August 30, 2007

Memorable Moment in Music: Made-for-TV tunes

Something utterly important to today’s alchemy of popular music occured on September the 8th, 1965. That was the day when the classified ad ran in Variety Magazine to attract what would ultimately become the first musical group crafted specifically for a television audience, a ready-made pop phenomenon known as The Monkees.

The ad read, “seeking four insane boys, age 17-21 for acting roles in a new series.” Hundreds applied, and Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones were selected to form a Beatles-lookalike group for a zany television show. The hits were penned by a team of tunesmiths who began churning out sugar-sweet three minute instant pop classics. Instantly blurring the lines of television and musical reality, the Monkees sold 5 million copies of their debut album, and burned up the charts. They would go on to sell more records in 1965 than the Beatles. In 1967, I think they sold more records than the Beatles and the Stones combined. You can bet that those holding their puppet strings were pleased.

Despite the confection, I will confess a certain weakness in my heart towards these television bands of yesteryear. I am only an average woman. I cannot resist the guiles of songs like…

Daydream Believer – The Monkees
(Westerberg covered it)

I Think I Love You – The Partridge Family
(Westerberg covered it too)

Sugar Sugar – The Archies
(not Westerberg, but Semisonic + Mary Lou Lord covered it)

And yes, I can sing along each words to all of those songs, a holdover from being 11 and fervently riding my bike to softball practice with my huge pastel Walkman and my parent-approved tunes. I had a tough time once junior high started.

So it’s all just fluff and bubblegum delight, and there’s a place for that in my life, but if we’re gonna be honest, that initial classified ad profoundly changed the face of music — and one could argue for the worse. Sometimes I look at the landscape of recent years and find the ideas of everything from Making The Band to The Spice Girls to the INXS replace-our-dead-singer-on-television contest to be a bit appalling. Sure, it’s a free market, but it’s also prostituting out music to the highest bidder based on looks and sparkle, and not necessarily the quality of the music. Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees.

[a debt is owed to the excellent Performing Songwriter magazine for their piece last year called “Bands On The Rerun.” This is part of the XPN Memorable Moments In Music series.]


  • If it was a choice between not having “The last train from Clarksville’ or keeping its jangling lover’s glory in the firmament, to be rid of of the made for tv stuff, then what would you do?

    Those monkees knew how to play.

    russell — August 31, 2007 @ 3:18 am

  • Oh I’d take The Monkees over no Monkees, and I don’t want to get too serious about it, other than to say it did have a profound impact. If it hadn’t been them, it would’ve been something else to start the trend. I kinda think the quality of the output is getting worse as we go along.

    And you get ten points for using the words “jangling lover’s glory in the firmament”.

    heather — August 31, 2007 @ 5:37 am

  • No shame in your game. I was into all this stuff in Jr. high. My friend was in love with the Archies so she made me a tape of all their songs and I didn’t have much else to listen to. That’s also when the Monkees had their revival so I knew all their songs too. Thanks for posting. :)

    Maulleigh — August 31, 2007 @ 6:44 am

  • I don’t know if you know this, but Charles Manson auditioned for The Monkees. Imagine an alternate history where he actually got the job!!! Stranger things have happened…but the again…

    Anonymous — August 31, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  • Sorry to burst Anonymous’ bubble, but says that Charles Manson never auditioned for the Monkees…

    Onestar — August 31, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  • The Monkees were my first television and musical memories as a child. >sigh<

    Mick — August 31, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  • I’ve seen or heard something about The Monkees every day for like, the last two weeks. I think we’re on the cusp of something.

    not really

    aikin — August 31, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  • The Monkees were a great band and still underestimated by all that dont know them intimately enough. The constant flow of rare material from Rhino in the last year or so shows that they are more than just a nostalgic trip for many music fanss out there including myself. Their albums are no more patchy than say the Byrds and when they were good they were as good as anything around. Mike Nesmith was the truest musician in the band and
    his various recordings on their albums are nearly always brilliant. Quality literate songs boasting brilliant playing from the Dillards, Red Rhodes and Nashvilles finest Area Code 615 and stunning and innovative production from the man himself. Nesmith is credited as inventing country rock during his time with the Monkees and his solo albums that followed are one brilliant album after another.
    By the third Monkees album Headquarters the band had taken musical control of the albums and both that album and Pisces Aquarius Capricorn and Jones Ltd are as good as any sixties albums from that time. Micky Dolenz is surely one of the best pop vocalists ever. Jimi Hendrix who toured supporting them (at the bands insistance) was a fan as was Frank Zappa. It was Stephen Stills who famously failed the audition to join the band…because he had bad teeth.
    And lets not forget the Monkees film Head, a brilliant deconstruction of their manufactured beginnings..the film opens with the band comitting suicide by jumping of the golden gate bridge and remains for me the best psychedelic movie by a clear mile. Dont make the mistake of putting them on the same page as the Archies or the Partridge Family.. they are so much realer than that….and yes everything they have done after they reformed in the 80′s is junk…but i still say the Monkees are a very important band that deserve your attention.
    Well thats my peeny’s worth anyhoo
    Mick D

    Anonymous — September 1, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

  • I grew up with the Monkees second hand via summer reruns. My first concert was a Monkees reunion show sans Mike Nesmith. I’ve met a number of people in their thirties who can say the same thing. I think the thing that sets the Monkees apart from the top 40 pap was that they had really good songwriters. Yeah, they were manufactured fluff, but it was good fluff.

    Kathy — September 2, 2007 @ 11:02 am

  • I gotta go with judy jetson’s “eep op ork ah ah” as my favorite. Classic. ;)

    pedro — September 3, 2007 @ 7:51 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
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