Monday, March 11, 2019

The Unshakeables: The Monkees on Tour

I’m sure the passing of Peter Tork sent many of us back to our Monkees CDs and DVDs and playlists. They remind us of happier, more innocent times, and ease the realization that 50 years have passed, and the icons of our childhoods are approaching their final bows, at least here in this imperfect world. 

Those who own the series or are catching up via Me-TV will likely begin their homage with “The Devil and Peter Tork.” It’s arguably the best of the show’s 58 episodes, which is surprising as it aired in the second and final season, when the group had already become indifferent to the series (something that, thankfully, never happened with the music).

But for me the most memorable episode was “The Monkees on Tour,” which closed out the first season on April 24, 1967. 

When Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider created the show, they never could have imagined a season one finale like this. But things happened fast in Monkee-land, as the series about a fictional band evolved in just months into a series featuring one of the most successful pop groups of the 1960s.  

By April of 1967, the Monkees had scored two #1 hits and two multi-million selling albums. Like Pinocchio after a visit from the Blue Fairy, they found themselves unexpectedly transformed from something fake into something real.

“The Monkees on Tour” chronicled the culmination of that realization. It’s an unscripted documentary that follows the group as they land in Phoenix for a live concert before more than 10,000 fans. 

Here, for the first time, the television audience is not seeing the Monkees as characters – dry-witted Mike, love-struck Davy, manic Micky and lovably dense Peter – but four talented singers and musicians with their own outside interests and personalities.

After an intro segment filmed in Samantha and Darrin Stephens’ living room, we cut to an airport in Phoenix, where the band arrives by Lear jet, separated by a chain-link fence from throngs of screaming fans. 

What follows is an oddly compelling mix of schtick, sentiment and Cinéma vérité, as cameras follow the quartet through room service breakfasts, horseback rides and dirt bike jumps, shenanigans at department stores and radio stations, and finally backstage for the concert. 

As this is the only footage that exists of the first Monkees concert tour, my only regret about this episode is that we don’t see more of it. Granted, the snippets we get of “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Steppin’ Stone” are almost inaudible over the cacophony of audience shrieking. But it still would have been a treat (as well as a rejoinder to those who claimed the band couldn’t play) to show at least one song performed from start to finish. 

More interesting is the clips of each Monkee’s solo performance: Peter plays banjo and sings “Cripple Creek”; Mike plays maracas (!) and sings Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover”; Micky sings Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” while imitating James Brown, complete with cape routine; Davy is the only one who actually performs a Monkees song (“I Wanna Be Free”). 

The audience loved everything, of course. They could have read excerpts from Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and teen girls would still swoon. But the fact that they were allowed to do what they wanted in those solo spots is what makes them interesting. Here was a moment in Monkee history when these four guys went from being along for the ride to deciding they’d rather drive the car.  

I’m not the only one who thought this episode was noteworthy. On the DVD release there are three separate commentary tracks for “The Monkees on Tour” from Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and songwriter Bobby Hart.

“This is the only show where we weren’t pretending to be four starving, struggling musicians, but actually were a performing band,” Tork says. “It was our ability to play on stage that led us to think we could play on the records, which led to the recording of ‘Headquarters.’”

The episode closes with a reprise of the group at a Phoenix radio station, where Mike tells listeners “We'd like to thank everybody, for making it a great stay. We'd like to thank The Rolling Stones for being a great group. We'd like to thank The Mamas and Papas for making it good. We'd like to thank Lovin' Spoonful for making it happy, but most of all we'd like to thank the Beatles for starting it all up for us.”

Fifty years later, Monkees fans would like to also thank The Monkees, for adding so many songs to the soundtracks of our lives. 


  1. Entirety of the Phoenix radio show appearance can be heard here.

  2. Just saw mike and micky great show lots of deep nesmith songs

  3. Been a Papa Nez fan since 1966 have followed his career for 50 plus year's songwriter wrote a few books was forerunner of mtv with popclips he has a patent for realtime 3d and country rock Pioneer movie producer

  4. After watching the 2 episodes that Me-TV featured following Peter's passing, and the scheduling the series in the same Sunday period, I decided I'd finally start watching every episode. There are only 58 MONKEES episodes, and I've watched full series of many more, so I started recording THE MONKEES both off Me-TV and Fe(Family)-TV, which shows 4 episodes each Saturday morning. I've found I especially like 1 song that was featured on 3 of the last 4 episodes of Season 1, including "Monkees on Tour", called "The Girl That I Knew Somewhere". Also I should mention here (unsolicited) that Aaron Handy III has created a great compendium of The Monkees on film & tv here for Monkees fans everywhere: