Upbeat Melodies


The Monkees in 1966

From The Village Voice:

The Monkees were about as famous as you could get, with their More of the Monkees album beating out even the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the number one U.S. slot in 1967. But the four band members — Dolenz, heartthrob singer Davy Jones, folk musician Mike Nesmith, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork — were a fabricated foursome brought together by a want ad seeking “Folk & Roll Musician-Singers for acting roles in new TV series.” The words acting roles hint at the fact that the show’s songs would actually be written by hired tunesmiths and recorded with ace session players. Over time the lads chafed at the restrictions placed on them as performers, and did get some of their own songs onto their albums, but such massive hits as “Last Train to Clarksville” were written and performed by ringers (although Dolenz provided that track’s distinctive lead vocal). Finally, despite one of the main producer’s objections, they began performing live to enthusiastic crowds, who reveled in their nonabrasive, upbeat melodies.

Perhaps the Monkees hoped that Head would have the gravitas to boost them into orbit as creators in their own right. Or maybe they were just sick of their image as poster boys for innocuous, if catchy, pop. The lyrics to Head’s second number, a twist on the weekly TV show’s theme song, leaves no doubt that they were hip to their image of being little more than Beatles knockoffs:

Hey hey we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies

But if the film debut was meant to be seen as less a Hard Day’s Night rip-off and more a declaration of independence, the band was undermined by agreeing to use songs by outside contributors. With the surfeit of melodies at Lennon and McCartney’s fingertips, one could never imagine the Beatles relying on hired guns, and in fact the Fab Four’s Yellow Submarine was released in the U.S. on November 13 of the same year, the ads prominently trumpeting, “A DOZEN BEATLE SONGS.” In contrast, Head’s beautiful opening track, Porpoise Song, was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, while Davy Jones’s showstopping turn as a son deserted by his father, in Daddy’s Song,was penned by Harry Nilsson.

“Who Is That Guy? The Golden Anniversary of the Monkees’ Career Suicide”, R.C. Baker, The Village Voice