Hey Hey We’re the Monkees

British born Monkees star, David Jones, died last week. The Monkees were the creation of pop music entrepreneur Don Kirschner, and it is revealing that after his experience managing the band, and its TV show, he moved on to the entirely cartoon confection, the Archies.

The interesting aspect of the Monkees success, is that in contrast to for example the Beatles, the Monkees are regarded as less authentic. The band members of the Monkees had not coalesced together working the club scene, but had been auditioned and recruited by TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (son of Abe Schneider, president of Colombia Pictures); and they did not write their own songs, but were provided by hits by the likes of Neil Diamond, who wrote “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”.

But it is questionable whether combining the skils of songwriter and performer in one person or group is any more “authentic” than a colaboration between professional songwriters and professional performers. An artist like Frank Sinatra was famous for interpreting songs, and was not expected to write them. Previous singer/songwriters like Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, who between them perhaps invented the cultural expectations associated with modern pop-stardom, were not especialy celebrated for combining the two talents, their image of authenticity was instead gifted by their personality as tragic troubadour, singing about troubles that they had personally experienced, or could emphasise with. Ironically the nineteenth century Southern Baptist theological innovation of spiritual redemption through wordly suffering has cast a long shadow over the celebration of doomed youth in modern popular music.

The novelty of the 1960s was the elevation of status of popular music acts to become celebrated artists knocking on the door of high culture. This left acts like the Monkees, who were unable to credibly claim their place among the artistically significant, out in the cold. In the Monkees’s case, this led to a tragicomic rebellion by Mike Nesmith, who like Pinocchio wanted to be a real boy; and who punched a hole through a door at the record company offices in protest at his own sub-standard compositions being passed over in favour of first class work by Neil Diamond.

The pure pop exuberance of the early Monkees relied upon their joyous and infectious singing, dancing and acting. That itself was a manifestation of authentic professional showmanship. The expectation that pop acts shoudl be anything more than that is a perhaps perverse conceit of our current society.