The Monkees were four actors playing musicians for an American television series of the same name. The program ran from 1966 to 1968 and was modeled on the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night. Featured were the antics and music of a fictional pop-rock group based in California. Due to the incredible success of the program and the massive record sales that resulted, the pretend group became a real pop-rock group.
437 hopefuls rocked up for the auditions including Harry Neilsen. The final Monkees line up was David ('Davy') Jones (percussion/vocals), George Michael ('Micky') Dolenz (drums/vocals), Michael Nesmith (guitar/vocals), and Peter Tork (bass/keyboards/vocals). Stephen Stills was short listed but eventually rejected because of his bad teeth. Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were professional musicians, but Mikey Dolenz (Circus Boy) and David Jones (Coronation Street) were already established actors.
To make the group look natural with their instruments they went through extensive training prior to the pilot episode being filmed. Only the Monkees voices were used on the initial recordings. Don Kirshner, executive producer employed popular songwriters including Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Harry Nilsson, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to write the Monkee songs and in the studio they had top session musicians. The following all went to #1 in the singles charts around the world.
The massive success of the series and its spin-off records created intense pressure to mount a touring version of the group. In 1966 with fear and trepidation the Monkees embarked on a live tour and wherever the group performed they met scenes of fan hysteria not seen since The Beatles. This gave the four Monkees increased confidence in their battle for creative control over the music used in the series.
The group complained and eventually it was agreed they should play their instruments. In 1967 on the third album Headquarters, the four Monkees were playing most of the parts on their recorded material.
The Monkees TV program was produced by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson (Easy Rider), and Bob Rafelson (dir Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens). Rafelson directed the Monkees feature film, Head (1968) in conjunction with Jack Nicholson.
The film was a critical and commercial disaster but developed a cult following for its innovative style, anarchic humour, and quite an outstanding soundtrack. Tension within the group was increasing, and Peter Tork left shortly after the band's Far East tour in late 1968. Not long after Mike Nesmith left the group, leaving only Mikey Dolenz and Davy Jones to record as the Monkees. Mike Nesmith went on to a successful solo career.
When Davy Jones departed the first phase of the Monkees' recording career ended in 1970. Several reunions of the original line-up have taken place. The first reunion lasted from 1986-1989 and the Monkees toured the world including Australia. Their second regrouping took place between 1996-1997. The Monkees (without Naismith) last worked together in 2001. Davie Jones died from a heart attack in 2012.
Worth a listen:
(The theme) Monkees (1966)
I'm a Believer (1966)
(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone (1966)
Last Train to Clarksville (1966)
Daydream Believer (1967)
Pleasant Valley Sunday (1967)
A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You (1967)