Close to 30 years after a heyday featuring a hit TV series and luscious bubblegum hits like “Daydream Believer,” “I’m A Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville,” oldies label Rhino Records joyfully proclaimed “Hey Hey With the Monkees,” inundating the world with everything a fan could ever want. They had acquired all 58 episodes of the show, the film Head, the logo, an hour long TV special and rights to the entire catalogue—which prompted a massive re-issue campaign of all nine original albums. Quite a positive treatment for a band originally conceived as the American TV equivalent of the Beatles.
Just as The Beatles had re-energized rock 'n' roll and revitalized youth culture with their arrival on these shores in 1964, The Monkees brought boundless wit, creativity, and high spirits to both TV and the Top 40 in 1966. At the height of their popularity, recordings by The Monkees outsold those of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, and the group shattered sales records previously set by the likes of Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
On September 12, 1966, the first episode of The Monkees was aired by NBC-TV and, despite low initial ratings, the show quickly became hugely popular, a feat equaled when it was launched in the UK. A million-selling debut album confirmed the band as the latest teenage phenomenon, but news that the quartet did not play on their records fuelled an internal controversy.
The four Monkees came from vastly different backgrounds. Davy Jones was, prior to his tryout for The Monkees, a professional jockey and successful child actor, who'd been dividing his time between racetracks and the theaters of London's West End. Peter Tork was a happily ensconced Greenwich Village coffeehouse musician and humorist who was proficient on several instruments. Michael Nesmith headed up from Texas with a love of country and folk music, and a studious knack for songwriting. Micky Dolenz was a Hollywood whiz kid who'd been a child actor (in the TV series Circus Boy) and possessed an outgoing nature and strong voice.
Somewhere along the way, an improbable chemistry developed. "We were a very visible part of pop culture, formed by a combination of creative people from movies and television," Mike Nesmith once remarked of The Monkees' TV personalities.
Early sessions had been completed by Boyce and Hart, authors of anti-war song "Last Train To Clarksville," and their backing band, the Candy Store Prophets, with the Monkees simply overdubbing vocals. Musical supervision was later handed to Screen Gems executive Don Kirshner, who in turn called in staff songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Diamond and Jeff Barry to contribute material for the show. This infuriated the Monkees’ musicians, in particular Nesmith, who described the piecemeal More Of The Monkees as "the worst album in the history of the world" — despite sales of five million.
The Monkees amassed a dozen Top 40 hits, including a trio of tunes that soared to #1 during the most competitive and high-quality period in pop music history. Between September 1966 and December 1967, "Last Train To Clarksville," "I'm A Believer," and "Daydream Believer" collectively occupied the top position for 12 weeks. Sales of their LPs were more phenomenal still: The Monkees occupied the #1 position for 13 consecutive weeks, More Of The Monkees for 18. Both Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. went to the top as well, for a four-in-a-row feat in the incomprehensible space of 13 months. The final tally: 16 million albums and 7 1/2 million singles sold in a mere 2 1/2 years.