In 1986, I was eight years old and the perfect age when MTV resuscitated the Monkees career by showing a marathon of their old TV show. Dubbed “Pleasant Valley Sunday” after their song of the same name, and shown on a Sunday (how clever) the show found a new audience. Along with millions of others, I loved it, much to the surprise and delight of parents everywhere, who had grown up with the Pre-Fab Four. The appeal of the early Monkees records is unmistakable; remove the stigma that critics have attached to them, and there’s dozens of amazing pop songs in their catalog. It could be argued that they were the first American boy band. And if you buy that argument, then their late-60s rebellion against the very pop sound that made them famous makes a lot more sense. They were hoping to age with their audience, to grow musically while maintaining their current fans and simultaneously earning new ones. Nearly every boy band since has attempted this transformation, either as a group or as solo artists, with varying levels of success.
The notion that they were a fake band always was a bogus claim — the same session musicians who contributed music to the Monkees provided music to early Byrds and Beach Boys records, too, with no criticism from the rock press — but once that ball started rolling downhill in 1967, it was impossible to stop. The mature audience they coveted thought they were a joke, and solid albums like “Headquarters” and “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.” were not as commercially successful as their first two blockbusters. Their TV show was canceled in the winter of 1968, and when their fifth album was released that spring, it became their first to not hit #1.
Though it had been just two years since their massive debut, the country was such a vastly different place in 1968 that it might as well have been twenty years later. The counterculture had taken over pop music, and it was hard to imagine a band less hip than the Monkees.