Here are the picture sleeves for all American Monkees singles released between 1966 and 2016. Some were produced in different variations ("A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" and "Valleri" came with no picture sleeve at all), and countries outside of the United States often promoted their own singles that differed from US selections. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the UK release of Micky's "Randy Scouse Git" from the Headquarters album, which became a #2 hit there.
Fast forward to 2016, an era when physical singles are no longer produced in vast quantities, where the songs issued from The Monkees' latest studio album Good Times! were represented with digital images instead of actual physical sleeves.
In retrospect, there were many other Monkees songs that were more than suitable for single release, and it seems that The Monkees could have potentially had a few additional chart hits during their heyday. Think about the fact that in the spring of 1964 at the height of Beatlemania, The Beatles held each slot in the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That's an incredible achievement that hasn't been topped, and likely won't be equaled.
That being said, The Monkees were an extremely hot commodity at the peak of their popularity, too. Consider the following chart statistics. The Monkees outsold The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined in 1967. The Monkees had four #1 albums in 1967 alone. The Monkees belong to a small group of artists that have hit #1 simultaneously in the United States and the United Kindgom (in 1967 with "I'm a Believer" as well as the first two albums). Combined, The Monkees and More of The Monkees were at the top of the Billboard LP chart for an amazing 31 consecutive weeks, and by the time the group had disbanded in 1970 their albums had spent 37 weeks at #1. The Monkees' first LP held the record for the longest stay at #1 for a debut album (until 1982 when Men At Work's first, Business As Usual, broke that record). The Monkees had three #1 hits, six Top 10s, 12 Top 40s — 10 of which made it into the Top 20 — and a total of 20 Hot 100 singles. The Monkees were a chart juggernaut for a period of time, and perhaps the group could have added to their chart successes had more singles been released.
There was, of course, a major struggle occurring behind the scenes right as Monkeemania was taking off. The four Monkees joined forces against music supervisor Don Kirshner, a story that has been documented many times before. Perhaps the politics of the time and the uncertainty surrounding the situation as Micky, Davy, Mike and Peter fought for and ultimately won complete artistic and creative control of their music stifled single releases during this period. In fact, one single, "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You"/"She Hangs Out," was withdrawn during the Monkees/Kirshner feud. Another potential single, the group production "All of Your Toys," was shelved because of a publishing dispute.
We can't forget that The Monkees didn't just have great A-sides. The flipside to almost every Monkees single of the 1960s contains a song of merit, a testament to the amount of quality material made available by and for The Monkees. In fact, many of the B-sides would have made great A-sides. Look at "Steppin' Stone" (#20), "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" (#39), "Words" (#11) and "Tapioca Tundra" (#34) - they all received enough airplay to chart in the Top 40. And then there's "Goin' Down," "As We Go Along," "Take a Giant Step" and "Someday Man." And these songs were B-sides!
Despite the fact that Colgems was not issuing multiple singles from each of the Monkees albums, there were some creative minds who craved for exclusive Monkees material as the group's television and recording career began to soar. As a result, eager and anxious DJs often taped songs directly off the television show for radio play. For instance, the first recorded version of "Valleri" was showcased on the series during the first season even though the song had not yet seen official release on a Monkees single or album up to that point. Original fans have recalled hearing this version of "Valleri" on the radio so much at the time that it led them to think it was indeed the new Monkees single. Bobby Hart, who along with Tommy Boyce wrote the song, had high hopes for "Valleri." "It should have been the next single" [after "I'm a Believer"], Hart told Monkees archivist Andrew Sandoval years later. Kirshner, however, passed on it, and the song would later be revived and re-recorded for single release in 1968.
Hindsight is always 20/20, so what songs might have added to the successful chart run of The Monkees in the 1960s? Here are a few of my top picks:
1. She: A great pop-rocker from Boyce & Hart, perhaps it was this fact that hampered it from seeing release as a single. Kirshner largely considered Boyce & Hart as second stringers, despite the fact that they were monumental in the early recording stages of The Monkees. Featuring an excellent lead vocal from Micky and the "Hey!" shouts, it's almost always on the set list at a Monkees concert.
2. Love Is Only Sleeping: A psychedelic stunner from the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. album, it was nearly issued as a single until someone thought the lyrics were a bit too suggestive for radio. "Daydream Believer" got the nod instead.
3. Mary, Mary: A Nesmith original, a barn burner in their early live shows, and boasting a catchy guitar riff, "Mary, Mary" is an easy sing-along and would have given credence to the notion of The Monkees as legitimate artists during the whole "they don't play their instruments" drama. Rap icons Run-D.M.C. covered it in the late 1980s and issued it as a single, sampling Micky's voice.
4. Dream World: This one might be more out of left field as Monkees fans seem to have strong opinions about it, but I've always thought that "Dream World" is a great, underrated track in The Monkees' canon. Co-written by Davy and leading off the group's fifth long player, The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, it features a sprightly arrangement by Shorty Rogers. The song is every bit as good as another Jones lead vocal from this era, "It's Nice To Be With You." That track peaked at #51 as the B-side of "D.W. Washburn." But "Dream World" easily outpaces "It's Nice To Be With You" and it would have sounded great on AM radio. Gotta love Davy's semi-ominous deliveries of "You'll see..." throughout the song, too.
5. For Pete's Sake: An easy selection, this song became the closing theme during the second season of the group's TV series, thus making it instantly recognizable. Composed by Peter, the timely lyrics should have made it an obvious choice as the single from Headquarters during the Summer of Love.
6. What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?: Perhaps Nez put it best to Andrew Sandoval in an interview that appeared in the liner notes of the Pisces deluxe edition in 2007. "One of the things that I felt was honest was country rock," Nesmith said. "I wanted to move The Monkees more into that because I felt like, 'Gee, you know, if we get closer to country music, we’ll get closer to blues, and country blues, and so forth.' [The guys who wrote the song] Michael [Murphey] and Boomer Castleman – Boomer was his nickname – were writers at Screen Gems and they just wrote all kinds of really wonderful little songs, and 'Hangin' 'Round' was one of them. It had a lot of uncountry things in it: a familiar change from a first major to a sixth minor – those kinds of things. So it was kind of a new wave country song; [it] didn’t sound like the country of the time which was Buck Owens." The crossover potential could have opened up new audiences to the sounds of The Monkees in late 1967/early 1968.
7. Steam Engine: Famous for its ultra expensive (and all-around fantastic) production by its author and producer, Chip Douglas, this brassy-bluesy number features a killer lead vocal from Micky and would have made for a suitable follow-up to the "Listen to the Band"/"Someday Man" single. Touring that year with the all African-American rhythm and blues troupe Sam & The Goodtimers, "Steam Engine" seems to encapsulate the sounds and style of The Monkees as a live act in 1969. Not to mention the fact that this song features some great pedal steel guitar work by the late, great Red Rhodes.
8. All of Your Toys: This track is one of the most historically significant Monkees songs, recorded in January 1967 at the height of the group's simmering feud with musical supervisor Don Kirshner. Along with an early version of "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" and "She's So Far Out, She's In," the song represented The Monkees' first recordings as a fully functioning, self-contained band. Unfortunately for The Monkees and songwriter Martin, Screen Gems was unable to acquire the publishing rights to "All of Your Toys" from its original holder, Tickson Music, for which Martin worked. As a result, Screen Gems nixed the song for single release. This landmark Monkees recording languished in the vaults until 1987 when Rhino Records compiled an album of previously unreleased Monkees songs.
Did I miss a song that is on your list of fantasy Monkees singles? Or do you disagree with one of my selections? Feel free to leave a comment and chime in!
Some of the pictures sleeves found in this post are courtesy of Monkee45s.net.
Recap: Monkees Farewell Tour
Dolenz sings Nesmith