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'The Monkees': The '60s TV Show That Launched the Band's 40-Year Career

With hit songs like "Last Train to Clarksville," "Daydream Believer", and "I'm a Believer," The Monkees were one of the most popular bands in the '60s The group reached superstardom after appearing together for the first time as a fictional band in the hit TV show The Monkees.

Filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were looking to get a foot in the door in Hollywood. After seeing A Hard Day's Night starring The Beatles, they decided to write something about a fictional band. In 1965, their production company sold their idea. Pretty soon, writers Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker had a pilot script ready called "The Monkeys."

Over 400 young men showed up to audition for the band, but it was narrowed down to Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork. Each of them balanced out the band with personalities similar to the members of The Beatles. The name of the show was slightly tweaked to The Monkees, which debuted on NBC in 1966. The show centered around Davy, Peter, Micky and Mike and their band's fun pop music. Micky was on drums, Davy was the guitarist, and Peter and Mike played the piano while they all pitched in on vocals. 

Songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote the show's theme song, which actually helped get the series picked up on the air. The theme was included on the group's debut album, The Monkees, in 1966. The albums were actually meant to be the soundtrack to the show. The group worked overtime, spending all day filming and nights in the studio recording. 

The TV series became incredibly popular right off the bat and The Monkees also hit the road for live tours. As they traveled around the country and internationally, record sales continued to soar -- even as the number of weekly didn't. In 1967, the group even outsold The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. This told producers that they needed to start focusing on their records instead of the show. It seemed that fans preferred to listen to the band rather than watch them. The beloved show was canceled after only two seasons in 1968. 

Following the show's cancelation, the band starred in their own feature film, Head, which was co-written by a young unknown by the name of Jack Nicholson. Yes, that Jack Nicholson. The film, which wasn't very successful, attempted to reverse the band's cookie-cutter image.

From 1966 to 1970, the band released nine studio albums -- The Monkees (1966), More of The Monkees (1967), Headquarters (1967), Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967), The Birds, The Bees & the Monkees (1968), Head (1968), Instant Replay (1969), The Monkees Present (1969) and Changes (1970). By 1970, Tork and Nesmith had dropped out of the band and it seemed like The Monkees were officially a thing of the past. The group was understandably exhausted after constantly recording, appearing on talk shows and touring for the second half of the '60s. 

Following the band's breakup, Nesmith pursued a country-rock career with his band Michael Nesmith & The First National Band. "Joanne" was a top 40 hit for the group, who went on to release Magnetic South, Loose Salute, Nevada Fighter and Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1.

In addition to his solo albums, the Houston native also dabbled in the entertainment world, serving as executive producer for the 1984 film Repo Man and he won a Grammy Award for his comedy TV show Elephant Parts. Nesmith even produced music videos for other performers like Lionel Richie and wrote "Different Drum" for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.

 

In 1987, bandmates Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork reunited with a new album, Pool It! In 1996, Mike Nesmith joined the band again for Justus, the last album to feature Davy Jones before he passed away in 2012.  Surviving members of the group continued recording Monkees songs together, most recently with Good Times! in 2016 and Christmas Party in 2018. Band member Peter Tork passed away in 2019. Dolenz and Nesmith continue to tour

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'The Monkees': The '60s TV Show That Launched the Band's 40-Year Career