Andy Miller

Why the Monkees were never considered ‘a real group’

Monkeying around on TV vastly increased the group’s sales and popularity but prevented them from ever being taken seriously, says Tom Kemper

Clockwise from top left: Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones, c.1966. [Alamy]

Among those of a certain age, no pop group of the 1960s provokes a debate quite like the Monkees – neither the Beatles, who now represent the establishment they once threatened to overturn; nor the Rolling Stones, whose shock value resides in a shameless career of cultural appropriation rather than the pursuit of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll; nor the Who, half of whose members died before they got old, but who kept touring regardless.

These arguments about the Monkees can grow heated. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – the music industry-funded mausoleum located in Cleveland, Ohio – stubbornly refuses to recognise the contribution of ‘the Prefab Four’ on the spurious grounds that the hit-making combo was not ‘a real group’ but one put together for a television show. In a world of boy bands, synergies and cross-pollinations, quibbling over the relative merits of a (hugely successful) pop group seems not merely quaint but bizarre. Nearly six decades after they first hit TV screens, airwaves and the street, the Monkees still attract the funniest looks from everyone they meet.

In this book, Tom Kemper helps us understand what it is that continues to make the Monkees phenomenon ‘compelling, fascinating and divisive’:

Like any mythology or religion, the new rock criticism placed extreme emphasis on origins. Tracing an icon’s roots became a sacral measure of its authenticity, as in religious stories, mythologies and the new rock discourse; indeed, it became part of a band’s public relations. The Monkees emerged just at this moment… They are a product – a culmination – of the pop-rock industry as became both a complex system of industrial practices and an image of the values that informed the rock mythos: spontaneity, utopianism, liberalism.

As the title Made in Hollywood suggests, Kemper proposes that the Monkees were an integrated product of the Hollywood system – not only the coordination of talented individuals, from song-writers to musicians to producers, but also a business network encompassing the burgeoning music, film, television, radio and publishing industries.

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