The first thing you have to do if you watched all 18 hours of "The Monkees" marathon on VH1 yesterday is examine your life.

Am I eating right? Am I getting enough exercise? Is it finally time to put down the remote, get out of these Doritos-stained silk pajamas and find a job? These are all questions you want to ask yourself.

You might also want to fax a question to VH1 executives, namely: Why now? Was a Monkees marathon something the country was clamoring for? Were there people at cocktail parties sipping Amstel Lights and raking a celery stick through the onion dip and wondering: "Whatever happened to Mickey Dolenz? God, he was good!"

Whatever the answer, promptly at 7 a.m. yesterday, the Monkeethon kicked off with the first familiar strains of that, um, "classic" theme song: Here we come, walking down the street. We get the funniest looks from, everyone we meet! Hey, hey, we're the Monkees! And people say we -- well, that's enough of that.

Instantly, viewers (at least viewers of a certain age) were transported back to an eerie world of antiseptic hippies, where bell-bottoms were pressed and long hair on men meant collar-length and shiny from Prell shampoo, where the drugs of choice were soda pop and chocolate chip cookies, and where Tiger Beat and Sixteen magazines were like the Wall Street Journal for girls in training bras, who argued endlessly over which Monkee -- Mickey, Davy (Jones), Michael (Nesmith) or Peter (Tork) was the cutest.

"The Monkees" originally aired from 1966 to 1968. Thirty years later, one is struck by the show's same annoying touches.

What was the deal with Michael's goofy wool cap? Would his head explode like a Claymore mine if he took it off? And why did the boys all have to dress the same: the same loud Carnaby Street suits, the same paisley shirts, blue jeans and wide black belts, etc.

And who was the production-end comedic genius who felt that in order to make a scene truly hilarious, all you had to do was speed up the tape, so that the boys appeared to be duck-walking straight out of an old Charlie Chaplin film?

But the most annoying thing of all about "The Monkees" were all those unexplainable musical interludes.

A typical scenario: The Monkees are being chased by snarling, machine-gun-wielding villains through a decaying apartment complex, only to suddenly break into "Last Train to Clarksville."

(By the way, if you weren't a big fan of "Last Train to Clarksville," you probably had a hard time with yesterday's marathon, as the song was played approximately 13,500 times.)

After just two or three hours of the re-run marathon -- during commercial breaks, an announcer kept intoning, "The Monkees Marathon. All day. All night." -- you just wanted to reach through the TV and slap them silly.

Maybe it was the plots, formulaic and downright dopey when viewed through the prism of 1997 TV programming, that were most aggravating: The boys are forced to spend the night in a haunted house to collect an inheritance; the boys save the beautiful Bettina, Duchess of Harmonica (honest) from the clutches of her nefarious uncle; the boys, behind on their rent payment, have Michael take a job in a toy factory.

(Speaking of rent, did these guys ever pay the rent on time? What was it, substance abuse? A gambling problem? Income tax fraud?)

As the shows ground on and on all the way until 2 this morning, there was ample time to do research on the band's genesis.

According to "The New Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll," the Monkees were formed expressly to star in a TV comedy series envisioned by Columbia Pictures executives, who were still drooling over the success of the Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night.'

Unlike the Beatles, however, the Monkees had zero musical talent when they were formed. These guys had a better chance of coaxing mellifluous notes from a waffle iron than a Fender Stratocaster.

Which is why, on their TV show, they (quite badly) faked playing guitars and drums and lip-synced the songs. With lessons, they became passable musicians later on.

Still, more than 500 candidates auditioned for the show. Among those rejected were Stephen Stills and Danny Hutton (who, showing uncommon good sense, went on to play with Three Dog Night).

Other strange Monkee facts: A number of talented artists, such as Neil Diamond ("I'm a Believer," "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You") and Carole King ("Pleasant Valley Sunday") wrote songs for the Monkees.

Jimi Hendrix opened for the band on their London tour in 1967. And get this: The crowd booed Hendrix!

The prevailing attitude apparently was: Who is this whacked-out guitar genius with the crazy headband and fringed jacket mucking things up for the Monkees?

It makes you wonder: What the devil was wrong with the British back then?

Then again, what about us, now?

Is VH1 on target when it proclaims, in a recent press release, that "the '90s finds the Monkees as popular as ever?"

Well, just last year the, ahem, boys (Michael is 54, Peter is 53, Mickey is 51 and Davy is 50) released a greatest hits CD and a CD of new tunes called "Justus" and were the subject of a network special (no truth to the rumor that Ed Sullivan emceed).

In any event, now that the marathon has drawn to a merciful conclusion, VH1 will begin airing "The Monkees" -- one show at a time -- Tuesday through Thursday at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. EDT, and Saturdays at 10 a.m.

That's a lot of versions of "Last Train to Clarksville" to sit through.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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