Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rant #803: Monkee Shines

Today, September 12. might not be a day that you would tend to write down on the calendar as one to remember, but for me and millions of others, it is a day to remember fondly.

I was not quite nine and a half years old, and I was a very impressionable kid.

I loved television; my mother said that as a very young child, I used to jump up and down in the crib when "American Bandstand" was on the air.

Well, by this time I was out of the crib, but my fascination with television and music remained.

I was a huge fan of "Where the Action Is," the daily program showcasing America's hottest recording acts, and I still watched "American Bandstand."

But what came on NBC--Channel 4 in New York--at 7:30 p.m. that Monday 46 years ago may have changed me forever.

NBC premiered its new sitcom, "The Monkees," on this date, and the world of television and music changed forever ... and it certainly changed me forever, too.

Based on the Beatles' concept that was used during "A Hard Day's Night," the half hour show showcased four young long-hairs: Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and old woolhat, Michael Nesmith--getting into one fracas after another, all punctuated by music.

It was like a live-action cartoon, with all the cuts, jokes, speeded up sequences, and general nonsense, and the music was interspersed into the segments. Everything fit together perfectly, and the music was really, really good.

"Last Train to Clarksville" was already moving up the charts prior to the show's debut, and its placement on the show drove it to the No. 1 spot on the charts.

Many, many other hits followed, driven by the show--and that was the whole point.

For the first time, TV was selling music, not radio.

Sure, the Chipmunks and Ricky Nelson used their shows to sell their music to a certian extent, but the Monkees' show was really the first 30-minute commercial for rock music.

And radio had no choice but to bite into the pie that was being served on a weekly basis.

During its two-year run, the show was never an overall ratings winner, but it was a top show for the demographic it was pointed at, namely kids like me.

The show won a couple of Emmy Awards, so it wasn't just the music that was high quality, it was the actual sitcom itself.

Sure, there was controversy. The then-emerging rock establishment frowned on the concept, because the boys hadn't put in their dues.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Jones had plied his trade in his native England and on Broadway; Dolenz had been a Hollywood brat, starring in "Circus Boy" and was a guitarist with a band which was ironically named the Missing Links; Tork was a Greenwich Village folkie; and Nesmith had been hanging around for several years, recording several now hard to find singles in the folk, rock and country veins.

And also, it was "discovered" that they didn't play their own instruments on their first two albums, which was a common theme among many groups at the time, although few would acknowledge it. Yes, they later played on their albums and in concert.

Those controversies aside, the Monkees then starred in a movie that was so far off what they did during their sitcom that it really has to be seen to be believed that something like this could ever have been released to theaters.

"Head" showed the demise of the Monkees, right on the large screen. Concocted by Micky, Peter, Mike and Davy with Jack Nicholson, the movie takes the Monkees' story and discombobulates it to the point that the group isn't even the star of its own story--the story is the star.

It might be the greatest rock and roll movie ever made, and although it bombed when originally released, it has become quite the cult favorite over the past 40-plus years.

The Monkees did one TV special right after this, "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee," which has turned into another cult favorite, held on with various levels of un-success, and officially died in 1970.

But wait, the story didn't end there.

Various reunions of some of the band members led to incredible tours, one major hit record, and a continued legion of adoring fans.

Davy Jones passed earlier this year, but the band lives on. Micky, Peter and yes, Mike, will have something of a mini-tour during late fall, and the tour is completely sold out.

Somehow, fans still love the Monkees. And I mean all ages of fans, not just old fuddy duddies like myself.

So here's a salute to the boys. The deserve it.

The Monkees have made me "shine" for the past nearly 50 years.

And I know it isn't just me.

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