In 1966, my brother Art had a red Alfa Romeo. I’m told it was kind of a crappy car, really, and I remember its ignominious final days in his possession: a scarlet husk parked, prone, lying in state beyond the shed at the end of our back yard. Collecting dust, collecting rust. A tow truck ultimately came to whisk this luckless red Alfa Romeo to the promised land.
But my prevailing principle memory of this doomed vehicle is a happy one. I believe the memory involves the consumption of Royal Crown Cola, or possible a root beer at the nearby A & W Drive-In. The memory absolutely involves the car’s one true immortal virtue: its radio.
That radio? When I was six years old, I may have thought that radio was magic.
I mean, it must have been magic. There were songs I heard on that car’s radio that I never seemed to hear anywhere else. I should ask Art if he listened to Syracuse’s 1260 WNDR in ’66, or if it was WOLF instead, or even the less-fabled WFBL. Whatever it was, it played “I Like It Like That” by The Dave Clark Five, a record that–to me–only existed on the AM dial of Art’s doomed Alpha Romeo. Even better, it played–often!–another irresistible exclusive: “I Fought The Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four. To this day, more than five decades later, my visceral memory of that terrific song is inextricably linked to those moments in my brother’s Alpha Romeo, of drums, guitars, and a singer bemoaning his fate of Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun, all pouring forth from the little car’s speakers as my big brother cruised suburban streets with his pesky kid brother on board. It’s indelible, and I embrace and cherish its vivid image.
Involuntary Memory #4 by Nicole
In the early months of 2014, I had an internship at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. When I applied, I didn’t think I’d be accepted, but I was, so off I went. Like a lot of people that spring, I was astounded by a clip of the band Future Islands performing on David Letterman’s show. That gravel-voiced singer with the slick dance moves and wild eyes, so recklessly earnest… It seemed a direct rebuke to the ruthless cynicism that often dominates online pop-culture ‘discourse’. I knew I had to investigate them further.
“Tin Man”, from their 2010 album In Evening Air, pulled me in immediately. It starts off with bouncy synth notes that sparkle like sunshine on the water, but the lyrics are jagged with grief. It mirrored the push and pull of that spring—the weather that went from blue and balmy to sideways sleet and back again, the way my “job” made me feel like a child playing dress-up in adult clothes, the yearning to go back to New York (where I’d gone to college) and the terror of not knowing what I would do once I got there.
But there was a certain freedom to that time, too, especially once spring arrived for good. The apartment I was staying in had a balcony, and I used to sit outside in the humid air, overlooking the maze of hotels and highways near Reagan National Airport. In the chorus of “Tin Man”, Samuel T. Herring sings, “And time goes by/and you’ve got a lot to learn, in your life…” Those words became a kind of mantra for me. I have a diary entry from that period that reads, in part, “I’m ready start my own life—my real life.” I decided to move back to New York, feeling like if I didn’t do it then, I never would. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew it would be worth it.
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)
Along with our letters, we will also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This one was submitted by April from Pittsburgh, PA.
One. As a kid I owned one of those portable record players that featured the lovable combo of junky sound and far out graphics (mine looked like denim on the outside and had a rainbow on the inside). At some point, my parents found some of their old 45s and gave them to me and my brother. My brother, who is 4 years older than me, kept them to himself for the majority of our childhood. He enjoyed solo projects including, but not limited to, painting small military figures, and/or adjusting the trees on his train set to match the current season, and/or putting together intricate car models and then going to great lengths to ensure that the paint job was accurate to colors offered at that time in automotive history. As a result, we didn’t play together much. Which is probably why I have a very distinct memory of the two of us listening to “The Sound of Silence” on 45 on the beloved denim/rainbow record player in my bedroom. I was probably around the age of 5 or 6 which would place him around age 9 or 10. I’m not sure if it only happened once, or we did this a couple of times, but we invented a game that involved dancing manically to the Beach Boys “Be True to Your School” and then quickly switching over to the Simon and Garfunkel 45. For Paul and Art’s tune we would move slowly, seriously, the carefree wildness of the Beach Boys behind us. Even at such a young age I recognized that the song managed to simultaneously address something known but unexplainable. We did this manic/depressive musical switcharoo repeatedly because it was fun, and also because picking up the record player arm and placing it back at the start of the record was somehow easier/faster and more accurate than rewinding a cassette tape. Today whenever I hear this song I always think of my brother. Fun fact: “The Sound of Silence” was a total flop until it was remixed by Tom Wilson.
Two. My Cyndi Lauper obsession probably hit its full stride when I was in 9th grade and I started listening to the entire She’s So Unusual album on my walkman while commuting on foot to school. Upon further recollection, I suspect the seed of this obsession was probably first planted when I went to see The Goonies in the movie theater with my family. I was 6 or 7 years old and I did not listen to pop radio and was not allowed to watch MTV. BUT, there is that split second shot of Cyndi Lauper on the TV in the scene when Brand has been tied up with his chest expander and I remember thinking “Whoa! Who is that being so bold and colorful and weird?” Cyndi, you are a hero.
Three. In 2nd grade I watched A Hard Day’s Night with my aforementioned brother. It was after watching this movie that I became completely and utterly obsessed with the Beatles. I read all of the books at my local library about the group, as well as anything about Paul and/or John. I watched Help! I bought Beatles posters, a Beatles t-shirt and a Beatles watch (this was pre-internet people, so Beatles merchandise was not as readily available as it is today) to openly advertise my Beatles fandom. In college I went to see A Hard Day’s Night in the theater and realized that the thrill I felt in 2nd grade had not diminished in the slightest (I also realized that my boyfriend at time sort of looked like a B movie version of Paul….gulp!). Let it be known; Beatlemania was not confined to the 60’s only.
Four. A few years ago I went through this period where if I found any “oldies” compilation on vinyl for $1, I would buy it. I was listening to one of these compilations and “For All We Know” came on by Jackie and the Starlites. I immediately stopped what I was doing to determine the artist. I had never heard of Jackie and the Starlites despite years and years of oldies and doo-wop fanaticism. Immediately I was in the love. Jackie’s voice and delivery is like a bolt of lightning. Even more amazing, almost every song they recorded sounds better than most of the played out oldies/doo-wop songs everyone knows and loves. Jackie LaRue forever!
Here’s another unknown hit by Jackie and the Starlites
Five. In April of 2012 (truth: my memory is not that good, but I found the exact year through a Google search) I traveled with my friend Amanda to Washington D.C. to (1) see Ezra Furman (and his new band at the time….The Boyfriends) open up for Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s (2) visit Amanda’s brother and (3) to celebrate my and Amanda’s joint enthusiasm for being born in the month of April (go Aries!). The show was at the Rock n’ Roll Hotel and the opening-opening band was Writer. I had never heard of Writer, but all good obsessive consumers of music know that the opening band or performer will often be the one to give you the most bang for your buck regardless of the size of the venue, crowd, etc. That night at the Rock n’ Roll hotel this was most definitely the case. Writer consisted of two guys who set up on the floor (not the stage!) and they just totally banged out every song with a beautiful combination of 100% gusto and zero pretension. It was loud and you could feel the sound, like a big rock n’ roll wave rolling over the small but receptive crowd. It sounded a lot like this (watch the clip) and I loved it.