The Monkees’ ‘I Wanna Be Free’ Was Inspired by a Song With a Dark Theme

Many of The Monkees‘ songs were inspired by other tunes. For example, a country hit inspired The Monkees’ “I Wanna Be Free.” The country song in question had a sad and dark theme. 

Davy Jones, vocalist of The Monkees' "I Wanna Be Free," in front of a flag
Davy Jones of The Monkees | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

‘I Wanna Be Free’ was inspired by a song that haunted one of The Monkees’ songwriters

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart formed Boyce & Hart, a songwriting duo. They are most known for writing Monkees songs such as “Last Train to Clarksville,” “(Theme From) The Monkees,” “Valleri,” and “I Wanna Be Free.” In his 2015 autobiography Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem Into Miracles, Hart discussed the origin of “I Wanna Be Free.”

“Tommy was haunted by a piece that Roger Miller had written called ‘One Dyin’ and a Buryin’,” Hart wrote. “The subject was suicide, and the song ended with the words ‘I wanna be free.’ The thought was that all it would take to accomplish this freedom would be ‘one dying and one burying.’ Tommy had been playing the record over and over again.”

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How the lyrics of the song came together

Hart further elaborated on the creation of “I Wanna Be Free.” “He had already put some chords together and was trying to construct a new idea using the last line of the song for inspiration,” Hart wrote. “I stood quietly, letting Tommy take his time to acknowledge my presence in the room. I knew the song was special to him, but I wouldn’t find out how special and personal until many years later.”

Boyce initially opened the song with the line “I wanna be free, don’t say you love me say you like me.” Hart convinced Boyce this line should be in the second verse of the song. Together, they came up with another line of the song: “If your love has to tie me, don’t try me, say goodbye.” Hart says the song reflected the relationships he and Boyce had when they were bachelors in the mid-1960s.

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How Roger Miller’s ‘One Dyin’ and a Buryin” and The Monkees’ ‘I Wanna Be Free’ performed on the charts

“One Dyin’ and a Buryin'” became a minor hit, reaching No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying on the chart for seven weeks. Miller included the song on his album The 3rd Time Around. The album hit No. 13 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 24 weeks.

The Monkees released “I Wanna Be Free” as a single; however, it never charted on the Billboard Hot 100. The Monkees released the track on their self-titled album. The album topped the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks. It stayed on the chart for 102 weeks in total. 

“I Wanna Be Free” is a classic pop song even if it has its origin in a morbid country song.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.

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