Nobody called the Supremes fakers. Yet they, like the Monkees, dominated the charts by singing great songs that happened to be written and played by others. The difference might be that Diana Ross and Co. didn’t have a hit TV show on which they pretended to be playing their instruments.
The fall of 1966 is a long time ago. Mike Nesmith hasn’t worn that wool cap in decades. And by the time I caught reruns of the original TV show, all I knew is that the Monkees pumped out great pop songs. I loved Micky Dolenz’s voice, Nesmith’s twangy tunes and could not deny that Davy Jones, cutesy as he was, certainly pulled off “Daydream Believer.” He even took Marcia to the prom. Never mind that Peter Tork was, in real life, an actual musician. I appreciated his TV persona as the innocent, Mr. Gullible.
Later on, as a consumer of liner notes, I learned that the Monkees were more than bubble gum. Carole King, Harry Nilsson, and Neil Diamond wrote many of their best songs. The guys themselves – the “frauds” – started writing and playing on their records only four months after their debut. I also appreciated “Head,” the bizarre, 1968 feature film written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson that plays with the band’s manufactured image.
I would argue the Monkees got a bad rap. The Beatles stood for authenticity. But the Fab Four had years to graduate from beer-soaked gigs playing cover tunes to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting university. Screaming girls chased the Monkees from Day One.
To that end, fans should be given props for sticking around even as they were ridiculed.
Our payback comes at the Wang on Tuesday night. That’s when the three remaining members – Davy, sadly, died of a heart attack last year – play a reunion gig. It’s a rare moment to see Monkee Mike, who basically stopped playing live with the band after its original dissolution in 1970. And while the boys may not look the same, they do their best to replicate their sound. They play original arrangements from their 1966-68 prime.
Dolenz told me in a recent interview that the band’s songs, among them “Last Train to Clarksville, “I’m a Believer,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” don’t actually belong to the Monkees anymore. They belong to the fans.
“And I do not have a right to mess with their people’s lives and their memories and their history,” he said. “I’m going to sing them like I remember.”