There have been a lot of news reports recently about the 40th anniversary this week of an NBC series that transcended its period fashions and general kitschiness to become a global pop culture phenomenon that inspired audiences with its message of harmony and friendship. I’m speaking, of course, of The Monkees (What, you thought I was talking about Star Trek? Oops, my bad.), which launched on Sept. 12, 1966. It would run for two seasons and 58 episodes.
At this late date, it hardly seems necessary to rescue the made-for-TV pop quartet from their sitcom’s admittedly crass origins as a knockoff of the Beatles’ films A Hard Day’s Night and Help. Their songs still sound remarkably fresh (listen to the brand new Deluxe Edition of their debut disc, The Monkees, which contains the show’s theme song, hits like ”Last Train to Clarksville,” and loads of bonus tracks and rarities). They had their pick of tunes from some of pop’s best composers, including Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The TV series, with its musical montages, seems today to be a clear precursor to MTV, and it led to a feature film, Head (co-written and co-produced by a then-struggling actor named Jack Nicholson), that’s so mind-blowing and visionary (and yes, silly) that you may still have to be stoned to appreciate it fully. (Um, not that I would know, or anything.) They gave early career boosts to Nicholson, Neil Young (who was a session guitarist for them), and Jimi Hendrix (who opened for them on tour in 1967), and they’re probably the only band who’s been covered by both the Sex Pistols and Run-DMC.
addCredit(“The Monkees: Globe Photos”)