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Feb 06

THE MONKEES – “I’m A Believer”

Popular88 comments • 6,153 views

#228, 21st January 1967

My feelings about the Monkees and their music are entirely entangled with my feelings about their TV show, and childhood TV in general. Pop music wasn’t a big deal in my house growing up, and I had no real idea of the Monkees as ‘a band’, even if they played a band in the show: I just didn’t know what that might mean or what a band might do.

There was a massive gap, it seemed to me, between American shows like the Monkees, or the Banana Splits, and British programmes like Ivor The Engine, or Fingerbobs, or Bagpuss. (Of course now I know that these shows were made for very different agegroups, but they would run together during the UK school holidays so I consumed them as a whole.) I preferred the British shows, by a long way – the Monkees upset and annoyed me, their shows seemed to make no sense, and though just as plot-light were more frantic: talking about it to Pete the other day, he described the American style excellently as “nothing happens all at once”. The Monkees seemed to be always running about – I could not imagine the genial hippies who fronted or narrated Fingerbobs or Ivor running anywhere. Those presenters reminded me of my parents, who would tell me a story and then leave me to my imagination. The Monkees reminded me of my nursery school teachers, forever chivvying me to join in and have fun.

(The running about in the American shows, of course, wasn’t because American kids were much livelier than British ones: it was mostly because the budgets were bigger and so children’s programme making wasn’t confined to tiny broomcupboard studios which necessitated the crafts-and-puppets approach the UK output took.)

I went wandering down this route when I was trying to figure out why I’ve always had such a blindspot about the Monkees. “I’m A Believer” is professional, slick pop, crammed with hooks and imaginative touches – and I often love professional, slick pop. I’ve danced to this song, I’ve thrown shapes on the “I’m in love!” parts, I can listen to it now and hear some subtle, surprisingly soft vocal touches: it’s a terrific bit of craft and full of heart and enthusiasm too. I ought maybe to be right behind the Monkees as some kind of godfathers of the artificially created band. Instead, even as I enjoy the record, I can still feel my five-year-old self, nervous and uncomprehending, faced with the Monkees’ kind of televised fun and resenting it.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Cumbrian on 24 Feb 2011 #

    I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you.

    Quoted for truth.

  2. 62
    wichita lineman on 24 Feb 2011 #

    Re 55: Lucky you! Never found a copy of this half-speed freakout .

    I was going to call it a “rave-up” which I believe was the with-it term when the single came out.

  3. 63
    Jimmy the Swede on 24 Feb 2011 #

    # 60 – swanstep via The Simpsons has just delivered a microcosm for the whole of the Popular project, especially for those of us ancient enough to have got ten bob notes for pocket money.

  4. 64
    Erithian on 25 Feb 2011 #

    … but given that Homer has now been 36 years of age since 1989, isn’t it about time he came out as a teenage Guns n’Roses fan?

    (Not a patch on the life story of William Brown though – in the first “Just William” book in 1922 he gets a job below stairs in a posh house; in the last, in 1970, he gets a Beatles LP for his 11th birthday!)

  5. 65
    swanstep on 25 Feb 2011 #

    @erithian. Your point is well-taken. The ep. was from 1996 of course, at which point the Homer being a teen in 1977 made complete sense.

    The point you raise is, now I think about it, a really good and searching one. Comedies are all about going round and round in a circle whereas drama is all about arc – beginnings middles and ends. The advantage of animation for comedy is that the characters don’t have to age whereas aging/advancing rapidly towards death is inherently dramatic with human casts, which interferes with the comedy.
    But, heh, whenever The Simpsons wants to goose their show with a little drama they can do so by plunging into the past in flashbacks.

    That’s great but – as you effectively point out – that introduction of dramatic notes does hold real peril for the show if lingered over because it must lock in time frames and imply morality and aging back in the show’s present (I don’t think they can disavow Homer’s ’70s pedigree at this point). The advantage animation presented for a long run comedy show must gradually leak away insofar as the past is gradually mined for dramatic points.

    BTW, I remember being disturbed as a child by the apparent agelessness of Biggles, flying first in WW1 then WW2 then having cold war adventures….

  6. 66
    Cumbrian on 25 Feb 2011 #

    Homer skipped GnR and went straight onto Grunge, when he changed the style of his R&B band, after discovering Marge and her college professor having a tender moment. He changed the name too, to Sadgasm.

    I know it’s de rigeur to claim that The Simpsons hasn’t been funny “in, like, forever” but I still find plenty of things to amuse me in more recent episodes – particularly the fact that the show runners seem to embrace the fact that Homer has been a teenager in several different eras (I’m looking forward to when he was into Limp Bizkit – which should happen in about 10 years). In effect, they have disavowed Homer’s 70s pedigree. The episode quoted above got pilliored in the critical press for it too. I don’t think I care too much about Homer’s shifting back story – this is a guy who has had every job in the world pretty much, hasn’t aged in 20+ years and still seemingly holds down a job in a Nuclear power plant, despite being borderline retarded. Realism and continuity are not why I watch The Simpsons. I watch it because it has jokes in it. Maybe that is too base.

    I will grant that The Simpsons can’t touch its Imperial Phase – but then neither can most bands, shows, singers, whatevers, that had an Imperial Phase.

    Is this a spoiler-ish conversation, given a future #1?

  7. 67
    Erithian on 25 Feb 2011 #

    Very good point, blame swanstep @60 (and me and others for joining in)! Only a handful of entries to go as I write, so let’s park this conversation until then…

  8. 68
    swanstep on 25 Feb 2011 #

    @cumbrian, 60. Thanks for the info about Homer’s shifting backstory. (I watch the Simpsons irregularly via the occasional rerun.) According to wiki the episode that updated Marge and Homer’s courtship (and Homer’s musical interests) to the 90s was not only hated by the fans but has since been ignored, i.e., subsequent flashbacks and refernces have always been to Homer and Marj as teens in the 70s, to Homer’s mom as a late ’60s radical, and so on.

    Oh and, yes, oops: All hail the bunny!

  9. 69
    Mark G on 28 Feb 2011 #

    Is this one of those number ones that have had parts ‘added’ to make it the ‘definitive’ version (arguable)?

    Reeves and Mortimer’s “boom boom boom OY!” gets added (by someone in the vicinity) no matter whose version is playing.

    A bit like The Goodies’ contra/intro melody for “Wild Thing”

  10. 70
    Mark M on 28 Feb 2011 #

    Re 69: “Reeves and Mortimer’s boom…”

    Fortunately not anywhere I’ve ever gone.

  11. 71
    swanstep on 19 Mar 2011 #

    @wichita, 62. Just got around to clicking on your link to the Flies’ version of Stepping Stone. Holy mackerel, it’s awesome. Thanks.

  12. 72
    Lena on 4 Oct 2011 #

    ‘Classic’ rock: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/10/boo-move-night-of-fear.html Merci tout le monde!

  13. 74
    Lena on 5 Oct 2011 #

    And stuck behind in the NMEhttp://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/10/rolling-stones-lets-spend-night.html Thanks for reading, as ever!

  14. 76
    Lena on 1 Mar 2012 #

    I wrote a bit about “Daydream Believer” – I was in a bit of a mood about their not being taken seriously, which sort of colors the posting, but obv. I had to post this: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/03/perfectly-imperfect-monkees-daydream.html

  15. 77
    wichita lineman on 1 Mar 2012 #

    Here’s something I’ve written about why I love the Monkees.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2012/mar/01/the-monkees-believer-davy-jones

  16. 78
    swanstep on 1 Mar 2012 #

    @wichita, 77. Spot on.
    @Lena, 76. Thanks especially for that link to Star Collector. Not heard that one before. That’s a pretty wonky/weird synth lead for 1967!

  17. 79
    wichita lineman on 2 Mar 2012 #

    Re: Star Collector. Micky Dolenz was among the first two or three people to own a Moog in Britain, maybe the world. Along with Star Collector, he came up with this even odder Moog-based song on the Pisces Aquarius Capricorn & Jones album:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXEHgsa11Uk

    I like the way the other Monkees look on, not quite sure what to do (except Cool Hand Mike). Here’s Micky in the LA Weekly, who reckon it’s the first pop record ever to feature the Moog (anyone got another suggestion?):

    “Ahh, my little Moog synthesizer. It was actually a pretty difficult thing to use,” he said, recalling how those first-generation synthesizers had to be physically rewired for every different sound the musician might want to use.

    “I threw a party for John Lennon one night, and he sat there at the Moog for four hours making flying saucer sounds. It was great for flying saucer sounds. I sold it to Bobby Sherman, I think he still has it.”

  18. 80
    swanstep on 3 Mar 2012 #

    @79, wichita. Thanks, that’s cool.

  19. 81
    swanstep on 17 Jun 2013 #

    Woo-hoo, The Monkees’ somewhat psychedelic ‘Porpoise Song’ is used rather brilliantly in the latest Mad Men (one of the best eps of the season).

  20. 82
    wichita lineman on 17 Jun 2013 #

    ENOUGH MAD MEN SPOILERS!!!!

  21. 83
    hectorthebat on 3 May 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 133
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 38
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1960s (2008)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 73
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 602
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  22. 84
    phil6875 on 12 Apr 2015 #

    Famously The Monkees are one of only six artists to have simultaneously held the top spot in the U.S. and U.K. singles and albums charts and this is the single they did it with. ‘The Monkees’ being the album.

  23. 85
    Tommy Mack on 12 Apr 2015 #

    Is this the only example where the single is from a different album? (Rather than just a non-album single)

  24. 86
    DanusJonus on 12 Apr 2015 #

    On a technicality, because ‘Day Tripper/We can Work it Out’ came out on the US Capitol release ‘Yesterday and Today’, I suppose you could say that this is another half example of where the single is from a different album?

  25. 87
    lonepilgrim on 29 Nov 2015 #

    the Monkees were the first band of which I was (briefly) a fan. At the tender age of 6 I had a picture of the band sellotaped to my bedroom door. As my parents didn’t listen to pop radio (and this was pre-Radio 1 so there wasn’t an obvious dedicated channel for pop music) the Monkees TV programme was one of the few ways that I would hear new pop. I used to find the programmes confusing and slight but enjoyed the music nonetheless. There’s an endearing balance in ‘I’m a Believer’ between the pop efficiency of its Brill Building roots and the hints of bluesy/folksy rawness in the performance. When I moved to a new teaching job in 1990 the 6th form art students were all discovering the Monkees and playing them alongside Neil Young and R.E.M. without any trace of irony or embarrassment.
    FWIW Jyoti Mishra AKA White Town has affirmed a deep and abiding love for the Monkees’ and Mike Nesmith’s music.

  26. 88
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Such a brilliant pop record that was HUGE worldwide #1 everywhere including across Africa as The Monkees experienced their huge but brief popularity explosion.

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