Mike Nesmith : an appreciation of a MonkeeFrustratingly, there are people still perpetuating the “Monkees were the Prefab Four” thing. That they had no talent and were basically a boy band. Sure, they were assembled for television, but they had some genuine chops that got them to the audition in the first place.

Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith in particular.

In Days of Yore, a “break” could come in many forms. People hustled to get heard. Not unlike now, though people tend to think of the old days with a healthy smattering of false nostalgia. The world is full of talented people. Some of them get their foot in the door and then go on to do great things.

Michael Nesmith was one of them.

He may have broken through by getting tapped to be in The Monkees TV show, but there was a lot of talent behind that “lucky” break.

Yes, his mom invented Liquid Paper. Maybe he had a little trust fund? Who knows.

What we do know is he wrote the sublime “Different Drum,” for The Stone Poneys, which launched Linda Ronstadt’s journey – her big break – leading to an illustrious career of her own.

We think of Carol King, Gerry Goffin, and Neil Diamond, among others, as main writers of the Monkees’ hits, but Nesmith wrote some classics as well. Once the powers-that-be relented, and let the band try their hand at writing, they were rewarded with such bangers as “Mary Mary” (never one of my favorites), and “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere” (which I completely adore). Nesmith also went on to be a pioneer in video age as “Mr. Mike,” and had quite a few behind the scenes industry wins, over many decades. He was a lot more than just “the guy in a touqe.”

We don’t talk about the Monkees’ influence enough, to be frank. Yes, there are the people who picked up guitars because of the sitcom, the way Jem and The Holograms launched a few bands as well. No, I mean the music, and its undeniable richness. Head is a masterpiece of psych cinema, and my favorite tune of theirs, “Porpoise Song,” is featured in it.

Mainly, though, I think of the glorious Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., which they had a big hand in, and the people it touched. What a spectacular album. I had a discussion about this, many years ago, with my friend Kurt Heasley, who is also one of my favorite songwriters of all time. His band, Lilys, is very dear to my heart, and Kurt expressed just how absolutely essential Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. was to the creation of Lilys’ Better Can’t Make Your Life Better: one of the great under appreciated records of our generation.

Many were quick to point out that this ostensibly Shoegaze band had taken a surprising left turn, making “a Kinks record,” but no, the Monkees were the big influence. For a hot minute, in 1998, “A Nanny In Manhattan” was everywhere, including in a Levi’s commercial. Armed with this new information, and listening with fresh ears, songs like “Cambridge California” suddenly sounded different. Cue up the two albums back-to-back and you’ll see.

For all the talk of Wendy Carlos’ pioneering work with Switched on Bach, the first time most people heard a Moog synthesizer was on the Monkees tune, “Daily Nightly.” The song was written by Nesmith, and featured Mickey Dolenz’s Moog modular synth a year before Carlos broke big with one. Notably, this meant the Monkees beat the Fabs’ first Moog use, on Abbey Road, by almost two years. While researching my contribution for Kim Bjørn’s book Patch and Tweak With Moog, I learned that Dolenz had bought one after seeing Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause’s display at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, a year before George Harrison would employ one on a Jackie Lomax session he was producing.

In short, anyone who thinks The Monkees were just some dipshits who got lucky is probably the same type who says things like “Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles, hur hur hur!”

The Monkees were more than just some chumps in a comedy show. They belong in the Pop Music Pantheon, and Robert Michael Nesmith is a big part of the reason.

Requiescat, you too-often overlooked mad genius

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One foot in Chapel Hill, NC, one foot in Scandinavia. Owns a bike in Copenhagen which means the Ridder Af Dannebrog is likely forthcoming. Recording engineer, Psych Rock/'Gaze guitarist, purveyor of Moroderik Musik, and electronic warrior of TRIPLE X SNAXXX and Themes for Great Cities. Apparently pro bono if you don’t count the free drinks. Currently receiving mixed messages from various modular synths.


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