What the Monkees Meant to the Youngest Boomers

By the fall of 1966, the pop music renaissance the Beatles initiated was in full swing — as exemplified by their recently released Revolver. Though now widely considered one of the greatest records of all time, many young listeners were turned off by the album’s unusual instrumentation and psychedelic vibe. In fact, much of what young boomers were hearing on the radio or blaring out from older siblings’ bedrooms was beginning to seem a bit over their heads. Many remember hearing Dylan and not liking his voice, saying he was “depressing” and “for older kids.”

Young music fans were not getting much satisfaction from the Rolling Stones, either. As one Beatleness interviewee, age 10 at the time, recalled, “The Stones didn’t have those nice Beatle harmonies, and the lyrics were less fun.” Even reliable hitmakers like the Beach Boys, one of the few pre-Beatle acts still on the scene in ‘66, were becoming less accessible. Their critically acclaimed Pet Sounds yielded only two top-ten hits. Many young Beatle fans longed for their beloved moptops who were no more.

To satisfy this longing, producers Bert Schneider and Robert Rafelson put out a casting call for a certain type of young hipster — no musical ability required — and created the Monkees and their prime-time TV show.  The Monkees provided young viewers with a fresh, new set of four charismatic young men who move through a world of uptight adults while singing infectious pop songs. The producers, along with Screen Gems and ABC, knew they had a winning formula. But for Rafelson, it was also important to listen to what “today’s generation” is saying and “not just tune them out because they have long hair.”

According to the show’s promotional material, the Monkees wanted “to make every day Saturday night, to climb impossible mountains, to take a trolley car to the moon, and to deflate stuffed shirts.” Viewers were invited to “follow the Monkees as they plunge into the funniest revolt against our conforming button-down society that has yet to come to television.”

The Monkees created a world in which witty, good-hearted youth do battle with the humorless, clumsy social order around them — just as the Beatles did in their two films. A lot of demographic research went into the show, which set its sights squarely on 10- to 15-year-olds. As Micky Dolenz put it, “The Beatles had left a sort of vacuum when they evolved,” and “up-and-coming teenyboppers didn’t have anything to listen to that they could appreciate, understand, or relate to — until the Monkees.”

New York Times TV critic Jack Gould called The Monkees “a far-out bit” that was the bright spot of the new TV season. Likening the Monkees to the “Marx brothers in adolescence,” he praised the show’s “considerable wit and inventiveness,” and said it “broke the mold in situation comedy.” The Monkees‘ silliness, sight gags, cartoon graphics, gadgetry, mod clothing, and surreal situations felt like a cross between Help! and Get Smart. Quick editing created a sense of breathless hurry, and you didn’t want to look away for a second. If the stodgy TV critic at the New York Times thought it was the hit of the new TV season, its target demographic was enthralled.

Related: “Four Monkees, Two Movies”

Some young fans who put the Beatles on a back burner felt “disloyal,” but as one female fan, age eleven at the time, put it, “I started listening to the Monkees and Davy Jones; they were more innocent, not that deep.” A male fan remembered it this way: “The Beatles changed from a pop group to this remarkable thing, but not for a 12-year-old. I wasn’t ready for it. I went back to the early stuff, and the Monkees.”

The “Pre-fab Four” captured the lightness and carefree spirit of the early Beatles, yet their songs, written by the best songwriters of postwar pop, reflected the new consciousness the Beatles brought to the whole genre — with lines like “take a giant step outside your mind.” On their first two albums, “The Monkees” were actually The Wrecking Crew, an LA-based studio ensemble that played on hundreds of top hits throughout the fifties and sixties, and into the seventies.

Related: “These Guys Were REALLY Behind the Music”

In an interview shortly after the show went on the air, Peter Tork said, “There is a social revolution going on and the young ones are into it.” He continued, “Dogmatism is leaving the scene. Youth is examining all the old-time premises that used to be taken totally for granted — sexual mores, artistic mores.” Describing his draft status as “they thought I was crazy,” Tork said, “I think you should stand for what you believe in, and I stand for love and peace.”

Beatles Early Years Ad

The sensibility of The Monkees was overtly countercultural, from the “Money Is The Root of All Evil” motto hanging on the wall, to the band members’ casual use of the word “man” at the end of sentences. And the show’s disrupted linearity, surreal subplots, jump cuts, and variable speed of movement served up psychedelia for young viewers.

Boomers debated the merits of the Beatles and the Monkees with friends and siblings. There were many similarities and differences between the two foursomes. But the most significant similarity, and lasting impact, is that the Monkees, like the Beatles, presented the youngest baby boomers with music, images, and ideas that furthered the social revolution that Peter Tork spoke of. The Monkees offered the alternative consciousness of the ever-new Beatles, with the joie de vivre of the original Fab Four.

The following summer, a.k.a. “The Summer of Love,” when thousands of young people were running away to San Francisco, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and the Monkees’ Headquarters topped the album charts, and the Monkees’ anti-establishment lament “Pleasant Valley Sunday” hit number three. The song offers a “Penny Lane”-like tour of a neighborhood and its inhabitants, through the eyes of a jaded young person, turned off by conformity and consumer culture; the kind of young person who might be thinking about finding his tribe in San Francisco, or at Woodstock, two years later.

-Candy Leonard


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Candy Leonard is a sociologist whose background includes college teaching, qualitative research for the healthcare industry, and hosting public affairs radio and TV programs. She’s the author of Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World, and has written for the Huffington Post and Next Avenue Current interests include boomers and the new old age, the impact of technology on human relations, and preserving democracy. Twitter @CandySez

8 comments on “What the Monkees Meant to the Youngest Boomers

  1. Rick Bynum

    So….the age old question. Why has Jann Wenner blocked their nomination to the RnR HOF? Their impact is obvious…per this article. Is noone brave enough to stand up to him that are on the nominating committees?

    • Liam Randall

      Could be that their career was too short to qualify per Hall of Fame rules. But it does kind of beg the question, na?

  2. Ed J Toomey

    The Monkees SHOULD be in the Rock Roll Hallof Fame !! Huge long lasting impact on ’60s and beyond thru today !

  3. Eric C. Gray

    Hi Candy, great article, thank you. The Monkees are as polarizing a group as there is, but I can’t quite figure out why, at least if people get what they were about. Great pop records, although the only non-hits album I have was their first. Coincidental, last week on a FB music group I run, I did a poll from folks about what they think the “iconic” Monkees song is, as well as their personal favorite.

    I am writing a book about peoples’ concert and music experiences. If you think you might be interested in contributing a memory, I would be delighted to send you my book description. You can contact me at eric.concertstories@gmail.com Thanks!

  4. Hola, great article thanks, one of my best friends was Rick Klein Mickey’s good buddy from Circus boy and their road manager for years all over the world, I have access to Rick’s fotos slides and 16 mm movies during that time he was an avid fotog and even has pix from backstage and during Hendrix opening act Rick and I traveled all over Mex and CA as far down as Costa Rica en 1991, he also grew THEE best for many years i miss him and have a vid on line when he and his woman were my neighbors at Playa San Diego El Salvador in 1996 for 9 months

  5. Kevin Keefe

    The Monkees hung out with the Beatles in London. Mike Nesmith wrote hits for other acts, and for the Monkees. Pete Townshend referred to the a Monkees in a complimentary manner in his autobiography “Who I Am”, saying basically that the London rock scene knew how they had been created, but hits were hits and the Monkees were given props for that. It may have been sporadic in the beginning, and brief in pure form, but the Monkees managed to bust through the BS and rock during their initial 60’s career, and played to adoring crowds on later tours. That’s the Rock n Roll life. They achieved a shaggy grace just by punching through, as I see it. And they were just to busy singing to put anybody down.

  6. Great arricle! Hall of Fame is overdue!

  7. Mr. Harry S. Steinmetz

    A wonderful article that just the mail on the head. I was one of those late boomers (born in 1961) and about the time I started paying attention to music, the Beatles were more sophisticated than I was able to comprehend.
    While the Monkees certainly are deserving of recognition if they’re a real RNRHOF, the current one is irrelevant. Their dishonest marketing and “voting”, their devotion to non-rock acts and their “we know better than you” attitude has rendered them meaningless. Come out to Seattle and visit MOPOP, it’s a much truer reflection of popular culture.

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