I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Monday, October 10, 2005

"The Monkees" (1966-1968)

Let me start off by saying that my mother absolutely hated this show. My siblings and I were not allowed to watch it during its original run simply because she didn't want to see "four ugly boys who can't sing". When the show was rerun on Saturday mornings, Mom couldn't stop us from watching it because we owned the TV for those few hours.

There never really was a rock/pop group called "The Monkees" if you really want to get technical. They were manufactured for TV. The producers put an ad in the paper saying they were looking for young men, and many hopefuls stood in line including Stephen Stills of the 1960's group Crosby, Stills and Nash, and (gulp) future serial killer Charles Manson. The idea was to do something along the lines of The Beatles first movie, A Hard Day's Night (1964).

The pilot show features the screen tests of two of the guys--Michael Nesmith and David Jones--who were eventually choosen. Unfortunately, NBC executives were less than thrilled with what they saw, and the show nearly didn't see light of day. Some changes were made, tempers were soothed, and the show debuted in September of 1966. It was an instant hit, earning an Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series the first year it was on.

The shows were nothing but craziness, populated with characters like mad scientists, gangsters, snooty rich people, mean kid show hosts, and other nuts, with the four guys--Nesmith, Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork--in the middle. It could be said that "The Monkees" were the first to have the modern day forerunners of music videos. They were called "romps" that had the guys doing anything from clowing around to running from bad guys. One of their songs would play while madness would ensue. When the shows were rerun during the summer, the songs that were originally in the episodes were replaced with their current hits on the chart. Being one of those kids who read the end credits, I always wondered why the songs listed didn't match the ones I heard.

There was a demand from fans to see the group in concert, but there was a big problem -- the only true musician in the group was Nesmith. After a rush to learn some chords and notes, the guys were sent out on the road in-between the first and second season of the sitcom. The girls in the audience screamed so loud that it didn't matter whether they knew how to play music because they could hardly be heard. There is an episode of the show that shows the frenzy surrounding those early concerts. Because of that success, the guys demanded to take control of the material they sang from the producers. When the second season started, their sound reflected more of the psychedelic times they lived in rather than bubblegum pop.

Not only was there a change in the music, but the second season episodes took on a little more of an edge, as well. During a Christmas themed episode that features Butch Patrick (who played Eddie on "The Munsters"), Micky and Davy sing "Deck The Halls". They make a limp-wristed gesture during the lyric "now we don our gay apparel", and put extra emphasis on the word "gay". How they got that past the NBC censors, I'll never know! Numerous drug references were sprinkled throughout the scripts, too.

The show ended, despite being extremely popular, because the producers expected the guys to do a third season of the same old crazy Marx Brothers-type plots. The four were tired of that and wanted more input into the scripts. The producers denied their requests, and the foursome walked. Not even thousands of letters from their fans could bring "The Monkees" back to the air.

Nesmith was the first to bolt from the group after a movie they did, Head (1968), and a TV special (which aired opposite the Academy Awards) failed miserably. He went on to be a successful music producer, epecially lauded for his work in music videos. The group tried to go on as a trio, but didn't find much success. Tork left the group next; he still performs in clubs with his own band. Dolenz and Jones soldiered on, putting out an album called "Changes" that went nowhere. Dolenz became a TV director, his biggest successes being in the United Kingdom. Jones continued performing as a solo, also appearing in theater, the medium that brought him to the States from England initially.


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