Marking their birthdays today are two men who have led different lives since being members of the mid-'60s pop recording group/TV troupe the Monkees.
Mike Nesmith, born Robert Michael Nesmith 56 years ago in Houston, has largely severed performing ties with the three other Monkees since the band's dissolution in the late '60s. He has concentrated on writing and the business side of the music industry. Davy Jones, born David Jones 53 years ago, has regrouped with his former Monkees several times to perform and record. Currently, he is touring as a solo act, exhibiting the same boyish charm that made him famous as a Monkee.
Television writer/producer Bob Rafelson, who later directed movies, developed the concept of a TV series based on a singing group modeled after the Beatles' film "A Hard Day's Night." He and partner Bert Schneider auditioned more than 500 candidates for the four Monkees; and, in addition to folk musician Nesmith and ex-apprentice jockey/actor Jones, they chose former child actor Mickey Dolenz and folk musician Peter Tork. Such future music luminaries as Harry Nilsson and Stephen Stills didn't make the final cut.
At the start of the Monkees TV show in 1966, the group sang but didn't play its instruments. The program was a big hit and the band's eponymous debut LP went gold, yielding the #1 song, "Last Train to Clarksville," and Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer." The Monkees eventually became better musicians in order to play their instruments on tour, as they soon did.
Nesmith always was bothered by the band's early faking and told Look magazine in 1967: "There comes a time when you have to draw the line as a man. We're being passed off as something we aren't. We all play instruments, but we didn't on any of our records. Furthermore, our record company doesn't want us to and won't let us."
Eventually, the Monkees were allowed to play instruments, and there followed hits such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and John Stewart's "Daydream Believer" (RealAudio excerpt). Nesmith even was allowed to write songs occasionally for some Monkee LPs.
In 1967, Dolenz arranged for Jimi Hendrix to open for the Monkees, an idea that lasted only for a few shows. The Monkees' TV show was canceled the following year, and their film, "Head" (written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson), flopped. By 1970, the Monkees as a group were over as well.
Nesmith later wrote "Different Drum," a hit for Linda Ronstadt's group the Stone Poneys. He also continued recording and producing, and he made one of the first rock videos. Jones teamed with Dolenz and singing duo Boyce and Hart for an album in 1976.
In the mid-'80s, MTV rebroadcast the Monkees TV program and the group's LPs
re-entered the Billboard 200 albums chart. Jones, Dolenz and Tork recorded three new songs, including "That Was Then, This Is Now," featured on the
platinum-selling anthology Then and Now. The Monkees minus an uninterested Nesmith, who joined his former bandmates only once onstage, also toured and issued Pool It! in 1987.
Nesmith, whose mother invented liquid paper, led his own record/video company, Pacific Arts, for years and won the first Grammy award in the home video category for his
long-form "Elephant Parts." He also executive produced films such as "Repo Man" and "Time Rider." Nesmith has just issued a novel, "The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora" (St. Martin's Press), and he may begin a book-signing tour next month.
Jones, who starred in one of the most popular "Brady Bunch" episodes as himself, is
co-starring with Peter Noone and Bobby Sherman on the Teen Idols tour. He also will do some solo dates in early 1999.
Other birthdays: Bo Diddley, 70; Kenny Pentifallo (Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes), 58; Jeff Lynne (ELO/Traveling Wilburys), 51; Geoff Peacey, 49; and Del Shannon, 1939-1990.