Michael Nesmith, musician and songwriter, 1942-2021


In 1965, Michael Nesmith responded to an advertisement in a Los Angeles showbiz newspaper for “four crazy boys” to appear in a television series. Out of 437 applicants, Nesmith was deemed wacky enough to be chosen. The Texas-born musician, who died at the age of 78, found himself recruited for what would become one of the most popular and unusual musical groups of the 1960s.

Comprised of Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork, The Monkees was created for a sitcom about a fictional Beatles-style group. The “Prefab Four”, as the wags are known, made their debut on American television in 1966. A spin-off album was released that same year, topping the American and British charts. In a life-mimicking folk art case, Monkeemania ensued, with screams of hysteria and 5,000 fan letters a day. But a backlash from the press followed when it emerged that the composed group were not performing for real on their recordings.

Nesmith was stunned by the controversy. “It was like condemning a Chevrolet station wagon for not performing well at the Indy 500,” he said in 1985.

Born in 1942, Robert Michael Nesmith was raised by his single mother, Bette, an upbringing he called “poor in the dirt, just miserable.” After college, he moved to Los Angeles for its folk-pop scene. Shrewd and thoughtful, he was a gifted songwriter whose talents were first overlooked in The Monkees. He and Tork were the musicians of the group, while Dolenz and Jones were actors.

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It was a manufactured group, but the workmanship was of the highest quality. The songs were written by professionals such as Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Neil Diamond. Their studio recordings were made by top session band The Wrecking Crew. When Nesmith suggested that the group record one of their compositions, “Different Drum,” the show’s producers refused. He gifted it instead to the Los Angeles group Stone Ponies, whose singer was Linda Ronstadt. Their version was a chart hit in 1967.

The Monkees: Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork © NBCUniversal / Getty

Each Monkee had a stage personality. Nesmith was in a bad mood, or as moody as the cartoonish antics allowed. The green woolen hat he wore to the audition became a signature accessory, earning him his hated nickname, Wool Hat. He thought TV shows were “just a boost,” but scorned opening songs. He liked their first hit, “Last Train to Clarksville”, but judged the years 1967 More Monkees to be the “worst album in the history of the world”, although it contains one of the most enduring hits of the time, “I’m a Believer”.

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After being allowed to compose and produce sporadic songs on their first two albums, Nesmith took control with his bandmates for the 1967s. Headquarter. Another top of the charts, it marked the moment when the composed group became a real one. Reflecting the Beatles’ movement in psychedelic rock, they pushed their aerial sound to its limits. A song written by Nesmith in 1967, “Daily Nightly”, used the Moog synthesizer early on.

The off-road trip culminated in a bizarre 1968 film and soundtrack, To manage, a flop that has become a cult classic. Nesmith was little involved in it. He had released his first solo album that year, Wichita train whistle sings. In 1970, he left the group. It cost him $ 160,000 because of a contractual clause, wiping out his savings.

He formed a new group, The First National Band. His rootsy sound places him at the forefront of the West Coast country-rock movement of the 1970s. Although his band’s single “Joanne” was a hit, Nesmith’s time as a performer in the charts was a thing of the past. Rave reviews have replaced commercial success.

Behind the mad Monkee was a free thinker who bridged the conceptual divide between the LA entertainment industry and the California counterculture. In 1974, he founded a multimedia production company, Pacific Arts. He has produced independent films including 1984 Man rest and wrote a novel. In 1980, he created PopClips, a TV series of music videos that inspired the MTV cable channel.

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In a surreal twist worthy of one of the Monkees’ series, he inherited 25 million dollars after the death of his mother in 1980. Secretary, she had invented the first correction fluid for typos in 1956.

Nesmith did not look back on his stint on The Monkees with emotion. But he was proud of their accomplishments. In the cover notes of The First National Band’s debut album, he cited Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmie Rodgers as influences for their “pure approach to what they sang and wrote – no understatements and living with their own.” emotions ”. His ability to bring out these qualities in his own work had its roots in the most famous fake pop group.


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