But back to that song Randy Scouse Git - it is a work of true Sixties genius and captures a moment of time as good as any other song of the period. It paints a picture of the Beatles working on what would become one of the most important albums in musical history - Sgt. Peppers.

The four kings of EMI are sitting stately on the floor/there are birds out on the sidewalk and a valet at the door/he reminds me of a penguin, with few and plastered hair/there's talcum powder on the letter, and the birthday boy is there. Randy Scouse Git

Now they've darkened all the windows and the seats in naughahyde/I've been waiting for an hour, I can't find a place to hide/the being known as wonder girl is speaking I believe/it's not easy trying to tell her that I shortly have to leave/ Randy Scouse Git

During the filming of the second season of the TV show, the band became tired of scripts which they deemed monotonous and stale. They had already succeeded in eliminating the laugh track (a then-standard on American sitcoms), with the bulk of Season 2 episodes airing minus the canned chuckles. They proposed switching the format of the series to become more like a variety show, with musical guests and live performances. This desire was partially fulfilled within some second-season episodes, with guest stars like musicians Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley and Charlie Smalls  performing on the show. However, NBC was not interested in eliminating the existing format, and the group (except for Peter) had little desire to continue for a third season. Tork said in DVD commentary that everyone had developed such difficult personalities that the big-name stars invited as guests on the show would invariably leave the experience "hating everybody".

The band then went psychedelic with the big screen movie, Head which was a flop but since it has become a cult classic and like that other flop psychedelic movie, Magical Mystery Tour it has gained credibility long after the fact. It did, after all, contain that excellent track, The Porpoise Song.

The Monkees then a real band, more fab than prefab? - They most certainly were!

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