In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Micky Dolenz spoke about The Monkees' first single and #1 hit, "Last Train to Clarksville":
"It's about a guy going off to war. Frankly, it's an anti-war song. It's about a guy going to Clarksville, Tennessee, which is an army base if I'm not mistaken. He's obviously been drafted and he says to his girlfriend, 'I don't know if I'm ever coming home.' Considering that it was a Monkees song and the first one, I was always surprised that the record company even released it unless it just went right over their head.
"I don't recall recording it because there was just so much going on at that time. I was recording two or three songs a night after filming the TV show all day. [Co-writer] Bobby Hart tells me I went in to sing one night. He says that I'd learned the song and routined it. We'd done the keys and all that stuff. There was a bridge part of that song. You know the bit where I go 'di da di di da di da?' Well, there were words to that. I said, 'Bobby, I just can't sing that.' I just couldn't learn it in time. He said okay. 'Well, we need to get it done so just go, 'di da di di da di da.'
"I have a very fond memory of hearing it on the radio for the first time on KHJ, a big station out here at the time. Davy [Jones] and I were renting a house up in the Hollywood Hills. We were pulling up to this big, beautiful rented house in Beverly Hills when they went, 'Here they are, the Monkees' 'Last Train to Clarksville.' We pulled over and just had the biggest grins on our faces."
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Michael Nesmith spoke about his composition "Circle Sky," a key song from the soundtrack of The Monkees' 1968 feature film, Head:
"I also wrote this one when we were performing. I wanted to explore the power trio of us. In a strange way, we were actually pretty good. Micky was a real garage-band drummer. I was a real scream-and-shout guitar player and Peter was a very precise player. He could play interesting lines and fills on the bass. The power trio that existed between us was seldom explored. The lyrics are about television and the corporate man."
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter Tork spoke about his composition "Can You Dig It," a highlight from the soundtrack of The Monkees' 1968 feature film, Head:
"This started as a set of changes I wrote in college and didn't know what to do with. Then one afternoon on the set of The Monkees we were making the TV show and I had my guitar in my dressing room. The basic lyrics came to me and these changes I had stored in the back of my brain spring forth and dictated that kind of vaguely Spanish/North African harmonic sense. I was writing about the great unknown source of all. It was perfect for the Head soundtrack."
Here's "Can You Dig It" as it appeared in Head:
Micky Dolenz sang the officially released version of the song, but Peter also recorded a vocal for it that finally saw the light of day in 1994 on Rhino's CD release of the Head soundtrack:
Peter demoed the song, without vocals, during sesssions for The Monkees' third LP, Headquarters:
"Can You Dig It" made its first live appearance in a Monkees concert during the group's 1987 summer tour with Peter handling lead vocals and Micky on drums:
Here, Peter, Micky, and Michael perform "Can You Dig It?" at the State Theatre Regional Arts Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 30, 2012:
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter spoke about the origins of The Monkees' 1996 album, Justus, and one of the tracks he wrote for it:
"Michael was becoming involved with [his future wife] Victoria [Kennedy] at the time. He played her the soundtrack to Head. She asked who was playing bass and he said, 'That's Peter.' Then she said, 'Who wrote that part?' And he went, 'Oh, that was Peter too.' Then he had the idea that the theme song to Friends sounded exactly like Headquarters. He just caught a charge and wanted to see it through, so he asked me and Micky to come jam with him. It was the first time we'd played together like that since 1969.
"I played bass. Micky was on drums and Michael was on guitar. We sounded just the same. It was really amazing. We had a jam, and as a result we brought in Davy and did Justus. I think the whole album is entirely under-appreciated. Nobody else was in the studio besides us and the engineer. I wrote 'Run Away From Life.' It's about fantasists. It's sarcastic as all hell, really pretty nasty. But with the album, I think we were operating under some limits we didn't need to. Mostly, I think it was a big mistake for me to not play more guitar. Micky's drumming is just ferocious on that record though."
Recently on the Videoranch Facebook page, a fan named Barry asked Michael the following question: "Who is Mr. Bob Dobalina in the track 'Zilch'?" Here was his response:
In an August 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Nez spoke about the opening track of The Monkees' third album, 1967's Headquarters:
"When I joined The Monkees they kept saying, 'You gotta write a pop song.' This is one of the two I wrote, along with 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere.' I was really happy with the way it turned out, and it came out on the only album we ever made by ourselves, which was Headquarters. When I say 'we,' I mean the four principal actors. Peter put a great banjo on it and it came to life.
"People think it was amazing that four guys hired for a TV show could actually form a band, but I don't see it that way. It's not that amazing when you think of the tenor of the times. You put any four guys in a room in the 1960s and you had a band, all the way from The Grateful Dead to Buffalo Springfield. It isn't that amazing that four people in a group would start singing and playing together, especially since they were hired to perform that as actors."
On July 18th, 1966 at RCA Hollywood, Michael Nesmith acted as producer during a recording session that resulted in several of my favorite Monkees songs. Beginning at 8pm that evening and working until midnight, Nez was assisted by engineer Hank Cicalo while leading members of the Wrecking Crew (including Glen Campbell) along with his fellow Monkee, Peter Tork, through multiple takes of "I Won't Be The Same Without Her," "Sweet Young Thing," and the first version of "You Just May Be The One."
Andrew Sandoval documented the session in his book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation, and for this blog post, we'll place the spotlight on Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "I Won't Be The Same Without Her":
On July 25, 1966 at Western Recorders Studio in Hollywood, California, Michael Nesmith oversaw his fourth recording session as a producer for The Monkees, cutting one of the group's most enduring hits, his very own "Mary, Mary."
Beginning at 8pm that evening, Michael led Peter Tork, one of several guitarists on the song, and members of The Wrecking Crew (including Hal Blaine on drums and Glen Campbell on guitar) through 9 takes, while also tackling the backing tracks for both "Of You" and "(I Prithee) Do Not Ask For Love," ultimately running overtime and finishing at 12:15 in the morning. Micky Dolenz added a doubled lead vocal for "Mary, Mary" two days later.
Long considered a highlight in The Monkees' canon, "Mary, Mary" was featured on their best selling album, 1967's More of The Monkees, and it's been a staple in the group's live show since its first performance in Honolulu, Hawaii in December 1966.
Nez spoke about "Mary, Mary" with Rolling Stone in 2016:
"This was an early song. I hadn't been writing long, but I was interested in finding a place that was between country and blues. At the time, I was working for Randy Sparks. He had started a publishing company after his success with the New Christy Minstrels, who were a folk-rock band. He hired me as a writer, and one day in his office I wrote 'Mary, Mary.' Frazier Mohawk took it to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and they recorded it. That was very encouraging.
Randy then sold my catalog to Screens Gems Columbia Music, which was the music catalog for the Monkees television show. They picked it to go on the second record. That was all fine, but they didn't want me to play or sing on it. 'They' being Screen Gems, which was run by Don Kirshner. Run-DMC covered it years later. I just loved their take on it. They changed around the lyrics some, but I didn't care. The song isn't exactly deep."
50 years ago today, The Monkees commenced work on "Pleasant Valley Sunday." Andrew Sandoval documented the June 10, 1967 session at RCA Hollywood, one day after The Monkees' triumphant concert performance at the Hollywood Bowl, in his book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation:
Gerry Goffin & Carole King's "Pleasant Valley Sunday" is one of Chip Douglas's most complex productions for The Monkees. Sadly, session tapes will not survive for this landmark date so it is impossible to follow this wonderful creation step-by-step. The basic track is most likely recorded with Chip Douglas and Eddie Hoh forming the rhythm section of bass and drums while Michael and Peter perform on electric guitar and piano. Union documents indicate Micky is also present for this session, and it is quite possible that he contributes some acoustic guitar to the track. Additional guitar overdubs will be recorded tomorrow.
Chip Douglas: "Mike played the lead guitar. That was my riff that I threw in there and taught to Mike. Not many guitar players can play it the right way. ... It's kind of an offshoot of the Beatles song 'I Want To Tell You' but in a different tempo and with different notes.
"I wish I could hear the original demo, because I can't recall if I got a [lyric] line right or not. It's in the bridge, 'creature comfort goals can only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see.' For 'make it hard for me to see,' for some reason I had the impression that I didn't do the right line in there, or changed it possibly. I couldn't understand that line, or something like that. One of those great mysteries.
"I do remember seeing Carole King up at the Screen Gems office from across the room after we did 'Pleasant Valley Sunday.' She kind of gave me this dirty look. I thought, 'Was it that line that I got wrong, perhaps? Or didn't she like the guitar intro?' It was faster, definitely, than the way she had done it. She had a more laidback way of doing stuff."
Michael Nesmith: "I remember that we went after the guitar sound. Everybody was trying to get that great big present guitar sound - Beatle [amplifiers] in the studio, playing really loud trying to get the sound, and it just ended up sounding kind of ... like it does. Kind of wooden. There was a tube-type of limiter/compressor called a UREI 1176, and boy you could really suck stuff out of the track. That was the first time that we really could do it. I think everybody got a little carried away with the 1176 on that record."
On June 11 and 13, 1967, "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was treated to overdubs, including backing vocals from all four Monkees.
In a 1982 interview with Bruce Pollack, Peter Tork discussed the blending of Micky and Michael's voices throughout "Pleasant Valley Sunday":
"A notion of mine that I was really pleased with took over at one point, and that was having two guys sing in unison rather than one guy doubling his own voice. So you've got Mike, who was really a hard-nosed character, and Micky, who's a real baby face, and these two voices blended and lent each other qualities. It's not two separate voices singing together, it's really a melding of the two voices. Listening to that record later on was a joy. "
"Pleasant Valley Sunday" was issued as Colgems single #1007 on July 10, 1967, right in the middle of The Monkees' ultra-successful summer tour that year. It was backed with "Words," written for the group by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. The single is considered to be one of their most successful (certified Gold just four days after release), and it's worth noting that radio gave attention to both sides. As a result, "Pleasant Valley Sunday" peaked at #3 in Billboard while "Words" topped out at #11. The songs were later featured on The Monkees' fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
Over the years, I've heard different reports regarding the "dance remix" of "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere." I've been told it exists, but I've also heard it doesn't. Appearing first on the platinum-selling Then & Now...The Best of The Monkees in 1986, the song has never been performed live in concert. It was, however, resurrected for last year's The Monkees 50 compilation.
Take note of the session credits. Michael Lloyd worked previously with Micky Dolenz in the early 1970s under the Starship banner, and also produced The Monkees' 1986 Top 20 hit, "That Was Then, This Is Now." Laurence Juber was a member of Wings from 1978-1981, and Paul Leim played drums for Michael Nesmith on his 1979 LP Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma, and toured with Nez as recently as 2013.
Peter's "Gettin' In" was featured on the 1987 Monkees album, Pool It!
"War Games" was composed by Davy Jones and Steve Pitts and was originally considered for inclusion on the soundtrack of The Monkees' 1968 feature film, Head. Pitts was a friend of Michael Nesmith's from Texas, and Nez introduced the pair to each other in late 1966. They eventually entered into a songwriting partnership, composing such tracks as "Dream World," "The Poster," "Smile," "Party," "I'm Gonna Try," and "Changes" (another song that was floated for Head, and at the time of its recording, the name of the film).
Two versions of "War Games" exist. The first was recorded in January 1968 under the supervision of Nesmith. Present at the initial sessions were Michael, Davy, Steve, and Bob Rafelson, who offered the visual image he was getting while hearing the track being produced. "It sounds to me like four spade chicks all dressed in American flags and all wigglin' their asses at the same time, goin' down the street," reported Andrew Sandoval in his book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation, after listening to the session tapes. "You dig what I mean? If you just start thinkin' on that, it sounds awful good." Nez replied with some hesitation. "Thanks Bob. That's very groovy. That's what we are playin', right?"
Sandoval discussed the first version of "War Games" in the liner notes of Rhino's 2010 deluxe edition release of The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees:
(Sandoval notes in his book that Michael most likely overdubbed the Hammond organ part at a future recording session.)
In February 1968, Davy went back into the studio with Lester Sill and Shorty Rogers and remade "War Games" in a slower arrangement with horns and strings:
"War Games" wouldn't be heard until version 2 appeared on 1987's Missing Links. Version 1 would make its debut on the 2010 deluxe edition of The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees.
Go ahead and take a moment to vote in the poll below to show your preference between the two versions of the song:
One of several songs Peter wrote and recorded during sessions for The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, "Tear the Top Right Off My Head" was relegated to the vaults in the late '60s, finally receiving an official release in 1991 on the Listen to the Band box set. I've always liked this song and feel it should have made the cut for the Birds album in 1968.
Lance Wakely, who played guitar and harmonica on the track, was a friend of Peter's from his days in Greenwich Village before The Monkees. He was also featured as a session musician on some of Peter's other early 1968 recordings, contributing guitar and bass to "Lady's Baby" and "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again." Dewey Martin, who drums on "Tear the Top," was a member of Buffalo Springfield at the time.
Micky Dolenz also took a turn with a lead vocal for this song:
Andrew Sandoval discussed "Tear the Top Right Off My Head" in the liner notes of the 2010 deluxe edition release of The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees by Rhino Handmade:
"Tear The Top" was first previewed on the second season episode, "Hitting the High Seas":
It made its live debut during Micky and Peter's brief run of shows in 2015:
A backing track for Jeff Barry and Joey Levine's "Gotta Give It Time" was originally recorded in January 1967 and, 49 years later, it was finally given a vocal by Micky Dolenz (with backing vocals by Michael Nesmith) for The Monkees' 2016 album, Good Times! Andrew Sandoval discussed its original '67 attempt for an entry in his Day-By-Day book:
"...The studio musicians next settle in to recording Joey Levine's promising 'Gotta Give It Time,' not coincidentally co-written with today's session producer Jeff Barry. Only four takes are made of this garage-styled rock number, the final one being marked as the master. Had The Monkees ever completed the recording it could have been another '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone.'"
Here's a homemade video for the song from YouTube, splicing "Gotta Give It Time" into the first season episode "The Chaperone":
Davy's song "Smile" was recorded in Hollywood in May 1968. The backing track featured Neil Young on guitar along with members of the Wrecking Crew. It remained unreleased until first appearing on Rhino's 1995 compact disc reissue of Instant Replay.
Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart's "Gonna Buy Me a Dog" played a key role in the episode, and this article highlights an attempt Michael Nesmith made at the song when he produced a backing track for it on July 7, 1966 at RCA Hollywood. That session featured multiple guitarists including Peter Tork, along with Wrecking Crew aces Glen Campbell, James Burton, Al Casey, and Jim Helms. The bassist was Bill Pitman, while Hal Blaine played drums and Billy Preston handled organ duties.
Nesmith's backing track never received a vocal and went unheard until 2006 when it was released on a deluxe edition of The Monkees' debut album. Boyce & Hart later cut their own (drastically different) version, and it was this take that was ultimately included on The Monkees.
"Rainy Jane" (written by Howard Greenfield & Neil Sedaka) was a single taken from Davy's 1971 album for Bell Records and became a modest chart hit that year, reaching #52 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and #32 in Cash Box).
Below is a demo for the song, courtesy of the Live Almanac's YouTube channel. The picture in the video is a promotional image used by Bell to promote Davy and the album during that time period.
This promotional ad, courtesy of Monkee45s.net, appeared in the July 10, 1971 issue of Cash Box:
Davy performed "Rainy Jane" on The Roger Whittaker Show in the UK on June 22, 1971:
In 2012, "Rainy Jane" was paired with "Girl" (made famous by its inclusion in an episode of The Brady Bunch) for a double-A side 7" single on green vinyl. A Rhino.com exclusive released in the months after Davy's passing, this collector's item, strictly limited to 1,000 copies and not made available in stores, sold out in one day.
The Monkees' debut single, "Last Train to Clarksville," was first recorded on this day in 1966 at RCA Victor Studio B in Hollywood. Written and produced by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and released by Colgems on August 16 (backed with Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Take a Giant Step"), the song debuted on the Billboard charts on September 3 at #101. By November 5, The Monkees had scored their first #1 single, knocking off "96 Tears" by Question Mark & The Mysterians. The Recording Industry Association of America awarded "Last Train to Clarksville" (and The Monkees' debut album) a gold record on October 27.
"While I Cry," written by Michael Nesmith and recorded in January 1968, is one of my favorite Monkees songs. It was featured on The Monkees' 1969 album Instant Replay.
"It has kind of a rolling guitar intro," Michael told Andrew Sandoval. "It's slow. It's a ballad. It's me playing guitar, a guitar lick that I was just foolin' around with and wrote a song around the lick. Not an uncommon move."