When producers Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson conceived a situation comedy called The Monkees in 1965, they hoped to create a ratings success by blurring the line between pop music and television. Instead, they succeeded in obliterating that line entirely when the pop group that began as a wholly fictional creation went on to rival, however briefly, the success of its real-life inspiration, the Beatles. On this day in 1966, the made-for-television Monkees knocked down the fourth wall decisively when their first single, “Last Train To Clarksville” entered the Billboard Top 40.
“Last Train To Clarksville” was written by the team that was also responsible for the theme song of The Monkees, songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Though Boyce and Hart had been working together in Los Angeles for several years before being asked to write and record the soundtrack for Schneider and Rafelson’s A Hard Day’s Night-inspired pilot, their biggest success to date had been in writing minor hits for Chubby Checker and Paul Revere and the Raiders and in being commissioned to write the theme song for Days Of Our Lives. Their association with The Monkees would end up launching Boyce and Hart on a moderately successful career as performers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By far their best-known hits, however, were the ones they wrote for the Monkees, including “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Last Train To Clarksville.”
Just as producers Schneider and Rafelson had reached out to a pair of industry professionals to create the music for the pilot episode of The Monkees, they engaged numerous others to create the other memorable songs in the Monkees’ catalog. Under the musical direction of Don Kirshner, The Monkees featured hits by some of the era’s greatest songwriters, including Neil Diamond, who wrote “I’m A Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” (both 1967) and the great husband-and-wife team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who wrote “Daydream Believer” (1967). Numerous other Monkees songs were written by such songwriting luminaries as Cynthia Mann and Barry Weill, Harry Nilsson and Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Sedaka.
By the time their third album was released, the real-life Monkees—Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork—had taken over creative control of their musical output, including taking on much of the songwriting. Although they would release seven more studio albums, none would contain hits as successful or memorable as the one that gave the group its breakthrough on September 24, 1966.