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: “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Air date: November 28, 1966
“I’ve Got a Little Song Here” has always been one of my favorite Monkees episodes because its premise is soaked in irony. Written by Treva Silverman, the only female writer on The Monkees and later a two-time Emmy-Award winner for her work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the gist of the plot centers around a music publishing scam designed to cheat songwriters out of money.
Of course, the resident Monkees songwriter, Mike Nesmith, gets sucked in. Hilarity, drama, and a sprinkling of touching and cringeworthy moments ensue before the day is saved with the help of Micky, Davy, and Peter.
The episode begins with Mike receiving a letter saying that because of his “unusual taste and achievements,” he’s invited to embark on a “profitable new career,” signed High Class Music Publishers. The letter, however, was addressed to “occupant,” so how do we know it wasn’t meant for Davy, who probably had some random songs about girls and horses stashed away somewhere? I digress.
Davy asks Mike if he’s written a song, and Peter declares, “Hey, Mike’s a songwriter!” Remember that irony I mentioned? Here it comes.
For those of you who showed up late to the Monkees party, Michael Nesmith actually was a songwriter before joining the Monkees project and was embroiled in struggles to have his songs included on albums, produce sessions, and play on records from the get-go. Publishing was never a major point of contention, as Nesmith had a co-pub deal through Screen Gems, but this episode still probably hit a little too close to home.
Mike scampers off to High Class Music Publishers and presents Bernard Class (stand-up comedian and character actor Phil Leeds), the brother of its founder, with a brand-new tune, “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog.” Now. To Monkees fans, this seems extremely random. In fact, as much as I love this episode, the puzzling song choice is one aspect that always ruined it for me. Why not incorporate a solo Nesmith tune like “Different Drum” (which would make an appearance later in the series) as an Easter egg for diehards to nerd out over later?
Turns out, there’s a good reason this pseudo-throwaway Boyce and Hart tune was chosen as Mike’s prized composition as opposed to one Nesmith actually wrote himself. About a month before the episode was taped, Nesmith was in the studio producing 10 takes of a bluesier “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” than what eventually ended up concluding the Monkees’ first self-titled LP. (You can hear Nesmith’s “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” instrumental as a bonus track on the 2006 Rhino reissue of The Monkees.)
One can only assume that, at the time, bigger plans were in the works for a tune that turned into a glorified novelty song featuring Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones cracking themselves up. (For the record, I’ve never liked “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” and still am unsatisfied that it was the big winner to feature in this episode, and I often wonder if the showrunners regretted it later. Yes, I’m a Monkees killjoy, and Nez is my favorite. Those two things go hand in hand.)
Bernie promises Mike he’ll get his song in a major motion picture starring A-list actress Joanie Jans. All he needs first is a measly $100 for “legal fees and incidentals.” Mike’s too excited to care that he doesn’t have access to those funds, and excitedly tells everyone he knows, including a guy he met on a bus five years ago, about his impending fame and fortune as a songwriter. Nevermind that there’s also an elderly gentleman in the High Class lobby who’s presumably been waiting around a very long time with his hit song, “My Funny Valentine.” Sounds legit.
Back at the Pad, Micky’s excited by Mike’s news, declaring that if his song’s used in the film, it’ll make him rich. The boys break into an impromptu rendition of “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” which turns into the episode’s first romp featuring footage of the group tooling around Hollywood in the Monkeemobile and drinking root-beer floats on the Columbia Ranch lot with a bunch of adorable pups.
After pawning his guitar, Mike reappears at High Class with $100 (albeit a nickel short), and as proof that he’s going to make good on his promise to the budding songwriter, Bernie rings a wrong number and pretends it’s Joanie Jans, almost revealing an affair on the other end of the line. Once again ecstatic, Mike calls Micky and tells him the news.
Micky is suddenly suspicious — two seconds ago, wasn’t he stoked about Mike’s surefire cash windfall? What changed his mind? — and tells Davy and Peter that he thinks Mike’s “been had.” Peter ponders what to do, but Micky’s already landed on a solution. “This looks like a job for,” he pauses dramatically as the other two stand up and exclaim, “Monkeemen!” And with that, The Monkees‘ recurring superhero gag is born.
Micky, Peter, and Davy arrive at High Class and disguise themselves as piano tuners to spy on Bernie. They overhear him dictating a letter thanking a songwriter for sending in $100 dollars and saying the song was the best he’s heard since “Hello, Dolly.” Then, he orders 500 copies. Armed with the truth, they rush out of the office to tell Mike.
However, Mike’s already wise to Class’ scheme. He seeks out Joanie Jans directly to thank her for singing his song in her new film, but she’s proud (and just a little bit humbled) to admit she doesn’t “know what the devil he’s talking about.” It’s cringeworthy to watch him profusely jog her memory and heartwrenching when the pieces fall into place and Mike realizes Class scammed him.
Shutting himself in his room, Mike’s bandmates do their best to cheer him up in a scene that probably could have been cut (boo, hiss! I’m no fun!) but serves to show the camaraderie and friendship among the group. When Davy asks him what he’s going to do now, Mike fires off one of my favorite responses of the entire series: “Oh, I think I’ll just sit around the house and fail.” Finally, Micky abandons his impression of the “imitable” James Cagney — because why wouldn’t that cheer someone up? — and figures out a plan.
Micky poses as a major film director, “M.D.,” calls Bernie Class, and tells him to meet him at Mammoth Studios. Mammoth Studios, interestingly, was a running plot point in CBS sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Jed Clampett buys Mammoth Pictures/Studios, and thus, several episodes over the next three years featured plots that revolved around the lot. It’s possible that The Monkees‘ writing and production staff wanted to jab at another top-rated show on a rival network with this reference.
Micky creates a ruse, convincing directors, producers, and stagehands that he’s M.D. himself! by describing his latest picture, an epic called The First Ten Days of Pompeii that would put The Ten Commandments to shame. When Class arrives, Micky demands he find him a song about a dog for Joanie Jans’ next flick in which she plays an animal lover.
Bernie quickly pulls Mike aside (why is he there, anyway?) and tries to persuade him to sign over the rights to his song. Mike insists on being paid $200, and reluctantly, Bernie hands over the money (though he’s a dollar short), and Mike signs the deal. Although, if this would have happened in real life, Micky probably would have gotten sued for fraud, particularly since there’s now a contractual obligation between parties… but, once again, I digress.
After one last romp set to “Mary, Mary,” an actual song penned by Michael Nesmith, Mike does the right thing and splits the $200 with the “My Funny Valentine” fellow (who’s now copping “Gonna Buy Me a Dog!” Ridiculous) and the episode ends with a feel-good moment in which Monkeeman Peter, unable to get airborne earlier in the episode, finally takes flight.
There’s a good reason that pretty much any documentary on the Monkees pulls clips liberally from this episode. The copious amounts of sound bytes alluding to what was happening behind the scenes at the time, particularly regarding Nesmith’s involvement in the studio, were too real.
All that, however, was about to take a turn. Five days after “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” premiered, the band jetted off to Hawaii to perform their first in-person concert as a live band. From there, everything started to change.