I am old enough to actually remember the Monkees. They were somewhat notorious: some middle-aged businessmen thought it would be a good idea to form a band that would be sort of like the Beatles, and they held a tryout competition to select the members of the band. Everything was greased for the winners, including, as I recall, not just a recording contract but a television show.
The Monkees were the result. Like many of my generation, I tended to look down on Beatles imitators like the
Rolling Stones Dave Clark Five–who were really good, by the way. But the Monkees were in a special synthetic category, which dogged them throughout their musical careers.
What brings this to mind is the death of Michael Nesmith, probably the most musically talented of the group. In one way, the Monkees story is a sad one. While commercially they were wildly successful, they never got the credit they deserved for some terrific music they produced. My two favorite Monkees songs, which coincidentally both have the word “believer” in their titles, are “Daydream Believer” and “I’m a Believer.” Whatever you may think about the synthetic, contest-driven, business-oriented story of the Monkees, they are terrific 60s tunes:
Scott is the music critic, not me, and I defer to him on any judgment of music that I think now, even more than I did at the time, was great.
The broader point I want to make is this: most people think of 60s culture, and 60s music, as a revolutionary and largely negative era. That is understandable but wrong. The overwhelming majority of 60s songs and 60s cultural artifacts were positive. On balance, kids gained from listening to the music of, say, 1965 through 1968. And the Monkees exemplify that positivity very well.
Is today’s musical environment of rap and popular music a similarly positive influence on our kids? I very much doubt it.
So: Michael Nesmith, RIP. Monkees, RIP. 60s culture–for better and for worse–RIP.