5 Country Songs by The Monkees

The Monkees may be more known from their ’60s “television show about a band,” but they made some outstanding and underrated records. Their catalog is very diverse. Bubblegum, psychedelia, vaudeville, garage rock, comedy, pure pop, political, experimental…and country.

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Michael Nesmith, or “Wool Hat” as he was referred to on the show, was from Texas and was often pushing the band in a folk or country direction. In a time before country-rock was even talked about, Nesmith was blurring the lines and injecting his roots into the band’s music. At one point, he even convinced the powers that be to allow him to go to Nashville to record a batch of songs with some of Music City’s finest session players. (After leaving The Monkees, Nesmith started another group called the First National Band and released a trio of excellent albums on RCA, as well). If you only know “Daydream Believer” or “Last Train to Clarksville,” check out some of these deeper cuts that show the country side of The Monkees.

1. “Papa Gene’s Blues” from The Monkees, written by Michael Nesmith

When the recording sessions to create the music for the television show began, the four actors hadn’t even been cast. Music director Don Kirshner was crafting pop songs to use and didn’t care who the voices were. But when the four Monkees were chosen, Michael Nesmith began jockeying to get some of his original songs placed among the batch of potential hits.

James Burton’s guitar kicks off “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Burton is a session legend who can be heard on countless other recordings, including songs by Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley, and Ricky Nelson. As Nesmith was prone to doing, this title appears nowhere in the lyrics.

The tune boldly sits right in the middle of the debut album’s track listing. It’s unapologetically country amid one of the biggest-selling pop albums of 1966. Listen to Nesmith in the middle of the guitar solo say, “Ohh, pick it, Luther!” It’s a tip of the wool hat to Luther Perkins, who played guitar with Johnny Cash, although Perkins does not appear on the recording. 

2. “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round” from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., written by Lewis and Clark

The songwriting was credited to Lewis and Clark, but those were pseudonyms for Michael Martin Murphey and Owen Castleman. The banjo on the track was supplied by Doug Dillard, who portrayed Jebbin Darling on The Andy Griffith Show.

[RELATED: 5 Songs by The Monkees That Will Make You Nostalgic]

Following the success of the first two Monkees albums, there was a backlash against the group, as their producers’ insistence on using session musicians created a scandal. Even though it was a common occurrence among groups of the day, The Monkees were vilified for not playing on their own records. Nesmith rallied the other Monkees to record an album all by themselves. Kirshner was dumped. The television series was canceled. But the albums continued producing stylistically diverse songs, with Nesmith continuing to bring the country flavor. 

3. “Don’t Wait for Me” from Instant Replay, written by Michael Nesmith 

Here’s a song that Nesmith wrote where he actually used the title in the lyrics. In May 1968, Nesmith came to Nashville to record a batch of his own songs. “Listen to the Band” and eight other tunes were recorded with a group of musicians known as Area Code 615.

Just as the session musicians in Los Angeles also backed a who’s-who of pop artists, these Nashville cats offered support for the top artists on the country charts. Bob Dylan had done something similar shortly before Nesmith when he relocated to Nashville to record Blonde on Blonde. Many of the same musicians on those Dylan sessions appear on the Nesmith/Monkees tracks. 

4. “Nine Times Blue” written by Michael Nesmith

The Monkees performed this song on The Johnny Cash Show after Peter Tork left the group. It was first recorded during sessions for the third Monkees album and then later during sessions for the fifth. It didn’t make the cut either time and wasn’t officially released by the band until 1987. A collection of previously unreleased songs called Missing Links included the second recording. Nesmith did include the song, though, on his first solo album in 1973, Magnetic South. Once again, the title does not appear in the lyrics. In 2021, Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz sang the song on his album Dolenz Sings Nesmith.

5. “Good Clean Fun” from The Monkees Present, written by Michael Nesmith

Another Nesmith composition where the title does not appear in the lyrics. After a request from Nesmith’s publisher for the next Monkees single to be “good, clean fun,” Nesmith used that as the title for this country ditty. Bobby Thompson’s banjo and Buddy Spicher’s fiddle fuel this one. It is, indeed, good, clean fun.

After The Monkees Present, Nesmith left the group, and the duo of Dolenz and Davy Jones did one more album. Nesmith started the First National Band and continued his country-rock mash-up journey. He eventually scored a hit with “Joanne” and recorded a trio of FNB albums, which consisted primarily of original songs but also tunes by Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline, and Sons of the Pioneers.

These are certainly not the only songs from the Monkees catalog containing country elements. “I’ll Spend My Life With You,” “Tapioca Tundra,” “Listen to the Band,” “Carlisle Wheeling,” “St. Matthew,” “Door into Summer,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” “Oklahoma Backroom Dancer,” and “Some of Shelly’s Blues” are other Monkee songs that dip into the country genre.

Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, Linda Ronstadt, and the Eagles all existed in the space where rock meets country. Michael Nesmith wasn’t the first artist to live there, but he was definitely an early resident.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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