For the Monkees, 1967 was the best of times, and it was the worst of times (thank you, Mr. Dickens). Judging by the pop charts, things could have hardly looked better.
They were the first band since January ’64 to legitimately challenge the Beatles’ dominance, holding down the #1 album position for 31 consecutive weeks (their first album sat at #1 for 13 weeks, replaced immediately by their second album, which held the same position for another 18 weeks) …ahh, but did I say ‘legitimately’? The first two Monkees albums created a social phenomenon, mostly with pre-teen fans clamoring for the music they heard on the group’s television program. This spawned a nasty backlash from older teenagers who dismissed the group for not playing their own instruments. This, despite knowing that they were TV actors playing the role of musicians for a whacky situation comedy (it wasn’t like they were hiding it). Another thing these older teenagers did not know was that a large percentage of the music that they considered ‘legitimate’ was actually recorded by many of the same studio musicians who recorded the basic tracks for the Monkees. The Byrds, the Beach Boys and untold others all utilized ‘ghost players’, but the Monkees were singled out, certainly because of their overwhelming popularity.
Believe it or not, the accusations actually stung the actors. They were part of the generation that was criticizing them, and they didn’t intend to abandon the ideals of their peers. They understood the (misled) outrage, and decided that from now on, they would become autonomous. Rather than rely on the television show to provide them with material, they would choose songs for themselves. Even more amazing, they decided that they would also take charge of virtually all of the instrumentation on future recordings. So, with little fanfare, they released a third album that made no overt admission of their new roles, other than a modest note claiming “we aren’t the only musicians on this record…(but) this is all ours.” They did not release track-by-track info about who played what and where, but if they did, the critics would have been astonished to see that these ‘actors’ did indeed play almost every instrument except an occasional bass line, less horn and string parts. Neither fans nor critics really noticed or cared, but the Monkees, a group of actors pretending to be a band on a TV show, decided to actually become a band, and in so doing, put out a record even more legitimate than many of the most revered and hip artists of the time. It was also quite good.
May 1967 - Billboard Charted #1
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