The Monkees should have been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame years ago. I don’t care if you think the Hall of Fame is a joke, mismanaged, bloated, a blight on the good name of Cleveland, and/or a glorified Hard Rock Cafe with worse food. I support the idea of rock ‘n’ roll honoring its own, and there is a long list of artists that I think are long overdue for such recognition. To my mind, The Monkees are The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s most egregious omission to date.
For years, I’ve said that The Monkees would never be inducted, even though they richly deserve that honor. But I dunno. I’m starting to wonder if it may be possible. I’m starting to believe. And so I imagine what I would say if I were inducting The Monkees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I’m a believer.
Doesn’t it feel good to say that? Doesn’t it feel good to acknowledge that giddy feeling of joy that wells up within you when you hear a terrific, transcendent pop song on the radio? Isn’t it great to let the music fill you with that grand, unspoken sensation of freedom, to turn the volume up as loud as you can, and just sing along, even if you don’t really know all the words? Your troubles don’t vanish; your cares won’t slip away; your work still has to be done, your heart still requires mending, and your body and soul still shudder from the unnamed ache that never quite surrenders its grip. But for approximately two minutes and twenty-nine seconds, you are able to transcend much of what’s wrong in the world.
Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith. I was six years old when The Monkees debuted on the charts and TV screens in 1966, with a # 1 hit single called “Last Train To Clarksville” and a vibrant weekly NBC-TV show at 7:30pm (6:30pm Central time). I didn’t know they weren’t cool. Because, obviously, they were cool: they were like a magic, irresistible combination of Batman and The Beatles—and really, in the ’60s, what could be cooler than that?
Of course, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t created to validate the tastes of clueless six-year-old suburban kids. That’s fair. The Hall of Fame is a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll music, an embrace of its history and the people who made it happen. It’s a tribute to the power of that music, to rock’s ability to express and embody rebellion, to break down barriers, to inspire, to transcend, to elevate, to unite. It’s about more than catchy pop songs, more than a manufactured image, more than photogenic faces on the cover of a teen magazine. It means something. It matters.
But you wanna know something? It turns out The Monkees somehow did all of that. The Monkees rebelled. The Monkees broke down barriers. The Monkees inspired, transcended, elevated, united. The Monkees mean something. The Monkees matter. This shouldn’t be true—this was supposed to be soundtrack music for a TV sitcom, for God’s sake—but the evidence is there, and it’s been there from the start. The evidence will make a believer out of you, too.
The Monkees’ popularity is indisputable fact: # 1 singles, # 1 albums, the best-selling musical act of 1967, famously outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. The Monkees’ recordings have remained radio staples for five decades and show no sign of ever fading away. Reruns of the TV series have continually renewed the group’s fan base, as new generations of fans have discovered the enduring appeal of four guys walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet. The Monkees charted again, with both old and new recordings, in 1986. The Monkees charted yet again in 2016 with a fantastic new album, Good Times!. Their live shows have continued to draw crowds and earn rave reviews. People like The Monkees.
But popularity alone does not make an act worthy of induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; there are dozens and dozens of mega-selling pop entities that will never be considered Hall of Fame material, and rightly so. But The Monkees were also influential. More than any other act—even more than The Beatles—The Monkees brought the burgeoning ’60s counter-culture into everyday American living rooms, via their weekly TV showcase. They had long hair. They brandished peace symbols.
Timothy Leary called The Monkees TV series “a classic Sufi put on. An early-Christian electronic satire. A mystic magic show. A jolly Buddha laugh at hypocrisy.” John Lennon called The Monkees “the greatest comic talent since The Marx Brothers,” and said he never missed a show. As lead singer for The Stone Poneys, Hall of Famer Linda Ronstadt had her very first hit with a Michael Nesmith composition, “Different Drum.” Hall of Famers Run-D.M.C. and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band both recorded Nesmith’s “Mary, Mary.” Hall of Famers The Sex Pistols covered “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” Hall of Famer Elvis Costello has praised The Monkees, and Michael Stipe of Hall of Famers R.E.M. has specifically cited The Monkees as a key influence. Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa, and George Harrison have all publicly defended The Monkees against naysayers. That ain’t bad for a group that claimed to be a manufactured image, with no philosophies.
I’m a believer.
Belief sustains us, even when everyone says we’re wrong. Music comforts us, when much of life may seems uncertain and perilous. Love, hope, and friendship encourage us, when our senses and surroundings insist there’s little of substance left to grasp and hold fast. We are saved by our friends, our hope, our love, our music; we are saved by our belief.
The music of The Monkees has been my friend for over fifty years. As a six-year-old kid infatuated with these fun-loving characters on my TV screen; as a preteen learning about comedy (and training for eventual Marx Brothers worship) via Monkees reruns on Saturday mornings; as a teen falling hard, well after the fact, for The Monkees’ music in the ’70s; as a young punk rocker in the ’70s and early ’80s, eager to defend The Monkees on all fronts; as a record store manager in 1986, mentoring the new, young Monkees fans that MTV had brought through our doors; as a pop journalist, who has written more about The Monkees than I’ve written about any other subject; and as an unrepentant, unapologetic fan, I know how much The Monkees have always meant to me. Whatever man I am, whatever person I try to be, watching The Monkees, and listening to The Monkees, is an essential part of me. The delight and wonder that The Monkees’ sunshine factory has brought into my world—into this world, our own world—is beyond measure. With my fools’ gold stacked up all around me, in rows of houses that are all the same, as good times start and end, and we have to do this all over again: we’ll make up our story as we go along. I have no more than I did before, but now I’ve got all that I need.
Micky. Davy. Peter. Michael.
Weren’t they good? They made me happy. I’m a believer. I welcome you as a believer, too. And, at long last, we finally welcome The Monkees to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This excerpt is from the music blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) run by Carl Cafarelli, a pop journalist who co-hosts THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana Bonn (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern). As a freelance writer, he contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986–2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records’ compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The ’90s (along with several other albums) and has contributed to numerous books about music. His standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation remains criminally ignored.
Porpoise Song (Theme from “Head”)
Early Morning Blues and Greens
Me & Magdalena
(Written for the Monkees by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie)