The Monkees were slick attempt to recreate the Beatles for TV. It worked for about 15 months. Inspired by "A Hard Day's Night," the Monkees' TV show had the four boys living together in a SoCal beach house (and this is supposed to be a struggling group?). Each episode featured a flimsy plot, a second tier "guest star" with a break for a song that allowed the boys to run around and do crazy stuff, ala The Beatles. The formula was fun with a lot of lame jokes tossed off with one-take casualness. Producer Don Kirshner's masterstroke was getting the Monkees first rate material written by Goffin & King, Boyce & Hart, Mann & Weil and even Neil Diamond. Top flight studio musicians laid down the tracks.
The Monkees' paper-thin appeal, combined with the group's desire to write their own material, spelled the end. The show was cancelled and record sales slumped. But everyone made a lot of money, except (ironically) the Monkees. However, they went out kicking with the film "Head." Funny in places, interesting in others, it also had Jack Nicholson.
Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were actually decent musicians while Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz had their moments as entertainers. Stephen Stills auditioned for the group but didn't make the cut. He went on to form Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y and the Stills-Young Band. Safe to say the rejection didn't hurt his career.
The Lovin' Spoonful were originally considered but they were real musicians with real talent. A dangerous combination. So when that didn't pan out it was decided to go with unknowns. Turned out to be a wise decision. With somebody like the Lovin' Spoonful there would have been creative control arguments from the outset. With unknowns those issues only surfaced near the end. And by that time, what did it matter?
Dolenz auditioned for "The Fonz" role on "Happy Days" but lost out to Henry Winkler. The producers made a smart choice. Dolenz and Jones toured together. Since their vocals dominated the Monkees' hits it wasn't a bad show for what it was. They also teamed up with songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart for another shot at the Monkees "magic." Eventually, Tork joined the revival and on occasion so did Nesmith who had gone on to a low-key recording career before becoming a TV producer.
Sadly, Jones died of an apparent heart attack in '12. After complaining of chest pains, he went to the hospital but passed away the following morning (02/29/12). Jones sang lead on the hits "Daydream Believer" and "I Wanna Be Free," among others. He was 66.
1966 The Monkees
1967 More Of The Monkees
1967 Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
1968 The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees
1969 Instant Replay
1969 The Monkees Present
Who knows who played on the Monkees best songs but they did a great job. Opt for "The Monkees Greatest Hits" on Rhino. The Monkees' "Anthology" digs deeper, if you dare. The individual albums are OK. If you have a taste for the obscure, check out "Head" the soundtrack to the Monkees' movie.