This past summer, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Monkees as a band by counting down our top 50 Monkees songs. Now, we’re celebrating The Monkees TV show by profiling each and every episode — exactly 50 years after it first premiered.
Tonight’s episode: “Find the Monkees (The Audition)” (Season 1, Episode 19)
Air date: January 23, 1967
Naturally, I do enjoy the Monkees’ television series, but if I have only one complaint about it, it’s that I wish there had been more music-themed plots, episodes where the fact that the Monkees are, in fact, a rock band is central to the plot.
Even “Royal Flush,” the very first episode to air, had nearly nothing in its script to let viewers know that these four, young, long-haired gents were musicians by profession. Had you tuned in a couple minutes late and missed Mike complaining about how long it’s been since their last gig, all you would have had to go by would have been Davy making a brief mention of “our music” as they tried to rescue a princess from an evil archduke.
It still makes for a funny and enjoyable show, and getting mixed up with, oh, mad scientists or mobsters or Chinese spies or gangsters that look exactly like one of you is all very well and fun, but those things could happen to anybody.
Darren and Samantha could have fallen into those situations… but could you imagine them having to deal with, say, unscrupulous record label execs, attempting a recording session, or competing with a new band in town? Well, maybe Serena, Samantha’s “evil twin” cousin, could have inspired some far-out plots, but you get my drift, right?
“I’ve Got a Little Song Here” worked well in that context, in which Mike Nesmith deals with the seedy side of the song-publishing world. “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” though rooted in Monkees-vs-baddies, leaned enough towards a battle-of-the-bands plot to suffice.
Perhaps the best example of what I’m talking about is this week’s episode, “Find the Monkees,” sometimes referred to as “The Audition.” From start to finish, it’s all about a band trying to get their big break with no criminals to outsmart or girls to win over. Bravo!
In the opening scene, the Monkees are visited by a few other local bands: the Four Martians, the Foreign Agents, and the Jolly Green Giants, three bands that, in Raiders and New Colony Six fashion, are all uniformly dressed in accordance with their moniker.
It’s nice to see a taste of the musical community the Monkees, at least in their television universe, are part of. Our limited view of their local band scene is only elsewhere expanded in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” where we meet the Four Swines, and “Some Like It Lukewarm” toward the end of the second season, where the Westminster Abbeys take a fast train to Clarksville (though we do hear of a band called the Pelicans in “Monkees on the Line.”)
What brings these drop-ins to the Monkees’ pad? They’re all stopping by to see if they, too, received an invitation to audition for noted television producer Hubbell Benson (Carl Ballantine) for his impending television series. Well, the Monkees did not, but don’t let on, saving their bitter moaning until after all bands depart.
It makes no sense to them that they were excluded from the invite list. As Peter says, “We’re as bad as any other group in town.” Davy hits upon a big idea: simply mail Mr. Benson the tape they made when they rented a tape recorder.
Unfortunately, they no longer have that tape, as Micky, in a Peter-ish moment, accidentally left the tape on the machine when they returned it. They groan in defeat (never thinking, as far as we see, to try contacting the rental place to see if they still have the tape).
But as television luck has it, the current renter of the tape recorder is none other than Hubbell Benson’s harried secretary Miss Chomsky (Bobo Lewis), and when, in the presence of her balmy boss, she hits play, both hear our friends musically asking Mary where she’s going to in the Michael Nesmith-penned “Mary, Mary.”
In mere seconds, a greatly impressed Mr. Benson decides that this is the group he wants… if only they can find out who they are. (They, too, never think to call the rental place to inquire of the previous renters. What’s with that?)
The chase is on. Benson and his secretary begin a relentless search to try to find the mystery band, completely unaware that said band has now sought an in-person meeting with the producer at his office, which just so happens to be at NBC (who worked into the episode a nice shot of the four outside the network’s giant marquee, a shot unsurprisingly snipped from the MTV airings in the 1980s).
All in vain — despite some close calls the Monkees never get to meet the producer (at least not knowingly, after they have a brief exchange in the lobby)…
…who in turn never yields any results from either the numerous telephone inquiries made by Miss Chomsky (“Hello, do you happen to know of any local bands who rented a tape recorder recently?”) nor at his press conference where he gives the lowdown to the local reporters about his frantic quest.
The next morning, the Monkees read the news report of Benson’s dilemma and how he’s searching for one particular band for his show but can’t seem to find them (in yet another case of not thinking, Benson apparently never offers the most obvious hint to the public, that he knows the band he seeks has a song with a recurring line of “Mary Mary, where ya goin’ to?”).
While the Monkees bemoan their failure in their attempts to reach Benson while Benson is trying to reach some other band, Peter proves to be the episode’s rare thinker. Why not go back to NBC and act like they’re that mystery band?
Sure, they don’t know what kind of band the mystery act is, but no problem. They’ll just go in several times as various kinds of bands until they hit paydirt. And to the sounds of “Papa Gene’s Blues,” that’s exactly what they do, practically stalking Mr. Benson and driving him crazy in their stances as country hoedowners, gypsy musicians, marching bands, and whatnot (everything except a rock ‘n’ roll band). They make a noble attempt, but not a successful one.
Convinced he’ll never find that elusive band, Benson decides to proceed as originally planned by auditioning the bands he sent the invitations to. The aforementioned Martians, Agents, and Giants all congregate in Benson’s outer office waiting their turn, all naturally toting Gretsch guitars.
The Giants enter Benson’s office first, but before they can perform a note, Miss Chomsky, setting up the recorder to get their sound on tape, accidentally hits play, and once again, “Mary Mary” fills the air-y air-y. The Giants recognize the sound of their friends, though friendship doesn’t stop them from bad-mouthing the Monkees in hopes of dissuading the now-elated Benson from hiring them. No dice, as Benson has the long-sought answer. To the beach pad they go.
Back at Monkee Manor, all three groups as well as Mr. Benson and Miss Chomsky barge in, and finally, the producer gets to meet them and announces his intentions. (If either Benson or his secretary recognize them from their encounters at the NBC building they keep it quiet.)
The boys will be big TV stars, Benson gleefully announces, and soon the whole nation will be hearing his upcoming show’s theme song, which he asks his secretary to give a sample of. She gives a spirited delivery, prompting an impressed Benson to impulsively decide that *she* is the one with the perfect sound and the one he’ll base his show on after all.
They head out the door, taking the Monkees’ close encounter with success along with them. The disheartened foursome does the only logical thing a band in their situation would do: hit Peter.
The story is over, but the episode is not. It’s another interview session with the guys, but this time the questions delve a little deeper than the, “How’s your father?” or, “What’s fame like?”-level questions that Bob Rafelson usually throws at them.
This time, the four expound on discrimination against long-haired youth of the day as well as the then-recent November 1966 riots (Micky claims they were merely demonstrations, not riots, but there is no denying that there was vandalism) on Sunset Strip.
Complaints lodged by local residents who objected to the heavy traffic and overly-populated streets led to an enforcement of a curfew as a means of appeasement, but the Sunset Strip throngs, mostly young people, said, “No way” and congregated and demonstrated at the local hotspot Pandora’s Box to air their grievances.
As one song of the era put it, the street which “used to be neat…now [is] just a place for black and white cars to race,” with police sirens being the answer to the Buffalo Springfield’s famous question in another song inspired by the showdown.
The whole shebang was seen as a battle between the law and the free-thinking youth who were having their privileges taken away. Naturally, the Monkees took the side of the latter and aren’t shy about saying so. They also speak of times they themselves had to deal with discrimination, such as Davy dealing with “10 big guys” in Hawaii who took umbrage to his long hair and Peter having to invoke his constitutional rights when refused service at restaurants.
Peter, Mike and Micky offer their views, but Davy gets the best line in by saying that he’s not bothering making any comments, feeling they’d just be ignored because “I’m under 21, so I’m just keeping my mouth shut.” (That would change mere weeks after this day’s late 1966 filming when Davy turned 21.)
Now, one last issue I’d like to address about this episode. Let’s go back and focus on those three bands we saw. Have you, like me, ever wondered what bands like the Four Martians would have sounded like and what kinds of songs they would have sang?
Well, one enterprising singer-songwriter actually took the time and trouble to create some music as he imagined those fictitious bands would have sounded in 1966. I think he nailed it.