For years now, Monkees fans have been intrigued by the group's 1969 concert tour. Conducted in the aftermath of a turbulent era that had seen the departure of Peter Tork, the commercial failure of their motion picture Head, and a lukewarm NBC television special, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Davy Jones soldiered on, playing to live audiences in North America throughout most of 1969. Their live show that year was transformed into a soul revue that featured music, comedy bits, and a multimedia presentation; all the while being backed by a true rhythm and blues band in Sam & The Goodtimers. Yet a great deal of mystery surrounds the 1969 tour. The once golden fortunes of The Monkees had dwindled in a sudden and severe fashion. By the time the last year of the decade arrived, the group's commercial power, which had resulted in four straight number one albums, three number one singles, multiple Emmy Awards, and sold-out stadiums worldwide, was hitting its nadir. As a result, less documentation exists for the 1969 tour than the ones that preceded it. An official live album was not recorded. Photographs and live footage remains scarce. And some details surrounding the composition of the show itself are still unknown.
Thanks to Monkees archivist Andrew Sandoval, who carefully researched this era of Monkees history for his book, The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation, more information about the 1969 tour is available today than ever before. But, questions remain. This article will take a look at one of those unknowns, specifically the footage filmed by The Monkees for use during their '69 concerts. What made up this footage, how much of it was actually used during the show, and has it survived after all of these years?
In the 1969 chapter of Sandoval's book, there are a couple of references to filming activities. During the month of March, Sandoval writes that "The group are currently preparing for their first concert performances as a trio...The plan is for an all-new stage presentation similar in style to a revue. Not only will the set be musically rearranged to reflect a more soulful direction, but the group's usual rear-projection displays will be revamped to feature completely new film footage, which is mostly shot this month. Michael is at work in his home studio to prepare a tape of sound effects for use in the concerts."
Plenty of evidence exists showing Micky, Davy, and Michael were in fact busy staging and filming some sort of footage in 1969. Photographs published in various issues of the British publication Monkees Monthly throughout 1969 capture the trio hard at work. Comments at the time from Michael also seem to confirm that a lot of effort was exerted while preparing for the '69 tour. "All three of us have been out on locations, making film clips that we'll be showing on screen during the show," Nez told Monkees Monthly in its April 1969 issue. "Some of them are very funny, some a bit sad, but again the idea is to put on a complete show that reaches out and grabs you." Nez also talked about the tape effects he was recording in his home studio. "I've been spending hours in the studios getting little sound effects on tape, so we can work them into the act. It'll all add to the surprise effect, I hope, and keep the action going. Nope, I'm not telling you what it's all about. Just that when you think you're coming to a lull in the show, something kinda explodes from the tape machine. And that'll be me, friends. The product of my own studio."
Professional reviews also alluded to the multimedia aspect of The Monkees' new concert show. The May 1969 issue of Monkees Monthly noted the "addition of film inserts and tape recordings" when describing the first stops on the '69 tour. While reviewing opening night in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Monkees Monthly referenced the projected footage, saying that "The scenes began with still shots of the boys interspersed with amusing shots, photos of all sorts of events and people, and ended up with a dynamic and vibrating pattern of lights tuned exactly to what the boys were playing on stage." Bob Smith of the Vancouver Sun observed that "There was a mild light show made up of Monkees film clips which garnered shouts of joy from the girls but my notes read, 'Was it necessary?'" Despite these reports, Andrew Sandoval confirmed for this piece that it's uncertain as to what specifically appeared on the stage screen during the 1969 concerts. "I do not know what was used in the backdrop for the 1969 tour," he said.
Could some of the film footage or audio recordings produced in 1969 actually have been for projects beyond the concert tour that year? The Monkees were certainly not at a loss during this period when it came to ideas for future group endeavors. In his book, Sandoval cites a quote Michael gave to the Honolulu Advertiser during a stop in Hawaii for a concert there. "We're expanding. Specifically, we've just finished up the 20th episode of a radio show - a series of mini-dramas. We're looking for the right deal now." Nez continued, saying "Davy's got a friend working on a Broadway thing for us." Micky also discussed the goal of The Monkees moving to Broadway. "Our ultimate aim is to put on a whole show, based on comedy, in a Broadway theatre and then transfer it to the West End of London," he told Monkees Monthly in its April 1969 issue. "We'd plan to do most of the writing ourselves, dream up zany ideas for ourselves, use every bit of the stage to get ourselves across as people...it would give us a real thrill to be able to produce a whole soundtrack original-cast album of ourselves performing from the stage of one of Broadway's most legitimate theatres." In addition to the bucket list of projects The Monkees floated in 1969, take note of the pictures that appear directly above and below this paragraph. Originally published in Monkees Monthly, the captions reference short films that the group was apparently working on at the time. Could some of the '69 era film footage been meant for a new television project? "We've been offered another TV series," Michael told the Honolulu Advertiser. "Whether we'll do it, I don't know."
Has any of the film taped by The Monkees for the 1969 tour actually survived? I asked Andrew Sandoval about the current whereabouts of the footage, which led to more information about the trio's efforts that year. Sandoval noted that filming also took place at RCA in Hollywood (as this picture from the Instant Replay deluxe edition shows). "I have a ton of still photos of them shooting footage on top of the RCA Building for this," Sandoval said.
Sadly, it seems that any film produced by The Monkees in 1969 is either unaccounted for or perhaps lost to history. "I have never seen the moving footage, nor does anyone seem to know of its whereabouts," Sandoval explained.
For the time being, and unless reels turn up in someone's collection, Monkees fans will have to continue to speculate about the filming activities undertaken by Micky, Davy, and Michael in 1969. It may never be known to what extent such footage was used during the concert tour that year or if the footage was also being earmarked for another project at the time. Perhaps these questions would make insightful inquiries for both Michael and Micky at the upcoming Monkees convention in New Jersey.
Above: This is silent footage of The Monkees performing on August 25, 1969 in Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition. What appears to be a video screen can be seen starting at 1:09. Whether this screen was a part of the group's performance that day or simply a regular facet of the bandstand is unknown.