I saw something the other day that reminded me of The Monkees. You might think it was the recent death of singer Davy Jones, but I had been extremely busy that weekend and it was something else entirely. I don’t remember what it was, but probably an actual monkey playing a guitar or some foolishness.
Having been born in 1976, The Monkees had stop recording years before. However, that didn’t stop the television show from making an immediate impact on me in the early 80’s (other shows in that category include The Banana Splits and The Baseball Bunch). Having little money buy the music, I would tape the songs off the television on a small recorder I had (take that you mp3 swapping fools!). I think Pleasant Valley Sunday was my favorite song for a long time, though A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You and Randy Scouse Git favorites too.
Feeling a little nostalgic, I opened up the The Monkees Wikipedia page. When you are 5 or 6 years old watching a television show, it was the epitome of good-nature fun – just a bunch of wacky people getting into wacky adventures with catchy songs. However, 30 years later, I can appreciate what they accomplished in a different way.
Many people know that The Monkees were 4 comedic actors cast to capitalize on The Beatles craze in the mid to late sixties. Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were the big musicians, but they weren’t making much. Davy Jones was a rising actor after a brief Broadway stint, and Mickey Dolenz was an actor who played a little guitar and did a little singing. That’s fine, because the plan was to dub them over music from another band.
Flash forward to today and the random cast people with the bare minimum of music experience became one of the best selling music groups of all time. This I find amazing. How did they do it?
On some level, there’s an appeal to a certain demographic. We saw at the time with Elvis and Beatles and it has progressed to New Kids on the Block, ‘N Sync, and Justin Beiber. A lesson here is never bet against the buying power of teenage girls when it comes to music.
However, I liked The Monkees… and I wasn’t in that demographic (there’s a comment section below for wise crack responses). There must have been something more appealing. It couldn’t have been music talent, because we know they didn’t have much of that. When the show started, they had no drummer. Davy Jones tested the best, but he couldn’t be seen over the drum set (and getting him seen was a priority for that Beiber demographic). Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith refused, leaving Mickey Dolenz with no drumming experience to be the drummer.
One thing that we learned from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, is that the 10,000 hours of practice goes a long way. He cited that the Beatles playing many long days in Hamburg. However, perhaps a better example of the 10,000 hour phenomenon was The Monkees. The Wikipedia article references this:
“The four actors would spend 12-hour days on the set, many of them waiting for the production crew to do their jobs. Noticing that their instruments were left on the set unplugged, the four decided to turn them on and start playing.”
It may sound very un-Lazy of me to say, but give credit to them. They put in the work, learned the skills and prospered. In addition to the musical talent, they had a knack for spotting catchy music. A few of their most popular songs were written by Neil Diamond. I was close to saying that The Monkees got lucky that they had such a talented musician writing for them, but according to a well-cited Wikipedia article, “There is a popular misconception that Diamond wrote and composed these songs specifically for the made-for-TV quartet. In reality, Diamond had written and recorded these songs for himself, but the cover versions were released before his own.” How The Monkees were able to pull this off is something that I’d be very interested to know.
Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers pointed out one additional thing that works with the 10,000 hours of preparation. It’s good old opportunity. In Outliers, it was Bill Gates and Bill Joy who had extensive access to computers when they weren’t readily available to the general public. The Monkees had their share in that getting cast for the television show in the first place.
As the Profiles of Success expands, I think we’ll find this is a recurring theme. If you have an idea for future segment in the series, leave a comment, or send me an email.