Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Pre-Fab Four - The Beatles on The Monkees

The relationship between the Beatles and the Monkees was casual, and at times, close. The American ghetto of rock "friends" centered on Laurel Canyon, and the Monkees, particularly Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz, were often the enclave's go-to party guys. Musical purists and Beatles' devotees are quick to point out the boy-band qualities of the primates, but the reality is, as particularly demonstrated in the self-produced Headquarters, the Monkees weren't second-rate Beatles copycats but talented musicians and songwriters. Indeed, Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz were both a presence at Abbey Road during the recording of Sgt. Pepper. It was at this time that Dolenz was encouraged by Lennon to write "Randy Scouse Git" and out of that, Mickey's first recorded song became one Headquarters' highlights and a killer track in general. In it appear the lyrics, "The four kings of EMI sitting stately on the floor," a direct reference, of course, to the Fab Four. (Imagine those kings sitting there Indian-style on the checkered tile floor at EMI.) In Britain, the song, under the assumed name "Alternate Title" to appease the risqué slant, went to No. 2. It was at those sessions ("A Day in the Life" - February 10, 1967) that Nesmith, the most talented of the four, asked Lennon, "Do you think we're a cheap imitation of the Beatles; your movies and your records?" Lennon replied, "I think you’re the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers;" maybe not what Nesmith was looking for, but pretty high praise.

Of the Monks, George Harrison said, "It's obvious what's happening; there's talent there… when they get it all sorted out, they might turn out to be the best. "Harrison even invited Tork to play banjo on Wonderwall. "The Monkees are still finding out who they are, and they seem to be improving as performers each time I see them." Paul said, "I'm sure that the Monkees are going to live up to a lot of things many people didn't expect...I like their music a lot...and you know, their personalities. I watch their tv show and it is good." Lennon rounded it out with,"Monkees? They've got their own scene, and I won't send them down for it. You try a weekly television show and see if you can manage one half as good!" 

Those encounters in L.A. and at Abbey Road, though, were not the first encounters that Davy Jones had with the Fab Four. At the age of 18, Davy performed a solo on the same famous episode of The Ed Sullivan Show in which The Beatles made their monstrously successful U.S. live television debut (on February 9, 1964). Jones was appearing on Broadway in Oliver! in the role as the Artful Dodger, for which he received a Tony nomination. Interestingly, no one, of course, paid any attention to Davy that night, but I'd assume there was a great deal of satisfaction on the Monkees' part when, in rock's greatest year, they outsold The Beatles.

A brief rundown: The Stones released Between The Buttons (one of their finest moments), which peaked at No. 2, briefly; Flowers, an American compilation with a plethora of hits that peaked at No. 3, and then Their Satanic Majesties Request, which arrived late in the year (December 8), peaked at No. 2, then faded quickly. They scored just one No. 1 US single that year with "Ruby Tuesday," and that for merely a week.

The Beatles issued two US albums: Sgt. Pepper was #1 for 15 weeks (throughout the Summer of Love), while Magical Mystery Tour, released December '67, had an 8-week chart-topping run in early 1968. The Beatles' U.S. single output – "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" – "All You Need Is Love"/"Baby You’re A Rich Man" and "Hello Goodbye"/"I Am The Walrus" EACH enjoyed a week at No. 1 that year.

In comparison, though, The Monkees' juggernaut was unstoppable. Though two of the year's three singles stopped short of No. 1 ("A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" peaked at Nos. 2 and 3 respectively), 1966's "I'm A Believer" had a seven-week run at the top, in the early part of '67, and became the year's biggest selling single, while "Daydream Believer" had a four week run, for a combined ten weeks atop the US charts for 1967. Ten weeks; not three (Beatles), not one (Stones), and Monkee LPs faired even better: The Monkees, More of The Monkees, Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd combined held the top U.S. slot for 29 weeks in 1967. Compare that to the Beatles' 15 for Pepper. (In fact, The Monkees STILL hold the record for having four albums atop the Billboard LP chart in a single year – not even the Beatles beat them.)

And, of course, when push comes to shove, Lennon did say, "Everybody's got something to hide, except for me and my Monkee."