‘The Monkees’: Mike Nesmith Struggled Writing Music for TV Series: ‘I Didn’t Know How to Write a Pop Song’

The Monkees star Mike Nesmith was one-fourth of one of the entertainment industry’s most popular television and music quartets. However, Nesmith struggled with several parts of being a Monkees member; including what he felt was an inability to write a true pop song. The NBC series’ strengths lay in the music prominently featured in each new episode. However, this proved to be a sticking point with the entertainer who claimed, despite hit after hit, “I didn’t know how to write a pop song.”

Mike Nesmith on the set of 'The Monkees' television series.
Mike Nesmith | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

‘The Monkees’ television success was based on hit songs

The Monkees premiered on NBC in 1966 and kicked off a wave of intense Monkeemania that lasted two years.

However, during that time, the band and its songwriters worked feverishly as they churned out a plethora of hits that included “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Mary, Mary,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

Subsequently, Nesmith, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones shot 58 TV show episodes and filmed the psychedelic movie Head.

But at its core, The Monkees series was about four musicians trying to make it in the music business. Therefore, the songs featured in the series were fundamental to the show.

Subsequent albums that featured the songs piggybacked on the show’s success and vice-versa.

However, Nesmith felt he never knew how to write a proper pop song.

Nesmith was a predecessor in the country rock movement

Nesmith’s strengths lie in blending country and rock music, a genre popularized by The Eagles, Gram Parsons, and The Byrds.

However, his involvement in The Monkees television show pushed him out of his element.

Nesmith shared in an interview with Guitar World that while his primary craft was writing, pop songs were not his forte.

“When I got on the show, the pop community was strange to me and, by and large, didn’t respond well to my songwriting or singing,” he explained.

“The show didn’t do anything to help that. I was always outside the main effort of the show’s music. I would’ve liked to have been more accepted as a pop songwriter, but there was little I could do about it since I didn’t know how to write a pop song.”

He successfully merged country and pop with the song “Sweet Young Thing,” a beloved Nesmith tune from the group’s debut LP titled The Monkees, which charted at number one in the United States in 1966. However, a straight pop song was out of his wheelhouse.

Mike Nesmith’s efforts resulted in several hits featured on ‘The Monkees’ series

Nesmith’s pop songs were performed and heard in several episodes of The Monkees.

“Mary, Mary” was featured in the episode “The Prince and the Paupers.”

“You Told Me,” was prominently heard in “Royal Flush,” as was “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.”

“When I joined The Monkees, they kept saying, ‘You gotta write a pop song.’ I wrote this one of the two, along with ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere,'” Nesmith told Rolling Stone.

“I was really happy with the way it turned out, and it came out on the only album we ever made by ourselves, which was Headquarters. When I say ‘we,’ I mean the four principal actors. Peter [Tork] put a great banjo on it and came to life.”

Ultimately, the man who believed he couldn’t write a pop song became one of its most iconic faces and a beloved community member he felt he wasn’t a part of.

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