The Monkees?

Were any of them credible musicians? I just saw a clip of them playing “I’m a Believer” and it made me wonder what collective or individual talent they possessed.

Michael Nesmith was/is a very talented musician and songwriter. Outside of the Monkees, he’s probably best known for writing the Linda Rondstadt hit “Different Drum”, but he deserves much more renown for the string of albums he put out with his First National Band in the 1970s. Magnetic South, Loose Salute, and Nevada Fighter are three of the most important, if not best, country-rock albums of all time, right up there with The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the stuff the Flying Burrito Brothers were doing right around the same time.

This is not a definitive answer, but it will do until an expert comes along.

Mike Nesmith was and is a talented musician, singer and songwriter, and has numerous achievments in popular music to his credit that have nothing whatever to do with his time in the band. He is also the only one of the four who never wanted anything to do with reunions or nostalgia tours. He may never have become rich and famous as a solo artist, but I think you’ll find he is quite well respected in the industry, both as a performer and a producer, and he does have his fans.

Mickey Dolenz was a competent drummer (although there is doubt as to whether his drumming was ever actually heard on the Monkees tracks as released) and sang lead vocal on many songs, but that’s about it. He went into music and theatre production after the band split.

Peter Tork could play guitar quite well, but was really more of a folk artist. He did have a career as a solo artist after the fame of the Monkees, but struggled and never really enjoyed a lot of success. I don’t know what he’s doing now.

Davy Jones was basically chosen for his looks, and could sing a little.

It is well-documented that the people who put the TV show together basically hired the four guys for their looks and/or personality, and intended from the start to use professional songwriters and session musicians to create all the music for the show, with the ‘actors’ only being needed for the lead vocals (shared between Dolenz and Jones). This was not public information to begin with, so of course the public thought the guys themselves wrote and performed all their own material, like The Beatles (more or less). When it became known that this was not the case, it gave rise to controversy over the ‘legitimacy’ of the band.

Of the four, Mike Nesmith was most strongly opposed to what the TV producers wanted, and from the start he argued that they should be allowed to write and perform their own songs, particularly his own songs, so the band had more credibility (even if they also used material written and performed for them by others). I believe Peter Tork also felt the same way, but to a lesser extent.

If I recall correctly, Peter Tork teaches music at some university. I don’t recall which.

There was a show in which he sold his soul to the devil to play the harp. That was really him playing. (OK, I’m getting senile, so I will throw out that I may be full of it… :). But I’m pretty sure I’m correct.)

It’s revealing to see the solo turns each Monkee took in the 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee special at the end of their run. Nesmith did an ambitious country rock number, duetting with himself via splitscreen. Tork came out dressed as a guru and did a pretentious flower-power number that was already seriously dated in 1969. Dolenz released his inner soul man, singing a funky reworking of “I’m a Believer.” Jones did a really twee dance number.

Nesmith definitely does not need the money. His mother invented Liquid Paper and he inherited her estate

Jones had appeared in quite a few West End musicals, most notably Oliver! You have to be able to sing more than “a little” to do that.

Peter Tork also plays with the band Shoe Suede Blues.

As Lillian Roxon documents, by their second season, “It was just not done to put down the Monkees.” They were a fake band, of course, but they did fight to perform on their own, and actually toured playing their own instruments. Nesmith and Tork were more than competent musicians, and Dolenz was a fairly good singer. Most people in the business understood the pressures they were under and appreciated their desire to move away from teen pop to more adventurous music.

Of course, no one thought the Monkees wrote their own material – any glance at a record label would disprove that – but I’m sure the fans thought they were playing in the beginning. The truth leaked out, but since it didn’t affect record sales,* the producers just let it go and also began to give in to the band’s demand they start playing on the records and be allowed to write songs.

*Nor did it hurt the Archies when it was discovered that Jughead really wasn’t playing the drums.

Nesmith also pioneered the music video concept. Elephant Parts is quite revolutionary (and quite good.)

Peter Tork can play a wide range of instruments, not just guitar. He’s been described as Renaissance man when it comes to musical instruments. He wasn’t a huge commercial success, but he was a darned fine musician, and I think that his vocal talents are underrated.

His looks had a lot to do with his Monkeedom, but he could sing more than just “a little.” His history in musical theatre has already been mentioned, and he frequently performed lead in the Monkees songs, second only to Micky.

I daresay that all four Monkees were fine musicians in their own rights.

Didn’t Peter Tork audition for Buffalo Springfield (but got shot down?) Not that that proves anything, but you don’t audition for a band with Neil Young and David Crosby in it if you can’t bring something to the table.

I think it was Stephen Stills who auditioned for the Monkees. He and Tork were friends (roommates?) at the time, and Stephen convinced Peter to go to the auditions.

Oh. You’re right. I could have sworn it was a two way thing, but I may have been conflating the two.

I sit corrected on various points!

That’s gotta hurt.

He performed on the 30-year-anniversary album and tour.

Neismith did write songs from the beginning. He had at least a half dozen on the first four albums - the only ones that really counted. They sounded totally different from the Boyce/Hart pop and I’m sure that fans knew the difference.

I just don’t remember what I thought about whether they played or wrote their own music. I don’t think I cared very much. I just enjoyed the show. And bought the albums.

Not only did Davy Jones star in Oliver!, he (along with the rest of the cast, but mainly he) performed songs from it on the Ed Sullivan Show the same night the Beatles made their American television debut. He and Micky “Circus Boy” Dolenz were well-known child stars before their involvement with the Monkees.

I almost see Flight of the Conchords as a remake of the basic concept.

I note that Mickey Dolenz is scheduled to perform March 4-7 at Busch Gardens in Tampa FL, as part of their “Real Music Concert Series.” (Mar. March 11-14: the Little River Band! March 18-21: The 5th Dimension!)

So Busch Gardens, at least, considers the Monkees to be Real Music. As opposed to the Fake Music played by those robot musicians over at Disney World, I guess.

All four Monkees also played on the 1996 album Justus.

Edit: Ah, sorry, TW, I see you did mention the album. Never mind.

ianzin’s post captures the answer exactly as I recall, from being a Monkees fan at the time.

So I’ll only post to say that whoever came up with the phrase “Pre-fab 4” to describe the Monkees demonstrated sheer genius, at least for puns.