Memorable Moment in Music: Made-for-TV tunes
Something utterly important to today's alchemy of popular music occured on September the 8th, 1965. That was the day when the classified ad ran in Variety Magazine to attract what would ultimately become the first musical group crafted specifically for a television audience, a ready-made pop phenomenon known as The Monkees.
The ad read, "seeking four insane boys, age 17-21 for acting roles in a new series." Hundreds applied, and Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones were selected to form a Beatles-lookalike group for a zany television show. The hits were penned by a team of tunesmiths who began churning out sugar-sweet three minute instant pop classics. Instantly blurring the lines of television and musical reality, the Monkees sold 5 million copies of their debut album, and burned up the charts. They would go on to sell more records in 1965 than the Beatles. In 1967, I think they sold more records than the Beatles and the Stones combined. You can bet that those holding their puppet strings were pleased.
Despite the confection, I will confess a certain weakness in my heart towards these television bands of yesteryear. I am only an average woman. I cannot resist the guiles of songs like...
Daydream Believer - The Monkees
(Westerberg covered it)
I Think I Love You - The Partridge Family
(Westerberg covered it too)
Sugar Sugar - The Archies
(not Westerberg, but Semisonic + Mary Lou Lord covered it)
And yes, I can sing along each words to all of those songs, a holdover from being 11 and fervently riding my bike to softball practice with my huge pastel Walkman and my parent-approved tunes. I had a tough time once junior high started.
So it's all just fluff and bubblegum delight, and there's a place for that in my life, but if we're gonna be honest, that initial classified ad profoundly changed the face of music -- and one could argue for the worse. Sometimes I look at the landscape of recent years and find the ideas of everything from Making The Band to The Spice Girls to the INXS replace-our-dead-singer-on-television contest to be a bit appalling. Sure, it's a free market, but it's also prostituting out music to the highest bidder based on looks and sparkle, and not necessarily the quality of the music. Hey, hey, we're the Monkees.
[a debt is owed to the excellent Performing Songwriter magazine for their piece last year called "Bands On The Rerun." This is part of the XPN Memorable Moments In Music series.]