50 Years Ago: The Monkees Release Their Debut Album
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The Monkees released their eponymous first album on Oct. 10, 1966, about a month after the premiere of The Monkees TV show. The LP was a lively concoction of preteen pop, largely written by the giants of the genre: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, David Gates and Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Boyce and Hart also produced much of the album. The Monkees topped the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks, the first of four straight No. 1 LPs for the group.
The Monkees’ main contribution to their first album was to provide lead vocals. Members of the Wrecking Crew, the cream of Los Angeles’ session musicians, performed the backing tracks. “At the time, I was a little upset about it, because I wanted to be part of the record-making process myself,” Peter Tork, who played bass, told the Baltimore Sun. “But as I look back on it, they were making a TV show, and we were at work on a soundstage from 7:30 in the morning until 7 at night without letup. We weren’t going to make any records. We didn’t really exactly know how, even.”
Boyce and Hart wrote the album’s No. 1 single, “Last Train to Clarksville.” In his autobiography, Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees and Turning Mayhem Into Miracles, Boyce writes that he was inspired by the Beatles‘ “Paperback Writer”; he had misheard a lyric the end of that song as “take the last train.”
Drummer Micky Dolenz told Entertainment Weekly that fatigue from acting contributed to a memorable part of the song. “After filming the show, I would go into the studio and sometimes record two or three lead vocals a night,” he recalled. “So, it’s all a bit of a blur. That middle bit, there were words to that. Bobby Hart tells the story that I said, ‘It’s midnight, I have to be on the set at 6. I can’t learn to sing that.’ He said, ‘Okay, just go “Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo …”‘ You never know, if I’d sang all those words, it might not have worked.”
Boyce and Hart also wrote the catchy “(Theme From) The Monkees”; a shortened version of the song opened the TV show. Boyce explained on Monkees.net that “the ‘Monkees Theme’ was the result of an assignment to allay any possible adult resistance to seeing four long-haired musicians dressed like hippies on television.”
Dolenz also sang “Saturday’s Child,” written by Gates and which features some gritty guitar work. Davy Jones takes the lead on “I Wanna Be Free” and “I’ll Be True to You,” a pair of ballads aimed squarely at the hearts of the many teen and preteen girls who formed the Monkees’ fan base. And then there’s “Gonna Buy Me a Dog,” a showcase for the band’s goofy TV personalities.
After much insistence, guitarist Mike Nesmith was allowed to contribute an original, “Papa Gene’s Blues,” as well as a collaboration with Goffin and King, “Sweet Young Thing.” The songs, both highlights of The Monkees, feature Nesmith’s only lead vocals on the album.
The group’s most ambitious member said he understands why outside songwriters were brought in. “I liked the Monkees songs quite a bit,” Nesmith told Guitar World. “I wasn’t much of a pop writer. I tended, and still do, toward country blues, and lyrics with little moments in them – all pretty far off the pop songs of the ’60s. No resentment at all.”
“The Monkees, the way I looked at it, wasn’t a band,” Dolenz later noted. “It was a television show about a band.” A band that just happened to make hit records.
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