Music / The Monkees

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/rsz_monkees_3301.jpg
The Monkees in 1967. From left to right: Peter Tork (in white), Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz

"The Monkees themselves are a harmless lot, little pop-idol puppies who can't sing, can't dance, can't talk, don't need to."
Roger Ebert's 1971 assessment of the group

"Hey, hey we're the Monkees
and people say we monkey around,
but we're too busy singing
to put anybody down..."

This article is primarily about the band; the series has a page here.

The Monkees started when two TV producers, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, placed an ad in entertainment industry trade papers calling for "Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series". The "4 insane boys" who made the cut were Former Child Star and Garage Band singer Micky Dolenz, expatriate Brit turned Broadway musical head-liner Davy Jones, singer/songwriter Michael Nesmith, and Greenwich Village folkie Peter Tork. While all four Monkees had previous musical experience, Nesmith and Tork had no professional acting experience (the two had some high school and college acting creds), but they adapted quickly.

The Monkees project was instantly successful—tellingly, the first single, "Last Train to Clarksville", started climbing the charts before the TV series went on the air—and the "4 insane boys" soon found themselves major stars. Still, musical director Don Kirshner rarely let them play on their records (or write their own songs)—which was kept secret until the frustrated band revealed it to the media, losing some credibility in the process. Continuing conflict culminated in Kirshner getting fired, and the Monkees took of control of their music and show, which both became increasingly free-wheeling and psychedelic. Even though the four had gotten greater control of song-writing, the band continued to take advantage of the pool of songwriters assembled for the show, since — paraphrasing Peter Tork — if you had access to Neil Diamond and Carole King in their prime writing songs for your band, wouldn't you use those songs?

The hits continued for a while, even after the Monkees gave up their TV series after its second season. However, the group's 1968 film Head, a surreal, deliberately plot-less Deconstruction of the band's journey through the Show Business meat grinder, was a flop (although it's become a Cult Classic). The band's television special, 33 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee, flopped as well, at which point Tork left the band. Nesmith hung around for two more albums, both of which sold poorly, then he left as well. The band still owed the label one more album, and though there was no shortage of releasable tracks in the vaults, the label opted to send Dolenz and Jones to New York to record some new songs with producer Jeff Barry. The resulting album, Changes, marked a return to the bubblegum pop of the early albums. However, the songs on Changes were not as catchy or distinctive as the ones on the band's early albums. Changes didn't chart, and that was the end of the Monkees. The four ex-members went on with their lives—until 1986.

In 1986, MTV began celebrating the Monkees' 20th anniversary by rerunning their TV series. The reruns got great ratings, and suddenly the Monkees were a viable proposition again. Dolenz and Tork were persuaded to record some new tracks for a Greatest Hits album, one of which, "That Was Then, This Is Now", even charted in the top 20. Davy Jones rejoined the group, and the trio recorded a new album, Pool It, and also began touring again. The independently wealthy Nesmith was missing from Pool It and most of the concerts, but he returned in 1996 for the band's 30th anniversary swan songs as a quartet—Justus, the only Monkees album not to feature any outside musicians, songwriters or producers, and its follow-up TV special Hey, Hey, It's the Monkees. Since then, Creative Differences and Peter Tork's health problems (he was diagnosed with a rare form of head and neck cancer, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, in 2009; he is now cancer-free) seemed to have destroyed any chance of another reunion. However, in the summer of 2011, Jones, Dolenz and Tork embarked on a hugely successful concert tour commemorating the band's 45th anniversary.

Sadly, Davy Jones died of a sudden heart attack in 2012, making a full reunion impossible. Still, the Monkees' popularity and artistic legacy have remained strong to this day. It seems likely that they'll endure into the foreseeable future, not just as a memory, but as a functional band; Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith kept the legacy alive by touring in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2016, Dolenz and Tork not only toured to commemorate the band's 50th anniversary, but released a new album, Good Times!, which was produced by Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and included new songs by River Cuomo, Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge, Paul Weller and Ben Gibbard. Nesmith appears on the album, but isn't able to tour for the time being due to being busy writing a book (he's apparently planning to rejoin the band on tour once he's done, and even Skyped in to the band's June 1st 2016 show to do a song).

The TV show is on this page. Head and the trivia game Monkees Equals Monkees also have pages.


Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Micky Dolenz - lead vocals, drums, guitar, synthesizer, timpani (1966–1971, 1986–1989, 1993–1997, 2001–2002, 2011–present)
  • Davy Jones - lead vocals, percussion, tambourine, maracas, jawbone, chimes, organ, bass, guitar, drums (1966–1971, 1986–1989, 1993–1997, 2001–2002, 2011–2012, died 2012)
  • Michael Nesmith - lead vocals, guitar, organ, percussion, bass, maracas, keyboard (1966–1970, 1986, 1989, 1996–1997, 2012–present)
  • Peter Tork - lead vocals, bass, guitar, keyboard, banjo, organ, piano, clavinet (1966–1968, 1986–1989, 1995–1997, 2001, 2011–present)


Studio Discography:

  • 1966 - The Monkees
  • 1967 - More Of The Monkees
  • 1967 - Headquarters
  • 1967 - Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
  • 1968 - The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees
  • 1968 - Head
  • 1969 - Instant Replay
  • 1969 - The Monkees Present
  • 1970 - Changes
  • 1987 - Pool It!
  • 1996 - Justus
  • 2016 - Good Times!


Live Discography:

  • 1987 - Live 1967
  • 1987 - 20th Anniversary Tour 1986
  • 1994 - Live!
  • 2001 - 2001: Live In Las Vegas
  • 2001 - Summer 1967: The Complete U.S. Concert Recordings
  • 2006 - Extended Versions


The Monkees' musical career contains examples of:

  • Advertised Extra: On the debut album Peter's participation was limited to acoustic guitar on Mike's two songs and some backing vocals on a couple others. Even worse, on The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees his only contribution is the piano on "Daydream Believer".note 
  • Alliterative Title: "Peter Percival Patterson's Pet Pig Porky"
  • B-Side: "I'm a Believer"/"(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday"/"Words" could probably be considered double A-sided singles since the B-sides were both Top 20 hits in their own right. Several other B-sides charted as well, and the fan favorite "Goin' Down" was originally on the flip of "Daydream Believer".
  • Bad Boss: Don Kirshner is arguably a Real Life example. Besides not letting the Monkees play or write their own material, he released their second album (More of the Monkees) without telling them, and finally got fired for breaking an agreement that each single should have one side written by band members.
  • Bad to the Bone: "Pleasant Valley Sunday" has become a popular alternative to "Yakety Sax" for zany chase scenes.
  • The Band Minus the Face: Multiple, depending on who you personally consider The Face. Averted if you consider Micky the face, as he has been the only member to participate in all versions of the band.
    • Instant Replay and The Monkees Present both came out after Peter had quit.
    • Changes came out after Mike had quit and the band reduced to a Micky/Davy duo.
    • The '80s revival single "That Was Then, This is Now" was a Micky/Peter duo.
    • Pool It! was Micky/Davy/Peter.
    • Justus had all four members on the album and tie-in television special, but Mike declined to participate in most of the tour.
    • The 2001-2002 tour started as a Micky/Davy/Peter trio, but Peter started causing backstage disruptions, and he got fired from the tour partway through. note 
    • The 2011 reunion tour was again a Micky/Davy/Peter affair.
    • The 2012 reunion after Davy's death was Micky/Peter/Mike.
    • Good Times!, like Justus, has album contributions from all four members (including a posthumous Davy cut), but the tour is (mostly) Micky/Peter only. note 
  • Boy Band: Early example if not Trope Maker.
  • Breakup Breakout: Micky actually achieved this when he joined The Monkees. He'd been the frontman for a band called The Missing Links (previously called Micky & The One-Nighters), but he got fired as a cost-saving measure. A few days later he auditioned for The Monkees.
  • Call Back:
    • "Randy Scouse Git" includes the line "four kings of EMI", a reference to The Beatles. Two years later in "Mommy and Daddy" one of the lines Micky ad-libs at the end is "kings of EMI."
    • "I Was There (and I'm Told I Had a Good Time)" is another reference to "Randy Scouse Git" and the Beatles, with the opening riff of the song being lifted directly from "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." What ties it all together is that the Monkees were present for one of the Sergeant Pepper recording sessions, but Micky has often mentioned through the years that he was stoned out of his gourd and has little recollection of it. "RSG" is sprinkled with what he can remember, and "I Was There" is the rest of the story.
  • Censored Title:
    • When "Randy Scouse Git" (named after one of the Catch Phrases of Alf Garnett, the lead character of Til Death Us Do Part, which was later remade by US TV as All in the Family) was recorded, the British record label wouldn't allow it to be released on the grounds that the title was "offensive"(?!), so they insisted that it be given an alternate title. Hence it was initially released as "Alternate Title". (It has since been restored to its proper title.)
    • In British slang, randy means horny, Scouse is a term for people or things from Liverpool, and git is a mild insult (the equivalent of 'jerk'), so while it's not a hugely offensive title it's still inappropriate for what is marketed as an all ages act.
    • Micky Dolenz, who wrote the song, reportedly had no idea what the phrase actually meant; he simply heard it on British television and thought it sounded cool.
  • Christmas Songs: On the Christmas Episode they sang the traditional Spanish carol "Ríu Chíu" (a different recording of it was released on one of Rhino's Missing Links albums). Then in 1976 Micky, Davy and Peter reunited to record "Christmas Is My Time of Year", which was distributed to members of the Monkees fan club and also briefly made available to the public.
  • Creator Cameo: Bob Rafelson plays the cocktail lounge-y piano in the intro section of "Don't Call on Me".
  • Cut-and-Paste Suburb/Stepford Suburbia: The subject of "Pleasant Valley Sunday".
  • Daydream Believer: One of the band's most popular songs is the Trope Namer.
  • "Days of the Week" Song : "Saturday's Child".
  • Excited Show Title!:
    • Pool It!
    • Good Times!
    • Davy's solo album Live!!!
  • Expy: The Monkees Present is often considered their equivalent to The Beatles' The White Album. They're both Genre Roulette albums that showcase the individual members instead of being group efforts, and both albums end with lullabies ("Good Night" for The Beatles, "Pillow Time" for The Monkees).
  • Fake Band:
    • The Monkees were not allowed to play their own instruments on the show during the first season, until they overthrew label supervisor Don Kirshner.
    • Peter Tork didn't even sing on their first record: He had to make do as being one of the five guitarists on Nesmith's composition "Papa Gene's Blues", which contained the only instrumental contribution from a Monkee until Kirshner was fired.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Listen to The Band".
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: "Do Not Ask For Love", a Michael Martin Murphey-penned song recorded for, but left off of, their debut album and later revived for the 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee special:
    Thou makest me free then soon thou makest demands on me
    And I am not thy love, thou workest in me slavery
    But I shan't heed thee as before
    I prithee, do not ask for love once more
  • Garfunkel: If anyone was the 'odd one out', it was Michael Nesmith for his lack of participation in much of their later endeavors and unwillingness to play along with their slapstick humour.
  • Genre Throwback: Good Times! sounds like it could have been one of their 1967 releases.
  • Gratuitous Panning: If you listen to the track "Zilch" with headphones on, it sounds like the four of them are surrounding you.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The subject of "Shades of Gray".
  • Groupie Brigade: Truth in Television of course, but "Star Collector" was one of the first rock songs about a groupie.
  • Growing Up Sucks: "Shades of Gray".
  • Important Haircut:
    • During the psychedelic period, Micky stopped straightening his hair, while Davy cut his hair shorter.
    • Borderline example: Mike, during the same period, stopped wearing his famous wool hat and grew killer sideburns.
  • It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: The band were fans of Jimi Hendrix and wanted him to open for them on their tour. Somehow, the managers of both parties actually set up the arrangement. Basically, The Monkees wanted street cred from hiring Hendrix, while Hendrix wanted mainstream exposure. This went about as well as you'd expect: whenever Hendrix went on stage, he was booed by Monkee fans. Both the Monkees and Hendrix were upset at this development and while there was no bad blood between them, Hendrix dropped out of the tour when "Purple Haze" started climbing the charts.
  • Jail Bait: "She Hangs Out" is about a young girl who Really Gets Around. "How old d'you say your sister was?/You know you'd better keep an eye on her..."
  • Jerkass: Don Kirshner.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Pleasant Valley Sunday", "Star Collector".
  • The Last Title: "Last Train To Clarksville".
  • Looped Lyrics: "Listen to The Band" is a single verse and chorus repeated three times with minor lyric variations, plus a Fake-Out Fade-Out.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Cuddly Toy", written by Harry Nilsson, is a rather dark song, with lyrics that seem to be telling the latest victim of The Casanova to just get over it ("You're not the only cuddly toy/that was ever enjoyed by any boy... You're not the only choo-choo train/That was left out in the rain/The day after Santa came... I never told you that I loved no other/You must've dreamed it in your sleep"). You'd never know it by the bouncy, cheerful way Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz sing it, though (and Nilsson's own version turns the bounciness Up to Eleven). Additionally, the line "You're not the only cherry delight/That was left in the night/And gave up without a fight" implies that the woman was a virgin — and an easy "conquest" as well.
    • "Goin' Down" is a fast-paced, upbeat song... about a guy having second thoughts after trying to drown himself.
    • "Daddy's Song" is a brassy, upbeat song (until the last verse) in which the singer remembers the day his father walked out on his family.
    • "Last Train To Clarksville" was written as a stealth commentary on The Vietnam War. It's about a soldier who's done with basic training and wants to spend time with his lover before being sent to fight in the war. It brings a new meaning to "And I don't know if I'm ever coming home".note 
  • The Man Behind The Band: Evidently, Don Kirshner thought this was his role in the group's career. Consider his liner notes for More of the Monkees; he devotes much more text to the team of veteran songwriters he assembled for the band than the band itself.
  • Motor Mouth: Micky in "Goin' Down".
  • My Nayme Is: Micky. It is not spelled with an E before the Y.
  • Never Bareheaded: Mike in the wool hat days, Micky more recently.
  • New Sound Album: Changes, not just for featuring only Micky and Davy, but the music shifted from the Beatles-inspired Genre Roulette style of all the previous albums to more of a uniform, slick pop sound with a pinch of Soul influence.
  • Non-Appearing Title/Refrain from Assuming:
    • Many of Mike's songs. Examples include "Good Clean Fun", "Daily Nightly", "Tapioca Tundra", and "Papa Gene's Blues", among many others. He adores this trope.
    • "Randy Scouse Git" aka "Alternate Title" is a double dose of this.
    • "For Pete's Sake"
    • "Early Morning Blues and Greens", for a non-group-written example.
    • "Birth of an Accidental Hipster"
  • One Woman Song: "Valleri" was a deliberate invocation of this trope; Don Kirshner asked Boyce and Hart to write a song with a girl's name in it.
  • Patter Song: "Goin' Down".
  • Protest Song: Their career started with a subtle example; as noted, "Last Train to Clarksville" was secretly about Vietnam, but from then on, the band stayed apolitical during the Kirshner era. After he was ousted, the band did several songs that had varying degrees of social commentary, including "Shades of Gray", "The Door Into Summer", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", "Daily Nightly", "Zor & Zam", and "Mommy & Daddy" (which was so blatantly anti-authority that Executive Meddling forced Micky to tone down the lyrics). Justus added another example, "Admiral Mike".
  • Retraux: "Magnolia Simms" is meant to sound like it's being played on a 78 RPM record, complete with surface noise and Repetitive Audio Glitch.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Basically what the song "Valleri" implies.
  • Silly Love Songs: Plenty, and usually given to Davy to sing, in accordance with his persona as "The Heartthrob."
  • The Something Song: "Porpoise Song" and "Daddy's Song" from Head and "French Song" from The Monkees Present.
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • The simulated nightclub chatter at the beginning and end of "Don't Call on Me".
    • Davy and Micky cracking jokes during "Gonna Buy Me a Dog".
    • Davy recites the lyrics to "The Day We Fall In Love", and he also does spoken interjections in "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)".
  • Stealth Pun: The last word of the title of The Monkees Present is supposed to be pronounced "pree-SENT", but if you pronounce it as "PRES-sent" it also works in the sense of saying the album is a gift from The Monkees to you, and saying that, with Peter gone, Micky, David and Michael are "The Monkees present".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Peter sang full lead vocals on just seven songs (plus one short spoken piece) from their studio albums, with just two of those songs coming from the group's 1960s releases. He's better represented on rarities albums, bonus tracks and in live shows.
  • Take That: A music publisher told Mike that he needed to write songs with memorable hooks which were "good clean fun". So he wrote a song called "Good Clean Fun" but didn't use the title anywhere in the lyrics.
  • Titled After the Song: Inverted. "The Door into Summer'' is named after a novel by Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: The subject of "Last Train to Clarksville".
  • Uncommon Time: "Love is Only Sleeping" is in 7/4 and "As We Go Along" is in 5/8 (Micky has said "it was a bitch to sing").
  • Vocal Evolution: A surprising amount in 4 years. Mike had his tonsils removed in May 1967, and after that his voice was a touch deeper and less drawly. Davy was a natural baritone but was asked to sing at a raised pitch on the early albums, apparently so his voice matched his physical stature. On the later albums he didn't do that as much. Micky was exactly the opposite: starting around 1968 he preferred to sing at a higher pitch than he had before. If you knew nothing about The Monkees and heard a few later songs ("Zor and Zam"note , "As We Go Along", "Acapulco Sun"), you'd be excused for thinking they had a female member. Peter...well, his voiced stayed fairly constant, but his phrasing got more natural over the years.
  • Vocal Tag Team: All four Monkees sang. With the exception of Peter, each one was featured as lead vocalist on at least one song from each album in which he participated.
  • Who's on First?: In "Gonna Buy Me A Dog":
    Davy Jones: I just got back from Africa, y'know. I was playing cards with the natives.
    Micky Dolenz: Oh, Zulus?
    Davy: No, I usually won.
  • Word Salad Lyrics:
    • Several of Mike's lyrics during the psychedelic period.
    • Mike's "Tapioca Tundra".
    • Carole King's lyrics for "Porpoise Song" are Dewey Cox-level gibberish.
    • Micky dabbled in this as well, with "Randy Scouse Git" and "Shorty Blackwell".

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