Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees

Posted by Marlinee on Dec 15, 2011 in Middle Age |

Bert Schneider died yesterday. You may know that Bert produced Easy Rider, which was made for less than $200,000 and grossed over $20 million in its North America theatre run. But this is not my topic for today. What you probably don’t know is that Bert was a co-founder of the Monkees television series, and in fact we have the Monkees to thank for Easy Rider, as the proceeds from the show allowed Bert to fund the movie. This is not the only pop culture by-product of the Monkees. They are also responsible for David Bowie’s name because the instant success of their first single, Last Train to Clarksville, made it impossible for the other David Jones to continue to perform using his birth name.

The Monkees aired from 1966 to 1968, however they continued to record music until 1970, coincidently the same year the Beatles broke up. As I recall, the Monkees were on after school around 4 o‘clock – the witching hour for wooing preteens. We liked the show just as much as we liked the music. Sure, we knew they were a made-for-TV band (or the ‘pre-fab’ four) but we didn’t care. They probably also paved the way for the Partridge Family, loosely based on the real-life Cowsill family, which aired from 1970 to 1974.

We probably had more Monkees paraphernalia than Beatles stuff in my house. I only had a pink Beatles wallet (with real autographs on it) and a few bubblegum cards. I think the Monkees was one of the first TV shows to have a merchandise tie-in, mostly based on clothing. There were paisley shirts with white dog-ear collars, and bell bottoms with ‘The Monkees’ logo on the back pockets. As a testament to the reach of the brand, these items were actually available in Deep River’s one and only clothing store.

I think the social commentary on the Monkees and their ilk goes something like this:

• In the 1960’s there was a fascination with four-person bands. It presented a nice symmetry, with the drummer in the back, and three people in front. If the singer didn’t know how to play an instrument, all you needed to do was supply a tambourine and you were pretty much set. In the 1970s, you could add more people as long as you retained the tambourine (please refer to Keith Partridge).

• Television allows us to suspend our disbelief, although in the case of the Monkees, all members eventually boot-strapped their musicianship to be able to pull off a credible live performance. This was not true of the Partridge family, which relied on session musicians backing David Cassidy. David, of course, went on to a teen idol career and many Tiger Beat covers and foldouts, like the one I had on my wall with him in the centre of a psychedelic swirl wearing his trademark puka shell necklace.

• Fake bands are as prone to in-fighting and drug problems as real bands. For example, Peter Tork parted company with the Monkees in 1969 by buying out his contract for $600,000, surely as sign of ‘I’m mad as hell and can’t take it anymore’. And we all know that the cast of the Partridge Family could be poster children for rehab, rage and revenge.

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