Can art be orchestrated? Can success be engineered? Apparently the answer is a resounding YES! Especially when you recruit all the right people to help. That’s exactly what Bob Rafelson did in the 1960s. Although, it was never what the aspiring filmmaker intended.
Rafelson developed an unusual concept for a TV series in 1962: the weekly misadventures of a rising rock and roll band. Rafelson had his eye on singer/songwriter John Sebastion and his Greenwich Village folk-rock group The Lovin’ Spoonful. Sebastion’s quartet would eventually top the charts with such hits as “Summer in the City” and “Do You Believe in Magic”; but at the time the four musicians were relatively unknown and looking for precisely the exposure Rafelson’s new series could afford them.
Rafelson pitched his idea to Universal Studio’s television section and
received the first of several rejections. So he shelved the project and went to work for Screen Gems, where he met his soon-to-be collaborator Bert Schneider. In 1965, after the phenomenal success of The Beatles’ movie, A Hard Day’s Night — about the misadventures of a rising rock and roll band — Rafelson realized that the television money men might now be open to his series concept. He and Schneider repackaged the idea and easily sold it to Screen Gems.
Unfortunately, during the time it took to sell the show, a new wrinkle had developed: The Lovin’ Spoonful finally got its big break, when the four musicians were signed to a lucrative and very exclusive record contract. No problem, though. When a wide door of opportunity suddenly shuts, just find yourself an open window to crawl through! Rafelson and Schneider decided they’d simply create their own pop group. After all, it shouldn’t be that hard to locate and assemble four young, attractive and talented guys who were also totally cool and musically inclined.
Rafelson already had his eye on British actor Davy Jones, who’d recently been nominated for a Tony Award for his supporting role in the Broadway musical Oliver! Jones could both sing and act, and he had teen-idol good looks to boot. Then came Micky Dolenz, a former child actor who’d starred in the TV show Circus Boy and then later played guitar for a dubious group called The Missing Links. Third and fourth up were Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork.
Peter Tork played a fair guitar and had been working in various Greenwich Village clubs. He heard about the casting call from his pal Stephen Stills, who’d auditioned for a part but had been rejected. And yes, if you know your music history, you probably realize this is THE Stephen Stills of the legendary group Crosby, Stills and Nash — one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
Michael Nesmith, who’d been seriously and actively pursuing a musical career, actually answered the ad he chanced upon in the Daily Variety, casting for “4 insane boys, age 17-21.” Nesmith got a part, and Rafelson got exactly what he advertised for: a quartet of four insane boys! Whenever the group was assembled in the recording studio, the youths would cut up and accomplish very little. In order to meet his schedule, Don Kirshner, who was orchestrating the “manufacturing” of the group’s music, had to bring in the “band” members one at a time, and lay down each of their tracks individually.
Kirshner also brought in solid backup musicians, as well as professional songwriters such as Neil Diamond — because initially Rafelson’s engineered rock band was far from being ready for prime time. But eventually the “4 insane boys” did get up to speed, enough to actually go on a successful music tour throughout North America and Europe … and The Monkees were born!
You knew we were discussing The Monkees, didn’t you? Rafelson’s made-for-TV rock band has sold more than 75 million records worldwide and had several international hits. At the height of their popularity in 1967, The Monkees outsold the Beatles and The Rolling Stones put together. Which definitely proves, if you have a dream, bring in the right people and work hard, you CAN make it happen!
“…I am doing a new thing! …Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness….” (Isaiah 43:19 NIV)
Tune in Friday, when “A Monkees Mom Makes Millions in Manufacturing!”