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This day in Music – Last Train to Clarksville

On this day in 1969, The Monkees made what would be their last live appearance (for 15 years) when they played at The Oakland Coliseum, California.
The dream was over. The previous year their long-running TV show had been canceled, the band having become tired of scripts which they deemed monotonous and stale. The Monkees had made their first feature film, Head. (Rumors abound that the title was chosen in case a sequel was made. The advertisements would supposedly have read: “From the producers who gave you HEAD”.)
Tensions within the group had been increasing. Peter Tork, citing exhaustion, quit by buying out the last four years of his contract at $150,000 per year, equal to $898,634 per year today. This was shortly after the band’s Far East tour in December 1968, after completing work on their 1969 NBC television special, 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee, which rehashed many of the ideas from Head, only with the Monkees playing a strangely second-string role.
The remaining Monkees decided to pursue their musical interests separately. Since Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. they were no longer in the studio together—and planned a future double album (eventually to be reduced to The Monkees Present) on which each Monkee would separately produce one side of a disc.
Reduced to a trio, the remaining members went on to record Instant Replay and The Monkees Present.
Throughout 1969 the trio appeared as guests on television programs such as The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show, Hollywood Squares, and Laugh-In. The Monkees also had a contractual obligation to appear in several television commercials with Bugs Bunny for Kool-Aid drink mix as well as Post cereal box singles.
In the summer of 1969 the three Monkees embarked on a tour with the backing of the soul band Sam and the Good-Timers. The concerts for this tour were longer sets than their earlier concert tours, with many shows running over two hours. Unfortunately the 1969 Monkees’ tour was not all that successful; some shows were canceled due to poor ticket sales.
The Monkees story had begun in 1965, when Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, a pair of producers, came up with an idea for a television series about a rock group. Inspired by Richard Lester’s groundbreaking comedies with the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, Rafelson and Schneider imagined a situation comedy in which a four-piece band had wacky adventures every week and occasionally burst into song.
The NBC television network liked the idea, and production began on The Monkees in early 1966. Don Kirshner, a music business veteran, was appointed music coordinator for the series, and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a producing and songwriting team, signed on to handle much of the day-to-day chores of creating music for the show’s fictive band.
Avant-garde film techniques—such as improvisation, quick cuts, jump cuts—helped win the show two Emmy awards in 1967 and propelled its four stars to pop stardom. John Lennon called them “the Marx Brothers of rock”, but in 1967 The Monkees outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined, and went on to sell 50 million records.
The Monkees were the first group to exploit television and have songs written for them by classic Brill Building artists (Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Harry Nilsson, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and Jeff Barry). And what great tunes they were: “Last Train to Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer”, “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You”, “I’m a Believer”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.
The Monkees found unlikely fans among musicians of the punk rock period of the mid-1970s. Many of these punk performers had grown up on TV reruns of the series, and sympathized with the anti-industry, anti-Establishment trend of their career. Maybe the best accolade ever is having the Sex Pistols cover one of your songs!

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