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.