When you think of The Monkees, it’s easy to think about how they:
a) Didn’t write most of their own songs
b) Didn’t play most of their own instruments
c) Were created by TV executives to capitalize on the success of The Beatles
d) Were pretty cheesy, even by 1960s standards
But unfortunately those four truths get in the way of something that it takes a bit of digging to realize: one of the Monkees is a remarkable songwriter. My theory is if he hadn’t been a Monkee, he’d get a lot more respect.
Mike Nesmith is best known as the tall, knit capped, guitar playing Monkee. He was also the one most vocal about artistic integrity (he lost that battle), and incidentally, the son of the woman who invented Liquid Paper. What frustrated Nesmith about the Monkees was there they were, playing huge tours, selling millions of records -- but none of his music was considered worth singing. He considered himself a songwriter, he loved writing songs but when it came time to release the single it’d be a Neil Diamond song, or some other made-for-TV composition that would get the push. Like this one:
Finally it was Nesmith’s creative frustration that led to the band’s breakup and it was these bad feelings coupled with his tremendous wealth from the Liquid Paper fortune that kept him joining most of the Monkees reunion tours.
Nesmith knew his songs were good. He knew that they would freak out most Monkees fans, but he knew they were good.
Instead of writing bubblegum pop, or torch ballads, Nesmith had a deep love for country music. In the vein of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Jackson Browne he wrote simple but passionate country songs that were closer to Hank Williams than anything that was on country radio those days. But Nesmith never realized the success of those other people mentioned. Whenever people would review his records, no matter how glowing the review, he would always be mentioned as "ex-Monkee" Mike Nesmith which would immediatley tell the listener that this guy was a pre-fab phoney. No matter how good the songs were, he couldn’t escape "Daydream Believer."
But take a listen to this song and you’ll hear a great country song. This is a song about asking for a reason when someone wants to leave you. It’s about knowing that they need to go and explore the world, but in reality they just want to be with you. It’s full of bravado, but a vulnerable, empathetic bravado coupled with an instantly singable melody.
Or on this song. Nesmith’s fragile falsetto in the early verse tells the story of a confused young woman involved in a relationship that is way over her head.
It’s a shame that Nesmith’s songs will never get the attention they deserve - simply because the mantle of ex-Monkee will never be lifted from his shoulders. The Monkees had some fabulous music, but it was well known that it wasn’t their music so any of their music would have to be void of any integrity as well. When you listen to Mike Nesmith, you hear that he was a victim of his past success.
A brief history of making fun of boy bands
The Monkees: ‘Prefab four’ had real music success
"Daddy's Song" performed by Davy Jones
The Encyclopedia of Fake Bands
on Oct 24, 2012