The group was created for a NBC Television. 437 young men auditioned for the roles – mostly struggling musicians and actors. Steven Stills and John Sebastian both auditioned and were turned down for roles on the show. It was rumored that Charles Manson tried out, but this was not true.
58 Episodes of the TV show were made. It lasted two seasons and aired from 1966-1968. The idea for the fictional group came from the 1965 Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night.
At first, the group did not play their own instruments – their vocals were recorded over tracks recorded by a group of session musicians who played on many hits from the ’60s. The turning point came in 1967 when they insisted on playing their own material and getting producer credit as well.
The Monkees were the object of scorn among some music fans who felt they were a product of deceptive corporate entertainment, taking up airspace that would be better suited to more authentic musicians. There wasn’t much controversy over the use of session musicians on their albums, however, as manufactured bands were fairly common and The Monkees didn’t keep it a secret. Mickey Dolenz explained how word got out: “Somebody just asked us. I don’t remember who – exactly what moment, but somebody probably asked me, “So are you playing on all those early records?” And I said, “Well, no. Some of them were made before I was even cast.” And I think, again, from my point of view, the whole confusion came, and still exists, if you think of the Monkees as a group, as a band, it gets very confusing. And it just isn’t accurate. The Monkees was not a band. It still isn’t a band. It was this television show about this band that wanted to be the Beatles. We wanted to be the Beatles. That’s what all – that was what it was about. And we represented all those kids around the United States and the world that were in their basements and garages playing, you know, songs and trying to make a living. That’s what the heart and soul of the show was about. That’s what made us successful.”
Dolenz almost got the part of The Fonz on Happy Days. He was beaten out by Henry Winkler.
Nesmith is the most accomplished musician in the group – he wrote “Different Drum,” recorded by The Stone Ponies (Linda Ronstadt), “Propinquity” and “Some Of Shelley’s Blues” recorded by The Nitty Gritty Dirt band. The Monkees may have been designed as a “Prefab Four,” but Nesmith is a stand alone artist. (thanks, Chuck – Peoria, IL)
The TV show became a hit in England when it aired on the BBC.
After their TV show was canceled, they made the movie Head, which at the time was a box office flop, but is now a cult classic. A then-unknown Jack Nicholson helped write and produce the movie. He also acted in it along with Frank Zappa, Terri Garr, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, and Dennis Hopper.
Davy Jones appeared in an episode of The Brady Bunch where he sang to Marsha.
This one sounds like an urban legend, but it’s true: Michael Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper. She got the idea when she was a secretary, making small bottles of water-based paint that she called “Mistake Out” and gave to other typists. She sold her company to Gillette in 1979 for $47 million.
Tim Buckley and Frank Zappa both appeared on their TV show. Zappa was a big fan, and even asked Dolenz to play in his group after their show was canceled.
As a child, Micky Dolenz starred in the TV series Circus Boy. It was a Walt Disney production
Headquarters was the only Monkees album recorded with all four in the studio at the same time. On all the other albums each member recorded their part separately and then the whole was mixed by the engineers.
Like Nesmith, Peter Tork thought of himself as a musician, while Dolenz and Jones considered themselves actors. This caused some tension in the group when Tork and Nesmith wanted to take more control of their musical output, which Dolenz and Jones eventually went along with.