The Monkees: “We were essentially a garage band, but we had no control”

Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz look back at their finest work

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Colgems/RCA Victor, 1967
The Monkees take over, playing and writing almost everything on this louder, rawer third album. Highlights include Nesmith’s “You Told Me” and Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git”.

Tork: All I wanted us to do was to be the musicians on the album, to be performing the music. I didn’t care too much about who was writing the songs. I wrote a song for that album, so did Micky, and Mike wrote a lot, and then we got some from the producer and then we dashed off a Chuck Berry-style rock’n’roll tune. Micky and Mike went off into the corner and wrote several nonsense verses in no time. The stuff came together that way, but the most important thing from my point of view was that we were in the studio together making that album.


Dolenz: This to me really was one of the real feathers in our cap. The way I look at it is that The Monkees that were on the first two albums were The Monkees of the television show, and The Monkees on Headquarters were a different band. It was the four of us as singer-songwriters and musicians. It’s almost like two different bands to me.

Tork: I don’t know what the album sounded like for the average listener when it came out, the third album, and as for myself I recognise that it wasn’t as polished. The musicianship just wasn’t as tight. We weren’t as good musicians as the pros that had made the first two albums, but there is a lot more life and action and energy. The album has a lot more unity – it’s certainly more spontaneous. To me, it sounds much more organic than the first two, but it wouldn’t have hurt us to have Donny [Kirshner] handing us songs.

Dolenz: I don’t think Headquarters is necessarily any better or worse than, say, the first two albums, it’s just very different and very homegrown. Mike’s the one that really encouraged me to start writing because I wasn’t writing much. He saw a couple of things that I did and he said, “That’s good stuff, you should write more,” so I did, and I became very proud of the stuff. Headquarters is just a wonderful, wonderful album. You know, it is so raw, it is so us and it showed a garage band, which was what The Monkees was! I started learning drums properly as soon as I got the part. But I wasn’t starting from scratch, don’t forget – I’d been a musician and I’d been in rock bands. Right before that, I was in folk groups playing the guitar, and the guitar is my first instrument.



Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd
Colgems/RCA Victor, 1967
A return to session musicians, with the band members recording and producing their songs separately. Perhaps the first pop record to feature the Moog, however…

Dolenz: After Headquarters, we decided each of us would have three songs on a 12-song album – you go off separately and deliver your three songs. We’d have each other in the studio, singing and playing, but I was producing my three songs on this album. And I really liked that.

Tork: Going our separate ways was a grave disappointment to me. I was hoping we had something as a band, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. The most obvious example is Davy who sat in the studio, bless his lovely heart, and banged a tambourine every take. After we did Headquarters he said, “I’ve got my part on the first or second take, you guys are going up to 40, 50, 60 takes. I can’t do this any longer, I can’t just be the perfectionist.” Micky’s got genius and when he does something with inspiration and it works for him, it scares him. He knows he couldn’t do it again as well a second time, so he refuses to try. Michael was starting to do better than everyone else and he didn’t want us dragging him down, he thought he could do it much better if he did it with his own people. So that was that.

Dolenz: I had the first Moog synthesiser on the West Coast, and I believe I was the first to use it in a pop record. One night I had a party and John Lennon came over, and he sat there at the Moog all night long making flying saucer sounds!


The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees
Colgems/RCA Victor, 1968
Released just after the TV series ended, the band’s fifth album was their last straight-ahead pop record as a four-piece for decades.

Dolenz: When you come down to it, The Monkees were made up, musically, of four lead singers. Four singer-songwriters. I can’t think of another group where that was the case. Usually it’s one person, maybe two, you know, that do the songwriting and sometimes singing. In the case of The Monkees, it was four. It made for a lot of diversity, but it also made it difficult sometimes to figure out, what is The Monkees, then? What is the sound? As soon as we stopped filming the show, things quietened down a lot. Before that, it was intense. People ask me all the time, “I bet you guys partied all the time, and did this and that,” and I’m like – no! The typical day for a couple of years was 10 hours a day on the set, from 7 o’clock in the morning until the evening, then I would go into the studio and sometimes record two or three lead vocals in a night, then at the weekends we were rehearsing for tours. There wasn’t a lot of time to do anything else, including just be with my family, so it wasn’t until way after The Monkees that I took a deep breath and went, “What the hell was that?” It was a rollercoaster ride. I joke about it and say that I’m told I had a good time, but it wasn’t for the typical reason people talk about that – you know, the old joke if you remember the ’60s you weren’t really there. I don’t remember a lot, but it’s just because I was so busy. It was insane.


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