The Monkees, at their zenith, were a pop rock band of the late 1960s whose fame centered around their goofy humor and television show The Monkees. Though they have not yet been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their influence on rock music and future musical groups, as well as music lovers around the world, is undeniable. They meet the criteria for induction into the Performer category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, notwithstanding their relatively short period of activity in the late 1960s, and will doubtlessly be considered in future induction elections.
It became clear that America had fallen in love with a certain image and sound with the injection of The Beatles into its music scene. The conception of The Monkees aimed to follow the themes portrayed in The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night, only to make it more accessible to Americans by broadcasting their songs on television with a comically-themed show (Lefcowitz, 1985). With long hair, care-free personalities, poppy guitar licks and vocal harmonies, and catchy, teenager-oriented love songs, they were guaranteed to be a hit as they copy-pasted the successful image of The Beatles. However, The Monkees’ success was not due solely to their ability to ride on the coattails of The Beatles-behind the ‘manufactured’ nature of the band was significant talent.
The legitimacy of The Monkees’ success due to the band members’ talent may be questioned when it comes to their first album, of which the band members played none of the music in studio and wrote few of the songs. Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart are credited for writing many of the first album’s hits, much in the same note as the corporate songwriting of the Brill Building (Lefcowitz, 1985). However, The Monkees were primarily a group made for TV, and most of their time was spent shooting episodes of The Monkees. Spare time after shoots was spent recording vocals for their albums (Lefcowitz, 1985). However, even if they were originally just doing as they were told, The Monkees had amazing success. Before their show was begun, their debut song “Last Train to Clarksville” became a number one hit, and helped promote the show’s debut in September. Their first album The Monkees held the number-one spot on the charts in September 1966, only to be knocked down by their next album More of The Monkees in February of 1967 (Rosen, 1996). This album, released without knowledge of the band members, was perhaps the catalyst for their rise in musical greatness-it inspired them to make their own albums.
Headquarters, released in the summer of 1967, marks one of The Monkees’ greatest achievements: They broke away from producer Don Kirshner’s constrictive style of producing albums. Before this, Kirshner disallowed the band members to play their instruments on the albums and controlled what songs were to go in the album, whether they were written by the band or elsewhere (Lefcowitz, 1985). Headquarters was the first album in which all songs were written and recorded by members of the band. Though More of The Monkees topped the charts for far longer than Headquarters, it was still a number-one album. This signified The Monkees’ musical innovation and popularity in American rock culture. Their next album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. was another all-original number-one album released late in 1967, with several hits including as “Daydream Believer” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. Thus, their most notable accomplishments during their heyday include having four number-one albums in one year and selling over five million copies of one album in 1967 (a music industry milestone). In 1967, they sold more records than The Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined. Of the 60s, their single “I’m a Believer” was the number-five most popular song, and the band was the eighth-biggest selling band (Rosen, 1996; Whitburn, 1996). In many ways, The Monkees have demonstrated that they had “unquestionable musical excellence”, one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s criterion for induction (http://rockhall.com).
Should it matter that The Monkees’ early success was not entirely due to their talent? I would argue that it should not. Several groups that have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though they had very limited control over their albums, include Martha and the Vandellas as well as The Temptations (http://rockhall.com). For that matter, The Monkees could be argued to have had at least as much talent and innovation as most other Motown groups that are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Having little time between shooting scenes for The Monkees TV show, it is even more astonishing that the band produced such significant albums as they did.
The Monkees were also an influence of several musical groups, both in format of the band and music. The “Super K boys”, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Buddah Records, saw how successful the style of writing The Monkees implemented was and applied it to several other bands, such as Music Explosion, the Village People, and Ohio Express (DeCurtis, 1992). The mid-1970s punk movement was influenced by The Monkees partly due to reruns of their TV show. Several of their songs emphasizing anti-Establishmentarianism, such as “Not Your Steppin’ Stone”, were anthems of bands such as the Sex Pistols (Lefcowitz, 1985) in the 70s. One of The Monkees most popular hits, “Mary, Mary”, has been recorded by artists such as Run-D.M.C. in 1988, as well as several other bands. Perhaps the most recent popular remake of a Monkees song is Smashmouth’s 2001 cover of “I’m a Believer”, which was a huge success and part of the soundtrack of DreamWorks’ Shrek.
Though The Monkees had several albums following their successful years in the late 1960s, most did not make their way to the charts. Reunion tours in the 1970s and 1980s also had limited success, mostly inspired by reruns and remakes of The Monkees TV show. However, it cannot be ignored that The Monkees are one of the greatest rock bands of all time: Billboard lists them as number 27 on the Top Artists of the Rock Era, above The Eagles, Madonna, Pink Floyd, Neil Diamond, and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Rosen, 1996). The Monkees are the only band to have had their first four albums go to number-one on the Billboard charts (Rosen, 1996). For their wildly successful musical career both as a corporately-controlled, TV-oriented vocal band and as an independent, musically talented band, The Monkees should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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The Monkees. Headquarters. Colgems, 1967. Vinyl recording.
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Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. New York: Billboard, 1996. Print.