If you were born anywhere between 1955 and 1960, and consequently were just a tad too young to teethe your ears upon Pet Sounds or Revolver, like me you tuned into your local NBC-TV affiliate on the evening of Sept. 12, 1966, sat transfixed for the next 30 minutes, and then told yourself, “Hey! So THAT’S what a rock ‘n’ roll band really lives, looks, sounds and acts like!”
Eating communal Rice Krispies at the break of noon, practicing in front of the patio window every day instead of going to school or work, yet always making sure to keep too busy singing to put anybody (under the age of 25) down.
But even more importantly — and, as it turns out, much more slyly and cleverly — what Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith of The Monkees really did during their 58 half-hours on NBC was, for the very first time, bring the counter-culture boldly into the North American entertainment mainstream.
You must understand that prior to 1966, longhaired kids were only seen on television getting into no good down some dark, garbage-strewn alley. That is until Sergeant Joe Friday rounded them up while giving a stern lecture on morality into the nearest camera.
Suddenly though, here were four seemingly happy-go-lucky kids with hair over their ears and guitars over their shoulders, without any apparent “adult supervision” such as parents or bosses in sight, living for all intents and purposes the same kind of wholesome apple-pie life as those over in Mayberry or My Three Sons. Indeed, at the end of each broadcast day, Jones always got the girl, the villains always got what they deserved and the small-screen sun inevitably set to the accompaniment of yet another ultra-groovy new Harry Nilsson or Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart tune.
Which reminds me: Long before “Penny Lane” or even D.A. Pennebaker, The Monkees damn well invented MTV, too (please, try not to hold it against them).
And now, many thanks to our heroes at Eagle Rock Entertainment, you need no longer roam the nether regions of your satellite dish or settle for dicey VHS-generation YouTube uploads to hear and see what all the fuss was truly about. For once again, the entire series of Monkees shows, along with their even-seeing-isn’t-quite-believing 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee television spectacular — plus a slew of Kellogg’s cereal commercials just to put everything in their proper hysterical perspective — have all been lovingly packaged anew into two (count ’em!) deluxe DVD boxed sets.
Once again we can watch Nesmith trading places — and prosthetic noses — with Frank Zappa before running for mayor (and issuing forth a most somber soliloquy that seems even more relevant to today’s socio-political atmosphere). We can see Tork bargaining to regain his musical soul from a metaphorically steeped record-biz Beelzebub, and Dolenz battling the evil Wizard Glick and his far-from-subliminal television brainwash machine (in an episode the fuzzy-headed Monkee, by the way, also directed).
And Jones? He gets the girl(s). And also taught Axl Rose how to dance, need I remind anyone.
It’s all wacky and definitely wild throughout, you bet. But it’s particularly surprising how extremely fast-paced and ingeniously edited these half-hours are — and in series two, especially, with each episode doing and saying (and showing) things on the family tube that were absolutely unseen and unheard of across the pre-Monty Python/Saturday Night Live landscape.
Plus, the music throughout is top-notch, it should go without mentioning — even the sequences where Liberace takes a sledgehammer to a grand piano.
Come 1968, though, all that was left for The Monkees was to star in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll film ever made (it’s called Head, by the way) before paving the TV way for that Partridge Family, those Banana Splits and even their old nemesis Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Lest we never forget Nesmith’s landmark Elephant and Television Parts series as well, full of the visionary and pioneering work he continues to this very date right there on his own Videoranch.com.
But for now, you better get ready to take a giant step back. Back to the very beginning. To 7:30 p.m., Sept. 12, 1966. Disc 1, episode 1 of season 1 of The Monkees.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.