Mike Nesmith Admits The Monkees Were Initially ‘Disastrous’ and ‘Couldn’t Work Together’ as a Musical Group

Although The Monkees created some of the most memorable pop songs of the late 1960s, musically, it was difficult for them to gel as a group. Hired as actors with some musical experience to play a television band, The Monkees members Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Micky Dolenz had previously never tried to make music together. Mike admitted that initially, The Monkees as a musical group were “disastrous” and “couldn’t work together.”

Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones and Peter Tork on the set of 'The Monkees' television series.
Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork | NBCUniversal via Getty Images

One month after ‘The Monkees’ TV show aired in 1966, the cast had its first number-one record

The Monkees television series linked the onscreen personas of Nesmith, Dolenz, Jones, and Tork to music, making for an enhanced viewer experience. However, producers likely never expected the explosion of interest in the music of The Monkees, along with increased viewership.

The series music supervisor Don Kirshner, whose Brill Building firm Aldon Music had an extensive portfolio of songwriters, was tapped to curate music. Kirshner brought together a group of talented individuals to create some of the band’s most enduring hits. These songwriters included Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann, Harry Nilsson, and Cynthia Weil.

One month after The Monkees aired, they had their first U.S. number one with the song “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Mike Nesmith admits The Monkees were initially ‘disastrous’ and ‘couldn’t work together’ as a musical group

Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz
Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, and Micky Dolenz | NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In an interview for John Gilliland’s “Pop Chronicles,” Mike took a deep dive into the backstory of The Monkees. He was asked about what it was like when he, Peter, Davy, and Micky got together and had to form a musical group in a certain amount of time ahead of the television series’ debut.

“It’s almost self-evident how it worked out,” Mike replied. “It worked out OK. But not because we learned to work as a unit, a group, or anything like that.”

He continued, “We were disastrous as a group and couldn’t work together. Groups indicate four people who function better as a unit than individuals. Historically, you can see that’s the case with top groups. That was not the case with us.”

Mike explained, “We are at our best when we work alone, together. The only thing that took us time was learning not to step on each other’s toes. We learned the things we had to give up for the other person to express themselves wasn’t that important anyway.”

Mike admitted The Monkees had ‘a nice impact’

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Mike Nesmith’s Painful Admission: There Was a ‘Uniformly Negative’ Response to His Music by ‘The Monkees’ Producers

In retrospect, the guitarist and songwriter claimed the musical quarter “had a nice impact” on the music business. “There was something there for a lot of people to like,” Mike said of The Monkees.

“The kids have favorite Monkees, and I think it’s good,” he clarified. “I didn’t want to try and perform a function that they did the best. For me to be the zany comic, Micky’s gotta have that title. I did that before I got into the group.”

“It was hard for me to give up things for The Monkees. However, I realized I was happiest when I gave that all up and let the fellows express themselves, and they, in turn, let me express myself,” he concluded.