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Monkee Business Revisited

Rolling Stone's 1986 feature on the return of Monkee mania, 20 years after the band's peak

Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz on the set of the television show, 'The Monkees.'
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
February 29, 2012 2:35 PM ET

This story is from the September 25th, 1986 issue of Rolling Stone.

The needle drops on an ancient phonograph and out crackles the familiar opening lines of the Monkees' theme song: "Here we come, walkin' down the street..." The Monkees are amiably snapping fingers and lip-syncing along to it, when the record hits a scratch. With comic looks of perplexity, they huddle at center stage. The solution? Peter Tork walks over and blasts the record player to smithereens with a huge stick of dynamite. When the smoke clears, the Monkees and their eight-member backup band break into "Last Train to Clarksville," and this time they're playing and singing for real.

"Clarksville" leads off what has become the hottest show of the summer. Touring for the first time in eighteen years, the Monkees are breaking records for ticket and merchandise sales around the country. Originally booked to play eleven weeks of summer concerts at theme parks and state fairs, the tour has been extended into the fall and has moved to larger, more prestigious venues. The Far East and Europe have been added to the schedule.

"Everybody is in shock over what's going on with them," says promoter Eric Hening, who is handling some of the dates on the Southern leg of the tour. In a soft concert season, the Monkees are a guaranteed sellout, with cities that don't appear on their itinerary clamoring for concerts. At present, the Monkees have more records on the charts than any other act: four reissued albums and one anthology package, plus a newly recorded single, "That Was Then, This Is Now." And the Monkees TV show, which originally ran from September 1966 to August 1968, is back in syndication.

The Monkees' improbable success is turning into something more than just a summer rerun. Three of the original Monkees – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork – have officially reunited, retaining David Fishof, who organized their reunion, as their manager. (Michael Nesmith, a reluctant Monkee even at the height of the group's stardom, remains the lone holdout.) The Monkees are as surprised as anyone by their sudden revival. Nonetheless, they have their theories.

"The music's come around after the disco and synthesizers of the Seventies," says Dolenz. "Wharn!, 'Manic Monday' and 'All I Need Is a Miracle' are things we could have done. They don't call it bubblegum anymore."

"We weren't the greatest musicians in the world," admits Jones. "I mean, we played the national anthem and people from every country stood up. But we were good, we were fun."

"They were the first video band," notes Tom Freston, general manager of MTV, whose spring airing of the Monkees series helped to get the ball rolling. "We all made fun of their music back in the Sixties, but they're classics."

The story behind the return of Monkeemania in the mid-Eighties sounds as far-fetched as any of the cockeyed plots from the original TV shows. "No one's even gonna want us," Dolenz told Fishof when approached about a reunion. But Fishof persisted. By the time they consented, the Monkees found themselves being heavily promoted on two other fronts: MTV's Monkee marathons and Rhino Records' reissue of their entire back catalog. The June appearance of a Monkees greatest-hits package on Arista is just the latest wrinkle. Surprisingly, none of the parties involved – Fishof, MTV or the record companies – knew that any of the others had plans vis-à-vis the Monkees.

David Fishof, a thirty-year-old who made his fortune representing sports figures, had in recent years presented a series of Sixties-revival package tours. In early September, Fishof, urged on by various Monkees fan clubs, hatched the idea to reassemble the Monkees for a twentieth-anniversary tour. The Monkees had the most identifiable personalities and highest individual name recognition of any Sixties group but the Beatles. But more important, they still had fans. Fishof started his member-by-member crusade with Peter Tork, who was living in Manhattan. Tork, who'd recently advertised his services as a music and vocal coach for thirty dollars an hour in The Village Voice, initially turned Fishof down but accepted his invitation to watch one of his Happy Together shows from backstage before making a final decision. "God, we could do this too!" said Tork, half-convinced. Tork and Fishof went to England to press their case on Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones.

Dolenz was living in a fifteen-bedroom mansion in England and working as a successful TV and video director. Fishof found Jones, a former jockey, happily tending his horses and appearing in a production of Godspell in London. It took some tall talking and fourteen transatlantic trips on Fishof's part, not to mention an avalanche of letters from Monkees fans, to persuade three dubious Monkees to team up for a summer tour. "I think I finally closed the deal the day before rehearsals," says Fishof, laughing. Michael Nesmith, who was busy running his Pacific Arts Video company, couldn't be persuaded to join in, but he sent a stuffed dummy of himself to the press conference at which Davy, Micky and Peter announced their reunion.

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