In celebration of the Monkees’ 50th anniversary, we’re counting down our 50 favorite Monkees songs. As you might expect with a band whose catalog is so rich, diverse, and rife with material from the era’s top songwriters, it was a challenge to narrow our list down to only 50, let alone rank them. So we created a complex point system in order to keep everything fair ‘n’ square, broke some ties, and voila! — here we are.
Thank you so much for coming along on this journey with us. We hope you’ve learned at least a few new things about your favorite Monkees songs, and we’ve had a great time chatting with you about our lists. Your favorite tune didn’t make the cut? Let us know in the comments!
10) “Someday Man” (1969)
Appears on: Single only
Naturally, all Monkees fans were saddened in late February 2012 when Davy left this earth, but in the final complete year of his life he blessed us by appearing with Micky and Peter as the Monkees for one last tour. Of course, none of us knew that it would be the final round of Monkees shows of this threesome, but one particular thing that made that tour special for many fans, myself certainly included, was its resurrection of a longtime Davy-sung fan favorite the band hadn’t performed onstage since 1969.
When the band’s bassist and drummer began that familiar intro, replicating what Joe Osborn and Hal Blaine had done 42 years prior, the crowd’s delightfully surprised vibe of “Oh wow, they’re doing this one!” was strong and hearty. “Someday Man’s” day had finally come!
Full of major-seventh chords, “Someday Man” puts the music in a reflective whimiscal mood and its alternating from a slick beat for the verses to a more laid-back shuffle for the choruses, along with some beautifully and brillantly arranged horns, perfectly underscores the lyrics about choosing to be unlike those caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, and instead taking life more leisurely, letting whatever happens happen.
“Someday Man” has a few distinctions in Monkees history. For one thing, it was the first song the band was allowed to release that wasn’t a Screen Gems composition, suggesting that by early 1969, Screen Gems no longer saw Monkees record returns as a must-have claim to stake. It was also the only song the group recorded written (with Roger Nichols) by future household-name and Grammy winner Paul Williams (who had unsuccessfully auditioned for the show in 1965; he’d later joke he didn’t get the job because they already had a short guy).
It also has an interesting release history, having been marketed as an A-side in the Spring of 1969 only to see national attention show some favor toward the intended flip, “Listen to the Band” (#9), prompting Colgems to lateral their promotional angle to the opposite side of the disc. In the end, “Listen to the Band” charted higher than “Someday Man,” although the final score of #63 to #81 didn’t exactly add up to a major victory for either. And while “Listen to the Band” ended up on the next studio album, The Monkees Present, “Someday Man” remained an orphan unadopted by an American album (discounting a mail-order collection in 1976) until Monkee Business in 1982. Several compilations have housed it since.
Paul Williams recorded his own version of the song for his 1970 debut album, also called Someday Man. He must have liked the Monkees’ version, as he used a very similar arrangement, and even used several of the same musicians. Georgie Fame also took a stab at it, as did the Casuals.
In short, its goodtime feel makes “Someday Man” just one of many Monkees songs that makes it a warm sunny day no matter what time of day or year you hear it. Davy, we miss you, man, but thanks for bringing this back to us before you left. — Michael Lynch
9) “Listen to the Band” (1969)
Appears on: The Monkees Present
Lyrically simple, instrumentally marvelous, there’s perhaps no other song that’s ingrained itself more in the Monkees’ legacy than “Listen to the Band.” It’s become a mantra, sure, but it’s more like a credo, and it’s served as a mile-marker along their half-century in popular culture more than once.
We talked earlier in the countdown a few times about Michael Nesmith’s fruitful trip to Nashville in 1968. First, we learned about the genesis of the Bob Dylan-influenced rocker “St. Matthew” (#44), then “Nine Times Blue” (#40), which no doubt received an injection of country grandeur after Nez’s visit.
“Listen to the Band” was something of an experiment in that Nesmith had an idea of what he wanted to create — a tried-and-true Nashville sound that incorporated rock ‘n’ roll — but really didn’t have a concrete idea of what it should sound like. So he simply took “Nine Times Blue” and turned it around, giving this new song its bones. The lyrics were little more than throwaways, used to illustrate to his crack team of musicians the rhythm and pace he envisioned. Although the track’s signature brass arrangement was added later in Hollywood, it was Nashville that truly gave birth to this classic.
As I mentioned, it holds some gravity within the band’s legacy, not only because it has the distinction of being the first single to feature a Nez-led tune on an A-side (“Someday Man” [#10] was the B-side), but because it’s popped up in two key, emotional moments in the Monkees’ career.
A pivotal and climatic musical number in the otherwise hot mess that was their 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee TV special in ’68, this live performance of “Listen to the Band” would be the last time the Monkees would play together for nearly two decades. Though the rendition in the show balloons to include everything but the kitchen sink, it’s the first few, stripped-down minutes of just Nesmith on electric guitar, Micky Dolenz on drums, Peter Tork on organ, and Davy Jones dutifully whacking the tambourine that pack the most punch. The tension is palpable; Tork announced during the filming of 33 1/3 that he was leaving, and the aura of this performance isn’t one of a fond send off for a job well done, but a bittersweet finale. It’s a taciturn goodbye to a band that broke all the rules… and it feels unfinished.
So it’s fitting that it was also the song that brought them back together. In 1986, the Monkees experienced a huge resurgence thanks to MTV reruns of the television show, spawning a new album and tour featuring Dolenz, Tork, and Jones. However, Nesmith, predictably absent after shirking anything to do with the Monkees upon his own departure in 1970, did something extraordinarily out of character: he surprised the audience at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre with a walk-on. His number of choice? “Listen to the Band.”
Since then, Nez has slowly but surely built up more of a tolerance to the Monkees, mellowing over the years to become a prominent part of their latest effort, Good Times!, and is rumored to be joining them in concert later this year.
Maybe it’s a stretch to acknowledge the part a simple, country-flavored tune played in these monumental moments in the band’s history, but I don’t think so. After all, it plainly states what the four cast members-turned-band mates wanted fans and critics to do. But in typical Nesmith fashion, it’s not a request: it’s a command. — Allison Johnelle Boron
8) “Daydream Believer” (1968)
Appears on: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees
This song, which eventually became one of the Monkees’ biggest and most well-loved hits, didn’t get off to a great start. Written by John Stewart of the pioneering folk group the Kingston Trio, no one he approached had any interest in recording it. It was rejected by both the We Five (fronted by Stewart’s own brother) and by Spanky and Our Gang. Even Stewart’s wife wasn’t a fan. But eventually, Monkees’ producer Chip Douglas thought it had potential to be a huge hit for his group.
He was right in the end, but it took a bit of convincing, and a lot of tinkering on the Monkees’ part, to make it work. Tork wrote its signature piano intro, and with a new arrangement inspired by the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda,” this little folk ditty no one wanted quickly became massive hit material.
Lead singer Davy Jones wasn’t too keen on the song’s unusually lengthy recording process, and thought his annoyance is clear in his vocal delivery. That session is immortalized in the very random, yet truly adorable, spoken intro:
Jones: What number is this, Chip?
Douglas, Tork, Micky Dolenz, and Michael Nesmith (annoyed): SEVEN-A!
Jones: Ok, no really, don’t get excited, man. It’s ‘cause I’m short, I know.
Jones may have been frustrated, but everything he brought to the song was pure magic (maybe annoyance suited him?). He gives one of the sweetest, most gorgeous vocals of his career, on par with Paul McCartney’s heart-melting opening to “I Will.” The lyrics are as open and innocent as the melody — the stuff wedding songs are made of.
As jarring as the “six o’clock alarm,” the cold razor, and the other realities of real life may be, the un-pleasantries of daily life fade away compared to the promise of a life together. In the hands of some groups this may seem cheesy, sarcastic, or manufactured, but the Monkees’ mix of Jones’s beautiful vocals and the full band’s sunshine-bright chorus feels completely sincere and just works.
One lyric was changed for the Monkees’ version: in the phrase, “You once thought of me as a white knight on a steed / Now you know how happy I can be,” the word “happy” was originally “funky,” but was changed because the producer felt that “funky” didn’t meld with the dreamy, innocent vibe of the Monkees’ arrangement. Composer John Stewart wasn’t thrilled with the change, but relented when he saw that the Monkees’ version was destined for success.
It became a hit indeed, staying at #1 in the US for four weeks until it was overtaken by the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.” Anne Murray recorded it almost a decade later, and also had a #1 hit with it. Stewart recorded his own version in 1971, changing the Monkees’ story of idealistic love into a song about accepting one’s partner despite his or her flaws (and he kept the word “funky”). That realism may be more in line with Stewart’s folk sensibilities, but I for one am happy that the Monkees kept their version in the realm of idyllic innocence.
This is my #1 favorite Monkees song of all time, and one of my top 10 favorite songs ever. While there are plenty of Monkees songs with more depth, musical complexity, and meatier subject matters, this will always be my ideal of Monkee-ness: idealistic, sweet, and guaranteed to make you smile. — Erika White
7) “The Door Into Summer” (1967)
Appears on: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones LTD.
One of the true gems of the Monkees’ catalog, “The Door Into Summer” is exactly what the title says — a musical portal into a summery world of guitars, keyboards, and even banjo, all rounded out by Micky Dolenz’s airy harmonies and Mike Nesmith’s warm vocals.
This beautiful piece of pop, which tells the story of a man who sacrifices simple pleasures for material success, was co-penned by producer Chip Douglas and Nesmith’s friend Bill Martin. It was also Martin’s only composition to make it onto a Monkees’ record. His previous contribution, “All of Your Toys” (#14) was denied release due to legal issues, but fortunately, Martin’s move from Tickson Music to Screen Gems saved “The Door Into Summer” and allowed it to, quite fittingly, appear on the Monkees’ belated Summer of Love album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.
Although “The Door Into Summer” popped up in two Monkees episodes, it seems to have fallen into relative obscurity, perhaps because it never saw release as a single. However, among fans of the band, this deep cut is incredibly beloved and rightfully so. While a casual listener might say it is far removed from the traditional Monkees hits, I would argue that “The Door Into Summer” is the Monkees’ sound at its most artistically refined.
Much like “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” (#39) and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere (#16),” it features a driving guitar and sparkly layers of keys and percussion that help define the upbeat yet wistful mood — an atmosphere also found in one of the group’s most famous releases, “Daydream Believer” (#8).
Yet, while “Daydream” is largely optimistic and marked by a few big, distinct sounds, like its piano and horns, “The Door Into Summer” leans more toward a melancholy feeling with its complex mixture of joyful surface sounds and sad undertones. Plus, we even get to hear the Monkees play their own instruments: Davy Jones on percussion, Peter Tork on keyboards, and Micky Dolenz delivering an initially uncredited drum track.
With an ideal balance of pop sensibility and emotional depth, “The Door Into Summer” is masterful in every respect and deserves to be listed as one of the Monkees’ greatest triumphs. — Gretchen Unico
6) “Sunny Girlfriend” (1967)
Appears on: Headquarters
Michael Nesmith wrote many songs for the Monkees, but no other Nesmith song did such a great job of combining his own lyrical sensibilities with the bubblegum, sunshine pop of the Monkees. A song that, on the surface seems to pay loving tribute to a sweet gal with a pleasant demeanor, it, like “Salesman” (#47), contains a possible drug reference (“she can make you slow while making your mind move fast”), hinting that the girlfriend’s actually a drug dealer — or a drug herself.
Being that it’s from Headquarters, “Sunny Girlfriend” was also one of the first songs the Monkees assembled as a band. Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones contribute vocals; Peter Tork and Nesmith play guitar; Dolenz plays drums; Jones plays maracas; and Nesmith’s good friend and frequent Monkees collaborator John London provides bass.
“Sunny Girlfriend” is not without a forerunner. Many believe it to be partly inspired by the Rolling Stones’ “It’s All Over Now.” Certainly the opening riff and construction of the chorus are similar. Seeing as this album also contained “You Told Me” (#15), the Monkees’ more romantic answer to “Taxman,” such an inspiration isn’t unlikely.
Although it’s one of the few Monkees songs to mention “sun,” I can’t help but feel it does a great job of summing up a big part of the band’s sound, especially when it was an obvious standout in their 1967 live seats. So much so that I can’t help but feel that many of the songs on Good Times! were inspired by this track. It stands today as an enduring example of the band’s collective musicianship as a unit. — Emma Sedam
5) “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (1967)
Appears on: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, LTD.
Written by husband-and-wife songwriting team Carole King and Gerry Goffin, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” isn’t just a crown jewel of the Monkees catalog, it’s an absolute highlight of the Sixties’ California pop-rock scene. At the time, both King and Goffin were feeling trapped in the suburbs of New Jersey and chose to express it through these lyrics, which paint a cynical and sweepingly cinematic portrait of life outside the city when criticizing the “White Flight” movement was still a relatively new concept in popular culture. This incendiary screed was punk rock before punk existed and surprisingly anti-establishment for the Monkees.
What most forget about the Monkees is that, as the actual band had more sway in the songs they were recording and releasing, their material grew an impressive set of teeth. That’s definitely the case with “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” particularly in the way they and producer Chip Douglas took King’s relaxed, original demo and made the song unmistakably their frenetic own.
Recorded in June 1967 and released as the Monkees’ fourth single a month later, all the of its individual contributions from the Monkees find the band at their most brilliant. That wonderful, crawling guitar line was devised by Douglas but could only have been played so masterfully by Michael Nesmith through three Vox Super Beatle amplifiers that gave the line its crisp, unmistakable tone. The rocking piano Peter Tork lays down imbues the song a with a manic texture. The vocal interplay between Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz on the bridge is one of the duo’s highlights, although all of the Monkees contributed to the track’s complex backing vocals, raising their voices in cacophony. In no uncertain terms, this is the Monkees sounding like the coolest band in the world.
Often played as the last song of the night in live sets, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is one of the Monkees’ greatest lasting contributions to rock ‘n’ roll. — Louie Pearlman
4) “For Pete’s Sake” (1967)
Appears on: Headquarters
Who would have thought that when we started our countdown that the member of the Monkees with the highest-ranking song written by a band member would be Peter Tork? When that song is a near-perfect anthem for the flower-power generation, however, it’s well deserved.
According to The Monkees: The Day by Day Story of the ’60s TV Pop Sensation, the genesis of “For Pete’s Sake” came during a night at home while Tork was noodling around on guitar. He remembers, “The lyrics were out of thin air. It was basically just me playing these chords at my house and my then-roommate Joey Richards threw in a couple of odds and ends of lines as I was going along. It just fell right into place. There was no particular reference, we weren’t thinking about anything much.”
Despite the fact that Tork and Richards clearly weren’t trying to make a lasting statement while writing their lyrics, they managed to capture the prevailing sentiment of Sixties youth culture. “Love is understanding / Don’t you know that this is true / Love is understanding / It’s in everything we do” stands as an ethos to live one’s life, particularly in a time of upheaval and oppressive turmoil.
The song was deftly brought to life by the Monkees in the studio during the sessions for Headquarters. Tork’s rhythmic guitar line and Michael Nesmith’s funky organ make “For Pete’s Sake” a unique part of the Monkees’ catalog: two sometimes-rivals swapping native instruments and creating something totally different.
It’s not a surprise that “For Pete’s Sake” was chosen as the closing credits song for the second (and final) season of their show. An aspect of the Monkees project that really worked was the ability for the TV show and tie-in music to take philosophies associated with the 1960s counterculture, boil them down to their essences, and bring them in a digestible format to TV viewers who otherwise may not have been exposed to them at all.
This is one of Monkees song that has stood the test of time. As the lyrics state, “We were born to love one another / This is something we all need,” a sentiment at the cultural forefront of the Sixties and has never gone out of style — and hopefully never will. — Louie Pearlman
3) “Saturday’s Child” (1966)
Appears on: The Monkees
Of the many producers who took turns manning the boards for the Monkees during the Kirshner period of the first two albums, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart perhaps had the best sense of what kinds of songs would really be played by a starving garage band living communally in a beach house in 1966 Malibu.
The first Monkees album, for which Boyce and Hart produced 10 of its 12 selections, has several groovy rough-rockers and garage-friendly, guitar-dominated, mid-tempo tracks easy to imagine being played by a band like those four guys seen on the earliest episodes. Never mind the multiple guitars versus Michael Nesmith seen handling that department on his own. The point is, it’s far easier to envision the four Monkees performing “Let’s Dance On” than “When Love Comes Knocking (At Your Door).”
“Saturday’s Child,” the only Monkees recording written by future Bread-winner David Gates, falls in second in the sequence of the first album and serves the purpose of keeping the fire burning just as admirably as “I Saw Her Standing There” does on Meet the Beatles, both songs coming straight after the band’s anthemic track (and both immediately followed by a soft number).
The crunch of dueling guitar parts, some dirty and sinister sounding, against some pounding drums lets us know we’re in for quite a musical ride. The chorus is reminiscent of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” while the song also borrows from “(Theme from) The Monkees” with lightes verses leading to a triplet-beat drum fills taking us into the rocking chorus. Together, all elements combine to back Micky Dolenz explaining why his girl Saturday tops the other six competitors.
Roughly around the same time, Herman’s Hermits, the Spectrums, and the Palace Guard took their own stabs at this song, but none of these had the grit, bite, and movement that Boyce and Hart brought to their Monkees’ production. — Michael Lynch
2) “As We Go Along” (1968)
Appears on: Head
Our second-favorite choice on this top 50 list may be the best Monkees song you might have never heard — an ethereal ballad from the oft-maligned feature film Head. Billed as “the most extraordinary western/comedy/love story/history/drama/musical/documentary/satire ever filmed,” in reality, Head was the Monkees’ attempt to leave their “pre-Fab Four” image behind and show themselves to be creative artists in their own right, eager to break out from the box that confined them. Yet the movie, which came off as a drug-addled episode of their TV series, didn’t have the desired effect, and the soundtrack became the last album recorded by the band as an intact foursome.
Though opinions have come around in Head’s favor for lots of fans and critics, its initial reception was enough to relegate the soundtrack to deep-cuts territory. But like so many deep albums, this soundtrack contains some of the Monkees’ most excellent later work, including “As We Go Along.” Released as the B-side to “Porpoise Song” (another track we at REBEAT are pretty fond of), it never broke the top 100. Yet this song is a must-listen for anyone who wants to experience the full depth and breadth of the Monkees’ catalog.
In a throwback to the original Monkees recording methods, only one band member had any involvement with the track — Dolenz on vocals. But the powerhouse team of writers and musicians backing him more than makes up for it. Written by Carole King and Toni Stern, it features a brilliant guitar chorus from the likes of King, Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Danny Kortchmar, and Lewis and Clarke Expedition’s Ken Bloom.
An uplifting message of encouragement and positivity, Dolenz’s passionate vocals urge the listener to experience all the world has to offer: “Open your eyes/Get up off your chair/There’s so much to do in the sunlight.” Its unusual 5/8 time signature (which Dolenz said “was a bitch to sing,” even though he sounds effortless) adds to its otherworldly nature.
“As We Go Along” is one of those songs that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen intently as chills run down your spine and is a glimmering beacon on not only the Head soundtrack but also in the Monkees’ catalog. —Erika White
1) “Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)”
Layered drones. A tubular bell chime. A sense of foreboding mixed with reluctant resolution rescued by a familiar acoustic guitar and finally a drum fill.
We’ve reached our #1 Monkees song, and fittingly, it was a kiss-off for the band, too. The ultimate irony is that the Carole King/Gerry Goffin-penned “Porpoise Song” began production almost exactly a year after the emancipated Monkees entered the recording studio to create Headquarters, an album that would rightfully stake their claim in ’60s music history. How fascinating that 365 short days later, Head (minus the “quarters,” you see) sought to destroy everything.
“Porpoise Song” was produced by co-writer Goffin, who doggedly manipulated the finished product using two studios, a veritable army of musicians including Leon Russell on keyboards, and tape tricks on both the arrangement and Davy Jones’ background vocals. Meanwhile, the lush, deeply orchestrated arrangement was unlike anything else in the Monkees’ catalog thanks to a gorgeous orchestral score from the heralded composer Jack Nitzsche. Piling bassoons, French and English horns, and strings on top of one another, Nitzsche created a magnum opus for the Monkees’ only big-screen feature and something of a requiem not only for the band, but also for the four young men jumping off a bridge in the film’s first scene.
Though its lyrics are nonsensical and somewhat reminiscent of a Lewis Carroll poem, they almost don’t even matter. (Unless you’re comparing them to Goffin/King simple, straightforward girl-group songs from earlier in the era. Then, yeah, they definitely matter.) Micky Dolenz delivers them perfectly, and the combination of traditional and psychedelic means bring the song to life, particularly in its extended version — which features guest vocals from actual porpoises.
Isn’t it strange how our top Monkees song may be the least Monkee-ish of them all? Although I’m pretty sure that turn of phrase has come about at least a few times throughout our list, begging a rhetorical question: “What does a Monkees song sound like?” Though many laymen associate them with happy, sunshine-pop bubblegum, the minor sampling presented here in our top 50 countdown proves the breadth and depth of their output was much wider and represented a cross-section of the most dynamic era in modern music. In fact, it’s their ever-changing sound that reflects the rapidly evolving market. Nothing on Head sounds anything like anything on Headquarters — and it’s not because of the personnel change in the studio.
“Porpoise Song” exemplifies this to a fault, and for that reason, along with the fact that it’s just a great song, makes it a no-brainer for numero uno. It’s a crown jewel in the final Monkees era, a beacon of their legacy, and a final nod to just two of the songwriters who, from the very beginning, made them into legends. — Allison Johnelle Boron
Editor’s special thanks
A top-notch resource of all things Monkees, Andrew Sandoval’s comprehensive book, The Monkees: The Day by Day Story of the ’60s TV Pop Sensation, was invaluable to compiling this list. We highly recommend picking up a copy to learn everything you never knew you wanted to know about the Monkees.
Our ranking system was devised by Louie Pearlman, who combined math and words and ended up creating a fair and impartial way to score our favorite Monkees songs.
Finally, a million thanks to the REBEAT staff writers who researched tirelessly to make this exhaustively informative list a new benchmark in the life of the magazine. As much fun as it was, it was also hours of work, and it was their dedication that made it gel.