The Monkees are often compared to The Beatles — and with good reason. For example, The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” partly inspired one of The Monkees’ early hit songs. Interestingly, one of those songs was considerably more successful than the other.
How The Monkees’ regular songwriters thought up ‘Last Train to Clarksville’
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart co-wrote a number of The Monkees’ tracks, including the band’s theme song and “Valleri.” In the 2015 book Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem Into Miracles, Hart discussed the origin of “Last Train to Clarksville.” “We fashioned a storyline about a soldier heading off to face combat and an uncertain future,” Hart wrote. “Frantically, he was trying to arrange train transportation for a rendezvous to see the girl he loved for what could very well be the last time.”
After thinking up the concept of “Last Train to Clarksville,” Boyce and Hart booked a studio and called up some musicians. They worked together to perfect the song’s arrangement.
1 aspect of the song was inspired by The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’
Hart told the musicians to draw influence from The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” “After we showed them the basic tempo and groove and sang the song down a couple of times, I told the guys, ‘Now we need a great intro, a guitar riff, maybe something like ‘Day Tripper.'”
Guitarist Louis Shelton wrote the riff for the song. “Usually our three guitar players would vie to come up with the missing ingredients by playing us their respective ideas, and often we would work all three into the arrangement,” Hart recalled. “But this day Louie Shelton’s iconic reply, ‘How ’bout this one,’ led immediately into his playing the signature riff that fans around the world for nearly five decades have identified most closely with ‘Last Train to Clarksville.'”
How The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’ and The Monkees’ ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ performed on the Billboard Hot 100
“Day Tripper” became a hit. It reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 10 weeks. The Beatles released “Day Tripper” on the album Yesterday and Today. Yesterday and Today reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for five weeks. The album lasted on the chart for 32 weeks in total.
“Last Train to Clarksville” was even more popular. It became The Monkees’ first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when it topped the chart for a week. It remained on the chart for 15 weeks altogether. The song’s parent album, The Monkees, was No. 1 for 13 weeks. For a total of 102 weeks, The Monkees charted on the Billboard 200.
“Day Tripper” wasn’t one of The Beatles’ biggest hits — but it paved the way for one of The Monkees’ chart-toppers.