"All of Your Toys" 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. But there's a rather complicated backstory leading up to its recording.
After a rigorous audition process that included more than 400 applicants, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork had been chosen as The Monkees in November 1965. Filming of the pilot episode had been completed by December, and the show was sold to NBC by February 1966. Music mogul Don Kirshner, known as "The Man With the Golden Ear," was brought into the Monkees project in the summer of 1966. Initial rehearsals by The Monkees to play their music on record and as a live act had progressed through the spring of 1966, but deadlines were fast approaching to meet the pending debut of The Monkees television series on NBC in September. The group's grueling schedule of filming, recording, and rehearsing caused Kirshner to streamline the process. He refused to allow The Monkees to play their instruments on record, instead having them provide only vocal work in the studio, and it was Kirshner who selected the songs The Monkees were to perform. Kirshner oversaw the first two Monkees singles and albums, which achieved incredible success in late 1966 and early 1967.
In January 1967, an unsettled Michael Nesmith, who along with his fellow bandmates had commenced performing live concerts, made his unhappiness over how The Monkees' music was being created clear in an interview with The Saturday Evening Post. "The music had nothing to do with us. It was totally dishonest. Do you know how debilitating it is to sit up and have to duplicate somebody else's records?" Peter, Micky, and Davy joined forces with Michael in the ensuing battle against Kirshner. During a tense meeting with the band and Kirshner in a Beverly Hills hotel room that same month, the situation between Kirshner and The Monkees, particularly Nesmith, escalated. "The incident when Mike Nesmith put his fist through the wall at the Beverly Hills Hotel is very vivid and near and dear to my heart," Kirshner told Monkees archivist Andrew Sandoval years later. "I had flown out to the Beverly Hills Hotel to give the boys a quarter of a million dollars apiece from some of the royalties on the first album. Mike had given me a lot of heat that he didn't like the records and he didn't like the albums. He wanted to do it his way. It was a little disconcerting to me because every album and single I put out was number one, but he had a right to his opinion." When Nesmith threatened to quit unless The Monkees were given some control over their musical output, Kirshner's attorney proceeded to remind Michael about his contract. Nez responded - by punching his fist through the wall - telling the attorney, 'That could’ve been your face.' "I was very impressed," Kirshner chuckled, "because I thought the Beverly Hills [Hotel] had pretty strong walls."
Despite these tumultuous events, Kirshner agreed to meet with Chip Douglas, recently selected by Michael as a potential producer for The Monkees. Douglas had been a member of the Modern Folk Quartet and later The Turtles, and despite never producing a record previously, he had arranged The Turtles' 1967 smash "Happy Together." Kirshner gave permission for Douglas to produce a session with The Monkees later that month.
Gathering together at RCA Hollywood on the morning of Monday, January 16, 1967, The Monkees conducted their first recording session under their own auspices. With Micky behind the drums, Davy on maracas and tambourine, Michael playing an electric 12-string guitar, and Peter handling bass, acoustic guitar, and harpsichord, the quartet tackled three songs that day. (John London, a friend of Michael's from Texas and his stand-in on The Monkees' TV show, played bass while Peter handled harpsichord duties.) The first song attempted was Baker Knight's "She So Far Out, She' In," which was performed live by The Monkees during their earliest concert performances and was later tracked during the sessions for the Headquarters album. (It was ultimately left unfinished.) The rest of the session was dedicated to songs that the group and Douglas hoped would make up both sides of the next Monkees single.
"All of Your Toys" was submitted to the group by one of Michael's friends from the pre-Monkees days, Bill Martin, and "The Girl I Knew Somewhere" was a Nesmith original. "We thought ['All of Your Toys'] was going to be a great single," said Chip Douglas. "That was when I first became involved. I got real excited about the song when Bill Martin showed it to me. I didn't realize at the time that it didn't have a chorus." Described by AllMusic critic Matthew Greenwald as "a whimsical ballad with some dark undertones," the song, despite its promise, went unheard for twenty years. 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.
Sadly, Bill Martin, who went on to have a successful career in music, film, and television, passed away on January 27, 2016.
In the aftermath of the sessions that produced "All of Your Toys," Kirshner coaxed Davy to fly to New York and cut a few tracks with studio musicians. In a hardball move, Kirshner selected two songs from those sessions, Neil Diamond's "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" along with the first recorded version of "She Hangs Out," and issued them as a single in Canada in February, without the approval of The Monkees or Raybert. This power play resulted in Kirshner being fired and the single withdrawn. "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" reappeared as a single in March, supported by a new version of "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," this time with Micky on lead vocals as opposed to Michael.
The hurdles surrounding The Monkees when recording "All of Your Toys" were numerous. A war for control over their own music against a kingmaker like Don Kirshner, the pressure of recording a hit song at the moment their careers were skyrocketing, and a watchful press looking to expose The Monkees as musical frauds because of their untraditional origins, makes the history and legacy of "All of Your Toys" that much more vital. Today, The Monkees Live Almanac celebrates it as the Song of the Day.
The Monkees performed "All of Your Toys" live in concert for the first time during their highly successful 45th Anniversary World Tour in 2011.
A stereo remix of the song was made available in 2007 on a 2-disc expanded edition of The Monkees' third album, 1967's Headquarters:
The master backing track for "All of Your Toys" was included on the 2001 Headquarters Sessions box set:
Andrew Sandoval's book, The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation,
was referenced and quoted for this article.