Behind the Band Name: The Monkees

The Monkees were one of the most beloved pop bands in the 1960s. Even with the “British Invasion” of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Zombies, and many others, The Monkees’ Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork managed to carve out a lane of their own. Their hits included “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer” and many others. Below, we look at the history of the band name The Monkees.

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The Monkees were the brainchild of filmmaker Bob Rafelson and film and TV producer Bert Schneider, the latter of whom’s father, Abraham Schneider, was an executive at Columbia Pictures and worked in the Screen Gems Television units. Rafelson and Schneider wanted to create a TV show centered around a fictional rock band, turning the idea into the NBC series, The Monkees, about a four-piece rock group trying to make it in the industry, with plenty of antics along the way.

Dolenz and Jones already had claims to fame before joining the hit TV series. Dolenz was previously the star of the children’s show, Circus Boy. In 1964, he signed a contract with Screen Gems to appear in a variety of their TV shows and Columbia films, along with recording music under the record label. Meanwhile, Jones was a Tony-nominated actor for originating the role of the Artful Dodger in the Broadway production of Oliver, earning a nomination for Featured Actor – Musical in 1963.

Meaning Behind the Name

Dolenz was the first to be cast on The Monkees, followed by his three bandmates. In his 1987 memoir, They Made a Monkee Out of Me, Jones recalls how the band got its name after much workshopping.

“The name hadn’t been thought of yet,” he said. “There was The Beatles, The Animals, The Byrds, The Turtles — so we started thinking of animal names. Somebody came up with The Parrots.”

Jones strongly resisted the latter name due to the suggestion that they wear parrots on their shoulders during tapings. “Not me, man. I ain’t having no parrot on me,'” he recalled of his reaction. “Can you imagine? ‘Hey, hey, we’re The Parrots!’ No way.”

But when someone made the suggestion that a monkey could be the group mascot, a lightbulb went off, considering other popular bands at the time whose names took after the animal kingdom.

“Suddenly, we knew we had it – The Monkees’ [spelled] wrong, like Beatles, Byrds,” he recalls. “Everybody was excited about it.”

Though it only ran for two seasons on NBC, The Monkees made superstars out of the band. The show was the recipient of two Emmy Awards in 1967 for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy. Despite starting off as a faux band put together by Hollywood executives, the group managed to turn The Monkees into real-life success.

In 1966, The Monkees released their self-titled debut album, which spent 13 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 and featured well-known songs “Last Train to Clarksville” and the theme song from their TV show. This led to a string of three additional albums, which also landed at the top of the all-genre chart, More of the Monkees, Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., all released in 1967. Over the years, the band has released 13 studio albums, with several changes to its lineup.

Jones passed away in 2012, followed by Tork in 2019 and Nesmith in 2021. Prior to his death in December 2021, Nesmith and Dolenz embarked on The Monkees Farewell Tour in the latter half of the year. Dolenz is the last surviving original member of The Monkees.

Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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