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The Monkees were a quintessential part of 1960s pop music — but they managed to have a hit in the 1980s. Davy Jones refused to help create the song but it reached the top 20 anyway. Interestingly, the Prefab Four’s 1980s hit was actually a cover of a song by a retro band. 

Davy Jones with a British flag
Davy Jones | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How MTV led the Monkees to record a new hit

Nostalgia comes in cycles and plenty of people were nostalgic for the 1960s in the 1980s — if popular media is any indication. During the 1980s, Tiffany released a successful Beatles cover, the world got a sequel to Psycho, and The Wonder Years was a big hit on television. The Monkees were certainly part of that trend, as they did very well on tour in 1986, which led Arista Records to release a compilation of their hits. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mickey Dolenz opened up about how MTV played a major part in all this.

 “In 1986 MTV started showing the old show and we reunited for a tour,” Dolenz revealed. “It was the biggest selling tour of that year for anybody Arista had [in their] catalog at the time. Clive Davis got a hold of me through his A&R guy, Roy Lott. They said, ‘Listen, this is huge.’”

“That Was Then, This Is Now” by the Monkees

Davis and Lott told Dolenz they wanted to release the Monkees’ greatest hits album and that the Prefab Four should record new material for it. The Monkees had a short period of time to record new stuff, including a cover of “That Was Then, This Is Now” by the Mosquitos.

The Monkees hit Davy Jones had no part in

According to the book Long Title: Looking for the Good Times; Examining the Monkees’ Songs, One by One, the Mosquitos were a retro band who modeled their music on the bands of the 1960s. When the Monkees covered “That Was Then, This Is Now,” they tried to make it sound more like a 1980s song. In other words, “That Was Then, This Is Now” went from being a 1960s-style song by a 1980s band to being a 1980-style song from a 1960s band. Dolenz discussed the track’s creation.

The Monkees in front of a red backdrop
The Monkees |Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Monkees Hit Mike Nesmith Called ‘the Worst Record Ever’

“They wanted us to try go get this thing out in like two weeks. I was like, ‘…. I’d love to do it,’” Dolenz told Rolling Stone. “Peter [Tork] agreed, but [Davy Jones] did not. He chose not to participate in that particular set of recordings.” Dolenz did not explain why Jones declined to be involved with the songs.

How the public reacted to ‘That Was Then, This Is Now’

According to Billboard, “That Was Then, This Is Now” peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it a modest hit. It was their only song to chart that decade besides “Heart and Soul,” which only reached No. 87 on the chart and wasn’t popular enough to truly qualify as a hit. The success of “That Was Then, This Is Now” was part of an overall trend of artists who became famous in the 1960s having hits in the 1980s. Some of these artists include all former members of the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones. “That Was Then, This Is Now” isn’t as well-known as the Beach Boys’ 1980s hit “Kokomo” or the Rolling Stones’ 1980s hit “Start Me Up,” but it proved the Monkees had some staying power.