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She - the Monkees

Sadly, Peter Tork (top left, above) of the Monkees died today. For those who are too young to remember them or just don't know, this was the band created in 1966 by Bob Rafelson to consciously emulate the success of the Beatles who had swept all before them as they spearheaded the "English invasion" of US pop. Prior to this, UK based American Richard Lester used the arthouse surrealism of European film directors like Federico Fellini in the Beatles' feature movies "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help" and it was Rafelson's idea to use the same approach in a tv series. In the mid sixties, the American film industry was dying on its feet due to competition from tv, so, having failed to recruit the Lovin' Spoonful to star in the show, they decided to put together a band of their own. Everything about the Monkees is in some way a reproduction of the Beatles, starting with the name (a misspelt animal) to the projected characters of the band members, Mancunian David Jones for the baby faced McCartney, Micky Dolenz the outgoing Lennon, Mike Nesmith the introverted guitar playing Harrison and Tork the slightly goofy, not so obviously handsome and generally non-singing Starr. Among those interviewed for the Monkees was Stephen Stills (see two posts ago) who was turned down, allegedly, because his teeth were uneven. 24 years before Take That, the Monkees were the first commercially recruited boy band. Producer Don Kirshner went to the most successful US hit writers and commissioned songs off them. Their second album, "More of the Monkees" included tracks by Neil Sedaka and Carole Bayer Sager, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (who wrote this song), Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and, of course, Neil Diamond who penned "I'm a Believer" for them, one of the greatest pop songs of all time.

When I was a mere 12 years, my parents not being able afford to fly me to their overseas workplace for many of the school holidays, I was deposited along with other post colonial orphans, in Bateman's, near Burwash, East Sussex. Bateman's was the house of author Rudyard Kipling from 1902 until his death in 1936. Dickensian Christian Scientist Ma Sutherland later managed the house for the National Trust, and, for a fee, looked after children whose parents worked abroad during school holidays, housing them in the old servants' quarters of the house, the bit that wasn't open to the public. In 1967, I had the first two Monkees' LP's and used to go up to the games room in the attic where, more often than not, a shy, pimply sixteen year old called John would be sitting in the corner crouched over the communal record player singing along to his Bob Dylan albums. I would kick him off in order to play the Monkees, telling him that he should listen to people who really could sing for a change. Why he didn't hit me or tell me to get stuffed I'll never know, but he would just shake his head sadly, and slope off downstairs. So, while for any serious music lover, liking at least some Monkees' tracks is a guilty pleasure, in my case the guilt runs much deeper.To make matters worse, the Monkees pretended that they played their instruments on their records, and when the lie was discovered (shock horror) many fans deserted them.

However, the first tv series broke many viewing records, and was the first US programme to successfully target youth culture. This success enabled Rafelson and production partner Bert Schneider to set up their own film company, Raybert Productions, which led the American New Wave with films like "Easy Rider", "The Last Picture Show" and " Five Easy Pieces" which in turn revived the American film industry. So, in a not so indirect way, the Beatles were the spur that led to the rebirth of Hollywood. And Peter Tork had a small bit-part in that story. RIP Peter.

"She" is one of the rockier songs by the Monkees, which gave them a semblance of street cred, as opposed to their more lush numbers, generally fronted by David Jones. Here Micky Dolenz, by far the better singer, and the group's drummer, brings a rueful bitterness to the vocal that borders on viciousness and drives the song along belying their goody goody image. Take That eat your hearts out.

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