This Day in Music – The Monkees

On this day, 22nd January 1967, The Monkees performed live for the very first time at The Cow Palace, San Francisco to a sell-out crowd.

The Monkees story began in 1965, when Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, a pair of producers came up with an idea for a television series about a rock group. Inspired by Richard Lester’s groundbreaking comedies with the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, Rafelson and Schneider imagined a situation comedy in which a four-piece band had wacky adventures every week and occasionally burst into song. The Monkees TV Show premiered on NBC in September 1966 – this was just the start of The Monkees phenomenon. “Last Train to Clarksville,” the group’s first single, had become a number one hit a few weeks earlier.

Avant garde film techniques—such as improvisation, quick cuts, jump cuts, helped win the show two Emmy awards in 1967 and propelled its four stars to pop stardom. John Lennon called them “the Marx brothers of rock”, but in 1967, The Monkees outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined, and went on to sell 50m records.

The show also saw heavy cross-promotion and product placement, with prominent promotion of sponsors such as Gretsch (for musical instruments), Kellogg’s breakfast cereals, and Yardley’s shaving supplies. The series was sponsored on alternate weeks by Kellogg’s Cereals and Yardley of London.

Each of the four was given a different personality to portray: Dolenz the funny one, Nesmith the smart and serious one, Tork the naive one, and Jones the cute one. Their characters were loosely based on their real selves, with the exception of Tork, who was actually a quiet intellectual. The character types also had much in common with the respective personalities of The Beatles, with Dolenz representing the madcap attitude of John Lennon, Nesmith affecting the deadpan seriousness of George Harrison, Tork depicting the odd-man-out quality of Ringo Starr, and Jones conveying the pin-up appeal of Paul McCartney.

The Monkees resided in a two-story beach house at 1334 North Beechwood Blvd. in Malibu, California. The front of the first floor was a combination of the living room, dining room and kitchen. In the back, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was an alcove where the Monkees kept their instruments and rehearsed songs. The walls were covered with various signs and posters, such as the “MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL” sign near the kitchen and the “IN CASE OF FIRE, RUN” sign with an arrow pointing to an old-fashioned fire extinguisher near the front door.

The Monkees were the first group to exploit television and have songs written for them by classic Brill Building artists (Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Harry Nilsson, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and Jeff Barry). And what great tunes they were – “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer”, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”, “I’m a Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.

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