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The Dawn of Monkeemania

by Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne.

The first episode of The Monkees aired 49 years ago today.

The series ran for a total of 58 episodes and made international stars out of its main characters

It's fairly unlikely that Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork imagined that almost half a century later they'd be sharing a sofa with the rock star ex's on Loose Women, or taking the stage for the leafy Moseley Folk Festival. In fact, they hadn't even been on stage when the first episode was broadcast - in September 1966 it was perceived as a TV series, pure and simple, with the usual spin-off records. No one thought of the Monkees as a real group.

No one doubted the influence of TV behind the Monkees' success

Last Train To Clarksville sneaked up to number 26 on the Billboard chart a week after the public had seen the Monkees for the first time. Royal Flush - the title of the first episode - saw the four lads foil a fiendish plot to assassinate Princess Bettina of Harmonica. The formula of the show allowed room for two or three songs, either mimed by the actors or accompanying skits: Royal Flush gave space to Goffin and King's Take a Giant Step, the b-side of the single which Cashbox described as "a tender lyrical slow-moving romancer", sung by drummer Micky; Boyce and Hart's This Just Doesn't Seem To Be My Day was highly Beatlesque; and the third song, naturally enough, was the current single Last Train To Clarksville. It featured in four of the first five episodes, and by mid October was the number one single in America.

From L-R: Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith

Released in Britain on October 14th 1966, Last Train To Clarksville flopped without the TV show to plug it. The lyric - about a soldier saying goodbye to his girlfriend before he ships off to Vietnam - was possibly more resonant with the American public. "We couldn't really make a protest song out of it" said co-writer Bobby Hart. We kind of snuck it in subtly... that was inherent in the thing - we couldn't be too direct with the Monkees."

Britain was in the grip of Monkeemania

No one doubted the influence of TV behind the Monkees' success; Top Of The Pops aside, there was virtually no pop on British TV when The Monkees debuted on New Years Eve 1966; the last ever episode of Ready Steady Go had broadcast exactly a week earlier. RCA in Britain had released the second single, I'm A Believer, on December 30th, just in time for the clamour that was bound to ensue once the show aired. "The Monkees is coming!" roared the full front-page ad in NME. A week later, they announced I'm A Believer had already sold out of its first pressing and RCA were pressing another 150,000. The self-titled first album was released in Britain on January 20th (it would go to number one in February and stay there for seven weeks), and the following day I'm A Believer was the number one single. Britain was in the grip of Monkeemania.