By Kathleen Vanesian
By Amy Silverman
By Robrt L. Pela
By Jim Louvau
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Benjamin Leatherman
By New Times
By Becky Bartkowski
Originally, the plan was to build a show around the Lovin' Spoonful, but since John Sebastian wrote all the group's material, he might have balked at doing, oh, any Neil Sedaka tunes. Teen idol has-beens like Frankie Avalon, Troy Donahue and Paul Peterson were wisely passed on. Future stars were also rejected, like songwriter Paul Williams, who, ironically, looked too simian even for the Monkees but was perfect for the Planet of the Apes movies. Stephen Stills was also turned away for his bad teeth and thinning hair (maybe he should've worn a wool hat!). To this day, one still hears rumors of a Charles Manson audition, but no tangible proof exists. "I don't believe that one," Mickey decries, but it is enticing to think how different the show might have been seeing Manson flash his sparkling eyes instead of Davy!
With dollar signs flashing, Screen Gems set out to create its own Beatles, no doubt noticing that another zany group was being featured daily on Dick Clark's Where the Action Is TV show. Paul Revere and the Raiders, a criminally underrated band, were more revolutionary than their three-cornered hats let on. Here was a garage band with regional chart success now selling a shitload of records overnight via its newfound TV exposure. It should also be noted that in 1965, the Raiders recorded one of the Monkees' biggest signature songs, the Tommy Boyce- and Bobby Hart-penned classic "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone," later snarled for posterity by another manufactured group, the Sex Pistols.
"Boyce and Hart were recording tracks before the producers even cast us," says Mickey. "The producers and musical supervisors at NBC and RCA all had a clear idea of what audience they wanted to reach, and I ended up singing all of those lead vocals by default. Peter was into folk, which wasn't real popular at the time. Mike was into country, which was almost nonexistent, and Davy was into Broadway, which wasn't real pop-oriented. I was the only one singing rock 'n' roll." The band's first album, with its seven lead-vocal performances by Mickey and instrumental work by Bobby Hart's group Candy Store Prophets, constitutes most people's idea of the "Monkees Sound." Although the TV show was highly derivative of the Beatles movies, the Fabs' sound was only reflected in the Monkees' first single. Boyce and Hart have admitted that they wrote "Last Train to Clarksville" directly after hearing "Paperback Writer" on the radio for the first time.
The rest of the album contained several intriguing musical directions. The Monkees became arguably the first band to take a swipe at raga (sitars, tablas, the sort of stuff you heard on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band a year later). Check out "Take a Giant Step" and "This Just Doesn't Seem to Be My Day." Mike Nesmith may have been restricted to only two cuts per LP in the early days, but it's commonly accepted now that the woolly hatted one--along with that other TV rock star, Ricky Nelson--pretty much invented country-rock for future shit kickers to plunder.
By December 1966, the fictitious band was proficient enough on its instruments to tour. Having tasted freedom on the road, the boys now demanded artistic control in the recording studio.
The real showdown between the group and its creators came when "musical supervisor" Don Kirshner released a second album, More of the Monkees, without the band's knowledge. Consisting mainly of tracks culled from the TV show's first season, it was a virtual dumping ground for Screen Gems songwriters to hawk their wares. The boys took exception to the cover's similarity to Rubber Soul, to the ghastly JC Penney mod fashions they were forced to wear, to inferior tracks like Davy's treacly recital "The Day We Fall in Love," and especially to Don Kirshner's self-serving liner notes, in which he pretty much takes all the credit for everything but the individual Monkees' births. While presenting the group with the gold albums for More of the Monkees, Kirshner got more of the Monkees than he ever bargained for, what with Nesmith putting his fist through the wall in Kirshner's office and screaming, "That could have been your face, motherfucker!"
Faced with the possible defection of a Monkee, Screen Gems instead chose to fire dandy Don as musical supervisor. He would go on to "supervise" two more fictitious TV groups--the Partridge Family, which wasn't really a family, and the Archies, who weren't really people. Kirshner could now relax, as there was no chance of Archie and Jughead barging into his office, demanding artistic control and putting their cartoon fists through his newly replastered wall.
Considering that the Who, the Byrds, the Beach Boys and a host of other popular Sixties groups were rarely allowed to play on their earliest sessions, Nesmith's admission to the press that the Monkees hadn't, either, should have been applauded. Instead, the press chose to exploit the "illegitimate" angle and turn the Monkees into the Milli Vanilli of their day. At least Davy, Mickey, Peter and Mike actually sang on their records, and by the spring of 1967, they played most of the instruments on them, too.