On September 9th of 1965, The Hollywood Reporter ran an ad that read as follows: “Madness!! Auditions. Folk & roll Musicians-Singers wanted for acting roles in new TV show. Running parts for 4 insane boys, ages 17-21.” And thus, The Monkees entered the world. Where did these four cheeky monkeys – ahem, Monkees – come from? Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider desired to do a series about a rock music group, similar to Richard Lester’s hit comedies with The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Help! Hence, the advertisement for four crazy dudes with the ability to randomly break into song.
The guys who received the roles in the ad were Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork. Jones, an English man and former jockey, had slight stage and musical experience, appearing in the cast of Oliver! which was featured on The Ed Sullivan Show, on the same night The Beatles debuted live in America. Nesmith, a former U.S. Air Force member from Texas, had a music experience recording for Colpix, under the stage name Michael Blessing. He was actually the only one who came in because he read the ad (the others were references), and he showed up with his laundry in tow. Like ya do, especially if you’re a working musician.
Dolenz, coming from a family of actors, was referred to the part, based on his screen experience playing the lead role of the 10 years old star in the 1950’s series Circus Boy. Though the son of screen actor George M. Dolenz, his screen name was Mickey Braddock. Tork was referred by his own friend Stephen Stills during his own audition for one of the parts. Tork brought more musical experience to the four-piece, having played shows in Greenwich Village on various instruments prior to moving out west and working as a dishwasher. Just your typical rags to worse rags to riches story there.
The four were not expected to write songs for the show by themselves; music biz veteran Don Krishner was hired as the music coordinator for The Monkees TV series. He, along with Bobby Hart, Tommy Boyce, and the four band and TV-roommates made up the team that generated songs aplenty for the generated band. Talk about your typical, synthetic, pop boy-band, paving the way for New Kids, N’Syn, Backstreet, and all the X-Factor and Idol stars of the future. Although the time they spent together on the TV series enabled them to rehearse and cohere as a band, they were initially even given personas to adapt while on screen. Jones was to be the cutie, Nesmith the stoically serious and smart guy, Dolenz the comic relief and Tork the clueless one. Though mostly true to their natural personalities (excluding Tork, whose true nature was closer to Nesmith’s character), it wasn’t hard for them to fall into their respective roles. Notice the assigned personalities, however. They absolutely align with those of The Beatles. Whimsical and handsome Paul (Jones), adorably hilarious John (Dolenz), fourth-wheel Ringo (Tork), and heavily serious George (Nesmith). Originality yet to be discovered in this project of Rafelson and Schneider’s.
What was really innovative in regards to the show were the film techniques, which in 1967 garnered two Emmy awards. The techniques included jump cuts, quick cuts, and improvisation, all of which were considered rather avant-garde at the time. Their monkey-ish antics prompted John Lennon to call them “the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers ” and though the whole concept of the TV series and the band was patterned after The Beatles, by 1967 The Monkees were well on their way to selling 50 million records, and had already outsold the Rolling Stones as well as The Beatles. Proof of the benefits of TV air time. If only the Fab Four had had a prime time sit-com before splitting – they might have been able to work through their differences in front of millions of viewers. Wouldn’t that have been tons of awkward fun.
All faux-band aspects aside, The Monkees were great. They and their team managed to write and record hits like “I’m a Believer” which still get covered today, and sell millions of records, and continue their work today, inspite of Jones’ passing in 2012 from a heart attack. Find out about the surviving trios’ activities on The Monkees’ website. If you like The Monkees, check out this similar sounding band, Supergrass.