Hey, Hey, I’m Still A Believer

Before there was “Glee” and before the original MTV, there was “The Monkees”.  That was 45 years ago.  Some critics called them the Pre-Fab Four, others like myself called them Mickey, Mike, Davy and Pete.  We didn’t care who played their instruments or who wrote the songs. We dug the music they were playing, arguably some of the best pop rock in music history.  The Monkees were a cultural phenomenon, a made for TV band who fought critics and became a good band, playing their own instruments and writing their own songs over time.  The TV show was like the Three Stooges meets Don Kirshner Presents (who actually was the music director for the first season of the show).  Four young guys living together and trying to make it as a rock band.  The show was ahead of its time mixing slapstick humor, pop culture and finishing each episode introducing a new song to the public.  And oh, what songs.  It was a can’t miss lineup of Hollywood’s best songwriters – everyone from Carole King, Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart, Carol Bayer Sager, Harry Nilsson and eventually Dolenz, Nesmith, Jones and Tork.  Love them, dismiss them, The Monkees defined part of the pop culture of the mid and late 1960s.

Davy Jones at Chastain Park in Atlanta, GA.
Photo ©Dave Weinthal

While I am a music snob by nature, The Monkees are my guilty pleasure.  I grew up with them literally.  I was barely out of diapers (well… a little older) when the show first premiered in 1966.  I had the benefit of a 12-year-old sister who was a big fan of them as well as the Beatles and other significant bands of that generation.  I can still see in my mind the Colgems label on the vinyl Monkees records we had in the house.  I carried them around like a found treasure.  I still remember trying to recite “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones LTD to this day.  I also knew it also meant it was time for probably my all-time favorite song by anyone still to this day to come on.  The next cut was “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.  I remember growing up in New York playing side two of the album over and over again to hear the song on my sister’s phonograph (yep, before stereos, boom boxes and MP3 players teens used to listen to music on a simple phonograph).  I still have fond memories of those lazy days and that bygone era.

A couple of years later the band went away.  Actually after that album, the TV show went away.  I went in other directions musically, my sister grew up and moved away.  I moved on but every time I heard the Monkees on an oldies station I would conservatively crank it up.  While in high school I had a girlfriend who was a big Beatles fan and it turned out we both liked the Monkees.  One Christmas she gave me a Monkees Greatest Hits record.  I should have married her.  Then when I was senior in college they went on a 20th anniversary tour.  They actually ended up coming to town!  I was overjoyed.  I had eighth row center seats.  The Monkees were going through a revival at the time.  MTV started airing a Monkees marathon, rebroadcasting all the old shows, which started a new wave of Monkeemania, bringing the guys back together for not only a tour, they had a new single, “That Was Then” and were releasing a new album Pool It.  They even tried to tempt fate again and a new comedy series was created called “The New Monkees” casting four new unknown musicians, but updating everything to current day.  It was a miserable flop.





The Monkees put out one last album in 1996 called Justus that didn’t do anything.  A reunion show came up from time to time and this past Friday, The Monkees kicked off the North American leg of their 45th anniversary at Chastain Park in Atlanta.  It was quite a feat, and a surprise it actually happened.  Less than two years ago Davy Jones went on record saying there would be no more reunion shows.  He was tired of the way Peter and Mickey treated everyone while on tour.  I could actually relate.  I got to meet and interview Peter Tork six years ago when he was touring with his blues band, Shoe Suede Blues.  I actually just called to get press clearance to shoot and review the show when his management asked me if I would like to interview him as well at the venue.  Of course I did.  I sweated the small stuff coming up with question after question, trying not to ask too much about the Monkees.  After all, he has tried to move on.  I even brought a few of my Monkee memorabilia to get autographed.



I sat through the show.  I was mildly impressed. Not bad.  But the crowd really got excited when he threw in two Monkees songs into the repertoire.  I was nervous.  I was getting to talk face-to-face with one of the guys I literally grew up listening to.  It was one in the morning, humid and he was a big jerk.  At one point he saw all my notes and asked, “You’re not planning on asking me all those questions are you?”  I was frustrated, disappointed and letdown.  “Trust me, I don’t have much more to ask you,” I retorted.  I sulked back to my car and threw my tour poster in the trunk.  I was afraid to even ask for a signature.  I figured he would bite my head off.  I drove home disappointed but with a decent interview, though not one of my best.

Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz of The Monkees at Chastaoin Park in Atlanta, GA.
Photo ©Dave Weinthal

Despite it all I still loved the music and when I heard they were going to go on tour I prayed they would come close by.  By good fortune or grace of God, their first show was in Atlanta.  I couldn’t wait.  The show started with a visual montage on the screen behind the stage show clips from the TV show and snippets of the music videos.  It was like having my life flash before my eyes.  The backing band started playing a medley of their greatest hits and then the three came out together. (Mike Nesmith is not touring with them again).  They immediately broke into the hits starting with the Neil Diamond penned “I’m a Believer”, then “Mary Mary” followed by “Girl I Knew Somewhere”.  All-in-all they played for three hours, performing 43(!) songs.  The band was joined midway through the first set by Dolenz’s sister Coco who sang lead on “Different Drum”.

 

At the midway point the band took a 15-minute break and while they were gone old TV commercials they starred in were aired including ads for Kool-Aid and Kelloggs.

Peter Tork of The Monkees at Chastain Park in Atlanta, GA.
Photo ©Dave Weinthal

The second set started with “Circle Sky” the first cut on Justus, their most recent album (1996).  While all the major and minor hits were played over the course of the night, they played a lot of material from their album, Head upon which they made a movie that at the time received mixed reviews but is considered a classic by today’s critics.

They finished the second set with “Daydream Believer” before shuffling off stage.  After a minute of cheering they came back on and played “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, a short version of “I’m A Believer” and left the stage to their theme song, which the three clowned around on stage, chasing each other around in circles around Peter’s keyboards, running into each other before running off the stage to a standing ovation.  Wow.

 

During the course of the night the three looked like they were actually having fun on stage going through their catalog.  I’m sure it is a rush to look up from the stage and see a sea of people singing word-for-word with every song you performed.  On previous tours there were ego clashes with Jones leaving the stage during songs performed from Pool It because he didn’t have writing credits on some of the songs, but Friday he stayed on stage the whole night and even came out in tails for a number in the second set.  Mickey was Mickey going between the front of the stage and then climbing behind the drums.  Peter Tork was smiling the whole time and was clowning around with Mickey and Davy.  Who knows, maybe they all finally realize they are the Monkees, people love the music, love the individual personalities and there a lot worse fate – trust me.  Hey, hey, you’re the Monkees.

– Dave Weinthal