Hey, hey, it's the . . . money
The Monkees, the original boyband, are going back on the road, writes Joe O'Shea
Published 23/02/2011 | 05:00
If Jedward want a glimpse at their possible future selves, they should check out the reformed Monkees when they tour Britain in May.
Back together and looking to make an estimated €1.2m from a 10-date UK tour, the '60s pop survivors are testing the waters for a planned major, multi-million-dollar US and European tour later in the year.
The Monkees represent the origin of the boyband species. A made-for-TV pop phenomenon, their DNA fingerprints are on everybody from New Kids on the Block and 'N Sync to Westlife, Take That and, yes, Jedward.
"They were the early Jedward. Boyzone, Take That, all of them. They were the first," says pop impresario Louis Walsh.
"They did in the '60s, with their own TV show, what S Club 7 were trying to do in the '90s and what a lot of acts would love to do today."
At the height of their success in 1967, The Monkees were bigger than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined (even if John Lennon did dismiss them as "The Marx Brothers of Rock") with career sales of 50 million records.
And the TV and marketing executives who created The Monkees set the template for the multi-platform, cross-media marketing of music acts, faithfully followed today by the teams behind Tween superstars like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.
The Monkees arrived on network TV as a fully-formed product, with the music, merchandising and marketing in place to make them a global phenomenon.
But the guys themselves, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones, were also the first made-by-committee pop band to make the classic blunder of wanting to become "serious musicians".
The first manufactured pop act, they were also the first boyband to make the demand that still strikes fear into the hearts of pop Svengalis like Simon Cowell: "We want to write our own songs."
At the very height of their fame, they decided they didn't need genius songwriters (like Neil Diamond) or accomplished session-musicians (the likes of Glen Campbell, Stephen Stills, Neil Young) and could rival The Beatles in terms of creativity.
They couldn't. And The Monkees broke up in 1970, apparently destined to be a novelty footnote in the history of pop.
However, the enduring popularity of pop classics like 'Daydream Believer', 'Last Train To Clarksville' and 'I'm A Believer', added to nostalgic memories of Saturday morning kids TV, have ensured a lasting love for the quartet.
And they have just announced their first major reunion tour since the '80s, with three of the original line-up (Mike Nesmith has declined to get involved), including a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of a 10-date swing through the UK.
At least one music fan who knows a thing or two about making boybands can see the sense in the now-elderly Monkees getting back on the road.
"If they just go out and play those early hits from the TV shows, they will have full houses; it will be mostly housewives, but they'll have no problem filling the place out," says Walsh.
"I loved their early records and watching the TV show on RTE, my sister was in love with Davy Jones.
"People still remember them because of the quality of their songs: they had brilliant writers working for them. Neil Diamond wrote 'I'm A Believer', and Don Kirshner was in charge of the music -- they had the very best of that time."
Don Kirshner was "The Man With the Golden Ear", the legendary pop producer and publisher who had his fingerprints all over the US and UK hit parades of the '60s, discovering talents as diverse as Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond and Carole King.
Kirshner was brought in to look after the music side of The Monkees' TV show, which was inspired by the success of The Beatles and particularly their movie A Hard Day's Night.
Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider wanted to create a US Beatles and hit on the brilliantly simple idea of using a TV show to market their creation to a worldwide audience.
After a casting process which saw them audition thousands of kids in Los Angeles, The Monkees' TV show was launched in September 1966, with a full album of pop tracks already recorded.
Just a few short weeks later, The Monkees' debut album was number one in the US charts and would soon be topping the charts in markets all over the world.
However, with huge success came big egos and the four stars, who had been restricted to providing just vocals at the start of their rise, told their bosses that they wanted to start writing and recording their own songs.
"It's the classic mistake and boybands keep on making it to this day," says Walsh.
"They were picked for their personalities and their looks, then they got a little silly and thought they had the talent to do it by themselves without all of those great songwriters and musicians."
At the height of their fame, the boys made a strange, psychedelic movie with Jack Nicholson (1968's Head) which confused their teenage fans, and started hanging out with The Beatles, popping into the recording sessions for Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in Abbey Road.
The Monkees were already over when they split in 1970, but Walsh says they can expect some major paydays on their reunion tour.
"Let's face it, they are probably getting back together for the same reason that most old pop acts reform -- for the cash," says Walsh.
"But if they play all of their big songs, and forget about the ones they wrote themselves, they will sell a lot of tickets."