Why real Sixties teens said they were so crazy about The Monkees
''The Beatles are dead, long live the Monkees!''
When The Monkees TV show premiered in 1966, no one knew what to expect, and reading interviews with The Monkees members didn’t exactly make anything clearer.
Known to goof off and never answer any questions seriously, The Monkees in the real world maintained the charm of the mad-cap TV show from which they sprang.
For some of their biggest fans, this blurring of reality and TV worlds seemed to suggest that the characters The Monkees played on TV were their true natures.
In fact, when one culture writer for The Capital Journal asked music fans to write in with their top band of 1966, The Monkees were passionately pointed to by teenagers who said they wanted to be as laid back as The Monkees stars appeared on TV.
"My favorite singing group is the Monkees," proclaimed teenaged Norman Marshall. "They sing with a beat and lyrics most every teenager likes. They show one of their most sincere feelings in their new release, 'I Want to Be Free.' This song, I believe, will go big. They sing their songs with a point or feeling that most of us feel at one time or another. I predict they have a great future ahead of them."
Norman continued: "Another reason a person can appreciate the Monkees so much is that you can see them on TV and become familiar with them. You see them more or less for what they are – the nutty and carefree persons most of us would like to be. They can get the point across on their TV show perhaps faster than the president could get a point across to the senators. They sing to us and for us and that’s what we want. They’ve got the talent, the sound and the personality we all want and that’s why we buy their records. As long as they get the point across the way they are now, we will continue to buy their records and make them one of the biggest groups that ever hit the big time."
Norman wasn’t alone joining the Monkee-mania, of course.
"I think the Monkees are the best," wrote Cathy Wargnier. "They are cute and sing very well. I also like them because they dress plainly, and they have a great sense of humor. They goof off a lot and in their interviews they’re quite modest and don’t think they’re the greatest like some groups do."
Many teens thought the TV show was crucial to their love of the Monkees, and critics agreed the TV show was meaningful to the Monkees’ popularity.
"The Beatles are dead, long live the Monkees!" declared another critic writing in The Capital Journal in 1966.
That critic said that in a recent city poll, the Monkees had outpolled the Beatles by 3 to 1 and claimed the rapidly changing tastes of teenagers could lead to a future where "the Monkees may sell as many records as the Beatles. But that depends on their television ratings."
Today, we know the truth: The Beatles have sold more than 600 million records worldwide, while The Monkees — still one of the bestselling groups of all time — only sold 75 million worldwide.
But back in 1966, nobody knew what would happen with those kooky Monkees. All they knew was that the kids were crazy for them.
Even churches endorsed the pop group.
"My favorite group this year is the Monkees," wrote teenager Anna Erickson. "I like them very much because as mom says, ‘They are a bunch of clean-cut nuts.’ Our church has a Sunday bulletin. About two weeks ago it had a full-page article on them. They must be good, or our church wouldn’t put it in the bulletin."
Of course, for most teens, what mattered most was their friends’ endorsement.
"They’re a new group, so naturally everyone’s going to like them if they’re good," wrote Gail Parson. "Quite a few people think they’re great, especially me. They’re good singers, cute, they’re just a great group, period. So I think everyone will say the Monkees are the greatest group ever because, so far, everyone that I’ve talked to thinks they’re sensational."
One teen named LeAnne Sorensen said not all her friends had jumped on the "Last Train to Clarksville" and become big Monkees fans: "Some people don’t like the Monkees because they say they act crazy on their show, but I love it."
Perhaps the Monkees themselves understood their appeal best, but we’ll never know, because their interviews were full of nonsense responses, like this one from Micky Dolenz gave to The Press Democrat in 1966:
"The reason kids are going for groups now is because kids are going for groups now."