“Is It Live or is It Memorex?”
“Monkees on Tour” has no storyline; it’s a documentary of the Monkees during their 1966-1967 North American tour. Most of the episode was filmed on January 21 and 22 in Phoenix Arizona and San Francisco. Writer and director credits go to Robert Rafelson and the episode aired April 24, 1967. According to IMDB trivia, Bob Rafelson filmed the concert on his own, without permission from NBC or Columbia studios, because he wanted to end the first season “on a different note from other television shows.”
The episode opens with Davy thanking the viewers for all the things that have happened to them this year. He’s sitting in a rocking chair on the Bewitched set and has shorter hair then we saw in season one. The Monkees set up that we’re going to watch what happens to the Monkees on the night of a concert. Micky, Peter and Mike remove Davy from the set and out the back door. This sequence was shot after the tour portion in March 1967 and was filmed on 35mm. The concert parts of the episode were filmed on 16mm.
Micky, Peter, and Davy are wearing fake beards over their real beards. They grew those beards during the recording of the Monkees third album Headquarters which took six weeks to record from Feb-March 1967. According to the VH1 Behind the Music episode on the Monkees, six weeks was a long time by the standards of the day. (Shout-out to John Lorinc for sharing the Behind the Music link with me a few months ago.) The significance of Headquarters is that it was the first album they truly made as a group, writing and playing most of the instruments themselves and away from the influence of former music supervisor Don Kirshner. It was the #1 record on the US charts for one week before being bumped by the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If you are going to be bumped by something, it might as well be that. As a fan, I have to say that many of my favorite Monkees songs are on this album. I’m looking forward to hearing the more of the tracks from Headquarters as I start to recap season two.
Back to the show, the Monkees arrive at their tour destination in a plane. Kids scream, chant for the Monkees, and talk about how excited they are to see them behind a chain link fence. The Monkees stir the crowd up, touching hands and signing autographs before getting into a car and driving away. The audio and the film is really pretty bad. I don’t have the new Blu Ray; I just don’t have that kind of disposable income, so when I say that it’s bad, I’m talking about the DVD version, and what’s available on IFC and Antenna TV. I’ve read that the Blu Ray of this episode in particular is a great improvement. It’s frustrating to have bad audio on an episode that focuses on music.
Next is film of the Monkees doing random things. There are shots of them showering and getting ready and then having breakfast. Micky is sleeping and gets a wake-up call from Peter. In the DVD commentary for this episode, Peter Tork mentions that they were improvising and doing shtick “just as fast as we could.” There’s a cute bit where Davy imitates Roy Kinnear in the “fiendish thingy” scene from Help!: “I am picking the sandwich up. I am putting the sandwich in my mouth. I am biting the sandwich.”
More footage. Davy plays with a swan [Editor’s note: You shouldn’t mess with swans!]. Micky signs autographs and imitates a smiling robot. Peter, Davy, and Micky go horseback riding without Mike. Micky is without shoes. Peter asks if the horse is a boy or a girl because “your hair is as long as mine”; a little comment on the type of reactions long-haired young men might have gotten at the time. Davy wants to know if the horse has ever wanted to ride a person. Mike, Micky, and Davy go to radio station KRUX. This was a Phoenix top-40 radio station back in those days and they sponsored the Monkees concert that evening. At the station, there’s a lot of crazy quick edits, including a shot of the disc jockey tied up on the floor and the Monkees messing with the dials. Mike gives the farm report again, like he did in “Monkees at the Circus.”
The record, “Mr. Farmer” by The Seeds, spins on the turntable as they cut away from the radio station. More random footage set to music, this time Mike Nesmith’s “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere.” During this sequence, Micky roller skates and gets chased by some kids. Mike takes the Monkeemobile for a spin, and we get to see the license plate number is 57A-MFG-015. He shops at a mall and goes up an escalator backwards. Davy rides a motorcycle through the dirt, shirtless. Between this and Micky riding the horse barefoot, I feel like an old lady for wanting to tell them, “Don’t do that.”
After 10 minutes and 34 seconds of this episode, there is still no live playing.
Back to the radio station, Mike interviews a young woman and asks if she’d hate the Monkees if she found out they couldn’t sing or play. When she says no, Mike is naturally curious as to why not. Her answer, “well because, you’re putting people on pretty good,” makes them and me laugh.
I wanted to talk about that a bit. I remember when I was a teen in the ’80s and the Monkees were popular again. Around that time, my Dad decided to let me know, “You know, the Monkees didn’t play their own instruments.” I’m sure every Monkees fan has experienced getting this “truth” from someone at some point. [Editor’s note: You need a safe space!] Yes, I’m aware that isn’t entirely the case. Getting past the controversy at the time and the way the Monkees felt about it themselves, the more accurate way to say that would be: they didn’t always play every instrument on all of their albums. They didn’t always write all of their songs. You could say it about any band.
I’ve always been drawn to the Monkees as a TV show primarily. That’s how I first saw them, in syndication in the late 1970’s, along with shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and Lost in Space. I was about five or six years old, so I didn’t know anything about the Monkees songs or records. In 1986, when MTV started showing The Monkees again on the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” marathon, that’s when I discovered the songs and the albums. In the VH1 Behind the Music on the Monkees, Eric Lefcowitz, author of The Monkees Tale, makes the statement that “without Don Kirshner’s involvement you really don’t have the hit songs, and if you don’t have the hit songs, it’s a completely forgettable TV show and I don’t think we’d be talking about it still.” I have to disrespectfully disagree with him. Without the show being as good and memorable as it was, those hit songs would only be present on golden oldies radio stations. It’s the show that I come back to decade after decade. Never, as a tot or a teen, did I worry about the Monkees as a “real band” in the same way I didn’t think that Elizabeth Montgomery or Barbara Eden had magic powers.
This episode however, takes a break from fiction and shows them really playing. Eventually. Next shots are the outside of the venue, Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The sign shows that they’re on the bill with The Harlem Globetrotters, whom I was lucky enough to see play in person. (Thanks, Dad!)
On stage they play “Last Train to Clarksville” (Boyce/Hart). You can barely make it out over the screaming. This episode does show the popularity and the hype, how excited all the kids were to see the Monkees. The boy band from my day was Duran Duran. By the time I finally got to see them play live in the 1990’s, I just wasn’t a screamer. It’s hard for me to imagine myself reacting this way. My Mom was lucky enough to see the Beatles play live in Las Vegas in the 1960s. She told me she couldn’t hear a note for all the screaming.
Next they play “Sweet Young Thing” (Goffin/King/Nesmith) and then “Mary, Mary” (Nesmith). Davy swaps out Micky on the drums for this one. I know I already mentioned this has poor sound. I have a recommendation for something similar recorded around this time. The album, The Monkees Live 1967 which was recorded August 25-27, 1967 in Seattle, Portland, and Spokane. The record wasn’t released until 1987 due to the poor sound quality, but it was cleaned up in the ’80s for CD and the new generation of fans. I bring this up because there’s a fun bit on the record at the end of “Mary, Mary” where Mike drags out the end and forces Micky to keep improvising. Mike keeps promising he’s going to stop, then he starts to play again and Micky has to start again…until Mike plays a twangy “na-na-na na na na” on the guitar. You can see a bit of this in the episode, but it’s not as clear what’s going on as it is on the album.
Back to it, Peter gets a solo spot and plays “Cripple Creek” (Traditional) on the banjo. They unfortunately cut away from the awesomeness for an awkward voiceover of Peter talking about needing some quiet and time away from people, while showing footage of him walking on a beach.
Mike sings and plays maracas “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (Bo Diddley). In the middle of this is a cutaway of Mike in a car, talking to someone about sitting on an empty stage, imagining that he’s playing to a full house and saying “someday, someday.” I love Mike’s performance of the song. It sounds much cleaner on The Monkees Live 1967. Davy is introduced as, “the world’s best looking midget.” He sings “I Wanna Be Free” (Boyce/Hart). They cut to him talking to interviewer Bob about losing track of time on the road.
Micky is introduced as the hardest working man in show business, “Micky James Brown Dolenz.” He sings “I Got a Woman” (Ray Charles/Renald Richard). Cut to an awkward voice over where Micky wanders around the site of a house a man had built by himself (according to the voiceover) and talks about wanting to make something that will last. Back on stage, Micky parodies a bit James Brown used to do during live performances of the song, “Please, Please, Please”: Micky collapses, and Mike covers him with a black cape and starts to lead him off stage but Micky comes back and finishes the number.
The Monkees are all back on stage for “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” (Boyce/Hart). They’re all wearing white sweaters that look like the ones we see in “Star Collector” and “Daily Nightly” performance clips from the show. They take their bows and get bundled back into their car with a police escort.
There is a tag sequence with “I’m a Believer” playing and shots of the Monkees in all the locations we saw in the episode. Mike thanks many musicians of the day and ends with, “But most of all we’d like to thank the Beatles, for starting it all up for us.” I’m happy with the knowledge that the Beatles were fans of The Monkees as well. Here’s a couple of groovy quotes from the Beatles on the Monkees.
“I think you’re the greatest comic talents since the Marx Brothers. I’ve never missed one of your programs.”- John Lennon
“I like their music a lot…and you know, their personalities. I watch their TV show and it is good.”- Paul McCartney
Two days after this episode aired, the Monkees started work on the fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. After all I said above about appreciating The Monkees more as a show, I want to note that this record is one of my favorite all time records. I remember my excitement in receiving it for Christmas in the ’80s. I played it over and over again. My favorite tracks are “Salesman,” “Daily, Nightly,” and “She Hangs Out,” but the entire thing is good from start to finish.
Final thoughts on this episode? Obviously I prefer the episodes with comedy and a story line. But it was fun to see the Monkees perform. The “real life” bits all felt a bit staged, and as I said I do think it’s a shame about the audio, given that this episode was about the music.
I’ll be taking a little break, about two months or so, before picking up with the second season. Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading these. It’s wonderful to relive all these great episodes with other Monkees fans. Thank you to all the various Monkees Facebook group members. Your positive and insightful comments and likes encourage me to keep this going.
by Bronwyn Knox
Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.