The Monkees share stories behind their biggest hits
Hey, hey they’re still The Monkees. Half a century after NBC premiered the quartet’s eponymous TV show, singer-drummer Micky Dolenz and multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork are currently celebrating the Monkees’ 50th anniversary with a nationwide tour. The pair have also just put out a new album Good Times!, the first Monkees release in 20 years and the first since the death of singer Davy Jones in 2012.
Produced by Adam Schlesinger from The Fountains of Wayne, the collection features new tunes written by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, XTC’s Andy Partridge, and semi-detached fourth Monkee Mike Nesmith, among others. In addition, Schlesinger has overseen the completion of some previously unreleased ‘60s-era songs, including the Jones-sung “Love to Love” and the Harry Nilsson-penned title track, on which Dolenz duets with a near-half-a-century-old vocal from the late singer-songwriter. We asked Dolenz and Tork to talk about their greatest hits and and their new album.
Last Train to Clarksville (1966)
Micky Dolenz: We were working 24/7. Normally, you do a TV series — eight, 10 hours a day — and go home. But after filming the show, I would go into the studio and sometimes record two or three lead vocals a night. So, it’s all a bit of a blur. That middle bit, there were words to that. Bobby Hart (who wrote “Last Train to Clarksville” with Tommy Boyce) tells the story that I said, “It’s midnight, I have to be on the set at six. I can’t learn to sing that.” He said, “Okay, just go ‘Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo…’” You never know, if I’d sang all those words, it might not have worked.
(Theme from) The Monkees(1966)
Peter Tork: I always thought the song worked fine as the theme song for the TV show. But I never allowed us to sing it in public. The whole idea of standing up there and singing, “We’re wonderful/We’re the wonderful ones/And our names are The Wonderful Ones,” was too self-congratulatory. What we do now is, the backing band plays [the music] and Micky and I come out onstage to it. I can’t ever see us singing “Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees!” I couldn’t bear it.
I’m a Believer (1966)
MD: I do remember lots of snatches of touring back then. Unbelievable. No monitors. Screaming. Screaming, screaming. [When we played “I’m a Believer”] I couldn’t hear myself. I just had to pound away. Even to this day,I sing with my eyes closed, because I had to close my eyes and hit myself in the leg to keep time on the drums. I had a big bruise. [Laughs]
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone (1966)
PT: The songs that we got [in the ‘60s] were really songs of some vigor and substance. “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” is not peaches and cream. It comes down hard on the subject, poor girl. And the weight of the song is indicated by the fact that the Sex Pistols covered it. Anybody trying to write “‘60s songs” now thinks that you have to write “59th St. Bridge.” [Sings] “Feeling groovy!” Which is an okay song, but has not got a lot of guts. “Stepping Stone” has guts.”
Randy Scouse Git (AKA Alternate Title) (1967)
MD: We were over in England. I write the song about my adventures with the Beatles and the people in England. We record it, and I get a letter from the English publisher saying, “We want to release Micky’s song in England, but he has to change the title. It’s rude and it’s dirty for kids. I said, “What does it mean?” And the guy said, “It means a horny Liverpudlian jerk. You have to have an alternate title.” So, I changed it to “Alternate Title.”
Daydream Believer (1967)
PT: John Stewart was a member of The Kingston Trio and he wrote this song, with one difference. As we sing it, there’s a line “Now, you know how happy I can be.” John wrote “Now, you know how funky I can be.” But the music department said, “The Monkees are not inging the word ‘funky.’” [Laughs] Funky meant oily, and greasy, and sexy — and they weren’t going to have us say it.
As We Go Along (1968)
MD: Carole King (who cowrote the song) had to teach me how to sing in 5/4 time. Always thank her for that. And, at the session, the guitars were played by Neil Young and Ry Cooder. Yep. Listen to that song. Those guitar parts are Neil Young and Ry Cooder! [Laughs]
She Makes Me Laugh (2016)
MD: I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music. But I’d heard of Weezer (whose Rivers Cuomo wrote “She Makes Me Laugh”), and Death Cab for Cutie, and XTC, of course. It was like the perfect storm, it just all came together. Because this indie-rock world sounds just like ’60s, jangly, pop-guitar music. It’s uncanny. But I guess what’s old is new, what goes around, comes around.
Good Times! (2016)
MD: Harry (Nilsson) and I were very close for many years. I called his widow, and asked her if she would mind if we did that, and she said, “Absolutely not.” It was very emotional. I had to stop a couple of times and compose myself. I suspect it was like when Natalie Cole sang along with her father. Maybe not that intense. But close.
Love to Love (2016)
PT: It’s a Neil Diamond song and it was recorded with Davy. We got to mix it and Micky and I sang backups. After John Lennon died, the Beatles released a song that John had left behind and the other three made a record around that. They reported that, “Well, we just pretended John had stepped out for a cup of tea.” In a sense, this was the same. “Well, Davy isn’t here at the moment, but we’re carrying on.” It’s not like we pretended that he was still alive. It wasn’t ghoulish. We just sang what we had to sing.
The Monkees 50th anniversary tour hits New York’s Town Hall, tomorrow, June 1.