The Monkees are evidently reformed and touring to cash in the 45th Anniversary of their being manufactured by Hollywood producer Don Kirshner and his cronies. An item in The Telegraph would have us believe that the fellows overcame the general scorn heaped upon them and ascended into what there was of the hallowed Rock Pantheon. At best, the article was a vital piece of nonsense.
Author, please pick up your last check on the way out, as this is the worst sort of puffery one could imagine. Precisely no one took the Monkees seriously as a band, and their chops as comedians were not held in high regard. Yes, they sold... millions of units, but so has Kraft Cheese, a product whose popularity reveals how scarce good taste actually is. The Monkees were a band for teenyboppers with allowance money to burn. It is possible to compare them to the Beatles or the Marx Brothers, but this only demonstrates their lack. They might have been pioneers of a sort, but they were and remain a fancy you grow out of as your tastes mature; there is the hope that a music fan discovers the excellent stuff. Theirs was music glutted by fads, gimmicks, and tricks heaped on albums of songs that were at best cast-offs from professional songwriters; it sounded corny back in the day, and the Monkees has aged poorly. It sounds pretentious, inane, flimsy constructions gussied up with every studio trick available. The Monkees problem is worse because, 45 years later, they haven't their youthful cuteness to help get away with the slithering saliva trail they called rock and roll. They are bound to look pathetic. Is this what fans really want to see?
The Monkees are not remembered for their songs but rather more like a disease a generation of love-sick tweeners shared; it was some overwhelming fever whose recollection involves the heat, not the melodies. I still run into people bringing them up in music discussions except as a bad example, and the book on the day-to-day mechanics of this money machine seems geared at a niche market, small but profitable. This just reinforces that they were musically mediocre and sub-minor in importance. I don't blame the band for going after a payday; after all, the Sex Pistols did precisely the same thing in the Nineties. However, the Pistols were at least honest about and called their trek the Filthy Lucre tour. What irritates me, among other things, about these hired hands as they still act as if they were involved in something that mattered.
I should say that the mini-rant was not about these guys individually; Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork have chops, to be sure. But the distinction is that they were members of a combine that was a commercial venture... that was disguised as a rock band, and as far as rock bands go, they were lacking in whatever good graces it takes to be actual pantheon members. As an entity, the Monkees were a disgrace. The same may be said of the Sex Pistols Brit wastrels Malcolm McLaren hired to fulfill his fashion sense. The difference is that the Pistols had the integrity to break up unceremoniously. To paraphrase, Johnny Rotten asked the audience if they ever felt they'd been cheated at their last US gig. The Monkees, collectively or individually, never had the honesty to admit that they were a money-making fraud.
Of course, it complicated their eventual desire to be taken seriously. On the one hand, you had critics in the serious journals arguing that rock had become an art and whose collective preference was for bands and songwriters who had an organic quality to their music; music as authentic expression, experimental, poetic, reflective. How many artists actually made music that achieved these vague standards or created a piece worth listening to after the craze had passed is a matter of debate. The Monkees, to those writers, were a corporate monster, a Frankenstein's monster of borrowed parts taking bits and pieces of whatever was popular at the time--heavy rock, folk-rock, psychedelia, youth-quake lyrics, and so on--and slickly fused everything together in album packages geared to a teenybopper's desire to be both enthralled and convinced that they were "hip" despite being too young to go to nightclubs where the actual music was being played. Mike Nesmith turned out to be a fine songwriter and an influential singer and had an estimable if obscure solo career post Monkees, but his signing on with the Monkees was his Faustian pact. It doesn't seem that he ever quite lived down the fact that he was in a very popular and very profitable entity created by management to cash in. It's an unpleasant fact that the sense of irony in the Music Press hadn't yet increased to the degree as it had when Malcolm McLaren assembled the respective members of the Sex Pistols in 1975. McLaren's intention was to disrupt the music biz, being the Situationist he was, but also to make a bit of coin in doing so. The fact that the Pistols were thrown together, a contrived unit if one ever existed, only enhanced their authenticity as punk rock instigators. They got a very different result in the long run through what became one of the decade's central postmodern gestures.