Craig Smith wrote "Salesman," the opening track on The Monkees' fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Smith was a friend of Michael Nesmith's and a member of The Penny Arkade, a group Nesmith produced in the recording studio. Nez talked about the Arkade and "Salesman" with Monkees archivist Andrew Sandoval: "I really liked the way they sang," he said in the liner notes of Rhino's 1995 compact disc release of the LP. "I was drawn to record 'Salesman' because it reminded me of Sir Douglas and the Tex-Mex oompah."
The song was later used to great effect in the second season episode "The Devil and Peter Tork," but not before stirring controversy at NBC. The January 1968 issue of Hit Parader reported that the episode had been rejected by the network because of the inclusion of "Salesman," which was thought to have been about drug use. "NBC said we're not putting that song out," Peter Tork recalled in Sandoval's book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation. "They said, 'Because "Salesman's" got drug references in it.' In fact, it sort of does, but it's not direct and it's not approving by any stretch of the imagination. What it really says is, 'Salesmen are so sleazy, they'll sell anything.'"
By the time the episode aired on February 5, 1968, the song remained in the final cut of the show. Ultimately, Bert Schneider, one half of Raybert Productions that created The Monkees series, was convinced that the network's real problem was the use of the word 'hell' throughout the episode. Peter agreed with this assessment. "Bert felt that they didn't want to put the show on because they were pissed off directly and personally at having their idea of what's right and wrong challenged. They said it was centered on 'Salesman,' but he thought it was a red herring."
Shortly after experiencing success with "Salesman," Craig Smith fell on hard times by the 1970s. Abusing drugs and dropping out of society, Smith's life spiraled alarmingly. He's been the subject of writers previously, and now author Mike Stax has delved into his life in a new book, which was released last fall.