Wednesday, March 18, 2015
TMFW 80 - (Purple) Hey, Heys
Before we get into today's TMFW, let's make one thing clear right up front. The Monkees - however you wish to define that band - made some excellent music. In their first two years, they had big hits with "Last Train to Clarksville" (#1 for 1 week in 1966), "I'm a Believer" (#1 in 7 weeks in the US, and #1 in the UK, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway in 1966), and "Daydream Believer" (#1 for 4 weeks in 1967). Add that to songs like "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone,""Shades of Gray," "Mary, Mary," "Listen to the Band," and (insert your own favorite Monkees tune here), and their catalog becomes pretty impressive. Even "That Was Then, This is Now" from the 1980s-era Monkees is a decent tune.
OK, now that we all agree that The Monkees were an underrated and great band, your True Music Fact for today is not actually about them. Instead, it deals with an unlikely opening act of theirs on a 1967 tour: The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
As this "Forgotten Hits of the '60s" blog post and this this excellently-researched (as usual) Snopes entry explain in detail, in the summer of 1967 The Monkees were at the height of their powers and were playing to sold-out crowds around the country. And despite their teeny-bopper image and silly television personas, they were also a part of the "legitimate" music scene: Peter Tork was roommates with Stephen Stills and was friends with Jackson Browne, the group hung out with the Beatles, and being famous-young-people-in-the-60s they were at the Monterrey Pop Festival to take in the scene. By summer 1967, the Monkees had encountered Hendrix several times - in England with the Beatles, in New York City, and at Monterrey.
On the flip side, though he was well-appreciated by people in the know, and though he was a hit in England (three top-10 songs by summer 1967), Jimi Hendrix was at that time still largely unknown in America. So The Monkees got the idea to bring him along on their tour. They would get to see Hendrix each night and he would get much-needed exposure: it was a classic win-win scenario.
Except that it wasn't. Hendrix started the tour with The Monkees in Jacksonville, Florida, and stayed on for dates in Miami, Charlotte, Greensboro, and three days in New York City. By all accounts, Hendrix's performances were met with hostility and impatience from the mostly teenage (and younger) girls who were there to swoon for The Monkees rather than have their mind blown by "Purple Haze." The crowds jeered Hendrix and chanted "we want the Monkees" throughout his set. Mike Nesmith recalled the crowd modifying the song "Foxy Lady," with the girls answering each of Jimi's "Foxy" calls with an answer of "Davy." Micky Dolenz reflected on the absurdity of Hendrix, playing in front of southern crowds of pubescent girls in the 1960s, as "this Black guy in a psychedelic Day-Glo blouse, playing music from hell, holding his guitar like he was fucking it, then lighting it on fire."
After only seven shows, Hendrix had had enough. On his third night in New York City, he put down his guitar, flipped off the crowd, and walked offstage. He asked the band for a release from his contract, and they obliged. It just wasn't fair to put a dude like Jimi Hendrix through that.
After the oil-and-water experience of 'Hendrix opens for the Monkees' became apparent, Peter Tork reasoned in hindsight that "nobody thought, 'This is screaming, scaring-the-balls-off-your-daddy music compared with the Monkees,' you know? It didn't cross anybody's mind that it wasn't gonna fly." That's hard to imagine.
BONUS FACT: You can't write an entry about the Monkees without the Trivia Everybody Knows that Mike Nesmith's mom invented Liquid Paper (a/k/a white-out). Bette Nesmith Graham came up with the idea in 1951 while working as an executive secretary at a bank. After making bottles of it for her co-workers she tinkered with the product to improve the formula and starting selling it full-time. Liquid Paper was sold in 1979 to Gillette for almost $50 million plus future royalties. Mrs. Nesmith Graham died the next year, and Mike became the heir to the white-out fortune.
BONUS FACT 2: After Hendrix departed the tour, a rock journalist invented a press release that said (satirically) that the Daughters of the American Revolution had demanded his ouster because he was "too erotic." That was reported by some outlets as the real story, and it became legend.
BONUS FACT 3: "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was written for The Monkees by the legendary husband-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. 48 years later, it is still a sharp critique of American suburban life. It's on par with "Little Boxes," written by Malvina Reynolds and made famous by TMFW 21 subject Pete Seeger.