How's that for a blast from the past? Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees. They first swept onto the pop music scene 50 years ago. And though time has claimed one of their number, the others are still very much with us, and talking with Anthony Mason FOR THE RECORD:
In the fall of 1966, four madcap musicians -- a mix of The Beatles and the Marx Brothers -- made their debut on American television. Over the next 58 episodes, "The Monkees" would turn pop culture upside-down.
Half a century later, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork are still monkeying around.
Watch: An original music video of The Monkees performing "Pleasant Valley Sunday":
The Monkees would outsell The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in 1967. Their first four albums went to #1. A "made-for-TV" band, they were assembled by the show's producers, Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, who put an ad in Variety seeking "four insane boys."
Nesmith was playing at the Troubador when a friend came in and said, "'I just saw this ad in Variety. I think you should go down and try out for it.' So I did. I got the job." He went to the audition in the same knit cap he'd wear for the show.
Dolenz didn't go to the cattle-call; as a child actor he'd had the lead in a show called "Circus Boy."
Tork, a folk singer, heard about the auditions from his friend Stephen Stills, who'd been passed over: "So Stephen had to settle for Crosby Stills Nash & Young. He's never forgiven me!"
Davy Jones, a British actor who'd already had Broadway experience, completed the cast:
Mason asked, "Did the four of you connect pretty quickly?"
"Instantly," said Dolenz. "It was scary."
"There were no duds among us -- except me!" said Tork. "But I wasn't really a dud. I played one on television."
Nesmith recalled, "Bob Rafelson said, 'Well, we coulda hired any four guys.' I said, 'Yeah, but you didn't. You hired us four.' And he said, 'Well, but any four guys could do what you're doin'. I said, 'No, they couldn't have. Because what we are, we bought the force of our character to it.'"
But the boys would butt heads with the show's music producer, Don Kirshner, who used outside session musicians to make The Monkees' first records. "I thought they wanted me to play for them," Tork said. "No, I was mistaken."
"And how did you feel about that?"
"I was mortified. They were doing 'Clarksville,' and I wrote a counterpoint -- I had studied music. And I brought it to them, and they said, 'No, no, Peter, you don't understand. This is the record. It's all done. We don't need you."
Mason asked if there was truth to the story that Jones had once dumped a Coca-Cola on Kirshner's head.
"That was me!" said Dolenz.
"Great moment of life!" Nesmith said, recalling, "I'd lost it. And I think when I lost it, I think it really just made Donnie, 'Oh no, they're laughing at me!'"
"Oh, those silly Monkees!" exclaimed Dolenz.
The fictional band became such a phenomenon, fans wanted to see them live. As Nesmith reasoned, "It was like, 'Well, now what?'"
So the producers finally allowed them to play, and their third album, "Headquarters," was entirely their own.
But critics had already branded The Monkees the "Prefab Four."
"There was a kind of, 'You guys aren't real,'" Nesmith said. "Well, define your terms."
"You were a fake band that became a real band, that wasn't really real?"
"Well, yeah. See, now you're off in the weeds with me! 'Cause I don't know the answer to that question. And Mick doesn't know. And if Peter says he does, he's lying."
"So you felt like a band?"
Tork replied, "Well, you know, it's -- no. Yes. Maybe."
Dolenz offered, "It's like Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan!"
The series ended after just two seasons, and The Monkees eventually went their separate ways. Dolenz became a TV producer and director in England. Nesmith started his own band. So did Tork, who settled in Connecticut.
But reruns have kept reintroducing The Monkees to new audiences.
To mark their 50th anniversary, Dolenz and Tork have headed out on tour again. And The Monkees have recorded a new album, produced by Fountains of Wayne frontman Adam Schlesinger, a longtime fan.
Schlesinger reached out to other indie rock stars who love the band. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie; Britons Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher; and Weezer's Rivers Cuomo have all written songs for the new Monkees record, titled "Good Times!"
"It's a pretty impressive list," Mason said.
"It's a great list, isn't it?" said Nesmith. "And again, me, lucky!"
"You Bring The Summer," from The Monkees' new album, "Good Times!"
They also unearthed an unreleased vintage Monkees track, "Love To Love" by Neil Diamond, that features the late Davy Jones, who died of a heart attack in 2012
"Davy was something," said Tork, who called his death completely unexpected. "The youngest of us, to go first."
Nesmith described performing for the first time without Jones: "Micky said, 'Well, how'm I gonna sing 'Daydream Believer?' And I said, 'Well, you can't. It doesn't belong to us anymore. It belongs to them.'"
So the crowd sings "Daydream Believer."
Mason asked Tork, "You think this could be your last tour?"
"No. We're gonna re-tour again next year. We'll tour 'til one of us drops. Then the other will go on as The Monkee! 'Hey, hey, it's the Monkee! And people say I monkey around...'"
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