The stigma, which shadowed the Monkees throughout their original run from 1966 to 1970, was that the group was not assembled organically. The same could be said, however, for the Sex Pistols, who were put together by boutique owner Malcolm McLaren in London in 1975. The latter, which recorded a single album during its 2½-year existence, has been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the former will never receive such an honor.
When the members of the Monkees were cast for an amusing and at times loopy eponymous TV show, the world of rock music was becoming serious courtesy of the evolution of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Many pundits during the 1960s failed to give the Monkees credit. The Monkees didn’t write much of their early material, but by 1968, the group finally secured creative control and crafted some terrific singles and laudable albums. The Monkees had the last laugh after some critics believed the act would be a footnote in rock history.
“We knew we were better than that,” vocalist-drummer Micky Dolenz said while calling from his Los Angeles home. “We loved what we did together. Early on, it was like we were sitting around on a campfire singing songs. Those songs were often written by Nez (vocalist-guitarist Mike Nesmith) since he was the only one writing material at the time. We had such a great time during those early days. It was like we were the Everly Monkees. I loved the Everly Brothers. Our voices blended so well together, and they still do.”
Dolenz, 76, and Nesmith, 78, are the last Monkees standing. Vocalist-percussionist Davy Jones died in 2012, and vocalist-multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork died in 2019.
Dolenz and Nesmith are on “The Monkees Farewell Tour,” which is billed as an evening of music, hits and deep cuts that stops Friday at the First Interstate Center for the Arts.
“We’re going to play as much material as we can during the two hours of the show,” Dolenz said. “We really enjoy each other’s company. That’s the way it’s been since we met. We clicked doing skits, bits and songs. The funny thing is that we once said that it was going to be ‘The Mike and Micky Show,’ and here we are.”
An extension of “The Mike and Micky Show” is “Dolenz Sings Nesmith.” The album, which dropped in May, is aptly titled since the latter often penned songs for the former to belt out with the Monkees. “Dolenz Sings Nesmith,” however, features only cuts Nesmith sung with the Monkees or outside the popular band. “If I recorded the songs Nez wrote and I sung with the Monkees, I would be covering myself,” Dolenz said. “There is no way I would ever do that. What’s the point?”
Dolenz and producer Christian Nesmith, Mike Nesmith’s son, made certain that the songs recorded would be rearranged. “I didn’t want to make a karaoke version of Nez’s songs,” Dolenz said. “I let Christian run with it, and he did a great job.” The harmonica-driven version of “Different Drum,” which was a smash for Linda Ronstadt when she fronted the Stone Poneys, works as a folk-rock track.
“Circle Sky,” a pop-rock tune from the Monkees’ quirky film “Head,” is turned inside out with Eastern strings. “When I heard the direction of ‘Circle Sky,’ Indian raga, I was like, ‘Where did that come from?’ I really love that ‘Circle Sky’ sounds nothing like the Monkees’ version.” With the exception of “Different Drum,” much of what Dolenz recorded was deep cuts. That wasn’t Dolenz’s plan. It just happened that way.
“I would have loved to have recorded songs like ‘Joanne’ and ‘Listen to the Band,’ but how do you do ‘Joanne’ without the yodel or ‘Listen to the Band’ without the band or the horn section?” Dolenz said. “This project was really challenging and Christian was up to that challenge, and it was so fulfilling for us because we both love Nez’s work.”
Nesmith is a well-respected musician, but Dolenz believes the magic comes from his close friend’s words. “Nesmith is a great poet,” Dolenz said. “His words are just so moving, and he creates such great imagery in his songs. I love singing Mike’s lyrics.
“I’ve wanted to do this project for years, and it finally happened.” But the album is in the rear view, and the tour is the duo’s focus.
The jaunt begs the question: Is this really the final run on the road for the Monkees? “It’s always the last tour until the next tour,” Dolenz said. “However, at our age, it’s unlikely that Mike and I will tour again. I can see myself doing solo dates, and maybe Nez and I will do some single shows.
“Who knows? But another tour is unlikely. We’re focused on the present. I’m looking forward to going out with Nez, playing the songs and seeing our fans.”