They were basically four actors, in a TV series about the wacky adventures of a pop/rock band a la the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. One of them, Michael Nesmith, was a musician who sang, played guitar, and wrote songs. Another, Peter Tork, played guitar and some keyboards, but portrayed the group’s bassist. Micky Dolenz, who played the drummer, was not a drummer at all – he even had difficulty miming playing the drums. And the fourth, singer-actor Davy Jones, was British, so they couldn’t be accurately called the American Beatles. Two L.A. producers assembled them into a television “band” that debuted on NBC-TV in September 1966.
Before long the name of their band was sailing up the music charts, with “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Daydream Believer” all hitting number one. After the TV show had run its course, from 1966 to 1968, the group continued to record and release music, though with less chart success. Decades later, the remaining members (Jones passed in 2012 and Tork just recently, on February 21, 2019) still record and perform. Hey, hey, they’re the Monkees.
March 9 saw “The Monkees Present the Mike and Micky Show” pull into NYC’s Beacon Theatre with two sets of songs — both hits and non — led by Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and a nine-piece backing band including Mike’s son Christian, Micky’s sister Coco, and multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory. After wishing Micky a happy birthday (the guy just turned 74), they hit the ground running with “Good Clean Fun” from 1969’s The Monkees Present. Other highlights were the Peter Tork composition “For Pete’s Sake” (used as the closing theme for the TV show), a handful from 1967’s Headquarters, “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” from the group’s 2016 album Good Times, two from 1968’s Head soundtrack (including the rocker “Circle Sky” complete with snippets from the movie), and the still-relevant pop masterpiece “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” As the stage darkened, Peter Tork appeared in a videoclip performing a song called “Till Then” – a touching tribute bringing set number one to a close.
After a brief intermission (hey, these guys need to rest for a few minutes!), Mr. Nesmith emerged for an acoustic “Papa Gene’s Blues” from the first Monkees album. Mr. Dolenz joined him for the rowdy “Randy Scouse Git” (a Micky composition and a 1967 U.K. hit – under the alternate title “Alternate Title” as the original was considered too risqué for Brits), then the night’s only non-Monkees song, “Joanne,” a solo hit for Michael Nesmith & The First National Band (and a request by newsman and Monkees fan Brian Williams).
The show wound down with another from Good Times, the beautiful “Me & Magdalena” (written by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard). In fact, it would have been nice to hear more from that album – there’s not one bad song on it! Finally, a one-two-three punch of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Daydream Believer” (with Micky leading the singing audience), and “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” Then as a bewildered Mike looked around and realized the rest of the band was gone, they all returned for 1969’s “Listen to the Band” and the ultimate Monkees hit, “I’m a Believer.”
The current U.S. tour is done…but those of you “down under” can catch ‘em in June – check out that tour schedule here!
Beacon Theatre YouTube videos courtesy Paula Carabell and Otom Izot / monkeeslivealmanac.com; Peter Tork YouTube video courtesy Paste Magazine
Beacon Theatre photos by me
Other images courtesy tradingcarddb.com, amazon.com, monkeeslivealmanac.com, pastemagazine.com, axs.com, hollywoodreporter.com