When I think of The Monkees, mostly what I think about is how it’s kind of a shame that people aren’t aware of how talented they really were. Particularly Michael Nesmith, who had the most notable solo career. From what I understand, he’s the one who was least likely to attend reunions, because he wanted to move away from those days. You can’t entirely blame him, since he was dogged by “they don’t even play their own instruments” his entire life.
Of course, the most noteworthy thing about Michael Nesmith in his pre-Monkees life is that his mother invented Liquid Paper. Presumably this meant he was also the rich one; when his mother sold the company shortly before her own death, it was for nearly fifty million dollars. Still, when Nesmith finished his stint in the US Air Force, his mother and stepfather bought him his first guitar. Within three years, he’d been hired for the show and band. As time went on, he was the most vocal of the four about wanting to be his own musician, and I believe he was the first to have his own songs performed by the group.
Sure, he was The One With The Hat. (“That’s not even his real hat!”) But there was so much more to him than that. When one of the songs he wrote was rejected as “not really a Monkees song,” he passed it to Linda Ronstadt, who had a hit with it. (It’s “Different Drum,” which I can definitely hear as a Monkees song.) “Mary Mary” ended up covered by Run-DMC. I’ve been fond of “Yellow Butterfly” for years; it’s one of the songs that shows his strong country influences, but it’s quiet and soothing and enjoyable.
Also, he was the executive producer of Repo Man, so let’s not forget that. He was involved in the sequence of events that eventually created MTV. He created Pacific Arts Corporation; eventually, he ended up suing PBS over issues with The Civil War, which he regretted deeply even though he won. One way or another, Nesmith was behind vast amounts of the pop culture of the last fifty years. Either directly or by inspiration, Nesmith was there.
I also think the Monkees deserve a pop culture reevaluation. I know; for their early songs, they didn’t play their own instruments. I’m more forgiving of not writing their own songs, even though it turns out that they could have. Lots of people can sing but not write songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the show is funny and clever and actually, in several episodes, works to teach the audience about music. The music is light pop, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Nesmith’s work with the band as he was allowed to create is some of its best, too.