Fifty years ago tonight, viewers in the United States were witness to a new sensation in television. Sure we had great staple sitcoms such as ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ and ‘Petticoat Junction’ (both in Living Color!) but on September 12th 1966, NBC premiered a totally new sitcom, featuring four American lads that just happened to be roomies and were in a band together. ‘The Monkees’ were born, as a rock band, and a madcap TV show as well. And the promotion leading up to it was ground-breaking for the time.
Consider that the aim of ‘The Monkees’ was to focus some attention back on American rock n roll music after the British Invasion squashed most of our music charts during the two year run. But The Monkees were “pre-fabricated,” a group of actors that could sing, sort of, and were musicians sort of. In the great “American” thinking of the day, all pop music was created by fabulous studio musicians, The Beach Boys, The Association, The Mamas and Papas and scores more took advantage of “The Wrecking Crew” and groups like it who would do the instrumental arrangements that went under the band members vocals. So it made sense that a rock group to possibly rival The Beatles and the others would be made up of guys who could sing, and they’d add the soundtrack from the very talented session musicians. More important was the on-screen chemistry these guys would have in the sitcom, which would drive the the kids to buy the music, and turn these guys into bonafide stars.
And it worked! For most of 1966 and 1967, The Monkees rivaled The Beatles in record sales, and the silly little show was a hit. But the guys had aspirations of their own, and would want to play their own instruments and write their own songs by their second album. Imagine the show’s producer having trepidation about this as the lads weren’t really professional musicians to begin with. They answered a Hollywood casting call for four clean cut young men in their twenties that could act stupid. Little did we all realize that the Monkees were really staging a quiet coup against the management (how 1960s anti-establishment!). Their coup would eventually be their undoing, forcing their management to hire ‘The Archies’ instead. After all, cartoons don’t make demands like playing their own instruments or writing their own songs. True story: “Sugar Sugar” was written for the Monkees, and some might say that they thankfully turned it down.
The story of The Monkees has been hashed over and over again, their relationship with Jack Nicholson in the last days as a group, their feature film “Head” and the cancellation of the sitcom. Really for that period of time, they were the biggest of the pop acts, playing shows to hoards of screaming teen-aged girls, and the wrath of most disc jockeys the world over. But it worked, and when you think back on that time, I think we all have pretty fond memories of Mike, Davy, Micky and Peter and their shenanigans (remember: “It’s because I’m short, isn’t it?”)
One cool thing that happened the week leading up to the premiere of the TV show 50 years ago happened in Boss Angeles. The crack promotions team at Boss Radio 93-KHJ devised a contest where listeners could ride “The Last Train to Clarksville” with the Monkees the day before their show was to premier. Yes, there were some advantages to KHJ being in Hollywood. The station took riders on the equivalent of an Amtrak train ride from LA to San Diego, the Monkees were aboard and played for the FIRST TIME together in a moving box car. The on-air promotion is posted below. On The radio, the summer of 1966 already introduced The Monkees, the pop group, to the world on the radio with “Clarksville.”
Tonight marks a moment in history, some would say not as stellar as those Ed Sullivan shows in 1964 with the real “Fab Four” (The Monkees would forever be labeled as the ‘pre-fab’ Four), but still an important date in your lifetime and ours. Here we come…in that Dean Jefferies designed custom Monkeemobile…its all part of the Boss Generation…and we’ve got something to say!