This story was originally published on The Orange County Register Web site on July 13, 2011.
Photo credit for all images: Dave Hogan
The Monkees celebrate 45 years with nearby shows
There has never been a band like the Monkees. Although the successful quartet was actually brought together when they were cast to appear in a weekly NBC-TV series in 1966, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz sang, played instruments, performed live and by the end of their run even wrote some of the outfit’s best material.
The groundbreaking series won two Emmys, but the group’s musical accomplishments still astound -- the Monkees earned a dozen Billboard Top 40 hits and outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1967. They remain the only artist to ever have scored four No. 1 albums in the same year.
Forty-five years after their show became a hit, Jones (center), Tork (left) and Dolenz (right) are playing the final dates of a successful summer tour that includes two nights in Southern California. The group will perform at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon on Friday (July 15) and at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday (July 16). Monkeemania is alive and well.
“Well, the shows are always fun; we’ve always had a great time doing the shows,” said Dolenz during a late afternoon phone interview from Detroit on June 23, where the band was about to perform at the Fox Theatre. “For me personally -- you’d have to ask the other guys how they feel about it -- the traveling is just brutal. I tell people: ‘They pay me to travel; I sing for free.’”
Those who still dismiss the Monkees likely haven't listened to enough of the group’s vast catalog. Few would compare the group’s original music to the masterworks of the Fab Four and the Stones, yet there really is a wide range of styles and winning performances, stretching from the melodic rock of their earliest efforts to the more experimental Head (1968, soundtrack to their cult-hit film) and the albums with which the group gained more creative control in the studio, Headquarters (May '67) and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (November '67).
Most recently, a series of wonderful reissues of the group’s sadly overlooked The Monkees Present (1969, without Tork) and Changes (1970, just Jones and Dolenz), courtesy of Huntington Beach-based Friday Music, showcase the blend of lyrical wit, songwriting ability and memorable voices that helped make them such a success in the first place.
“We also had great producers and we had great writers. I mean if you look at the list of writers that we had writing for us, that was pretty impressive itself,” Dolenz pointed out. Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Carole King, David Gates and the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were among the notables who wrote songs recorded by the Monkees in the late '60s.
Time has been kind to them, with critics re-evaluating and fans recognizing the lasting influence of the group’s energetic performances on both the small and big screen as well as in the recording studio. The four members of the band grew into solid songwriters, too, with Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git” often singled out as one of the band's better songs. All those dimensions of the Monkees will be revived on stage this weekend.
“There’s so much material, great material in the catalog, it just kind of fell together that way,” Dolenz said of their 2011 tour, which finds them performing about 30 songs each night.
“There were so many songs that fans wanted to hear, so much material that we had never played together live. Also, this time around we were fortunate enough to have someone that put together some pretty amazing video from the whole history of the Monkees, not only from the show but from the movie Head, old commercials, old interviews ...
"So between that and wanting to get so many songs in, yeah, I’m very pleased with the way it’s going and also with the reviews. They’ve been pretty good. I don’t read reviews myself personally, but I let my wife (Donna) read them, and she tells me only the good ones."
Dolenz is not one to keep idle between occasional revival tours with the Monkees. In addition to his success in musical theater in both England and America over the past few decades, he issued King for a Day in 2010, a 14-song collection of his favorite songs penned by Carole King.
Dolenz’s distinctive voice brings power and magic to the material, including “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Go Away Little Girl” and a tender reworking of “Sometime in the Morning” (first recorded by the Monkees in '67). “I’m very proud of it; I always loved her material,” Dolenz says of King, whom he recalls first meeting in the early days of shooting The Monkees in 1966.
He also enjoys striking off on solo backpacking hikes in California’s Sierras, and has hiked 14,500-ft. Mt. Whitney a number of times. Dolenz says he has no plans to sit back and relax.
“Well, I tried to retire once when I was in my 40s, and I got so bored I was nearly suicidal.”
An Evening with the Monkees – The 45th Anniversary Tour arrives Friday at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon (at 9 p.m.) and Saturday at the Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., in Los Angeles (at 7:30). Tickets are $65-$75 for Morongo, $31.20-$89.10 for the Greek.