Recently, I was reading an article on the life of the late Monkees band member, Davy Jones, who died last year. When finishing I felt the need to walk out to my truck, unearth the Monkees CD from the bottom of the storage bin, pop it in the player, and head out for a drive.
Jones, the charismatic, bubbly, pint-sized Brit who anchored many of the Monkees hits in the late 1960s, might just have been the last band member any of us expected to go first. He was quick with a smile, and had a quip always at the ready.
Over the speakers came the familiar theme: "Hey, hey we're the Monkees / People say we monkey around / But we're too busy singing / To put anybody down "
Of course, the irony of the Monkees is that they were never meant to be a music act per se. Capitalizing on the popularity of the Beatles, they were manufactured for American TV in response to the British group's movie, "A Hard Day's Night."
Their potential was limitless: The show was a semi-spoof, a collection of goofy storylines involving a garage band in the most unlikely situations being chased hither and yon by malcontents, and ending up OK in the end.
The group members originally were chosen for their acting ability and character fit, though all had experience as musicians or vocalists. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith, and Davy Jones took the country and the world by storm when their Emmy award-winning show ran between 1966-68.
Even the Beatles were on record as fans, if not of the music, most definitely of the show's brand of humor.
The highlight of the half-hour episodes were cuts of a few songs interspersed throughout the plot. The band would play and inevitably be targeted by bad guys, all with their latest Top 40 hit in the background.
Those same tunes came pouring out of my SUV's sound system as I found a back road and tried to grab hold of the last bit of summer with the sunroof open and the windows down: "Last Train to Clarksville," "Daydream Believer," "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and many more.
My older sisters brought Monkees fever home, and I was hooked. Back then, everything the group did became a fad. During recess and lunch hour at school, my friends and I would re-enact the show's latest episodes, all while singing songs working their way to the top of the charts.
Everyone had their favorite character. Mine was Mike; he was tall and different with the Texas drawl, but most of all he wore that green ski cap with the pom-pom on top. I drove my mother nuts until she relented one Saturday and took me downtown to buy that exact hat. For the rest of the school year, regardless of the weather, I donned Mike's green cover.
Still, the Monkees weren't without issues, and a short column won't fit their intricate history.
Realizing how popular they had become, the guys fought for music recording independence separate from the TV show. They were mostly limited to vocals and faking their musical prowess, all as session players and tapes played the melodies while they provided the crooning.
But after 65 million album sales, and with the show cancelled in 1968, by 1970 it was all over. What begun, however, was the Monkees as legend and near-cult.
Sure, all the other "serious" bands of the era brooded their way into psychedelic history. But the Monkees remained the upbeat figment of everyone's imagination, a foot-tapping sunny-day troupe that seemed like every mother's son out having fun.
Which is why fans and some critics can't fathom that the Monkees aren't yet enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their flame may have burned briefly, but when lit it was nuclear.
And the TV show was revolutionary: a precursor to the huge spectacle of music video brought to the fore by MTV and VH-1, a decade after the Monkees split. To this day it remains de rigueur for success in the recording industry. If that isn't enough right there, then nothing ever will be.
I pulled back in my driveway after the brief retrospective, to the strains of Davy Jones serenading his legion of fans. I felt a few years younger than before my ride. In the end, that's what the Monkees were all about.
Davy, here's to hoping your ride was a smooth and you got a warm welcome from the station master, when you finally got off the last train to Clarksville.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @TellyHalkias.