The Monkees: This Classic Hit by The Byrds Was a Satire of Their Career
The Monkees were hugely popular, however, that didn’t stop a classic rock band from writing a satirical song about their career. The Byrds wrote a track poking pun at how the Prefab Four came together. Here’s a look at how the song came together — and how The Monkees’ Peter Tork reacted to it.
Why The Byrds decided to write a satire of The Monkees’ career
It all starts with a teen magazine. According to the book Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon, Byrds members Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn were looking at a teen magazine and started thinking about the quick turnover in the music industry. They noticed a star they’d never seen before on the cover of the magazine and assumed they’d never see him on the magazine again. Afterward, they decided to write a funny song about the music industry.
They wrote a song called “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” Hillman stresses the track was not designed as a personal attack on The Monkees. Rather, the song was supposed to mock the manufactured process which brought the band together. Interestingly, Hillman actually expressed admiration for the musicianship of Mike Nesmith and the dancing ability of Davy Jones.
What upset The Monkees’ Peter Tork about The Byrds’ satire of his band’s career
This raises an interesting question: So what did The Monkees think of “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star?” During an interview with Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt, Peter Tork discussed everything from The Beatles to Studio City to sushi. Hiatt asked if Tork was aware “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” was about The Monkees.
“No,” Tork said. “Nobody ever said anything like that to me. I took it at face value. Maybe they thought about The Monkees, but ‘Get a guitar and learn how to play….’” Tork seemed upset at the implication The Monkees couldn’t play instruments before a television network brought the band together.
“Michael and I had been playing… I’d been playing music of one sort or another from the time I was nine years old, when I began to take piano lessons,” he continued. “So that was for 14 years. Michael had been playing continuously for several years before that; he was a folkie. Micky [Dolenz] played folk guitar, fireside guitar — you gave him a guitar, and he could play anything. Davy, who didn’t play any instruments, had been on Broadway. He was the American original Artful Dodger in Oliver, and that’s not nothing as a musical ability.”
How the world reacted to ‘So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll’ star
The Monkees were wildly popular during the 1960s – so was the public interested in hearing a satire about them? “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” charted at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Monkees were stars, however, the public was not opposed to hearing another band poke fun at them.