Little could anyone have predicted, back when those 437 hopeful young men showed up to audition in September 1965 or when The Monkees débuted in September 1966, what a huge, enduring popularity and legacy was being created. A TV show about a fictional band turned into a cultural icon not only of the Sixties, but of all time.
When Nez let the cat out of the bag about them not being allowed to play (most of) their instruments or write their own music, the powers that be were stunned, but real fans didn’t care. The true-blue Monkeemaniacs weren’t under any illusions about this being a real, organically-created band who lived in that groovy beach house. They knew it was a TV show with actors.
Had The Monkees stayed just a fictional TV band, they never would’ve remained so popular for 50 years. They became a real band, and made some truly wonderful music once they were given the bulk of creative control. Prior to their rebellion, they’d also had a lot of great songwriters, like Neil Diamond and Carole King.
All bands have an initial shelf life, and it seemed as though Monkeemania had ended by 1969. Head was a flop (both due to how weird it was and how most of their fanbase weren’t old enough to see an R-rated movie); the show was cancelled after two seasons; first Peter and then Nez left; and different types of bands and musicians were rising in popularity while many longtime chart staples were seen as unhip and past their expiration date.
This phenomenon was very similar to many silent stars’ decline in popularity during the early sound era (which I’ll be discussing in much greater detail during next year’s series on The Jazz Singer at 90). It wasn’t that they had horrible voices or couldn’t make the transition well, it was that their shelf life was naturally ending anyway, and a whole new crop of talent was coming up.
However, Micky and Davy continued making music and touring together for awhile (albeit without much commercial success). The show also ran in reruns Saturdays on CBS, from September 1969–September 1972, and on ABC from September 1972–August 1973. In September 1975, all 58 episodes were sold to local markets, and mostly appeared on indie stations.
On 23 February 1986, MTV (which actually was a music-oriented channel once upon a time) ran a marathon. Within months, a lot of other channels were airing the show too, Nickelodeon among them. This was Nick’s golden age, much as my younger friends who grew up during the Nineties would heartily disagree with me.
This second wave of Monkeemania during their 20th anniversary year was what snared me and my dearest, oldest friend. I can’t believe we’ve now been fans for 30 years!
The band went on tour during 1986–7, and my best friend and I went to see them when they played in Albany in the summer of ’87. Weird Al was their opening act, and Nez wasn’t with them. As my mother explained to my 7-year-old self, he had a job he felt was more important than The Monkees. Now that I’m an adult, I better understand his reasoning behind not being more involved with the various tours and reunions over the years.
As a kid, I thought he was more boring and adult than the other three, kind of a harbinger of his spotty involvement with the band since 1970. Now, I feel like Nez would’ve been my fave rave had I gotten into them when I was a lot older than just six. Given my personality and interests, he, not Davy, seems the obvious choice, but it feels sacrilegious to switch fave raves when it comes to my first musical love. Of the three surviving Monkees, Nez is my favourite.
MTV tried a spin-off, The New Monkees, in 1987, but it quickly bombed. The attempted comeback album, Pool It!, also wasn’t exactly their strongest material. Due to personal conflicts, the reunion came to an end.
Micky and Davy reconciled, and began another reunion tour in ’94. For their 30th anniversary in ’96, Micky, Davy, and Peter did a reunion tour, and all four Monkees created the album Justus, on which they did all the songwriting and instrumentation.
There have been various other reunion tours over the years, most recently this year, to mark their 50th anniversary. Their new album, Good Times!, is their best work in years.
The TV show is such a quintessential cultural icon of the Sixties, really showcasing the music, fashion, attitudes, and culture of 1966–8. Many future musicians grew up watching the show, both in its original run and in reruns, and it had a huge impact on them.
Artists who’ve done Monkees’ covers, or songs written by Nez, include The Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Linda Ronstadt, Run-D.M.C., Smash Mouth, George Benson, and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Other artists who cite the band as an influence include The Beach Boys, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and Glen Campbell.
The show is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Head has been given the master treatment by the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Many Monkees’ songs have been used in movies and other TV shows over the years, and the band, their music, and the TV show have been referenced in a number of other shows and movies.
Not bad for a band that started out as fictitious.