herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

Hey, Hey it's a Monkee - the classiest one in the group

One of the great myths perpetrated by owners and trainers of boybands in trying to defend the muck their charges produce is that there's historical precedent for their crimes against music. 'The Monkees were a manufactured band' is the mantra uttered by many an impresario and, in some respects, that is actually true.

The Monkees were indeed cobbled together to play the part of a pop group for a TV show but, in some weird twist of fate, they became an actual band and turned to bite the hand that initially fed them.

Central to that transformation was Mike Nesmith, a Texas-born singer-songwriter who, along with Peter Tork, had form on the folk-rock circuit and brought credibility to a project which was conceived to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles.

By the time he joined the Monkees in 1965 Nesmith had already served in the US Air Force, written poetry and several plays and was on the books of a music publisher as a songwriter.

In the series he was always the serious one but several of his songs - most notably Listen to the Band, The Girl I Knew Somewhere, Mary Mary , What Am I Doin' hangin' Round? and You Just May Be the One - were recorded by the group and he was a driving force in them gaining artistic control which, alas, led to commercial disaster with the unfathomably weird and frankly unwatchable movie Head.

Outside the confines of that great pop outfit however, Nesmith has had a thoroughly fulfilling career.

Pioneer

He was one of the pioneers of country rock with the First National Band and as a songwriter he penned the absolutely wonderful Different Drum, a song first covered by Linda Ronstadt with the Stone Poneys (most of whom would go on to form the Eagles) and later given a respectful makeover by the Lemonheads.

His only real solo success in this part of the world came with the 1977 hit Rio, one of the truly great drinking songs, but as a result of the video he created for the song he established a TV programme called PopClips for the Nickelodeon cable network which was eventually sold to Time Warner and subsequently morphed into MTV.

His film work through his Pacific Arts Corporation has produced some memorable work - most notably being behind the Burns' brothers brilliant documentary The Civil War, one of the greatest pieces of television ever made - and he continues to write and tour to this day. I'd say he sleeps well in his bed at night.

Michael Nesmith and his band play Vicar Street on Tuesday

>George Byrne

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