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01:00 Mon 08th Apr 2002 |

Q.� Are Boy Bands a new idea < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.� Not as new as you moght�think�- if you go back as far as 1965, you'll find The Monkees, who can claim the title as the original 'boy band', although the label didn't exist until more than twenty years later.

Q.� What's the story with The Monkees

A.� The Monkees' career splits into two distinct halves�- the time when they were recording their singles, albums, and TV shows, and the nostalgia boom that sees them touring today, more than thirty years on from their heyday. The two periods are different for a number of reasons.

Q.� Such as

A.� OK, let's start from the beginning and work forward. The Monkees were conceived by TV producers Bert Schnieder and Bob Rafelson who had seen The Beatles' Hard Day's Night, and decided to adapt the formula, from big to small screen, and from Britain to the US. Other changes were apparent�- The Beatles were musicians who could act�- with varying degrees of success, and The Monkees were actors who could sing and play instruments, again with a similarly uneven degree of ability. The two producers advertised in Variety, receiving over four hundred applications for the four roles on offer. Among the hopefuls were composer and writer Harry Nilsson, and future star musician Stephen Stills, but the relative unknowns chosen could have no idea of the lengthy careers as stars that their new series would create for them.

Q.� Did The Monkees have any experience

A.� Some�- Davey Jones, lead vocalist, who was chosen for his heart-throb looks and English accent�- still a novelty in America in the sixties�- had appeared on British soap Coronation Street, and Micky Dolenz, drummer, had been a child star in a series called Circus Boy, but musical talent among the four was minimal.�Only guitarist Mike Nesmith was to struggle with original material he wanted to group to perform and record.

Q.� So not much talent called for on the musical front

A.� Not much at all. The songs around which the series was built, making it almost an embryonic video promo format, were written by professional song writers, among them Carole King and Neil Diamond, and the duo who produced a large number of the band's hits and album tracks, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Professional musicians handled studio sessions, although the band mimed on their TV shows.

Q.� How successful were The Monkees

A.� Massively successful�- spawning a large numbers of imitators, The Monkees' TV series caught on with American and British teenagers. The plots were comic, and occasionally surreal, but invested each Monkee with a distinct personality, based as it turns out on the personalities of the actors themselves. The fans adopted a Monkee each, and the embryonic merchandising industry swung into action. The series were resurrected for MTV, beginning the nostalgia boom that has secured a second career for The Monkees as soundtrack providers for the baby boomer generation who love to hear those old hits once again.

Q.� Is this the 'second phase' of the band's career

It is. In spite of their massive success, and their own musical contributions to their albums, The Monkees were derided as cut-outs who lived off the talent of others, although such accusations are hardly fair. Dolenz and Nesmith in particular delivered vocal and compositional performances that stand up perfectly well alongside the professional musicians brought in to ensure their hits kept coming.

Q.� Was there a bit of a gap between the original success and the nostalgia revival

A.� There was�- The Monkees more or less disappeared during the 1970's, during which time Micky Dolenz turned to a career as a successful TV producer, and Mike Nesmith became a successful solo artist. In fact Nesmith has managed to secure no less than three fortunes�- one from his career as a Monkee and solo musician, one for conceiving the idea that became MTV, and one inherited from his mother, a former secretary who patented the concept of paper correction fluid, ensuring that she was able to leave a seven-figure fortune to her son, not that he needed it!

Of course, absence does make the heart grow fonder�- especially where 1960's TV stars are concerned. John Lennon always refused any sum of money to reform The Beatles, advising that it would always be "Four guys who used to be The Beatles." The Monkees had no such qualms, and were delighted to reform for stadium concert tours. Of course, they used session musicians to play their music, while they appeared and sang, but that was no different from the first time round�- except this time there were no 'serious' music fans to look down their noses at the band�- just fans who enjoyed their harmless, carefree, and supremely well crafted pop music.

Q.� Are The Monkees' albums worth buying

A.� The first three certainly are. By the time they recorded their third album Headquarters, Mike Nesmith had persuaded the band to take musical control of their sound, Nesmith felt the criticism of being inadequate musicians more than the rest, and the band's compositions are perfectly acceptable. Micky Dolenz's powerful vocal delivery on his own composition Alternate Title tells his story of being a sixties pop star, with little control over his life. Similarly, Mike Nesmith's Papa Gene's Blues is an excellent pop/country song, which suits his laconic Texan vocal to perfection. From then on, output was patchy, occasionally dire, but no one could accuse The Monkees of playing it safe. Their psychedelic musical ideas were often sprawling and indulgent, but they were keen to remain on the cutting edge of developing youth culture with a determination that is utterly at odds with their happy-go-lucky sixties pop star image.

Q.� Wasn't there some controversy over Micky Dolenz's choice of a song title

A.� There was.�Having visited England, and enjoyed the comedy series Till Death Us Do Part, Micky was taken with the phrase "Randy Scouse git!", blissfully unaware of the meaning of the expression. Having used it for the title of a song, Micky was advised that the record company would not be releasing his song with that title. Fine, agreed Micky, find an alternate title, and so it was that the song was released as Alternate Title, and was a sizeable hit.

Q.� Is there a future for The Monkees

A.� The band is currently riding the nostalgia wave, which sees them as stadium stars, although they probably don't need the money. Mike Nesmith, who certainly doesn't need the money, has shown himself less willing to endure the gruelling schedule of tours, and his appearance with the band is arranged on a tour-to-tour basis, but as the 'boys' slide well into middle age, there is still a healthy demand for their material in a live setting. For those who prefer to remember the band as they were, videos and re-runs of their TV shows are still popular, and there is always those albums, which really do stand up along side most modern pop, and can hold their heads up against the current crop of boy bands who have followed the Monkees' example.

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Andy Hughes

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