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TODAY'S LETTER IS M
I was six years old when The Monkees TV series debuted in September of 1966. That was a big year for television, since it saw the debuts of the three TV series that would have the most lasting effect on my personal pop culture cosmology: The Monkees, Star Trek, and (biggest of all) Batman. I didn't really start watching Star Trek until reruns in the '70s, but I was a Batman fan almost from the start. Batman began in January of '66; The Monkees started walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they'd meet, in September. As I've written previously, my sister Denise sold me on The Monkees by hyping it as like Batman, but with singing, and with a guitar instead of a bat for scene transitions. Sold!
My experience of The Monkees was limited in the '60s. I don't remember which episodes of the show I saw on first run, but I at least knew who Davy Jones was, and I probably knew Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith as well, I betcha. I wasn't exactly a stranger to the hijinks a young rock 'n' roll group could encounter; I'd seen The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night when I was 4, I'd watched their Saturday morning cartoon show (and owned a toy guitar merchandised as a tie-in to that cartoon), and I'd also watched a cartoon series called The Beagles, starring a pair of anthropomorphic canine rock 'n' rollers. Roughly contemporaneous to the debut of The Monkees, I was watching a new Saturday morning superhero cartoon called Frankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, which offered separate adventures of the super-robot Frankie and the costumed superhero pop band The Impossibles. Superheroes and rock 'n' roll?! One would expect The Impossibles to have been the cathode-ray combo that meant the most to me. A super-power trio!
But no, it was clearly The Monkees that mattered. The Monkees were real, like The Beatles. The behind-the-curtain machinations of fabricating a made-for-TV rock group were unknown, unconsidered. The question of The Monkees' authenticity may or not have concerned me if I'd known about it; by the time I finally heard the whining about The Monkees as a manufactured product that didn't really play, I'd already become enough of a fan that I wouldn't have cared if they'd been crafted by the devil himself. I also learned in short order that The Monkees transcended their plastic roots anyway, and became a flesh-and-blood group that played live concerts, made records, lived, breathed, dreamed, fought, created, and, y'know, mingled earthily with groupies 'n' stuff. Cheer up, sleepy Jean!
These revelations were all far in the future for me in '66 and '67. I saw The Monkees romping on TV and singing songs, and I just loved 'em. I saw Peter Tork and Davy Jones parody Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder as Frogman and Ruben the Tadpole, and I saw all four Monkees take to the sky as Monkeemen. So, there's your rock 'n' roll superhero mashup right there. Monkeeman, AWAY!
|I'm a believer. I believe I can FLY...!|
As a kid, the Monkees songs that were immediate parts of my world included "(Theme From) The Monkees," the goofy "Gonna Buy Me A Dog," "I'm A Believer," "Saturday's Child," "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," "Papa Gene's Blues," probably "Last Train To Clarksville" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone)," and most definitely the righteous stomper "She." I remember being in a doctor's waiting room, cooling heels with Art and with one of Art's friends, who was there with his little daughter. The toddler wanted to be held, and would screech whenever she was set on the floor, prompting Art to chuckle and say, "Thy feet shall not touch the ground!" This instantly brought the lyrics of "She" into my mind--She needs someone to walk on so her feet don't touch the ground--and that memory remains indelible, roughly five decades later.
Both Batman and The Monkees were cancelled in 1968, though neither series ever really went away. Batman returned in syndicated reruns, and The Monkees returned on a network, switching from new episodes at 7:30, 6:30 Central time Monday nights on NBC to reruns at noon Saturdays on CBS. I first learned of those Saturday afternoon reruns of The Monkees in a two-page comic book ad for the network's new Saturday lineup, and I wondered if The Monkees were returning as cartoons. I may have been initially disappointed that it wasn't a cartoon, but I disavow that now. Reruns of The Monkees on CBS solidified my Monkees fandom from that point forward.
I also saw The Monkees in new commercials for Kool Aid, and acquired Monkees records off specially-marked boxes of Post Honey Combs cereal. And I was puzzled by both: One Monkee, two Monkees, three Monkees...only three Monkees? Hadn't there been four of them? I thought it was a mistake. I had no idea that Peter Tork had left the group, leaving Micky, Davy, and Michael in sole charge of any ongoing Monkeeshines. Nor did I know when Nesmith split soon thereafter, or that Dolenz and Jones released an album (Changes) as a Monkee duo in 1970. And I didn't know that The Monkees finally ended as a group--such as it was by then--after the dismal sales of Changes. On TV, there were still four Monkees, too busy singing to put anybody down. Hey. hey.
I did hear at least one song from Changes. The CBS reruns dubbed in songs from newer Monkees records, hoping to spur sales to this slightly newer breed of the young generation. I don't really remember any of them except "I Never Thought It Peculiar," a clunky and determinedly uncool Davy Jones vehicle from Changes. Few will speak on behalf of that track, but in my mind, it was a hit like "Last Train To Clarksville" and "I'm Believer," and I'll always have affection for it. I don't believe in guilty pleasures--you either like a song or you don't like a song--and I remain unbowed in my attachment to "I Never Thought It Peculiar." In college at Brockport in 1977, the campus radio station WBSU had a copy of Changes in its LP library, and I requested it--begged for it--from indifferent or hostile student DJs who weren't about to play anything by the goddamned Monkees. Frustrating.
As steel is forged in the crucible, so my belief in The Monkees was hardened the more people tried to convince me they were no good, plastic, lesser. Bullshit. I know what I hear, I know what I see, and I know what I like. The Monkees TV series helped to form my sense of comedy, right alongside the droll British humor--humour--of The Beatles' movies, the broad schtick of Jerry Lewis and The Three Stooges, and the brilliance of The Marx Brothers. The Monkees' records were terrific. If they'd all been assembled in a laboratory by Dr. Frankenstein and Don Kirshner, they'd still be great records. The fact that Michael, Peter, Micky, and Davy also took some measure of control, and became a band rather than just playing one on TV, just enhances the richness of the Monkees story. The Monkees are one of my favorite groups, and they always will be.
I've seen all four of The Monkees live, but never all of them at the same time. I saw The Peter Tork Project at The Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in...'83, I think. I saw The Monkees' 20th Anniversary reunion tour with Micky, Davy, and Peter at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York in 1986, and again at The Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in '87. I saw Micky at a car show in '87, but he wasn't singing (and plainly didn't want to be there). The New York State Fair gave me Micky and Davy in 1996, and just Davy (on a Teen Idols tour with Peter Noone and Bobby Sherman) in the late '90s. And I saw Micky, Peter, and Michael at Center For The Arts on the University of Buffalo campus in 2012, one of the best concerts I've ever seen. (That 2012 show was the subject of a lengthy piece for my $2 a month paid subscribers only , and it will be posted publicly on this blog in the fall.)
|Very partial list above--there have been many more Monkees releases in the ol' CC collection!|
I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that I've written more (here, and in Goldmine) about The Monkees over this span of decades than I've written about any other subject, including Batman, The Ramones, power pop, and The Flashcubes. I don't think I'm quite done writing about them yet. I became a fan of The Monkees when I was six years old. There has never been any reason for that to change.
Wanna keep up with all things Monkees, new and old? Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) recommends Monkees Live Almanac and Zilch! A Monkees podcast. Also listen to This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl Sunday nights 9 to Midnight Eastern at www.westcottradio.org; we've been known to play The Monkees now and again. And again. And again.
Quick Takes For M:
MAD MONSTER PARTY
Mad Monster Party was a simply fabulous late '80s all-female SoCal group, a combo that included Gwynne Kahn and Bambi Conway, both of whom had previously been members of The Pandoras. The group will be the subject of a near-future edition of Love At First Spin, so I guess it's safe to say that I loved Mad Monster Party as soon as I heard 'em. But I never even heard of them until more than twenty years after the fact. In 2010, I decided I wanted to feature The Pandoras on an episode of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, and started research in hope of snagging an illicit digital file of the group's unreleased Come Inside album from somewhere within that vast series of tubes we call the internet. A now-defunct site called (I think) Forest Dweller or somesuch had Come Inside, as well as a bunch of other Pandoras-related goodies, and that's where I first learned of Mad Monster Party. The group's unreleased album from the late '80s floored me; as much I love The Pandoras, I immediately loved Mad Monster Party even more. Figuring what the hell, we featured Mad Monster Party on TIRnRR the week after we featured The Pandoras. Subsequent communications with Gwynne (aka Nipper Seaturtle) and the group's drummer Jody Ritacco secured permission for us to use Mad Monster Party's "Can't Stop Loving You" on our 2013 compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3, and that remains Mad Monster Party's only CD appearance to date. Happily, the group's all-too-brief recorded legacy is now available for legal download at CD Baby, and you'd best believe I bought that the week it was put up. This is amazing stuff, and it deserves a much wider audience.
Legendary rock writer Gary Sperrazza! told me about Springfield, Missouri's phenomenal pop combo The Morells on one of the many occasions I chatted with him in Buffalo in the '80s. Nonetheless, I didn't hear any of their music until much, much later, when their debut album Shake And Push was reissued on CD by the ESD label in the '90s. Even then, I didn't come to The Morells until after I'd fallen for The Skeletons, a related band that included The Morells' Lou Whitney and D. Clinton Thompson. I loved The Skeletons, so worship of The Morells came naturally. I interviewed Lou Whitney for Discoveries and/or Goldmine (long story) in 1997, and I reprised that piece (along with my 2014 obituary of Whitney) here.
WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: N is for
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