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Critically scorned in their heyday for being a purely manufactured band who initially didn't even play their own instruments, The Monkees garnered belated respect as purveyors of bouncy, well-crafted, usually upbeat pop tunes. In 1965, a couple of TV producers saw The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night" and decided to replicate its carefree, zany spirit in a series. After auditioning over 400 candidates, they wound up with Michael Nesmith (who was actually a serious singer/songwriter in his own right, and would go on to write Linda Ronstadt's first hit, "Different Drum" -- and whose mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, invented White-Out), Micky Dolenz (a former child actor who'd starred as Corky in "Circus Boy"), Peter Tork (who'd hung out in the Greenwich Village folk scene), and Davy Jones (a diminutive Brit whose sudden fame caused another up-and-coming English rocker named David Jones to change his name to Bowie). The TV series was a huge hit for several years, and so were the group's records (on which they did eventually get to play their own instruments...), which included such hit singles as "I'm a Believer" (penned by Neil Diamond) and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (by husband-and-wife team Gerry Goffin and Carole King). By the early '70s, the series and the group had folded. The members went their separate ways, but their work has been lovingly re-released in numerous box sets and retrospectives, their distinctly odd movie "Head" retains a serious cult following, and they've reunited occasionally in recent years.

Written by: Mary Eisenhart

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