This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the musical group The Monkees.
The guitar lick at the beginning of the Monkees’ Last Train to Clarksville ranks right up there with the opening chord to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night or the electric guitar opening to Glen Campbell’s Southern Nights.
Five picks of the guitar repeated once and then repeated again with a few more notes added. Just a few instrumental notes that immediately take me back to a specific time and place.
For me, those musical notes take me back to my parents’ living room in March of 1967. I was celebrating my tenth birthday at an after school party with some of my classmates from Port Leyden Central School.
I was nine years old when the television series starring Davy, Mickey, Peter, and Mike debuted in September 1966. I never before experienced the feeling of being a fan of anyone, let alone these four American twenty-somethings who were about to take the rock-and-roll era by storm.
The Monkees were the American answer to the Beatles. The series was a creative solution to the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night.
The Monkees were manufactured by a television studio with the intent to create a ratings success, sell millions of records, and make a lot of money.
The group did just that by earning a lot of money for the studio, the record company, and maybe themselves.
But something happened after the series ended just two years later in 1968. The group never really broke up.
Peter left the band first in the months following the end of the show. Mike departed shortly after.
Mickey and Davy put together a few releases, but with sales falling each went their separate ways.
In the early 1980s, a reunion tour was set up and all four took part in recreating the magic from the sixties. Over the succeeding years, members would come together for a reunion concert and even a few new songs.
A new album was released and a tour was launched this summer in recognition of the band’s fiftieth year. Gone from the group is heartthrob Davy Jones who passed away a few years ago.
The tour featured Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork with an occasional appearance by Mike Nesmith.
To the photo albums my mother put together during my childhood for inspiration. Here’s a photo from my tenth birthday party.
I’m right there, the third from the left in the photo of a group of children. Two things made this party stand out for me. It was the first time boys and girls were invited to my birthday party.
It was also the day I received my first record album as a present.
The album was Meet the Monkees, the groups second album. I opened the groups’ first album titled The Monkees later that evening. On my tenth birthday, I got these first two Monkee albums as gifts from relatives.
I’d eventually acquire each album (with the notable exception of the movie soundtrack Head- I heard two of the songs on a single and thought it wasn’t worth buying the album).
What an impact the Monkees made on me. After the Monkees, I gravitated toward Elvis Presley as he staged his comeback that began in December 1968 with a television special and would extend through his death in 1977 and beyond. I would acquire a deeper appreciation of the Beatles after purchasing my first Beatle’s album, Abbey Road during my first week of college in 1975. I’d play rock-and-roll on the radio as a part time disc jockey throughout the late 1970s.
As the years passed, I’d discover the artistry of Tony Bennett, the interpretation masterfulness of Frank Sinatra, and more fully appreciate the country artists who defined the music my parents enjoyed in my house growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.
I think I owe that appreciation of many types of music to those four young men who were chosen from a cattle call audition in Hollywood fifty years ago. These four were told “you’re a band now” and they not only performed as actors playing members of a musical group, but also bonded as musicians and entertainers.
I had the good fortune of meeting Davy Jones in the early 1990s when he was touring with a stage version of the Brady Bunch television show that recreated his guest appearance on that series from the early 1970s.
What impressed me most on the day I met Davy was his sense of pride over the success of the Monkees and his role as a teen idol during those impressionable years.
We were scheduled to do a two-minute interview on our local television newscast, but as executive producer for the station, I cut back on other stories so that our anchor team could spend more time talking to this rock-and-roll icon.
When Peter and Mickey were set to play the Gallo Center this past September, I put in a request to interview either or both for this column.
I was turned down due primarily to timing. I was told my request came in too late. As my mother would say, “oh well, better luck next time.”
I challenge anyone who grew up in that era to listen to the first notes from Last Train to Clarksville and not be able to associate it with a memory from that very special time.
Thank you to the Monkees for fifty years of entertainment that always left me with a smile.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
His book Growing Up, Upstate chronicles memories from his youth in upstate New York.