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Though dismissed during their initial flash of stardom in the mid-1960s as a studio creation and not a true band, the Monkees' brand of upbeat pop, as epitomized by such enduring hits as "Last Train To Clarksville," "I'm a Believer" and "(I'm Not) Your Steppin' Stone," not only minted them as enduring icons of the decade, but also talented singer-songwriters long overdue for respect. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were inspired by the antics of the Beatles in Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" (1964) to create a television series about a quartet of freewheeling young people in a rock band who would perform an original song each week. They sold the concept to Screen Gems, a TV division of Columbia Pictures, and tapped their head of music, song publisher Don Kirshner, to secure music for the series. An extensive talent search yielded its four stars: musicians Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork and actors Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, who was fresh from a Tony-nominated run on Broadway in Oliver!. With the help of producer Snuff Garrett and songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Kirshner put the newly formed Monkees into the studio, where it soon became apparent that the quartet had sufficient vocal and instrumental skills. The band issued its first single, "Last Train to Clarksville" shortly before the show's debut on NBC in 1966, and the song's immediate popularity - it shot to No. 1 within a few weeks of release - helped to also make the series a hit with young viewers. But with the release of their self-titled debut album that same year, conflict began to build between the band members and Kirsher, who utilized top studio musicians from the legendary Wrecking Crew and an array of songwriters, including Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, and Carole King and Gerry Goffin, to perform their hit songs, including "I'm a Believer" and "Take A Giant Step." The band, which had been stung by critical dismissal of their talents - the trade papers had taken to calling them the "Pre-Fab Four" - and demanded to not only play on but also write and perform on their own records. The show's producers sided with their stars and dismissed Kirshner, who went to find greater success with a band over which he could exert complete control - the cartoon group the Archies. Now in control of their musical output, the Monkees issued a trio of popular LPs with producer Chip Douglas, including two No. 1 albums, Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd (both 1967) and The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees (1968). But the release of the latter album also found the band in turmoil: NBC canceled their series that same year, and their feature film debut, Head (1968) - penned by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson as a dark satire on the band's image - was a dismal commercial failure, though it later became a cult favorite. Citing exhaustion, Tork left the group at the end of the year, leaving the remaining trio to soldier on for two more albums until Nesmith departed to pursue a solo career in 1969. Dolenz and Jones recorded one more album as the Monkees (Changes, 1970) until calling it quits in 1970. For the next two decades, the respective members kept busy with new careers, most notably Nesmith as a recording artist and producer and Dolenz as a voice-over actor, while their original series remained a staple of syndicated television. Interest in all things Monkees bloomed anew after MTV shrewdly paid tribute to the show, which had helped to set the groundwork for music video format, with a day-long marathon in 1986. Soon after, Dolenz, Jones and Tork reunited for a reunion tour, which proved remarkably popular and spawned a new single, "That Was Then, This is Now." A subsequent album, Pool It (1987), was an underperformer, but various iterations of the band remained a draw as a live nostalgia act. In 1996, all four original Monkees reunited to record a new album, Justus, to commemorate their 30th anniversary, but Nesmith soon dropped out of the world tour. Tensions between Tork and the other members led to his departure in 2001, but the trio reunited for their 45th anniversary in 2011. It would prove to the be the last jaunt with the trio, as Jones died at the age of 66 in 2012. Nesmith stepped in to play with Dolenz and Tork for dates in 2013 and 2014 before exiting the lineup; to the surprise of many, the trio recorded a new album of unfinished '60s singles and new material by members of Weezer and XTC. Good Times! (2016) was issued by Rhino, which had taken over stewardship of the Monkees' catalog in the mid-'90s. Nesmith's performance with Dolenz and Tork in Los Angeles in 2016 was billed as his permanent farewell to The Monkees.
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