The Monkees were a fake band and couldn’t play their instruments.
I’ve heard it time and time again from so-called “serious” rock fans. More so before The Monkees mid-’80’s revival but it’s still out there in the ether so to speak.
Okay, let’s take a look at these statements.
One, The Monkees weren’t a real band:
Technically the answer is yes and no. “The Monkees” was conceived as a television show about a struggling rock group that wanted fame and fortune in the mid-1960’s, the height of The Beatles reign in the pop music world.
The four Monkees – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith – were cast like any other TV show to play this fictitious group.
BUT – and here’s where it gets sticky- the four cast members DID play together as a self-contained group on record and on stage. They each played an instrument – Peter Tork in fact was proficient on several instruments – and each performed quite competently both in the studio and on the concert stage.
Does that make them a real group?
(Note: The Monkees performed musically on their third and fourth albums, that is they actually played as a self contained group, which is something most Motown acts and many of the popular groups of the day didn’t do as they relied totally on studio musicians. Hmmm, seems like a REAL group to me.)
The TV producers always planned on releasing recordings from the show but little did they know that the popularity of the recordings would dwarf the popularity of the TV show. The records sold like hot cakes creating a true phenomena for the “group” as they became one of the biggest recording acts of the 1960’s.
And The Monkees as a stage act have outlasted the TV show by 51 years so does that make them a group?
Yes, in my mind The Monkees was/is more a group than a TV show but they are indeed both which it what makes their story so intriguing.
Anyway, the gist of this post today is to highlight what I consider the pinnacle of The Monkees as both a recording and a live act – two box sets called “Headquarters Sessions” and “Summer 1967 – The Complete U.S. Concert Recordings“.
Both of these sets were released through Rhino Records Handmade imprint and only made available online.
“Headquarters Sessions” was released in 2000 and limited to 4500 copies and “Summer 1967 – The Complete U.S. Concert Recordings” was released in 2001 and limited to 3500 copies.
As a fan and collector of The Monkees music these two CD sets represent the holy grail as far as Monkees recordings go as a self-contained group. These seven CD’s contain all the energetic, garage band glory of The Monkees as a real group.
No studio musicians, no slick production, just real honest to goodness fun rock and roll music played with spirit and energy and sounding damn fine if you ask me.
The “Headquarters Sessions” set contains most of the sessions for the album that still exist on tape and contains several unreleased songs in embryonic form as well as mono and stereo mixes for both released and unreleased songs from the album as well as the single that was released right before the album came out.
Granted there are a lot of instrumentals as there are several backing tracks without vocals but as a fan this set is just glorious. It shows the group, yes at this moment they became a true group, as talented performers and songwriters and excellent singers.
The “Summer 1967 – The Complete U.S. Concert Recordings” is even more raw and consists of four complete concerts from the end of their 1967 U.S. tour. Three of the concerts are in stereo while the first show is a mono soundboard test to see how the group would sound recorded live.
Again, four shows may seem like overkill but it is so fun to hear the raw energetic real Monkees sound before a frenetic audience screaming their heads off.
It’s amazing to me how good the group sounds live (with NO overdubs) as Dolenz had only been playing drums for about a year when these recordings were made which just shows how musically adapt he was and how well the group took to performing live.
It could have been a disaster having the group play live but instead it ended up being a raw and exciting garage band thrashing out an hour long set of terrific pop music. What is more counter-culture than that, taking a popular TV show and turning it into something authentic and raw and not just playing it safe.
Rhino Records also released a groovy red colored short Lp called “Selections from The Headquarters Sessions” in 2012 which was limited to 2500 copies. This is the only vinyl appearance so far of some of these sessions and is still easy to locate online.
Both of the CD sets are now tough to find in physical form but I believe you can hear them on various streaming platforms. If you’ve never heard these releases try and track them down online, you may be pleasantly surprised at how good The Monkees sound as a bonafide group!
As usual take a gander above at the physical sets and if you’ve never seen them you can see the love that went into making them as they are both terrific looking and sounding sets.
Until next time be well and remember …
“We were born to love one another
This is something we all need
We were born to love one another
We must be what we’re goin’ to be
And what we have to be is free” – Peter Tork/Joey Richards recorded by The Monkees 1967