11 Things You Might Not Know About The Monkees

It was a zany sitcom unapologetically riding on the coattails of The Beatles phenomenon, but who would’ve guessed that 50 years after its premiere on NBC—and subsequent cancellation following a measly two seasons—The Monkees would remain a topic of never-ending fascination. Starring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, The Monkees was a TV show about a struggling rock group that featured early incarnations of music videos and plenty of (family-friendly) psychedelic vibes.

Following its 1966 to 1968 run, the series gained new generations of fans through marathon airings on MTV and Nickelodeon in the 1980s. So since it’s never too late to become a fan of the Pre-Fab Four (yes, that’s what they were called), here are some fun factoids that will help you jump onto the timeless Monkeemania bandwagon.

1. DAVY JONES DIDN’T KNOW WHO THE BEATLES WERE THE NIGHT OF THEIR SHARED ED SULLIVAN SHOW PERFORMANCE. 

Two and a half years before The Monkees premiered, English heartthrob and tambourine player extraordinaire David “Davy” Jones had his first brush with the four moptops who, unbeknownst to him, would change his life forever. As a cast member of the Broadway musical Oliver! (he played the Artful Dodger), Jones just happened to be performing on the same historic Ed Sullivan Show broadcast featuring The Beatles. But probably the craziest part of this story was how the 19-year-old Brit was completely oblivious to who John, Paul, George and Ringo were. As he tells the story in this interview, the late Monkee (Jones died in 2012) had never heard any of The Beatles’s songs. He only took interest in what they were doing because he wanted to figure out how to make girls scream too.

2. THE ORIGINAL MONKEES CASTING CALL AD WAS RIDDLED WITH HIPPIE-ISH REFERENCES.

The creators of The Monkees TV show, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, knew exactly the kind of guys they wanted for their new series. So the ad they took out in the September 8, 1965 edition of Variety had to reflect the attitudes of the burgeoning youth culture. In the ad, “spirited Ben Frank’s-types” are requested. According to the book Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-for-TV Band, Ben Frank’s was a popular Sunset Strip restaurant “where the mods mused over burgers and fries.” Or, as Davy Jones called them, “long-haired beatnik weirdos.” The ad also included the line, “Must come down for interview.” Per Rafelson in Monkee Business, that was “a sly reference to being high.”

3. MICHAEL NESMITH ATTENDED THE CELEBRITY-FILLED RECORDING SESSION FOR THE SGT. PEPPER SONG “A DAY IN THE LIFE.”

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Donovan … and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees? It seems like a round of “Which of These Things Are Not Like the Other?” but the Texas guitarist was indeed there among the cream of the British musical crop in February 1967. He appears at around 2:26 in the above promotional “A Day in the Life” clip, and if you have a steady hand it is possible to pause the video right when he shows up. But you have to look sharp, as it is a quintessential blink-and-you’ll-miss-him moment.

4. THE MONKEES MANAGED TO SQUEEZE IN SUBVERSIVE BEHAVIOR WHENEVER THEY COULD.

In the season two episode “The Devil and Peter Tork,” the boys took on the issue of censorship by slipping in a subversive joke about how, back in 1967, you couldn’t say the word “hell” on network television. “This episode was a point of controversy, between The Monkees production crew and the network,” says Tork in the DVD commentary (above). The bit, which starts at 9:50, has the boys talking about hell (Tork’s character sold his soul to the devil) and getting bleeped every time they uttered the word. This leads Micky Dolenz to observe, “You know what’s even more scary? You can’t say ‘hell’ on television” (and, yes, “hell” was bleeped as he said it). The bit “annoyed the daylights” out of NBC, according to Tork. Dolenz also devotes a paragraph to this incident in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness.

5. THE “MONKEEMANIA” OF THE MONKEES IN PARIS EPISODE WAS STAGED.

In June 1967, The Monkees headed off to Paris for a season two episode that would ostensibly show them being mobbed by French fans. Whether it was because the series hadn’t started airing in France or French audiences just hadn’t caught onto the craze yet (the truth is murky—this 1967 article says the show was on at the time; Monkee Business says it wasn’t), director Bob Rafelson had to get creative with the squealing girls. The “cinéma vérité”-style “Monkees in Paris” episode is thus described in Monkee Business as “the episode that features The Monkees pretending to run from their non-existent French fans.”

6. TWO MONKEES STEPPED BEHIND THE CAMERA DURING THE SHOW’S RUN.

Toward the end of the second and final season, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz were given the opportunity to direct an episode. Tork, using his full name in the credits—Peter H. Thorkelson—directed “The Monkees Mind Their Manor,” which aired in February 1968. Dolenz then helmed “Mijacgeo” (a.k.a. “The Frodis Caper”), which also ended up being the series’s finale. The Monkees would officially be canceled later that year.

7. THE SERIES’S UNOFFICIAL FINALE FEATURES NOT ONE, BUT TWO BEATLES TUNES.

This Micky Dolenz-directed episode opens up with a real bang: The intro to The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band track “Good Morning Good Morning.” It was, in Dolenz’s words (heard in the above video doing the DVD commentary), “a big moment.” Mainly because, as he also mentions, it was “the first time, to my knowledge, that The Beatles ever let one of their songs on another show.” (And anyone who remembers the “Tomorrow Never Knows” episode from Mad Men’s fifth season is well aware that getting a Beatles song for your TV series is no small feat.) The choice of “Good Morning Good Morning” also had special meaning for Dolenz, who had the rare opportunity to hear an early version of the track during a visit to The Beatles’s studio at Abbey Road in 1967.

In addition, there are two instances where, if you listen closely below, Davy Jones is singing the Beatles song “Hello, Goodbye” to himself. Once at 7:06, then again at 8:18:

8. THERE WAS A VERY WEIRD MONKEES EPISODE WHERE FRANK ZAPPA SHOWED UP.

It was the ’60s, The Monkees was winding down, and Michael Nesmith, according to Randi L. Massingill, in her book Total Control: The Michael Nesmith Story, “was trying to show the rock community that he was not just a kiddie show guy.” Nesmith achieved this by not only bringing The Mothers of Invention frontman Frank Zappa onto The Monkees, but by also conducting a bizarre interview with him in which the two men switched roles (which allowed Nesmith, as Zappa, to refer to The Monkees’s bubblegum music as “banal and insipid”). It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: Frank Zappa in a Monkees double-button blue shirt and Nesmith’s signature green wool hat, or Mike Nesmith donning a Zappa-eque wig and fake nose (which keeps falling off during the bit).

9. THE MONKEES OUTSOLD THE BEATLES AND THE ROLLING STONES IN 1967.

Yes, you read that correctly. In 1967, the year of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Between the Buttons, and Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Monkees outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—combined. Probably because neither British band had a hit TV show on its hands. Pretty impressive considering, at least in the beginning, as discussed at length in Monkee Business, The Monkees were a manufactured group whose only contributions to the records were their voices.

10. LIBERACE ONCE MADE A STRANGE, UNCREDITED CAMEO ON A MONKEES EPISODE, USING THE SAME GOLDEN SLEDGEHAMMER AS FRANK ZAPPA.

The renowned pianist Liberace was never known for being subtle, so when he showed up on The Monkees’s season two episode “Art, For Monkees' Sake,” a flashy performance was a given. But what people didn’t expect to see was the famed entertainer taking a golden sledgehammer to his piano. One could argue this possibly inspired the aforementioned Frank Zappa appearance from later in the season, in which Zappa proceeded to destroy a car with the same golden sledgehammer (it was deemed “playing the car”). It doesn’t seem a coincidence now that Michael Nesmith appeared in both bits.

11. THE TITLE OF THE MICKY DOLENZ-PENNED TUNE “RANDY SCOUSE GIT” WAS DEEMED SO OFFENSIVE IN BRITAIN THAT IT HAD TO BE RENAMED.

Micky Dolenz wrote his first Monkees tune, “Randy Scouse Git,” for the group’s third album Headquarters, which he describes in his book I’m a Believer: My Life of Monkees, Music and Madness, as all about his experiences in England in 1967. (“The Beatles, Samantha [Juste, his eventual wife], the parties, the chemicals … everything.”) Trouble was, even though the title sounds tame to us Yanks, over in Britain it directly translated to, according to Dolenz, “horny, Liverpudlian jerk.” For the song’s U.K. release, the drummer chose “Alternative Title” for its alternative title, and the track still made it to number two on the British charts.

Additional source:
Monkee Business: The Revolutionary Made-For-TV Band, by Eric Lefcowitz

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

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2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

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3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

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5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

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6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

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7. UNA GRILL; $139

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MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

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8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

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9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

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10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
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Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

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11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

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12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

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14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
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Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

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15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

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16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

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17. HAMMOCK; $174

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Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

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18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
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Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

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11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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