Episode 162: “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs
Episode 162: "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees

The Monkees, with Micky Dolenz playing a Moog

Episode 162 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Daydream Believer”, and the later career of the Monkees, and how four Pinocchios became real boys. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/


No Mixcloud this time, as even after splitting it into multiple files, there are simply too many Monkees tracks excerpted.

The best versions of the Monkees albums are the triple-CD super-deluxe versions that used to be available from monkees.com , and I’ve used Andrew Sandoval’s liner notes for them extensively in this episode. Sadly, though, none of those are in print. However, at the time of writing there is a new four-CD super-deluxe box set of Headquarters (with a remixed version of the album rather than the original mixes I’ve excerpted here) available from that site, and I used the liner notes for that here. Monkees.com also currently has the intermittently-available BluRay box set of the entire Monkees TV series, which also has Head and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.

For those just getting into the group, my advice is to start with this five-CD set, which contains their first five albums along with bonus tracks.

The single biggest source of information I used in this episode is the first edition of Andrew Sandoval’s The Monkees; The Day-By-Day Story. Sadly that is now out of print and goes for hundreds of pounds. Sandoval released a second edition of the book in 2021, which I was unfortunately unable to obtain, but that too is now out of print. If you can find a copy of either, do get one.

Other sources used were Monkee Business by Eric Lefcowitz, and the autobiographies of three of the band members and one of the songwriters — Infinite Tuesday by Michael Nesmith, They Made a Monkee Out of Me by Davy Jones, I’m a Believer by Micky Dolenz, and Psychedelic Bubble-Gum by Bobby Hart.


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When we left the Monkees, they were in a state of flux. To recap what we covered in that episode, the Monkees were originally cast as actors in a TV show, and consisted of two actors with some singing ability — the former child stars Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz — and two musicians who were also competent comic actors, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork.  The show was about a fictional band whose characters shared names with their actors, and there had quickly been two big hit singles, and two hit albums, taken from the music recorded for the TV show’s soundtrack.

But this had caused problems for the actors. The records were being promoted as being by the fictional group in the TV series, blurring the line between the TV show and reality, though in fact for the most part they were being made by session musicians with only Dolenz or Jones adding lead vocals to pre-recorded backing tracks. Dolenz and Jones were fine with this, but Nesmith, who had been allowed to write and produce a few album tracks himself, wanted more creative input, and more importantly felt that he was being asked to be complicit in fraud because the records credited the four Monkees as the musicians when (other than a tiny bit of inaudible rhythm guitar by Tork on a couple of Nesmith’s tracks) none of them played on them.

Tork, meanwhile, believed he had been promised that the group would be an actual group — that they would all be playing on the records together — and felt hurt and annoyed that this wasn’t the case. They were by now playing live together to promote the series and the records, with Dolenz turning out to be a perfectly competent drummer, so surely they could do the same in the studio?

So in January 1967, things came to a head. It’s actually quite difficult to sort out exactly what happened, because of conflicting recollections and opinions. What follows is my best attempt to harmonise the different versions of the story into one coherent narrative, but be aware that I could be wrong in some of the details.

Nesmith and Tork, who disliked each other in most respects, were both agreed that this couldn’t continue and that if there were going to be Monkees records released at all, they were going to have the Monkees playing on them. Dolenz, who seems to have been the one member of the group that everyone could get along with, didn’t really care but went along with them for the sake of group harmony. And Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the production team behind the series, also took Nesmith and Tork’s side, through a general love of mischief.

But on the other side was Don Kirshner, the music publisher who was in charge of supervising the music for the TV show. Kirshner was adamantly, angrily, opposed to the very idea of the group members having any input at all into how the records were made. He considered that they should be grateful for the huge pay cheques they were getting from records his staff writers and producers were making for them, and stop whinging.

And Davy Jones was somewhere in the middle. He wanted to support his co-stars, who he genuinely liked, but also, he was a working actor, he’d had other roles before, he’d have other roles afterwards, and as a working actor you do what you’re told if you don’t want to lose the job you’ve got. Jones had grown up in very severe poverty, and had been his family’s breadwinner from his early teens, and artistic integrity is all very nice, but not as nice as a cheque for a quarter of a million dollars. Although that might be slightly unfair — it might be fairer to say that artistic integrity has a different meaning to someone like Jones, coming from musical theatre and a tradition of “the show must go on”, than it does to people like Nesmith and Tork who had come up through the folk clubs.

Jones’ attitude may also have been affected by the fact that his character in the TV show didn’t play an instrument other than the occasional tambourine or maracas. The other three were having to mime instrumental parts they hadn’t played, and to reproduce them on stage, but Jones didn’t have that particular disadvantage.

Bert Schneider, one of the TV show’s producers, encouraged the group to go into the recording studio themselves, with a producer of their choice, and cut a couple of tracks to prove what they could do. Michael Nesmith, who at this point was the one who was most adamant about taking control of the music, chose Chip Douglas to produce.

Douglas was someone that Nesmith had known a little while, as they’d both played the folk circuit — in Douglas’ case as a member of the Modern Folk Quartet — but Douglas had recently joined the Turtles as their new bass player. At this point, Douglas had never officially produced a record, but he was a gifted arranger, and had just arranged the Turtles’ latest single, which had just been released and was starting to climb the charts:

[Excerpt: The Turtles, “Happy Together”]

Douglas quit the Turtles to work with the Monkees, and took the group into the studio to cut two demo backing tracks for a potential single as a proof of concept. These initial sessions didn’t have any vocals, but featured Nesmith on guitar, Tork on piano, Dolenz on drums, Jones on tambourine, and an unknown bass player — possibly Douglas himself, possibly Nesmith’s friend John London, who he’d played with in Mike and John and Bill. They cut rough tracks of two songs, “All of Your Toys”, by another friend of Nesmith’s, Bill Martin, and Nesmith’s “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere (Gold Star Demo)”]

Those tracks were very rough and ready — they were garage-band tracks rather than the professional studio recordings that the Candy Store Prophets or Jeff Barry’s New York session players had provided for the previous singles — but they were competent in the studio, thanks largely to Chip Douglas’ steadying influence. As Douglas later said “They could hardly play. Mike could play adequate rhythm guitar. Pete could play piano but he’d make mistakes, and Micky’s time on drums was erratic. He’d speed up or slow down.”

But the takes they managed to get down showed that they *could* do it. Rafelson and Schneider agreed with them that the Monkees could make a single together, and start recording at least some of their own tracks.

So the group went back into the studio, with Douglas producing — and with Lester Sill from the music publishers there to supervise — and cut finished versions of the two songs. This time the lineup was Nesmith on guitar, Tork on electric harpsichord — Tork had always been a fan of Bach, and would in later years perform Bach pieces as his solo spot in Monkees shows — Dolenz on drums, London on bass, and Jones on tambourine:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere (first recorded version)”]

But while this was happening, Kirshner had been trying to get new Monkees material recorded without them — he’d not yet agreed to having the group play on their own records. Three days after the sessions for “All of Your Toys” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”, sessions started in New York for an entire album’s worth of new material, produced by Jeff Barry and Denny Randell, and largely made by the same Red Bird Records team who had made “I’m a Believer” — the same musicians who in various combinations had played on everything from “Sherry” by the Four Seasons to “Like a Rolling Stone” by Dylan to “Leader of the Pack”, and with songs by Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Leiber and Stoller, and the rest of the team of songwriters around Red Bird.

But at this point came the meeting we talked about towards the end of the “Last Train to Clarksville” episode, in which Nesmith punched a hole in a hotel wall in frustration at what he saw as Kirshner’s obstinacy.

Kirshner didn’t want to listen to the recordings the group had made. He’d promised Jeff Barry and Neil Diamond that if “I’m a Believer” went to number one, Barry would get to produce, and Diamond write, the group’s next single. Chip Douglas wasn’t a recognised producer, and he’d made this commitment. But the group needed a new single out.

A compromise was offered, of sorts, by Kirshner — how about if Barry flew over from New York to LA to produce the group, they’d scrap the tracks both the group and Barry had recorded, and Barry would produce new tracks for the songs he’d recorded, with the group playing on them?

But that wouldn’t work either. The group members were all due to go on holiday — three of them were going to make staggered trips to the UK, partly to promote the TV series, which was just starting over here, and partly just to have a break. They’d been working sixty-plus hour weeks for months between the TV series, live performances, and the recording studio, and they were basically falling-down tired, which was one of the reasons for Nesmith’s outburst in the meeting. They weren’t accomplished enough musicians to cut tracks quickly, and they *needed* the break. On top of that, Nesmith and Barry had had a major falling-out at the “I’m a Believer” session, and Nesmith considered it a matter of personal integrity that he couldn’t work with a man who in his eyes had insulted his professionalism.

So that was out, but there was also no way Kirshner was going to let the group release a single consisting of two songs he hadn’t heard, produced by a producer with no track record. At first, the group were insistent that “All of Your Toys” should be the A-side for their next single:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “All Of Your Toys”]

But there was an actual problem with that which they hadn’t foreseen. Bill Martin, who wrote the song, was under contract to another music publisher, and the Monkees’ contracts said they needed to only record songs published by Screen Gems.

Eventually, it was Micky Dolenz who managed to cut the Gordian knot — or so everyone thought. Dolenz was the one who had the least at stake of any of them — he was already secure as the voice of the hits, he had no particular desire to be an instrumentalist, but he wanted to support his colleagues. Dolenz suggested that it would be a reasonable compromise to put out a single with one of the pre-recorded backing tracks on one side, with him or Jones singing, and with the version of “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” that the band had recorded together on the other. That way, Kirshner and the record label would get their new single without too much delay, the group would still be able to say they’d started recording their own tracks, everyone would get some of what they wanted.

So it was agreed — though there was a further stipulation. “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” had Nesmith singing lead vocals, and up to that point every Monkees single had featured Dolenz on lead on both sides. As far as Kirshner and the other people involved in making the release decisions were concerned, that was the way things were going to continue.

Everyone was fine with this — Nesmith, the one who was most likely to object in principle, in practice realised that having Dolenz sing his song would make it more likely to be played on the radio and used in the TV show, and so increase his royalties.

A vocal session was arranged in New York for Dolenz and Jones to come and cut some vocal tracks right before Dolenz and Nesmith flew over to the UK. But in the meantime, it had become even more urgent for the group to be seen to be doing their own recording. An in-depth article on the group in the Saturday Evening Post had come out, quoting Nesmith as saying “It was what Kirshner wanted to do. Our records are not our forte. I don’t care if we never sell another record. Maybe we were manufactured and put on the air strictly with a lot of hoopla. Tell the world we’re synthetic because, damn it, we are. Tell them the Monkees are wholly man-made overnight, that millions of dollars have been poured into this thing. Tell the world we don’t record our own music. But that’s us they see on television. The show is really a part of us. They’re not seeing something invalid.”

The press immediately jumped on the band, and started trying to portray them as con artists exploiting their teenage fans, though as Nesmith later said “The press decided they were going to unload on us as being somehow illegitimate, somehow false. That we were making an attempt to dupe the public, when in fact it was me that was making the attempt to maintain the integrity. So the press went into a full-scale war against us.”

Tork, on the other hand, while he and Nesmith were on the same side about the band making their own records, blamed Nesmith for much of the press reaction, later saying “Michael blew the whistle on us. If he had gone in there with pride and said ‘We are what we are and we have no reason to hang our heads in shame’ it never would have happened.”

So as far as the group were concerned, they *needed* to at least go with Dolenz’s suggested compromise. Their personal reputations were on the line.

When Dolenz arrived at the session in New York, he was expecting to be asked to cut one vocal track, for the A-side of the next single (and presumably a new lead vocal for “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”). When he got there, though, he found that Kirshner expected him to record several vocals so that Kirshner could choose the best.

That wasn’t what had been agreed, and so Dolenz flat-out refused to record anything at all. Luckily for Kirshner, Jones — who was the most co-operative member of the band — was willing to sing a handful of songs intended for Dolenz as well as the ones he was meant to sing. So the tape of “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”, the song intended for the next single, was slowed down so it would be in a suitable key for Jones instead, and he recorded the vocal for that:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”]

Incidentally, while Jones recorded vocals for several more tracks at the session — and some would later be reused as album tracks a few years down the line — not all of the recorded tracks were used for vocals, and this later gave rise to a rumour that has been repeated as fact by almost everyone involved, though it was a misunderstanding.

Kirshner’s next major success after the Monkees was another made-for-TV fictional band, the Archies, and their biggest hit was “Sugar Sugar”, co-written and produced by Jeff Barry:

[Excerpt: The Archies, “Sugar Sugar”]

Both Kirshner and the Monkees have always claimed that the Monkees were offered “Sugar, Sugar” and turned it down. To Kirshner the moral of the story was that since “Sugar, Sugar” was a massive hit, it proved his instincts right and proved that the Monkees didn’t know what would make a hit. To the Monkees, on the other hand, it showed that Kirshner wanted them to do bubblegum music that they considered ridiculous.

This became such an established factoid that Dolenz regularly tells the story in his live performances, and includes a version of “Sugar, Sugar” in them, rearranged as almost a torch song:

[Excerpt: Micky Dolenz, “Sugar, Sugar (live)”]

But in fact, “Sugar, Sugar” wasn’t written until long after Kirshner and the Monkees had parted ways. But one of the songs for which a backing track was recorded but no vocals were ever completed was “Sugar Man”, a song by Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer, which they would later release themselves as an unsuccessful single:

[Excerpt: Linzer and Randell, “Sugar Man”]

Over the years, the Monkees not recording “Sugar Man” became the Monkees not recording “Sugar, Sugar”.

Meanwhile, Dolenz and Nesmith had flown over to the UK to do some promotional work and relax, and Jones soon also flew over, though didn’t hang out with his bandmates, preferring to spend more time with his family. Both Dolenz and Nesmith spent a lot of time hanging out with British pop stars, and were pleased to find that despite the manufactured controversy about them being a manufactured group, none of the British musicians they admired seemed to care.

Eric Burdon, for example, was quoted in the Melody Maker as saying “They make very good records, I can’t understand how people get upset about them. You’ve got to make up your minds whether a group is a record production group or one that makes live appearances. For example, I like to hear a Phil Spector record and I don’t worry if it’s the Ronettes or Ike and Tina Turner… I like the Monkees record as a grand record, no matter how people scream. So somebody made a record and they don’t play, so what? Just enjoy the record.”

Similarly, the Beatles were admirers of the Monkees, especially the TV show, despite being expected to have a negative opinion of them, as you can hear in this contemporary recording of Paul McCartney answering a fan’s questions:

Excerpt: Paul McCartney talks about the Monkees]

Both Dolenz and Nesmith hung out with the Beatles quite a bit — they both visited Sgt. Pepper recording sessions, and if you watch the film footage of the orchestral overdubs for “A Day in the Life”, Nesmith is there with all the other stars of the period. Nesmith and his wife Phyllis even stayed with the Lennons for a couple of days, though Cynthia Lennon seems to have thought of the Nesmiths as annoying intruders who had been invited out of politeness and not realised they weren’t wanted.

That seems plausible, but at the same time, John Lennon doesn’t seem the kind of person to not make his feelings known, and Michael Nesmith’s reports of the few days they stayed there seem to describe a very memorable experience, where after some initial awkwardness he developed a bond with Lennon, particularly once he saw that Lennon was a fan of Captain Beefheart, who was a friend of Nesmith, and whose Safe as Milk album Lennon was examining when Nesmith turned up, and whose music at this point bore a lot of resemblance to the kind of thing Nesmith was doing:

[Excerpt: Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, “Yellow Brick Road”]

Or at least, that’s how Nesmith always told the story later — though Safe as Milk didn’t come out until nearly six months later. It’s possible he’s conflating memories from a later trip to the UK in June that year — where he also talked about how Lennon was the only person he’d really got on with on the previous trip, because “he’s a compassionate person. I know he has a reputation for being caustic, but it is only a cover for the depth of his feeling.”

Nesmith and Lennon apparently made some experimental music together during the brief stay, with Nesmith being impressed by Lennon’s Mellotron and later getting one himself.

Dolenz, meanwhile, was spending more time with Paul McCartney, and with Spencer Davis of his current favourite band The Spencer Davis Group. But even more than that he was spending a lot of time with Samantha Juste, a model and TV presenter whose job it was to play the records on Top of the Pops, the most important British TV pop show, and who had released a record herself a couple of months earlier, though it hadn’t been a success:

[Excerpt: Samantha Juste, “No-one Needs My Love Today”]

The two quickly fell deeply in love, and Juste would become Dolenz’s first wife the next year.

When Nesmith and Dolenz arrived back in the US after their time off, they thought the plan was still to release “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” with “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” on the B-side. So Nesmith was horrified to hear on the radio what the announcer said were the two sides of the new Monkees single — “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”, and “She Hangs Out”, another song from the Jeff Barry sessions with a Davy vocal.

Don Kirshner had gone ahead and picked two songs from the Jeff Barry sessions and delivered them to RCA Records, who had put a single out in Canada. The single was very, *very* quickly withdrawn once the Monkees and the TV producers found out, and only promo copies seem to circulate — rather than being credited to “the Monkees”, both sides are credited to ‘”My Favourite Monkee” Davy Jones Sings’.

The record had been withdrawn, but “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” was clearly going to have to be the single. Three days after the record was released and pulled, Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork were back in the studio with Chip Douglas, recording a new B-side — a new version of “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”, this time with Dolenz on vocals. As Jones was still in the UK, John London added the tambourine part as well as the bass:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere (single version)”]

As Nesmith told the story a couple of months later, “Bert said ‘You’ve got to get this thing in Micky’s key for Micky to sing it.’ I said ‘Has Donnie made a commitment? I don’t want to go there and break my neck in order to get this thing if Donnie hasn’t made a commitment. And Bert refused to say anything. He said ‘I can’t tell you anything except just go and record.'”

What had happened was that the people at Columbia had had enough of Kirshner. As far as Rafelson and Schneider were concerned, the real problem in all this was that Kirshner had been making public statements taking all the credit for the Monkees’ success and casting himself as the puppetmaster. They thought this was disrespectful to the performers — and unstated but probably part of it, that it was disrespectful to Rafelson and Schneider for their work putting the TV show together — and that Kirshner had allowed his ego to take over. Things like the liner notes for More of the Monkees which made Kirshner and his stable of writers more important than the performers had, in the view of the people at Raybert Productions, put the Monkees in an impossible position and forced them to push back. Schneider later said “Kirshner had an ego that transcended everything else. As a matter of fact, the press issue was probably magnified a hundred times over because of Kirshner. He wanted everybody thinking ‘Hey, he’s doing all this, not them.’ In the end it was very self-destructive because it heightened the whole press issue and it made them feel lousy.”

Kirshner was out of a job, first as the supervisor for the Monkees and then as the head of Columbia/Screen Gems Music. In his place came Lester Sill, the man who had got Leiber and Stoller together as songwriters, who had been Lee Hazelwood’s production partner on his early records with Duane Eddy, and who had been the “Les” in Philles Records until Phil Spector pushed him out. Sill, unlike Kirshner, was someone who was willing to take a back seat and just be a steadying hand where needed.

The reissued version of “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” went to number two on the charts, behind “Somethin’ Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, produced by Sill’s old colleague Hazelwood, and the B-side, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”, also charted separately, making number thirty-nine on the charts. The Monkees finally had a hit that they’d written and recorded by themselves. Pinocchio had become a real boy:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere (single version)”]

At the same session at which they’d recorded that track, the Monkees had recorded another Nesmith song, “Sunny Girlfriend”, and that became the first song to be included on a new album, which would eventually be named Headquarters, and on which all the guitar, keyboard, drums, percussion, banjo, pedal steel, and backing vocal parts would for the first time be performed by the Monkees themselves. They brought in horn and string players on a couple of tracks, and the bass was variously played by John London, Chip Douglas, and Jerry Yester as Tork was more comfortable on keyboards and guitar than bass, but it was in essence a full band album.

Jones got back the next day, and sessions began in earnest. The first song they recorded after his return was “Mr. Webster”, a Boyce and Hart song that had been recorded with the Candy Store Prophets in 1966 but hadn’t been released. This was one of three tracks on the album that were rerecordings of earlier outtakes, and it’s fascinating to compare them, to see the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. In the case of “Mr. Webster”, the instrumental backing on the earlier version is definitely slicker:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Mr. Webster (1st Recorded Version)”]

But at the same time, there’s a sense of dynamics in the group recording that’s lacking from the original, like the backing dropping out totally on the word “Stop” — a nice touch that isn’t in the original. I am only speculating, but this may have been inspired by the similar emphasis on the word “stop” in “For What It’s Worth” by Tork’s old friend Stephen Stills:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Mr. Webster (album version)”]

Headquarters was a group album in another way though — for the first time, Tork and Dolenz were bringing in songs they’d written — Nesmith of course had supplied songs already for the two previous albums. Jones didn’t write any songs himself yet, though he’d start on the next album, but he was credited with the rest of the group on two joke tracks, “Band 6”, a jam on the Merrie Melodies theme “Merrily We Roll Along”, and “Zilch”, a track made up of the four band members repeating nonsense phrases:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Zilch”]

Oddly, that track had a rather wider cultural resonance than a piece of novelty joke album filler normally would. It’s sometimes covered live by They Might Be Giants:

[Excerpt: They Might Be Giants, “Zilch”]

While the rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien had a worldwide hit in 1991 with “Mistadobalina”, built around a sample of Peter Tork from the track:

[Excerpt: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien,”Mistadobalina”]

Nesmith contributed three songs, all of them combining Beatles-style pop music and country influences, none more blatantly than the opening track, “You Told Me”, which starts off parodying the opening of “Taxman”, before going into some furious banjo-picking from Tork:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “You Told Me”]

Tork, meanwhile, wrote “For Pete’s Sake” with his flatmate of the time, and that became the end credits music for season two of the TV series:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “For Pete’s Sake”]

But while the other band members made important contributions, the track on the album that became most popular was the first song of Dolenz’s to be recorded by the group.

The lyrics recounted, in a semi-psychedelic manner, Dolenz’s time in the UK, including meeting with the Beatles, who the song refers to as “the four kings of EMI”, but the first verse is all about his new girlfriend Samantha Juste:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Randy Scouse Git”]

The song was released as a single in the UK, but there was a snag. Dolenz had given the song a title he’d heard on an episode of the BBC sitcom Til Death Us Do Part, which he’d found an amusing bit of British slang.

Til Death Us Do Part was written by Johnny Speight, a writer with Associated London Scripts, and was a family sitcom based around the character of Alf Garnett, an ignorant, foul-mouthed reactionary bigot who hated young people, socialists, and every form of minority, especially Black people (who he would address by various slurs I’m definitely not going to repeat here), and was permanently angry at the world and abusive to his wife. As with another great sitcom from ALS, Steptoe and Son, which Norman Lear adapted for the US as Sanford and Son, Til Death Us Do Part was also adapted by Lear, and became All in the Family. But while Archie Bunker, the character based on Garnett in the US version, has some redeeming qualities because of the nature of US network sitcom, Alf Garnett has absolutely none, and is as purely unpleasant and unsympathetic a character as has ever been created — which sadly didn’t stop a section of the audience from taking him as a character to be emulated.

A big part of the show’s dynamic was the relationship between Garnett and his socialist son-in-law from Liverpool, played by Anthony Booth, himself a Liverpudlian socialist who would later have a similarly contentious relationship with his own decidedly non-socialist son-in-law, the future Prime Minister Tony Blair. Garnett was as close to foul-mouthed as was possible on British TV at the time, with Speight regularly negotiating with the BBC bosses to be allowed to use terms that were not otherwise heard on TV, and used various offensive terms about his family, including referring to his son-in-law as a “randy Scouse git”.

Dolenz had heard the phrase on TV, had no idea what it meant but loved the sound of it, and gave the song that title. But when the record came out in the UK, he was baffled to be told that the phrase — which he’d picked up from a BBC TV show, after all — couldn’t be said normally on BBC broadcasts, so they would need to retitle the track. The translation into American English that Dolenz uses in his live shows to explain this to Americans is to say that “randy Scouse git” means “horny Liverpudlian putz”, and that’s more or less right.

Dolenz took the need for an alternative title literally, and so the track that went to number two in the UK charts was titled “Alternate Title”:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Randy Scouse Git”]

The album itself went to number one in both the US and the UK, though it was pushed off the top spot almost straight away by the release of Sgt Pepper.

As sessions for Headquarters were finishing up, the group were already starting to think about their next album — season two of the TV show was now in production, and they’d need to keep generating yet more musical material for it. One person they turned to was a friend of Chip Douglas’.

Before the Turtles, Douglas had been in the Modern Folk Quartet, and they’d recorded “This Could Be the Night”, which had been written for them by Harry Nilsson:

[Excerpt: The MFQ, “This Could Be The Night”]

Nilsson had just started recording his first solo album proper, at RCA Studios, the same studios that the Monkees were using. At this point, Nilsson still had a full-time job in a bank, working a night shift there while working on his album during the day, but Douglas knew that Nilsson was a major talent, and that assessment was soon shared by the group when Nilsson came in to demo nine of his songs for them:

[Excerpt: Harry Nilsson, “1941 (demo)”]

According to Nilsson, Nesmith said after that demo session “You just sat down there and blew our minds. We’ve been looking for songs, and you just sat down and played an *album* for us!”

While the Monkees would attempt a few of Nilsson’s songs over the next year or so, the first one they chose to complete was the first track recorded for their next album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, and Jones, Ltd., a song which from the talkback at the beginning of the demo was always intended for Davy Jones to sing:

[Excerpt: Harry Nilsson, “Cuddly Toy (demo)”]

Oddly, given his romantic idol persona, a lot of the songs given to Jones to sing were anti-romantic, and often had a cynical and misogynistic edge. This had started with the first album’s “I Want to Be Free”, but by Pisces, it had gone to ridiculous extremes. Of the four songs Jones sings on the album, “Hard to Believe”, the first song proper that he ever co-wrote, is a straightforward love  song, but the other three have a nasty edge to them. A remade version of Jeff Barry’s “She Hangs Out” is about an underaged girl, starts with the lines “How old d’you say your sister was? You know you’d better keep an eye on her” and contains lines like “she could teach you a thing or two” and “you’d better get down here on the double/before she gets her pretty little self in trouble/She’s so fine”.

Goffin and King’s “Star Collector” is worse, a song about a groupie with lines like “How can I love her, if I just don’t respect her?” and “It won’t take much time, before I get her off my mind”

But as is so often the way, these rather nasty messages were wrapped up in some incredibly catchy music, and that was even more the case with “Cuddly Toy”, a song which at least is more overtly unpleasant — it’s very obvious that Nilsson doesn’t intend the protagonist of the song to be at all sympathetic, which is possibly not the case in “She Hangs Out” or “Star Collector”. But the character Jones is singing is *viciously* cruel here, mocking and taunting a girl who he’s coaxed to have sex with him, only to scorn her as soon as he’s got what he wanted:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Cuddly Toy”]

It’s a great song if you like the cruelest of humour combined with the cheeriest of music, and the royalties from the song allowed Nilsson to quit the job at the bank.

“Cuddly Toy”, and Chip Douglas and Bill Martin’s song “The Door Into Summer”, were recorded the same way as Headquarters, with the group playing *as a group*, but as recordings for the album progressed the group fell into a new way of working, which Peter Tork later dubbed “mixed-mode”. They didn’t go back to having tracks cut for them by session musicians, apart from Jones’ song “Hard to Believe”, for which the entire backing track was created by one of his co-writers overdubbing himself, but Dolenz, who Tork always said was “incapable of repeating a triumph”, was not interested in continuing to play drums in the studio. Instead, a new hybrid Monkees would perform most of the album. Nesmith would still play the lead guitar, Tork would provide the keyboards, Chip Douglas would play all the bass and add some additional guitar, and “Fast” Eddie Hoh, the session drummer who had been a touring drummer with the Modern Folk Quartet and the Mamas and the Papas, among others, would play drums on the records, with Dolenz occasionally adding a bit of acoustic guitar.

And this was the lineup that would perform on the hit single from Pisces.

“Pleasant Valley Sunday” was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who had written several songs for the group’s first two albums (and who would continue to provide them with more songs). As with their earlier songs for the group, King had recorded a demo:

[Excerpt: Carole King, “Pleasant Valley Sunday (demo)”]

Previously — and subsequently — when presented with a Carole King demo, the group and their producers would just try to duplicate it as closely as possible, right down to King’s phrasing. Bob Rafelson has said that he would sometimes hear those demos and wonder why King didn’t just make records herself — and without wanting to be too much of a spoiler for a few years’ time, he wasn’t the only one wondering that.

But this time, the group had other plans. In particular, they wanted to make a record with a strong guitar riff to it — Nesmith has later referenced their own “Last Train to Clarksville” and the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” as two obvious reference points for the track. Douglas came up with a riff and taught it to Nesmith, who played it on the track:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”]

The track also ended with the strongest psychedelic — or “psycho jello” as the group would refer to it — freak out that they’d done to this point, a wash of saturated noise:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”]

King was unhappy with the results, and apparently glared at Douglas the next time they met. This may be because of the rearrangement from her intentions, but it may also be for a reason that Douglas later suspected. When recording the track, he hadn’t been able to remember all the details of her demo, and in particular he couldn’t remember exactly how the middle eight went. This is the version on King’s demo:

[Excerpt: Carole King, “Pleasant Valley Sunday (demo)”]

While here’s how the Monkees rendered it, with slightly different lyrics:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”]

I also think there’s a couple of chord changes in the second verse that differ between King and the Monkees, but I can’t be sure that’s not my ears deceiving me.

Either way, though, the track was a huge success, and became one of the group’s most well-known and well-loved tracks, making number three on the charts behind “All You Need is Love” and “Light My Fire”. And while it isn’t Dolenz drumming on the track, the fact that it’s Nesmith playing guitar and Tork on the piano — and the piano part is one of the catchiest things on the record — meant that they finally had a proper major hit on which they’d played (and it seems likely that Dolenz contributed some of the acoustic rhythm guitar on the track, along with Bill Chadwick, and if that’s true all three Monkee instrumentalists did play on the track).

Pisces is by far and away the best album the group ever made, and stands up well against anything else that came out around that time. But cracks were beginning to show in the group. In particular, the constant battle to get some sort of creative input had soured Nesmith on the whole project.

Chip Douglas later said “When we were doing Pisces Michael would come in with three songs; he knew he had three songs coming on the album. He knew that he was making a lot of money if he got his original songs on there. So he’d be real enthusiastic and cooperative and real friendly and get his three songs done. Then I’d say ‘Mike, can you come in and help on this one we’re going to do with Micky here?’ He said ‘No, Chip, I can’t. I’m busy.’ I’d say, ‘Mike, you gotta come in the studio.’ He’d say ‘No Chip, I’m afraid I’m just gonna have to be ornery about it. I’m not comin’ in.’ That’s when I started not liking Mike so much any more.”

Now, as is so often the case with the stories from this period, this appears to be inaccurate in the details — Nesmith is present on every track on the album except Jones’ solo “Hard to Believe” and Tork’s spoken-word track “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky”, and indeed this is by far the album with *most* Nesmith input, as he takes five lead vocals, most of them on songs he didn’t write.

But Douglas may well be summing up Nesmith’s *attitude* to the band at this point — listening to Nesmith’s commentaries on episodes of the TV show, by this point he felt disengaged from everything that was going on, like his opinions weren’t welcome.

That said, Nesmith did still contribute what is possibly the single most innovative song the group ever did, though the innovations weren’t primarily down to Nesmith:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Daily Nightly”]

Nesmith always described the lyrics to “Daily Nightly” as being about the riots on Sunset Strip, but while they’re oblique, they seem rather to be about streetwalking sex workers — though it’s perhaps understandable that Nesmith would never admit as much.

What made the track innovative was the use of the Moog synthesiser. We talked about Robert Moog in the episode on “Good Vibrations” — he had started out as a Theremin manufacturer, and had built the ribbon synthesiser that Mike Love played live on “Good Vibrations”, and now he was building the first commercially available easily usable synthesisers. Previously, electronic instruments had either been things like the clavioline — a simple monophonic keyboard instrument that didn’t have much tonal variation — or the RCA Mark II, a programmable synth that could make a wide variety of sounds, but took up an entire room and was programmed with punch cards. Moog’s machines were bulky but still transportable, and they could be played in real time with a keyboard, but were still able to be modified to make a wide variety of different sounds. While, as we’ve seen, there had been electronic keyboard instruments as far back as the 1930s, Moog’s instruments were for all intents and purposes the first synthesisers as we now understand the term.

The Moog was introduced in late spring 1967, and immediately started to be used for making experimental and novelty records, like Hal Blaine’s track “Love In”, which came out at the beginning of June:

[Excerpt: Hal Blaine, “Love In”]

And the Electric Flag’s soundtrack album for The Trip, the drug exploitation film starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and written by Jack Nicholson we talked about last time, when Arthur Lee moved into a house used in the film:

[Excerpt: The Electric Flag, “Peter’s Trip”]

In 1967 there were a total of six albums released with a Moog on them (as well as one non-album experimental single). Four of the albums were experimental or novelty instrumental albums of this type. Only two of them were rock albums — Strange Days by the Doors, and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd by the Monkees. The Doors album was released first, but I believe the Monkees tracks were recorded before the Doors overdubbed the Moog on the tracks on their album, though some session dates are hard to pin down exactly. If that’s the case it would make the Monkees the very first band to use the Moog on an actual rock record (depending on exactly how you count the Trip soundtrack — this gets back again to my old claim that there’s no first anything).

But that’s not the only way in which “Daily Nightly” was innovative. All the first seven albums to feature the Moog featured one man playing the instrument — Paul Beaver, the Moog company’s West Coast representative, who played on all the novelty records by members of the Wrecking Crew, and on the albums by the Electric Flag and the Doors, and on The Notorious Byrd Brothers by the Byrds, which came out in early 1968. And Beaver did play the Moog on one track on Pisces, “Star Collector”. But on “Daily Nightly” it’s Micky Dolenz playing the Moog, making him definitely the second person ever to play a Moog on a record of any kind:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Daily Nightly”]

Dolenz indeed had bought his own Moog — widely cited as being the second one ever in private ownership, a fact I can’t check but which sounds plausible given that by 1970 less than thirty musicians owned one — after seeing Beaver demonstrate the instrument at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Monkees hadn’t played Monterey, but both Dolenz and Tork had attended the festival — if you watch the famous film of it you see Dolenz and his girlfriend Samantha in the crowd a *lot*, while Tork introduced his friends in the Buffalo Springfield.

As well as discovering the Moog there, Dolenz had been astonished by something else:

[Excerpt: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Hey Joe (Live at Monterey)”]

As Peter Tork later put it “I didn’t get it. At Monterey Jimi followed the Who and the Who busted up their things and Jimi bashed up his guitar. I said ‘I just saw explosions and destruction. Who needs it?’ But Micky got it. He saw the genius and went for it.”

Dolenz was astonished by Hendrix, and insisted that he should be the support act on the group’s summer tour.

This pairing might sound odd on paper, but it made more sense at the time than it might sound. The Monkees were by all accounts a truly astonishing live act at this point — Frank Zappa gave them a backhanded compliment by saying they were the best-sounding band in LA, before pointing out that this was because they could afford the best equipment.

That *was* true, but it was also the case that their TV experience gave them a different attitude to live performance than anyone else performing at the time. A handful of groups had started playing stadiums, most notably of course the Beatles, but all of these acts had come up through playing clubs and theatres and essentially just kept doing their old act with no thought as to how the larger space worked, except to put their amps through a louder PA.

The Monkees, though, had *started* in stadiums, and had started out as mass entertainers, and so their live show was designed from the ground up to play to those larger spaces. They had costume changes, elaborate stage sets — like oversized fake Vox amps they burst out of at the start of the show — a light show and a screen on which film footage was projected. In effect they invented stadium performances as we now know them. Nesmith later said “In terms of putting on a show there was never any question in my mind, as far as the rock ‘n’ roll era is concerned, that we put on probably the finest rock and roll stage show ever. It was beautifully lit, beautifully costumed, beautifully produced. I mean, for Christ sakes, it was practically a revue.”

The Monkees were confident enough in their stage performance that at a recent show at the Hollywood Bowl they’d had Ike and Tina Turner as their opening act — not an act you’d want to go on after if you were going to be less than great, and an act from very similar chitlin’ circuit roots to Jimi Hendrix.

So from their perspective, it made sense. If you’re going to be spectacular yourselves, you have no need to fear a spectacular opening act. Hendrix was less keen — he was about the only musician in Britain who *had* made disparaging remarks about the Monkees — but opening for the biggest touring band in the world isn’t an opportunity you pass up, and again it isn’t such a departure as one might imagine from the bills he was already playing.

Remember that Monterey is really the moment when “pop” and “rock” started to split — the split we’ve been talking about for a few months now — and so the Jimi Hendrix Experience were still considered a pop band, and as such had played the normal British pop band package tours. In March and April that year, they’d toured on a bill with the Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, and Englebert Humperdinck — and Hendrix had even filled in for Humperdinck’s sick guitarist on one occasion.

Nesmith, Dolenz, and Tork all loved having Hendrix on tour with them, just because it gave them a chance to watch him live every night (Jones, whose musical tastes were more towards Anthony Newley, wasn’t especially impressed), and they got on well on a personal level — there are reports of Hendrix jamming with Dolenz and Steve Stills in hotel rooms. But there was one problem, as Dolenz often recreates in his live act:

[Excerpt: Micky Dolenz, “Purple Haze”]

The audience response to Hendrix from the Monkees’ fans was so poor that by mutual agreement he left the tour after only a handful of shows.

After the summer tour, the group went back to work on the TV show and their next album. Or, rather, four individuals went back to work. By this point, the group had drifted apart from each other, and from Douglas — Tork, the one who was still keenest on the idea of the group as a group, thought that Pisces, good as it was, felt like a Chip Douglas album rather than a Monkees album. The four band members had all by now built up their own retinues of hangers-on and collaborators, and on set for the TV show they were now largely staying with their own friends rather than working as a group.

And that was now reflected in their studio work. From now on, rather than have a single producer working with them as a band, the four men would work as individuals, producing their own tracks, occasionally with outside help, and bringing in session musicians to work on them. Some tracks from this point on would be genuine Monkees — plural — tracks, and all tracks would be credited as “produced by the Monkees”, but basically the four men would from now on be making solo tracks which would be combined into albums, though Dolenz and Jones would occasionally guest on tracks by the others, especially when Nesmith came up with a song he thought would be more suited to their voices.

Indeed the first new recording that happened after the tour was an entire Nesmith solo album — a collection of instrumental versions of his songs, called The Wichita Train Whistle Sings, played by members of the Wrecking Crew and a few big band instrumentalists, arranged by Shorty Rogers.

[Excerpt: Michael Nesmith, “You Told Me”]

Hal Blaine in his autobiography claimed that the album was created as a tax write-off for Nesmith, though Nesmith always vehemently denied it, and claimed it was an artistic experiment, though not one that came off well.

Released alongside Pisces, though, came one last group-recorded single. The B-side, “Goin’ Down”, is a song that was credited to the group and songwriter Diane Hildebrand, though in fact it developed from a jam on someone else’s song. Nesmith, Tork, Douglas and Hoh attempted to record a backing track for a version of Mose Allison’s jazz-blues standard “Parchman Farm”:

[Excerpt: Mose Allison, “Parchman Farm”]

But after recording it, they’d realised that it didn’t sound that much like the original, and that all it had in common with it was a chord sequence. Nesmith suggested that rather than put it out as a cover version, they put a new melody and lyrics to it, and they commissioned Hildebrand, who’d co-written songs for the group before, to write them, and got Shorty Rogers to write a horn arrangement to go over their backing track. The eventual songwriting credit was split five ways, between Hildebrand and the four Monkees — including Davy Jones who had no involvement with the recording, but not including Douglas or Hoh.

The lyrics Hildebrand came up with were a funny patter song about a failed suicide, taken at an extremely fast pace, which Dolenz pulls off magnificently:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Goin’ Down”]

The A-side, another track with a rhythm track by Nesmith, Tork, Douglas, and Hoh, was a song that had been written by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio, who you may remember from the episode on “San Francisco” as being a former songwriting partner of John Phillips.

Stewart had written the song as part of a “suburbia trilogy”, and was not happy with the finished product. He said later “I remember going to bed thinking ‘All I did today was write ‘Daydream Believer’.”

Stewart used to include the song in his solo sets, to no great approval, and had shopped the song around to bands like We Five and Spanky And Our Gang, who had both turned it down. He was unhappy with it himself, because of the chorus:

[Excerpt: John Stewart, “Daydream Believer”]

Stewart was ADHD, and the words “to a”, coming as they did slightly out of the expected scansion for the line, irritated him so greatly that he thought the song could never be recorded by anyone, but when Chip Douglas asked if he had any songs, he suggested that one.

As it turned out, there was a line of lyric that almost got the track rejected, but it wasn’t the “to a”. Stewart’s original second verse went like this:

[Excerpt: John Stewart, “Daydream Believer”]

RCA records objected to the line “now you know how funky I can be” because funky, among other meanings, meant smelly, and they didn’t like the idea of Davy Jones singing about being smelly. Chip Douglas phoned Stewart to tell him that they were insisting on changing the line, and suggesting “happy” instead. Stewart objected vehemently — that change would reverse the entire meaning of the line, and it made no sense, and what about artistic integrity?

But then, as he later said “He said ‘Let me put it to you this way, John. If he can’t sing ‘happy’ they won’t do it’. And I said ‘Happy’s working real good for me now.’ That’s exactly what I said to him.”

He never regretted the decision — Stewart would essentially live off the royalties from “Daydream Believer” for the rest of his life — though he seemed always to be slightly ambivalent and gently mocking about the song in his own performances, often changing the lyrics slightly:

[Excerpt: John Stewart, “Daydream Believer”]

The Monkees had gone into the studio and cut the track, again with Tork on piano, Nesmith on guitar, Douglas on bass, and Hoh on drums. Other than changing “funky” to “happy”, there were two major changes made in the studio. One seems to have been Douglas’ idea — they took the bass riff from the pre-chorus to the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda”:

[Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Help Me Rhonda”]

and Douglas played that on the bass as the pre-chorus for “Daydream Believer”, with Shorty Rogers later doubling it in the horn arrangement:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Daydream Believer”]

And the other is the piano intro, which also becomes an instrumental bridge, which was apparently the invention of Tork, who played it:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Daydream Believer”]

The track went to number one, becoming the group’s third and final number one hit, and their fifth of six million-sellers. It was included on the next album, The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees, but that piano part would be Tork’s only contribution to the album.

As the group members were all now writing songs and cutting their own tracks, and were also still rerecording the odd old unused song from the initial 1966 sessions, The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees was pulled together from a truly astonishing amount of material. The expanded triple-CD version of the album, now sadly out of print, has multiple versions of forty-four different songs, ranging from simple acoustic demos to completed tracks, of which twelve were included on the final album. Tork did record several tracks during the sessions, but he spent much of the time recording and rerecording a single song, “Lady’s Baby”, which eventually stretched to five different recorded versions over multiple sessions in a five-month period.

He racked up huge studio bills on the track, bringing in Steve Stills and Dewey Martin of the Buffalo Springfield, and Buddy Miles, to try to help him capture the sound in his head, but the various takes are almost indistinguishable from one another, and so it’s difficult to see what the problem was:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Lady’s Baby”]

Either way, the track wasn’t finished by the time the album came out, and the album that came out was a curiously disjointed and unsatisfying effort, a mixture of recycled old Boyce and Hart songs, some songs by Jones, who at this point was convinced that “Broadway-rock” was going to be the next big thing and writing songs that sounded like mediocre showtunes, and a handful of experimental songs written by Nesmith. You could pull together a truly great ten- or twelve-track album from the masses of material they’d recorded, but the one that came out was mediocre at best, and became the first Monkees album not to make number one — though it still made number three and sold in huge numbers.

It also had the group’s last million-selling single on it, “Valleri”, an old Boyce and Hart reject from 1966 that had been remade with Boyce and Hart producing and their old session players, though the production credit was still now given to the Monkees:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Valleri”]

Nesmith said at the time he considered it the worst song ever written.

The second season of the TV show was well underway, and despite — or possibly because of — the group being clearly stoned for much of the filming, it contains a lot of the episodes that fans of the group think of most fondly, including several episodes that break out of the formula the show had previously established in interesting ways.

Tork and Dolenz were both also given the opportunity to direct episodes, and Dolenz also co-wrote his episode, which ended up being the last of the series. In another sign of how the group were being given more creative control over the show, the last three episodes of the series had guest appearances by favourite musicians of the group members who they wanted to give a little exposure to, and those guest appearances sum up the character of the band members remarkably well. Tork, for whatever reason, didn’t take up this option, but the other three did. Jones brought on his friend Charlie Smalls, who would later go on to write the music for the Broadway musical The Wiz, to demonstrate to Jones the difference between Smalls’ Black soul and Jones’ white soul:

[Excerpt: Davy Jones and Charlie Smalls]

Nesmith, on the other hand, brought on Frank Zappa. Zappa put on Nesmith’s Monkee shirt and wool hat and pretended to be Nesmith, and interviewed Nesmith with a false nose and moustache pretending to be Zappa, as they both mercilessly mocked the previous week’s segment with Jones and Smalls:

[Excerpt: Michael Nesmith and Frank Zappa]

Nesmith then “conducted” Zappa as Zappa used a sledgehammer to “play” a car, parodying his own appearance on the Steve Allen Show playing a bicycle, to the presumed bemusement of the Monkees’ fanbase who would not be likely to remember a one-off performance on a late-night TV show from five years earlier.

And the final thing ever to be shown on an episode of the Monkees didn’t feature any of the Monkees at all. Micky Dolenz, who directed and co-wrote that episode, about an evil wizard who was using the power of a space plant (named after the group’s slang for dope) to hypnotise people through the TV, chose not to interact with his guest as the others had, but simply had Tim Buckley perform a solo acoustic version of his then-unreleased song “Song to the Siren”:

[Excerpt: Tim Buckley, “Song to the Siren”]

By the end of the second season, everyone knew they didn’t want to make another season of the TV show. Instead, they were going to do what Rafelson and Schneider had always wanted, and move into film.

The planning stages for the film, which was initially titled Changes but later titled Head — so that Rafelson and Schneider could bill their next film as “From the guys who gave you Head” — had started the previous summer, before the sessions that produced The Birds, The Bees, and the Monkees.

To write the film, the group went off with Rafelson and Schneider for a short holiday, and took with them their mutual friend Jack Nicholson. Nicholson was at this time not the major film star he later became. Rather he was a bit-part actor who was mostly associated with American International Pictures, the ultra-low-budget film company that has come up on several occasions in this podcast.

Nicholson had appeared mostly in small roles, in films like The Little Shop of Horrors:

[Excerpt: The Little Shop of Horrors]

He’d appeared in multiple films made by Roger Corman, often appearing with Boris Karloff, and by Monte Hellman, but despite having been a working actor for a decade, his acting career was going nowhere, and by this point he had basically given up on the idea of being an actor, and had decided to start working behind the camera. He’d written the scripts for a few of the low-budget films he’d appeared in, and he’d recently scripted The Trip, the film we mentioned earlier:

[Excerpt: The Trip trailer]

So the group, Rafelson, Schneider, and Nicholson all went away for a weekend, and they all got extremely stoned, took acid, and talked into a tape recorder for hours on end. Nicholson then transcribed those recordings, cleaned them up, and structured the worthwhile ideas into something quite remarkable:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Ditty Diego”]

If the Monkees TV show had been inspired by the Marx Brothers and Three Stooges, and by Richard Lester’s directorial style, the only precursor I can find for Head is in the TV work of Lester’s colleague Spike Milligan, but I don’t think there’s any reasonable way in which Nicholson or anyone else involved could have taken inspiration from Milligan’s series Q.  But what they ended up with is something that resembles, more than anything else, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a TV series that wouldn’t start until a year after Head came out. It’s a series of ostensibly unconnected sketches, linked by a kind of dream logic, with characters wandering from one loose narrative into a totally different one, actors coming out of character on a regular basis, and no attempt at a coherent narrative.

It contains regular examples of channel-zapping, with excerpts from old films being spliced in, and bits of news footage juxtaposed with comedy sketches and musical performances in ways that are sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes distasteful, and occasionally both — as when a famous piece of footage of a Vietnamese prisoner of war being shot in the head hard-cuts to screaming girls in the audience at a Monkees concert, a performance which ends with the girls tearing apart the group and revealing that they’re really just cheap-looking plastic mannequins.

The film starts, and ends, with the Monkees themselves attempting suicide, jumping off a bridge into the ocean — but the end reveals that in fact the ocean they’re in is just water in a glass box, and they’re trapped in it. And knowing this means that when you watch the film a second time, you find that it does have a story. The Monkees are trapped in a box which in some ways represents life, the universe, and one’s own mind, and in other ways represents the TV and their TV careers. Each of them is trying in his own way to escape, and each ends up trapped by his own limitations, condemned to start the cycle over and over again.

The film features parodies of popular film genres like the boxing film (Davy is supposed to throw a fight with Sonny Liston at the instruction of gangsters), the Western, and the war film, but huge chunks of the film take place on a film studio backlot, and characters from one segment reappear in another, often commenting negatively on the film or the band, as when Frank Zappa as a critic calls Davy Jones’ soft-shoe routine to a Harry Nilsson song “very white”, or when a canteen worker in the studio calls the group “God’s gift to the eight-year-olds”.

The film is constantly deconstructing and commenting on itself and the filmmaking process — Tork hits that canteen worker, whose wig falls off revealing the actor playing her to be a man, and then it’s revealed that the “behind the scenes” footage is itself scripted, as director Bob Rafelson and scriptwriter Jack Nicholson come into frame and reassure Tork, who’s concerned that hitting a woman would be bad for his image. They tell him they can always cut it from the finished film if it doesn’t work.

While “Ditty Diego”, the almost rap rewriting of the Monkees theme we heard earlier, sets out a lot of how the film asks to be interpreted and how it works narratively, the *spiritual* and thematic core of the film is in another song, Tork’s “Long Title (Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?)”, which in later solo performances Tork would give the subtitle “The Karma Blues”:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Long Title (Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?)”]

Head is an extraordinary film, and one it’s impossible to sum up in anything less than an hour-long episode of its own. It’s certainly not a film that’s to everyone’s taste, and not every aspect of it works — it is a film that is absolutely of its time, in ways that are both good and bad. But it’s one of the most inventive things ever put out by a major film studio, and it’s one that rightly secured the Monkees a certain amount of cult credibility over the decades.

The soundtrack album is a return to form after the disappointing Birds, Bees, too. Nicholson put the album together, linking the eight songs in the film with collages of dialogue and incidental music, repurposing and recontextualising the dialogue to create a new experience, one that people have compared with Frank Zappa’s contemporaneous We’re Only In It For The Money, though while the collage elements of Head are similar to what Zappa did, the songs are much more accessible, as in the Carole King and Toni Stern song “As We Go Along”, which features a bank of guitarists including King herself, Ry Cooder, and Neil Young:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “As We Go Along”]

Unfortunately, while Head is one of the great art films of the sixties, and an artistic highlight of the career of everyone involved, it had one major problem. The Monkees’ fanbase was mostly children between the ages of about ten and fourteen, and while there are of course some exceptions, very few eleven-year-olds want to see art films influenced by the French New Wave and Eastern philosophy, deconstructing themselves, the nature of consumer culture, the media, and karma.

Conversely, in 1968, very few intellectuals and artistic types were at all interested in anything from the Monkees, who they disdained as plastic, commercial, and for teenyboppers, and weren’t persuaded to come and see the film even by trailers which showed the unblinking, unsmiling, black-and-white face of literary agent (and later, sadly, associate of Jeffrey Epstein) John Brockman looking into the camera rather than footage from the film itself.

Head made only $16,111 at the box office, on a budget of $790,000. Without promotion from the TV show, their previous single, “D.W. Washburn”, a song Leiber and Stoller had also given to the Coasters almost simultaneously, had only made number nineteen, but “Porpoise Song”, the single from Head, only made number sixty-eight, and the album made number forty-five.

At this point, pretty much everyone washed their hands of the Monkees. Rafelson and Schneider continued with their film career, and would go on to be among the most important filmmakers of their generation, producing films like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and The Last Picture Show, and becoming the nucleus around which the movement known as New Hollywood formed. It’s outside the purview of this podcast, but I would recommend anyone who hasn’t read it read the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, to see how much of the modern film industry owes its existence directly or indirectly to Rafelson and Schneider, and to the start they got with the Monkees.

The group still had a contract to make a series of TV specials. They ended up only making one. 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee is possibly the most despised piece of media that will be discussed in this series, and it’s easy to see why, even though I have more time for it than most.

Production on Head had been problematic and caused a final rift in the band, when Dolenz, Jones, and Nesmith had gone on strike at the beginning of filming, saying they weren’t going to work without getting screenplay credit. Tork refused to join them because he didn’t believe they deserved the credit, leading to the bizarre situation of Nesmith the Rockefeller Republican falling out with Tork the socialist over a labour dispute in which Tork was the one breaking a picket line, albeit an informal one. The management dispute had been rectified, but this had only hastened Rafelson and Schneider’s decision to part with the group once and for all, and Tork and Nesmith were no longer on speaking terms.

Rather than being produced by Rafelson and Schneider, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee was co-written and produced by Jack Good, who seemed far more interested in guest stars Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll than in the Monkees:

[Excerpt: 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee]

33 1/3 is basically what you get if you try to remake Head with the production values of a sub-par primary school play, and with a half-written script by someone who watched Head and didn’t understand it, and who thinks the peak of music was 1957 and any movement away from 1950s rock and roll has been a terrible example of moral decadence. I find it fascinating, but I can’t say it’s *good*. Though there are good moments, like a medley featuring Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis all playing pianos one stacked on top of another, singing their classic hits.

The one dissenting voice on the special came from George Melly, a more perceptive cultural critic than most, who said in his review (quoted in his great Revolt Into Style):

“What made this film worthwhile was that it demonstrated with a certain brilliance how yesterday’s revolutionary can turn into today’s reactionary. Good’s enthusiasm is reserved for rock ‘n’ roll: sexy, extrovert, good dirty fun. When pop went highbrow it lost him.

I dare say Sergeant Pepper was his Waterloo, and he used this film to make this point with considerable panache. The Monkees were originally computerized into existence as plastic Beatles but have become, not only adequate performers, but discontented with their lot. Good used this discontent as the vortex of an inventive piece of nostalgia and attack. The final sequence in which he evoked chaos with great discipline was remarkable”

As it happened Tork was so discontented with his lot that he paid a reported hundred thousand dollars to buy out his contract and quit the Monkees right after making 33 1/3, which was put up against the Oscars as the network realised nobody would be interested in watching it.

The rest of the group continued as a three-piece, and recorded two more albums together, Instant Replay and The Monkees Present. Those albums had some fine music, but nobody was listening. Possibly the most interesting track is one on Instant Replay, “You and I”, a song Jones co-wrote with Bill Chadwick which is the howl of anger of a teen idol who’s been cast aside, with some scorching guitar from Neil Young, recorded just before Young started recording in this style on his own records:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “You and I”]

After The Monkees Present, Nesmith bought his contract out too, and the final album released as by the Monkees before they split for good, Changes, was largely a collection of tracks Jeff Barry and Andy Kim had produced for a rejected Andy Kim album onto which Dolenz and Jones overdubbed vocals.

Tork tried to start a band with his girlfriend and Lowell George, who had briefly been a member of the Mothers of Invention and would go on to form Little Feat. Tork tried to submit a song to the soundtrack of Rafelson and Schneider’s next film, but it was summarily rejected, though he would go on to record it as a solo artist decades later:

[Excerpt: Peter Tork and James lee Stanley, “Easy Rider”]

The song they chose instead, incidentally, worked a little better in the film, which finally brought Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson to stardom:

[Excerpt: Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild”]

Tork quit music and became a teacher for a while, though over the next fifteen years or so he would make occasional ventures back into the music industry, but any chance he had of rebuilding his career was derailed by drug and alcohol dependency.

Dolenz and Jones, meanwhile, started up solo careers, though unsuccessfully — Jones did make a famous appearance on the Brady Bunch singing his solo track “Girl”, while Dolenz made several quite decent singles, but neither made a dent, and Dolenz spent much of the early seventies going out and partying with a group of rock star friends nicknamed the Hollywood Vampires — a loose group of people including Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and Alice Cooper.

In the mid-seventies, there was talk of a Monkees reunion, but when Nesmith wasn’t interested, Dolenz and Jones instead teamed up with Boyce and Hart, who had had a few hits as performers themselves after stopping work with the Monkees, and formed Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart, who toured as “The Great Golden Hits of the Monkees Show, The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em and the Guys Who Sang ‘Em”, and recorded an album of new material, which flopped:

[Excerpt: Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart, “I Remember the Feeling”]

After that group split up, Dolenz and Jones performed in a stage musical in London based on the album The Point, by their old friend Harry Nilsson:

[Excerpt: Micky Dolenz, “It’s a Jungle Out There”]

But the two fell out during the production, and didn’t speak to each other for a decade. Jones went on the nostalgia circuit, while Dolenz stayed in the UK and became a TV director, directing children’s shows like Metal Mickey and From The Top (the latter of which starred Bill Oddie, whose own comedy series The Goodies owed more than a little to the Monkees).

The reason they started talking to each other again actually had to do with their old bandmate Nesmith. Nesmith, unlike the others, had something of a successful career outside the Monkees. After quitting the group he formed The First National Band, who are now regarded as one of the great pioneers of country rock, and he had some minor hits with them, like “Joanne”:

[Excerpt: Michael Nesmith and the First National Band, “Joanne”]

His early-seventies records didn’t sell in huge numbers, but they got a great deal of critical respect, and stand up very well to this day. He also, though, formed a company called Pacific Arts, and got into the home video distribution business, becoming one of the major players in the business in the eighties (though the company got stuck in various lawsuits by the nineties). Part of the success of Pacific Arts was down to Nesmith inheriting a fortune from his mother in 1980, which allowed him to branch out into film production, producing cult films like Repo Man and Tapeheads.

But even before that, he’d been interested in the possibilities of music video, especially when he made a video for his late-seventies single “Rio” and had a surprise hit with it as a result:

[Excerpt: Michael Nesmith, “Rio”]

Nesmith got very involved in music video production, putting together his own video special, Elephant Parts, which won the first Grammy for music videos, and his company would also later produce videos for Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson. And he’d created a TV series called Popclips, which just featured music videos hosted by a video jockey, or VJ.

Popclips was shown on Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon’s parent company, Warners, decided to start an entire cable channel inspired by the format, which became MTV. And given the lack of music videos available at the time, MTV started showing old episodes of the Monkees. The group got a new fanbase, and reformed — without Nesmith, who was busy running his companies — and even had one last hit, though it was released as by “Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork of the Monkees”, as the musicians didn’t own the trademark on the name and could only license it for touring at the time:

[Excerpt: Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, “That Was Then, This is Now”]

Dolenz, Tork, and Jones toured off and on for the next fifteen years, and put out a new Monkees album, Pool It!, in 1987. They even briefly reunited with Nesmith for the group’s thirtieth anniversary, doing a short tour together, making a TV special written and directed by Nesmith, and recording a final album as a four-piece, Justus, which as the title suggests is the only Monkees album to be *entirely* made by the four members, who wrote every song and played every instrument without any outside assistance at all.

Tork quit again in 2001 and the remaining duo split up soon after, but they reformed in 2011 for a forty-fifth anniversary tour, where they gave some of the greatest performances of their career — performing sets that included the whole Head album, and which featured Tork playing keyboards, banjo, guitar, and French horn.

When Davy Jones died suddenly in 2012, it seemed like it might be the end of the Monkees, but then rather remarkably Michael Nesmith decided to rejoin the band, and the group toured as a trio for a few years. Both Nesmith and Tork started having health problems, though, and also seem to have not got on with each other, and so in 2015 and 2016 Tork and Dolenz toured as the Monkees without Nesmith. Nesmith did though contribute to the group’s final studio album proper, 2016’s Good Times, an astonishing return to form produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, which featured completed versions of songs they’d left unfinished in the sixties plus new songs written for them by writers they’d influenced, like Schlesinger, Andy Partridge of XTC, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, and this one by Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster”]

It was a great final album, though sadly they spoiled it somewhat by later releasing a Christmas album put together by the same team, but by that point both Nesmith and Tork were clearly struggling with their health, and the music suffered as a result, with most of it just being Dolenz performing solo. In 2017 Tork became too ill to tour, and Nesmith joined Dolenz in his place for a tour in 2018 as “The Monkees Present the Mike and Micky Show”.

Tork died of cancer in 2019, and Nesmith and Dolenz toured as The Monkees in 2019 and 2021, and released a live album as a duo:

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Listen to the Band (Live)”]

Nesmith was himself having health problems, though, not helped by the fact that he was raised a Christian Scientist and so didn’t like going to see doctors even when in serious pain, though he did eventually relent and have a quadruple bypass in 2018. The Monkees played their final show on November the fourteenth, 2021, and Nesmith was clearly extremely unwell on the final tour. He died less than a month later, finally bringing the Monkees to an end, though Dolenz now tours with his solo show paying tribute to his former colleagues.

The Monkees were the first manufactured pop band of the rock era, and they have often been despised for that reason. But when you look at their work in its own right, and at their own lives and history, you find a group of people who consistently chose to try new and different things, and who whatever their origins ended up making some remarkable records and a film which is one of the great sixties psychedelic masterpieces. They were four very different individuals, who were in many ways totally incompatible, and who would never have come together organically, but precisely because of that they had a catalogue that spans more genres than any of their contemporaries I can think of, and does most of them remarkably well.

There will still, I know, be a portion of the audience for this episode who don’t understand why I’ve spent so much time on a band they consider worthy of contempt. To them, all I can do is suggest that you do as the song says, and listen to the band. Weren’t they good? They made *me* happy…

[Excerpt: The Monkees, “Listen to the Band (live)”]

17 thoughts on “Episode 162: “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees

  1. I wonder whether anyone has actually expressed exasperation over the amount of attention you have paid the Monkees. I can only say that all of my rock snob friends love this group, and whatever one thinks of their sonic output, they are an important part of the history of rock music: they point the way towards MTV and are part of a never ending parade of “manufactured” groups that lead with their image. If you believe the Monkees had no integrity, consider that The Clash were originally put together (i.e. “manufactured”) by Bernie Rhodes and carefully cultivated their visual style on film from the beginning. For better or for worse, this sort of thing was always happening throughout rock’s heyday.

    1. Andrew Hickey

      “I wonder whether anyone has actually expressed exasperation over the amount of attention you have paid the Monkees”
      Oh yes. Yes they very much have. And the Turtles. And the Beach Boys. And the Move. And any other band that was found to be on the “wrong” side of the pop/rock divide by Rolling Stone magazine in 1968. But the Monkees more than most.

      1. Astonishing to hear that the Move were ever on the wrong side of the RS coolness line, To my recollection (which could well be wrong), Shazam was quite well received — but the earlier Move may have been otherwise.

      2. rfoltin

        Astonishing to think that the Move were ever on the wrong side of the RS coolness spectrum. If memory serves, though, Shazam received a good review, so I guess there was a shift in attitude at Straight Arrow Press.

      3. Rankersbo

        I must admit to having been baffled by your Monkee focus at one point. But I think I am getting it. They were manufactured… but the factory employed craftsmen and this shows in the musical output.

        Having started after 144 I skipped back so I could hear part 1 of the Monkees before part 2. It prompts so much thought and comment.

      4. Tim

        “the “wrong” side of the pop/rock divide by Rolling Stone magazine in 1968.”

        I would love to hear you discuss that concept further.

  2. One thing about the Monkees, they’re one of the few bands for whom–this may be just my perception, but I think I’m on to something–for whom it’s reasonable that a music fan would know all the names in their lineup. Who else: I could do the Beatles, probably the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, CCR, Booker T and the MGs, maybe the Temptations, REM, Barenaked Ladies, Rush, Supremes… a few of those are probably just me, but my point is, I think the Monkees are one of the bands for which it’s more likely that people could do it than for others.

    I remember reading somewhere that Kirschner started up with the Archies because he figured that animated characters and studio singers would be a lot less likely to demand independence than, say, the Monkees had been. True?

    There’s a baseball message board I belong to where one of the posters’ handle is “Bob Dobalina”. Now I know where that’s from. I put the odds of where he got it at about 35% Monkees, 45% TMBG, 20% Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.

    In re Davy Jones and Charlie Smalls, this is one of my new favourite songs that I just first heard in the past year or so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_If-2lDem80

    1. Andrew Hickey

      I think you’re right — although there was a line in an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine a couple of years back about someone on a quiz show:
      “He got the names of all four Monkees! Even Tork!”
      “Nobody gets Tork!”

  3. The only movie I’ve seen that can compare to HEAD is a movie made at approximately the same time by the great Japanese director Nagisa Oshima called THREE RESURRECTED DRUNKARDS (1968). It stars a real-life Japanese pop trio, The Folk Crusaders, who have their clothes stolen while on the beach by some Korean Army deserters, leaving behind their uniforms. When they put them on, they are mistaken for the deserters and are drafted for the Vietnam War. Like HEAD, this film has a circular storyline, disconnected sequences, and a fascination with the footage of the on-camera execution of Nguyen Van Lem in Saigon.

  4. Eric

    Interesting and fun episode. Thanks for bringing 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee to my attention. I see what you mean about it being fascinating, but not necessarily good, but I would disagree a bit. The musical performances other than Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll are pretty fun and I always think unearthing performances by rock n’ roll’s pioneers is worthwhile now that they are all gone.
    As you observe, the influence of The Monkees is pretty pervasive, none more so to me than in the Saturday morning TV I was raised on. Watching 33 1/3 Revolutions just now I couldn’t help but make connections to wave of programming in that era like The Banana Splits and the Sid & Marty Kroft shows and the same nonlinear, scattershot, broken fourth wall storytelling seen in The Monkees and Head.

  5. Keith Fletcher

    Loved this episode. I was a 15 year old pop tragic in 1967, three favourite groups were the Beatles, The Easybeats and The Monkees. My sister bought the soppy ones with Davy Jones singing, but I loved the rest! (By 1968 I was more into Hendrix, Joplin and the Grateful Dead … that’s the difference between being 15 and 16!). Of course in those days I had no idea of the behind the scenes machinations … the Monkees brand was good solid pop music of the first order.
    Still remember a gag from the TV show involving “let’s draw straws”. Won’t try to explain, but it was hilarious then and still is when I think about it.
    It’s clear you’re a fan Andrew and I thank you for this excellent episode.

  6. Jacqueline

    Thanks for this podcast. I was born in 1960 and used to watch the show with my older siblings. Loved the Monkees! Very interesting history. Theirs music will always live on.

  7. I live in Asheville which is home to both the Moog Foundation and Museum and the Moog factory. Confusingly, these are owned by different people. In any case, the information on the Moog instruments has been fascinating.

  8. Gina

    I was a bit late to the 500 Songs party, but after a few months of near constant listening, I have finally caught up. Thank you, Andrew, for your meticulously researched, beautifully told and invariably fascinating history of music. I have found myself loving things I never thought I would, and looking at some of my favourite music through a new lens. I’m so looking forward to the next 338. And having read some of the comments above…. there’s no such thing as too much Monkees 🙂

  9. Dom Picksley

    I always felt Daydream Believer was over-rated – it being the ‘go-to’ Monkees song for many radio DJs didn’t help, either. The Monkees had so many other great weapons in their armoury that put this song firmly in the shade. I’m a big Monkees fan, but have always felt Davy Jones had the weakest (and cheesiest) voice of the four and the tracks he sings lead vocals on are usually skipped, apart from Valleri, Star Collector and She Hangs Out, which contains a much edgier Davy vocal than normal and was a much better fit for him than most of the dirge he contributed to. Although admittedly inferior to both Mickey and Mike, vocal-wise, Peter certainly got the thin end of the wedge when it came to singing lead and I would have loved to hear him have been given more opportunities – his performance on Do We Have To Do This All Over Again showcased his talents perfectly.

  10. Elana Brooklyn

    Door Into Summer just popped up on my phone (thank you for encouraging me to dive deeper into the catalogue) and I was struck by how much it reminded me of some of what The Dead were putting out a few years later than the Monkees. It reminded of Saint Stephen in particular.

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