The Monkees' Story


20120329On 12 September 1966 a small piece of pop history took to the airwaves when The Monkees arrived on American television screens. The group touched millions across the world with their series and infectious music, much of it written by the finest songwriters of the time. Love or hate them, the "American Fab Four" became a phenomenon.

Mark Radcliffe digs deep into the Monkee story, revealing that the advert placed by the producers appealing for the four group members was only answered by one of the four boys. The four new recruits were thrown into weeks of improv' classes while scriptwriters and producers shaped the groups individual characters using the template of the Marx Brothers (not The Beatles).

The TV show was an instant hit for NBC in America and here in Britain (launched 31 December 1966). The slapstick humour, fast editing, silly plots and infectious musical numbers were held together by witty and an appealing scripts. It wasn't A Hard Day's Night or Help, but it was, by the conventions of TV entertainment of the time, innovative and fresh. Screen Gems Vice President Steve Blauner explains the thinking behind the series, while TV director Jim Frawley and scriptwriters Treva Silverman and Gerald Gardner reveal the methods at work at creating the hitshow.

Last Train To Clarksville became their first international hit, as was the follow-up I'm a Believer. The Monkees quickly became one of the most popular acts of 1967, yet they only sang. They were not allowed to play anything on (most of) their first records. The programme hears from producer and composer Bobby Hart who was responsible for some of the Monkees' biggest hits.

The four boys were hired as actors but, after firing their musical supervisor at a major showdown at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Monkees played and wrote much of the music on third album Headquarters. The programme hears from producer Chip Douglas who helped them record and play every note, with the exception of one French horn part.

Despite the questions surrounding their musical competence, the Monkees toured before live audiences and made their own contribution to rock history by enlisting Jimi Hendrix - then barely known in America - as an opening act for a 1967 tour. As we hear in the programme, Hendrix lasted only a few shows before everyone agreed that the combination was a mistake.

By the end of 1967 the group were in total control and in early 1968 they threw themselves into their next project Head, a messy, indulgent, but occasionally inspired movie that was co-written and co-produced by Jack Nicholson. Head confused the teenyboppers and struggled at the box office.

Peter Tork was the first to leave the group, at the end of 1968, and The Monkees tried to carry on as a trio, releasing a couple of fairly poor albums in 1969, as well as producing a little-seen TV special. By the end of the 60s, Nesmith - who had established his credentials as a songwriter - also left to pursue a solo career. That left only Dolenz and Jones, who fulfilled the Monkees contract with Changes, in early 1970, before throwing in the towel.

The Monkees at their creative peak were together for only two years. Theirs is a remarkable story of four young men, caught in the eye of a storm, trying to take charge. And, when they did gain creative control, they had little to say. But the songs retain the zest and energy of the 60s and many have become classics. I'm A Believer; I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone; A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You; Pleasant Valley Sunday; and Daydream Believer; are perfect musical reflections of more innocent time.

This documentary first broadcast in 2006, forty years after The Monkees' television debut, and it's repeated in tribute to their British-born lead singer, Davy Jones, who died last month.

Radio 2 pays tribute to Davy Jones by re-visiting this 2006 documentary.