Should the Monkees be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum? Certainly the argument that they began life as a solely commercial construct is a valid one, but then again, shouldn’t the Rock Hall at least recognize them for that alone, since they were trailblazers in the way rock music was mass marketed? And what about that music? If the group was nothing more than a pre-fab four, then why should you like the Monkees? The evidence, please:
Country/Rock Pioneers: You’re well-read, Popdosers, so I won’t bore you with the oft-told story of how the Monkees were cast. What I will point out is that while Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones were cast primarily for their acting experience, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith had strong folk music backgrounds. That influence came through immediately on songs like “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round,” (download) which featured members of the Byrds on guitar. Nesmith would usually get two or three songs per album and could always be counted on for a strong performance that would influence future country/rock acts like America and Seals & Crofts.
One of Pop’s Best Rock Vocalists: That’s a pretty big statement to make about anyone who’s not John Lennon, but check out Micky Dolenz’s performance on “Tear Drop City” (download). Dolenz takes what should just be a dreary “Last Train to Clarksville” Xerox and lifts it to a higher plane with his gritty, sad and almost desperate delivery. Dolenz’s frenzied and committed takes on songs like “Goin’ Down,” “She” and “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” brought true rock fire to songs meant to crackle in mono over a teeny-bopper’s AM radio or from a cardboard record cut from the back of a cereal box. Not too shabby for someone hired to just be “the goofy one.”
Bubblegum Psychedelia: The heavy riff that begins “Saturday’s Child” (download) (written by Bread’s David Gates, of all people) was just a taste of the dialed-down trippy-hippie flavor with which the group would sometimes flavor some songs, sort of a Psychedelic Rock for Beginners. The attempts at kid-friendly freak-outs like “Take A Giant Step” or “Porpoise Song” were charming more than annoying, and you can’t help but sing along and imagine painting pretty flowers on your face while doing the Batusi (isn’t that what hippies did then?).
Davy Jones, Tambourine Impresario: Okay, that one’s a joke.
Their Crowning Moment: It’s one thing for a fabricated band to actually play their own instruments for the first time on a record. It’s another thing entirely to have one of your first DIY recordings be the excellent “All Of Your Toys,” (download) which was originally meant to be the band’s third single and the first to have all four members actually playing the instruments. A publishing kerfuffle derailed the single’s release, but it finally saw the light of day on 1987’s rarities compilation Missing Links. It may not be the Monkees’ catchiest song or cleanest performance, but its significance as evidence that this fake band was quickly becoming real couldn’t be ignored.
For Fans Of: The Beatles, Neil Diamond, Rooney
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