History Of The SeriesThe television show first aired on September 12, 1966 on the American NBC television network and ran for two seasons; its final primetime episode ran on August 19, 1968. Modelled on the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, The Monkees featured the antics and music of a fictional pop-rock group which, due to the necessities of the program, became a real pop-rock group.
The four young men who became The Monkees were Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork. They were cast after ads were placed in trade publications calling for actors to play “4 insane boys” on a new television series. Among those rejected for the part was a then relatively unknown Stephen Stills. Rumors that Charles Manson also tried out are just that, rumors. Nesmith and Tork were both already professional musicians, but Dolenz and Jones were better known as actors, and all four were trained in both improvisational comedy and performing musically as a group before the pilot episode was filmed, so that they could look and act like a cohesive band even though only their voices were being used on the initial recordings.
As a television show, The Monkees used techniques rarely seen on television — characters breaking the fourth wall and talking to the camera and sometimes even to people off-camera in the studio, fantasy sequences, jump cuts, and at least once a week a musical romp which might have nothing to do with the story line. In fact, many of the episodes included what now look very much like video clips: short, self-contained films featuring one of the songs from a Monkees album.
The Monkees was put together by a number of people who went on to great later success. The show was produced by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who later produced the film Easy Rider; Rafelson went on to direct such films as Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens. The pilot episode was co-written by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker, who later co-wrote the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which Mazursky directed; he went on to direct such films as Harry and Tonto and Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
Beyond TelevisionAfter the television show was cancelled, Rafelson directed the four Monkees in a film, Head, co-written by Rafelson and a then relatively unknown actor named Jack Nicholson. The film was not a commercial success, but it has developed a cult following in the years since.
The Band ItselfCritics of the Monkees complained that they were a made-for-TV knockoff of The Beatles (although John Lennon was allegedly a fan of the show), and that the Monkees were a group chosen by a casting director. The actual stars of the television show complained because the producers did not allow them to play their own instruments on their records, although they did their own singing and vocal arrangements. Led by Nesmith, the rest of the band rebelled against management, and beginning with their third album, Headquarters, the four Monkees did play most of the parts on the rest of their record albums.
Supporters of the group also point out that the Monkees had the good taste to use some of the best songwriters of the period, including Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The Monkees also deserve credit for helping bring American attention to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, who they asked for as an opening act during a 1967 concert tour.
The Monkees had several hits, including "I'm a Believer," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," "Daydream Believer", "Last Train to Clarksville" — and even a number of social criticism songs, the best known of which is probably "Pleasant Valley Sunday". They produced five albums with the original lineup, which was supplemented by a series of successful tours. Three more would follow while Tork, and then Nesmith, left the group, leaving only Dolenz and Jones to record as The Monkees. Eventually, Jones too would depart from the group, and that left Dolenz as the sole remaining recording Monkee, and so marked the end of the first phase of The Monkees' recording career.