American pop/rock band The Monkees enjoyed enormous popularity and were one of the most successful groups of all time. They had many international hits, four chart-topping albums, sold over 75 million records globally, and had a hit musical TV show.
Since their official breakup in 1970, the Pre-fab four has released a number of reunion albums and embarked on numerous tours, to the delight of their dedicated fans.
Keep reading to learn more about The Monkees history and 12 interesting facts about the band.
Who Were The Monkees?
The Monkees were made up of Michael Nesmith on guitar, Micky Dolenz on drums, Peter Tork on bass, and Davy Jones filling the roles of vocals and percussionist.
Prior to the formation of the band, Davy Jones was an actor and singer from England who had starred in “Oliver!” on Broadway in New York and was nominated in 1963 for a Tony Award.
Guitarist Michael Nesmith had been recording music under various names since 1963. Peter Tork was also a musician, most frequently working in the Greenwich Village area. Micky Dolenz was an accomplished TV actor who also performed in the band The Missing Links. His distinctive voice was a large part of what made the Monkees’ sound unique.
The Monkees originally started in 1966 as a concept conceived by producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, a pair of television show producers.
The show was styled as a situation comedy series written with many setups, some of which were proto-music videos to showcase the group’s music. The music from the show’s first season was released as the Monkees’ first and second albums.
The shows success vaulted the actor-musicians into contention for the most successful band of the 1960s. LP releases of music by the group proved wildly popular, with records flying off the shelves.
Eventually, Columbia-Screen Gems, in partnership with RCA Victor, created Colgems Records as a joint venture to distribute the band’s records.
The Monkees TV series ran from 1966 to 1968, sparking such hits as “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” The first album charted on Billboard for 78 weeks and lasted at No. 1 for 13 weeks.
The television series won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy in 1967.
Their second album charted for 70 weeks on Billboard and lasted at No. 1 for 18 weeks. This album became the most popular album of their career and the third-most-popular LP of the 1960s.
The Monkees’ popularity prompted the foursome to hold its first live performance in Hawaii in December 1966, with the band members doing all of the playing and singing for most of the set.
The band then embarked on a series of tours, including a tour through America and the United Kingdom in the summer of 1967, followed by a tour of Australia and Japan. The band performed for massive numbers of fans wherever they went.
Though popular, the band was plagued by conflicts during its run. Most of the conflicts surrounded the playing of instruments and who wrote the Monkees songs. At one point, the band members were exiled from the music-making process until their voices were required for the tracks.
The Monkee’s members fought against this and eventually succeeded in removing their music supervisor Don Kirshner from the process in February 1967. Kirshner subsequently created The Archies, an animated series with music performed by studio musicians.
While the band was still making albums, their musical interests were moving in different directions. In the midst of this turmoil, the group also released a motion picture and a TV special, neither of which were very well received.
At the beginning of 1969, Peter Tork left the band citing exhaustion, followed by Mike Nesmith, who created a new group playing country rock music in 1970. This sparked an official breakup of The Monkees.
In 1986, the Monkees’ television show was revived due to heightened interest in the group. A marathon of the show was broadcast on MTV that year, followed by Nickelodeon running their old shows daily.
Rhino Records then began releasing numerous unreleased tracks in the late 1980s as the Missing Links albums. Over the next 35 years, the band traveled on official reunion tours and released four full-length records of new material. Their newly released greatest hits album reached platinum status.
In 2012, Davy Jones passed away at age 66, dying of a heart attack. After Tork’s death in 2019, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith planned a farewell tour. That tour, comprised of over 40 dates in the US, finished in 2021, shortly before the death of Mike Nesmith at the end of that year.
Many of The Monkees’ most popular songs are still popular today. During their reunion tour twenty years after the release of their first album, that album spent another 24 weeks on the Billboard charts.
The second album was rereleased in 1986 and charted for another 26 weeks. In the 2000s, “I’m a Believer” featured prominently in the Dreamworks hit movie Shrek, introducing the song to a whole new generation of fans.
12 Interesting Facts About The Monkees
Although the American pop/rock group had their controversy, they still remain one of the most-loved groups of all time. Most people can still sing along with the opening lyrics, “Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees…”
Read on to learn some interesting facts about The Monkees you may not have heard about.
Davy Jones was almost a soldier
In 1967, just after finishing the first season of The Monkees TV series, Jones got word that he was eligible to be drafted into the Army. Instead of embracing his fate, Davy Jones fasted for three weeks so he would fail the physical and be deemed unfit to serve. The Army also took into consideration that he was the only income source for his family and he was not drafted.
Some well-known musicians auditioned for roles in The Monkees
While reportedly more than 400 actors and musicians audition for the parts on the NBC television series in Hollywood, there were some well-known names amongst them. These included Stephen Stills, Paul Williams, Danny Hutton, and Harry Nilsson. It was also rumored that Charles Manson auditioned, however, this was not found to be true, since Manson was serving a prison sentence at the time.
It was also said that the original idea was to place an already established band into the role and considered the Lovin’ Spoonful. However, the frontman for the band, John Sebastian, did not like the idea of turning over their music publishing rights to the show.
Jack Nicholson was partially responsible for the Monkees 1968 psychedelic movie Head
Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson partnered to create and co-write the box office flop Head, which was released by Columbia Pictures. Although it only produced about $16,000 in revenue when it was released, the film has become a bit of a pop-culture classic among newer fans of the group.
Nicholson also made a cameo in the movie, as did several others, such as Frank Zappa, Dennis Hopper, Terri Garr, and Sonny Liston.
Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith both once auditioned to play “Fonz” on Happy Days
During the auditions to cast the role of Arthur Fonzarelli on the hit sitcom Happy Days, both Dolenz and Nesmith attempted to land the part. While it seemed that Dolenz was a shoe-in for the role, it was deemed that he was too tall. Nesmith was also said to be too tall for the role.
Dolenz owned one of the first Moog Synthesizers
At the time there had only been about 20 of the Moog Synthesizers sold, and Micky Dolenz was one of the first. The band actually used this synthesizer on their album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
Dolenz also stated that at a party he threw, John Lennon came and played around with the synthesizer the entire night.
The Monkees sold more albums in 1967 than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones
Interestingly enough, the television series The Monkees was based on a young band who had the desire to be The Beatles. Additionally, the TV series reportedly came about after The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night movie was released.
Mike Nesmith wrote Linda Ronstadt’s first hit
While under the name Michael Blessing, Nesmith recorded an album that featured a song that became a major pop hit for Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Ponies. The song, “Different Drum,” was also featured in an episode of The Monkees.
The Monkees bandmates all had previous semi-stardom
Dolenz starred in a Walt Disney production television series called Circus Boy as a child.
Jones won a Tony Award for his role playing the Artful Dodger in the Broadway musical Oliver.
Nesmith and Tork were both in musical bands prior to The Monkees debut.
Liquid Paper was invented by Mike Nesmith’s mother
As a secretary, Nesmith’s mother invented the correction fluid in her kitchen after being frustrated with making mistake after mistake with no way to fix it except to start over. She reportedly sold the business to Gillette for $47 million dollars.
Jimi Hendrix was once an opening act for The Monkees
Micky Dolenz lead the idea of having legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix open for their first tour in 1967. While they had 29 events scheduled, Hendrix only stayed on for seven performances due to the overwhelmingly discontented fanbase of The Monkees.
The Monkees Top-Grossing Albums
Although The Monkees had many hit albums and songs over their career, there are some that hit the tops of the charts. This pop-rock, Los Angeles, California-based group became fan favorites for the following albums.
- Headquarters (1967)
- Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd (1967)
- More of the Monkees (1967)
- The Monkees (1966)
- The Birds, the Bees, & The Monkees (1968)
- Head (1968)
- Instant Replay (1969)
- The Monkees Present (1969)
- Missing Links (1994)
- Missing Links, Vol. 3
- Justus (1996)
- Good Times (2016)
The Monkees Greatest Hits
According to the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, The Monkees had some major singles that hit the top of that chart for many weeks. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, songwriters and producers, worked with the young men on their music.
Here are the top Monkees Songs: