Monday, 21 May 2018
The Monkees: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions
The first Monkees ‘performance’ was actually a series of ‘promotional concerts’ that took place up and down America in September 1966. Screen Gems were keen to plug their new series and figured it would be fun if The Monkees got together and played one song – Chuck Berry Standard ‘Johnny B Goode’ seems to have been chosen because it was pretty much the only song all four Monkees knew. The rest of the promotional concerts involved The Monkees standing around whole clips were played or listening to ‘Last Train To Clarksville’. When the powers that be asked if The Monkees would consider a second promotional tour they insisted on having their own input. They were adamant that they had to appear on stage and play for real and took part in a feverish week of rehearsals – all the time they had left in between recording commitments audio and visual. They really got involved too: much of the set list was Mike’s (and features many of his earliest songs, written simply enough so the fledgling band could play them), while Peter got involved in the lighting, doing his homework by going to lots of shows incognito and taking notes to take back to the others. There was a real buzz in The Monkees’ camp in this period, a month before the Mike Nesmith interview about being ‘fake’ that would cause so much trouble for the band – instead this was a chance to do what they all wanted to do, not what their managers and propducers wanted them to do. Considering they hadn’t even met before a year ago and that they couldn’t hear a thing, the four Monkees are said to have played an impressively tight debut gig, though alas nobody thought to record it for posterity (and The Monkees were still too new for bootlegs just yet, with no fans bringing a pricey tape recorder into the gig – well as far as we know, have you checkef your attic lately just in case?) In retrospect, though, perhaps the most ground breaking factor in these shows was the TV screen that played the band as they performed with clips from the series – a mindblowingly revolutionary idea for much of the audience at home. Oh and some footage of civil rights riots in Selma – the FBU were so concerned that they’re meant to have sent along an undercover member to check The Monkees out (I hope he liked the music above all that screaming!)
The opening was pretty spectacular too: as Monkee music played four fake VOX speakers were ‘delivered’ on to the stage – out of which The Monkees would burst on cue. Tradition also dictated that, following an invitation from Hawaiian station KPOI the night before this first gig, that The Monkees would drop in on local radio stations wherever they played to say ‘thankyou’ to their fans. Bobby Hart’s band Candystore Prophets were the opening act and also played backup during the four Monkees’ solo performances, which were already in place during this first gig (as the band insisted on being seen as ‘individuals’) although the songs they played ar notably different – instead of ‘Gonna Build Me A Mountain’ Davy previews a song intended by Don Kirshner for the band’s third album ‘’I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate’, whilst Peter’s banjo solo was ‘East Virginia’ (as briefly intended for ‘Headquarters’) and Micky wasn’t yet James Brown, sticking with the band’s cover of ‘Johnny B Goode’ as his solo piece. Mike, though, always played ‘You Can’t Judge A Book’ during his solo spots all the way through The Monkees’ first two years. Other songs are a surprise too: ‘She’s So Far Out She’s In’ was a song intended for ‘Headquatrters’ that The Monkees never quite nailed despite having played it live for months by the time they made it to the studio, ‘Prithee’ is an outtake intended for ‘More Of The Monkees’ that finally turned up in 1969’s ’33 and a Third’ Revolutions Per Monkee’ film and Davy’s signature tune is not yet ‘I Wanna Be Free’ but ‘I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind’, a song tried out for the debut album but abandoned until ‘Headquarters’ the following February. Some things never change though: ‘Clarksville’ will be played at the start of every Monkees concert from now on, barring the tour in 1969! Audio footage does exist of a Monkees show in Arizona on this tour a month later, included on the super deluxe edition of ‘More Of The Monkees’ – the band’s twelfth show.