Sunday, March 11, 2012

The role of The Monkees in pop music history

When pop star Davy Jones recently died, it caused me to pause and ponder the role The Monkees played in the development of modern pop music.

Jones was one-fourth of the pop quartet that had its greatest popularity in the 1960s. Though the group was the vessel through which some memorable music was produced, it was also the object of scorn and ridicule from many in the pop music establishment.

The circumstances of the group’s creation fed into this ridicule. ‘The Monkees’ was a television show that followed the ups and downs of a struggling musical group. The show was clearly developed as an extension of The Beatles’ film ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’

Unlike The Beatles, The Monkees were not a real group. They were four actor/musicians who were cast in roles for the show. They were hatched in a laboratory on a Hollywood soundstage and clearly had no musical credentials as a band.

When the show hit the air, demand for the music on it went through the roof, and according to one source, The Monkees eventually sold 65 million records during their career.

This instant success created resentment from some, and the group received the ultimate insult of that time. They were labeled as ‘plastic.’

At the time, it was quite a controversy, but with the benefit of 45 years of hindsight, it really should not have been that big a thing. If something like this happened today, it likely would not cause most people to raise an eyebrow.

The Monkees were a triumph of marketing, and today, marketing is often the king bee when presenting music to the public. The Monkees were attractive and charismatic young people who connected big time with their target audience. Isn’t that the normal approach these days? It certainly seems that way with most of the music coming out of Nashville.

The Monkees music was harmless and lightweight. It was not in the same universe as other bands of that era. However, this does not mean it was bad.

The group used songs written by some of the best songwriters at that time. Songwriters such as Carole King and Neil Diamond contributed several songs to the group, some of which were big hits.

Diamond wrote ‘I’m a Believer’ which is probably the group’s biggest hit and most well-known song. King co-wrote ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ with Gerry Goffin, and it was also a big success.

The bottom line is that if The Monkees are taken in the proper context in which they were meant, we quickly see they were good entertainment. If The Beatles and Bob Dylan represent the meat of the 1960s music scene, then The Monkees were sugary sweet pastry like a doughnut.

While a steady diet of doughnuts is not always good for us, they do have their place. In the same sense, The Monkees have their own place. Their music was pleasant and satisfying.

While many view music as art that must be taken with the utmost seriousness, it does not have to be that way all the time. The band’s critics back in the 1960s lost sight of this fact.

This is understandable in some way. Pop music was fighting for its credibility back then to be taken seriously as an art form. Therefore, the pre-packaged approached Hollywood used to create The Monkees had to have been horrifying to them in many ways.

Still, we have to be sure not to take ourselves too seriously, and The Monkees music helps us not to do that.

As for Davy Jones, I am sorry for his family’s loss, but I am glad he played a role in leaving us a lot of good music.

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