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5 Monkees Songs That Should’ve Been Singles

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Did you know that The Monkees’ first three albums went all the way to number one? Or that their songwriter team included Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and Carole King? Or that they stopped generating original music around 1971, the year after The Beatles (their clear muses) disbanded? Sure they’ve made a couple of comebacks — first in 1986 thanks to MTV, then again in 2016 with the stellar album Good Times!— but many people think they’re just a made-for-TV band that cranked out chart-toppers like “Daydream Believer,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” We’re here to correct that misconception with a list of songs you may not know that are equally catchy and (we feel) worthy of being singles.

1. “Papa Gene’s Blues” from The Monkees (1966)
Singer-guitarist Michael Nesmith provided a Nashville-like flair to many of the group’s earliest releases. (His comfort at playing twangy guitar was equal only to his love of wearing a toque.) This particular tune is a simple love song in which Nesmith spikes his catchy countrified solo with a perfect “yeehaw.” It’s hard not to imagine teenage girls of the time wouldn’t have embraced the opportunity to join in for a chorus of “I love you and I know you love me,” yet while this number appeared on the show, it was never released as a single.

2. “She” from More of the Monkees (1966)
This one shows off teen idol Mickey Dolenz’s upper range meshing nicely with the rest of the group’s well-honed harmonic abilities. The song (about a woman who treats her man worse than worse) is hardly romantic, yet the singer admits to being hooked nonetheless: “Why am I standing here, missing her and wishing she were here?” A relatively short song, “She” will stick in your head all the same. It’s that catchy.

3. “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones (1967)
Here’s a prime example of a catchy hook coupled with a simple story. Sporting a jangly guitar, a solid bass line, and some interesting whip-cracking sounds, “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round” suggests a road not taken, as its “loud mouth Yankee” eventually hops a train back to San Anton’ before things get too hot and heavy with a Mexican senorita. Painful regrets ensue. Herein lies the eternal conflict of responsibility versus pleasure.

4. “Cuddly Toy” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones (1967)
Comparisons between The Monkees and The Beatles are eternal, and Davy Jones’ lead vocals definitely sound like Fab Four-era McCartney. Written by Harry Nilsson, the song even feels like the latter group’s “Girl,” if it were given an up-tempo beat. The song is full of highly suggestive lyrics like “You’re not the only choo-choo train that was left out in the rain, the day after Santa came” and “You’re not the only cherry delight that was left out in the night, and gave up without a fight.” You can only imagine horrified parents, circa 1967, hearing their pre-teens singing along.

5. “Our Own World” from Good Times!
At once modern and a throwback, “Our Own World” — penned by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger — has the joyous simplicity of something by Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits. Dolenz’s vocals are rock solid; Nesmith and Peter Tork harmonize as well as ever. Traditionalists may argue that this one doesn’t sound like a true Monkees original, but hey, it’s been 50 years. Why shouldn’t they evolve? The album was incredibly well-received but didn’t have any charting hits. That’s a shame. But if this is The Monkees’ swan song album, it’s not a bad way to go out.

Will Wills

PS.  Read about the Monkees’ wonderful last album.

Photo: The Monkees by Hulton Archive (courtesy Getty Images)


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21 comments on “5 Monkees Songs That Should’ve Been Singles

  1. All worthy choices. But “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?” was not written by Mike Nesmith; rather, the authors were Michael Martin Murphey and Owen Castlema.

  2. Peter Grad

    Great article!

  3. Agree all worthy, love the Monkee’s

  4. Shades of Gray should top this list and you’ve completely forgotten it!

  5. The first four Monkees albums all went to number one

  6. Kevin Gamble

    You mention some great writers… But you failed to mention Tommy Boyce and Bobby Heart, who wrote and produced more of the Monkees hits than all those mentioned combined. Monkees Theme, Steppin’ Stone, Last Train to Clarksville, She, I wanna be Free, Words, This just doesn’t seem to be my day, Gonna Buy me a dog, and many others. They also produced and played on the first two albums. I don’t think without those quality songs and production they would have lasted to get to Daydream Believer and I’m a Believer. Yes I’m partial, I was Tommys manager the last 5 years of his life, and stayed with him and his wife his last weekend alive in Nov 1994. 3 days later he was gone. Such a great guy. O was fortunate to have my camcorder with me that weekend. -0-

  7. “You just may be the one” was a sure hit.

  8. David Bolter

    ‘Love is Only Sleeping’, which was originally-slated for a 45 release…, pulled back for various reasons, and to move ‘Daydream Believer’ quicker.

  9. “What am I Doing Hanging ‘Round” is probably my favorite Monkees song.I cite the Monkees as a major influence as if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be a guitar player. I was 7 or so when the show came out and I was enamored with Nez. I kept bugging my parents for a guitar and low and behold, under the Christmas tree was something that I cherish for life. The gift of music. I’m now 57 and have been playing guitar since that Christmas. I try to put a Monkees cover in every set I play, and “Hanging Round” pops up there a lot.

  10. On “Papa Gene’s Blues” also in the solo part, Mike also says “Pick it, Wilson,” A reverse reference to soul singer Wilson Pickett’s name! The first time I heard “Cuddly Toy” on the radio, I actually thought it was a new song by The Beatles!!

  11. Love is Only Sleeping, Hard To Believe, and Sweet Young Thing, You Just May Be the One are my faves.

  12. Robert Scott Read

    I think this single would have been much more interesting than Teardrop City:

    You And I
    b/w
    While I Cry

  13. Mark Dmuchowski

    All of Your Toys was supposed to be a single, but The Monkees contracts stated only certain producers were to have songs released as singles. Then Pleasant Valley Sunday was released, I believe.

  14. Love all these songs. Cuddly Toy has a special place as my two younger sisters and I developed our own dance routine. Fifty years later and we can still remember most of it! She is also a favorite as the first album I ever bought was More of the Monkees, and I believe it’s the first song. Still takes me back to being 11 years old! ????

  15. Harry Nilsson wrote “Cuddly Toy” based on a newspaper article he’d read about a bike gang raping a teenage girl. He had a dark sense of humor back then. He also wrote “Daddy’s Song” about a cross-dressing father figure. Go figure.

  16. What about “For Pete’s Sake” with “Shades of Gray” on the flipside?

  17. I rely loved the Monkees I brought my 2 Younger Sister in to them . I was very hurt too hear the Peter passed away Davy it was very sad too . So I love the Monkees. I will miss Peter & Davy very much.

  18. I agree with all your choices with an honorable mention to “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” (which actually is the flip side of “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” so it could be considered a “single”)

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