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The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith Dies at 78

Remembering The Monkees' Lead Singer Michael Nesmith
Remembering The Monkees' Lead Singer Michael Nesmith

On Friday, December 10, The Monkees’ guitarist Michael Nesmith passed away from natural causes at 78. 

The American songwriter had a career span of over 55 years, including dozens of albums and a handful of movie and TV show appearances, and a few books. 

Despite the rock band being away for some time, fans still hold The Monkees songs and reunion tours close to their heart. 

In honor of the guitarist, we look back at his fantastic career. 

Early Life

Michael Nesmith was born in Houston on December 30, 1942. 

Following a normal childhood filled with choral and drama activities, Nesmith would enlist in the Airforce in 1960. 

While attending San Antonio College, he would explore his musical talents. At one point, Nesmith won the school’s talent show with a collection of originally written folk songs. 

In 1965, Nesmith landed a role in a new TV series called The Monkees as a wool hat-wearing guitarist named “Mike.”

The comedy series only lasted a few years, but it created a cult following amongst its viewers. 

The Rise of The Monkees

Remembering The Monkees' Lead Singer Michael Nesmith
The Monkees. Photo Courtesy of Falt i det fri (Public domain)

Following another Air Force tour, Nesmith would be gifted a guitar from his mother and stepfather for Christmas. This led him to become engulfed in music, learning to play folk, country, and occasionally rock and roll. 

Nesmith began recording in 1963 with a single on the Highness Label. As time went on, he continued to release music, eventually landing on Colpix Records. 

While starting his musical career, Nesmith was still performing on The Monkees television show. 

The Monkees, consisting of Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones, didn’t have much creative control because of record producer Don Kirshner.

It wasn’t until 1967 the band managed to take control of their recordings and release their first studio album, Headquarters. 

The Monkees TV show would get canceled after its second season, but The Monkees continued.

During this time, The Monkees gave the Jimi Hendrix Experience their first U.S. concert as an opening act in July 1967. 

In 1968, the band flopped in making the soundtrack for the commercial film Head, resulting in Peter Tork’s departure. 

Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones would produce two more studio albums before Nesmith’s departure. 

The Monkees would occasionally reunite for a farewell tour or interviews for The Rolling Stone in the following decades.

Following Nesmith’s departure, The Monkees would release five more studio albums, with 2018’s Christmas Party being the last. 

Some of their hit songs include “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” and “I’m a Believer.”

The band would receive four Grammy nominations in 1967 and 1968.

Nesmith After The Monkees

Remembering The Monkees' Lead Singer Michael Nesmith
Michael Nesmith of The Monkees. Photo Courtesy of Karen via Flickr.

In 1969, Nesmith formed First National Band with John Kuehne, John Ware, and Red Rhodes. The band would be credited as one of the pioneers of country-rock. 

The band would create a handful of hit songs, including “Joanne,” their second single that landed on number 21 on the Billboard charts. 

Then, Nesmith would create The Second National Band with bandmates Michael Cohen, Johnny Meeks, Jack Ranelli, and Orville Rhodes. Their album, Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1, was a disaster. 

Following The Second National Band, the guitarist would collaborate with several other songwriters, such as Linda Hargrove and Lynn Anderson. Elektra Records at one point gave him his own label, calling it Countryside. 

By 2015, Michael Nesmith would release 14 solo albums, providing his talent beyond The Monkees. 

Towards the end of his career, Nesmith would appear in a series of TV shows and movies such as Popclips, Repo Man, Tapeheads, Elephant Parts, and more, as well as more Monkees farewell tours. 

Nesmith won his first Grammy Award for a long-form music video for Elephant Parts. 

Finally, Michael Nesmith published three books: The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora, The America Gene, and Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff. 

Michael Nesmith’s Legacy

Nesmith
Michael Nesmith. Photo Courtesy of Docob5 via Wikimedia.

Michael Nesmith and The Monkees may have had an interesting and short-lived career, but it’s undeniable they were one of the biggest bands at the time. 

Newspapers and magazines reported that the Monkees outsold the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined in 1967, although Nesmith admits this was a lie he told reporters. 

Despite the false statement, The Monkees would appeal to the youth market as American television’s response to the Beatles.

Music historian Andrew Sandoval wrote in The Hollywood Reporter that the Monkees “pioneered the music video format [and band member Mike Nesmith dreamed up the prototype for what became MTV] and paved the way for every boy band that followed in their wake. 

The American Pop Music Hall of Fame inducted The Monkees in 2014. 

Written by Joey Reams

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