The Monkees aren’t often considered a political band, but “Last Train to Clarksville” has political lyrics. During an interview, Micky Dolenz discussed the politics of the song. He also said The Monkees’ record company might not have understood “Last Train to Clarksville.”
The Monkees and other 1960s stars got political
The Vietnam War had a huge impact on the popular music of the 1960s and 1970s. Songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Elton John‘s “Daniel” all reflected on the conflict. In his 2015 book Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem Into Miracles, songwriter Bobby Hart said The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” was about the War in Vietnam.
In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Dolenz said “Last Train to Clarksville” was one of the songs that defined The Monkees’ career. “It’s about a guy going off to war,” he said. “Frankly, it’s an anti-war song.”
Micky Dolenz explained why he didn’t remember recording ‘Last Train to Clarksville’
Dolenz said he was surprised The Monkees were allowed to release “Last Train to Clarksville.” “It’s about a guy going to Clarksville, Tennessee, which is an army base if I’m not mistaken,” he said. “He’s obviously been drafted and he says to his girlfriend, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.’ Considering that it was a Monkees song and the first one, I was always surprised that the record company even released it unless it just went right over their head.”
Notably, Dolenz had no memory of recording the track. “I don’t recall recording it because there was just so much going on at that time,” he said. “I was recording two or three songs a night after filming the TV show all day. Bobby Hart tells me I went in to sing one night. He says that I’d learned the song and routined it. We’d done the keys and all that stuff.”
The way fans from the United States and the United Kingdom reacted to ‘Last Train to Clarksville’
“Last Train to Clarksville” became a huge hit. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week. It stayed on the chart for 15 weeks in total. “Last Train to Clarksville” appeared on The Monkees’ self-titled debut album. The Monkees topped the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks, staying on the chart for 102 weeks altogether.
“Last Train to Clarksville” was a more modest hit in the United Kingdom. According to The Official Charts Company, the song reached No. 23 in the U.K. and lasted on the chart for seven weeks. Meanwhile, The Monkees was No. 1 for seven of its 37 weeks on the chart. “Last Train to Clarksville” is one of the most political hits to ever come from a bubblegum pop group.