Two decades after their original formation and launch of their TV show, the Monkees came roaring back to life in 1986. And it was all thanks to MTV, after the network aired a marathon of the series on Feb. 23.
Even though The Monkees lasted only two years, from 1966-68, the group was ripe for a comeback by the mid ’80s. “We read in Newsweek and all the different magazines about the Moody Blues coming back, about Paul McCartney coming back, about Eric Clapton coming back,” singer Davy Jones told Creem in 1986.
“But these people have never been anywhere. …They’ve been coming every two years. Elton John retires every two years and then comes out with an album. Frank Sinatra retires every three years. But the Monkees have had an 18-year break, and then they’ve come back. I think we’re one of the only bands to ever do this.”
The relaunch was so popular that the band set off on a 20th-anniversary tour that year, booking more than 100 dates. “I hadn’t stood on a stage in years,” Micky Dolenz told The Washington Post at the time. “I felt very self-conscious with all these people looking at me. I couldn’t remember how to move my hands or how to dance, and I could hardly remember how to sing.”
Since their gradual splintering that began in 1969 with Peter Tork‘s resignation and ended in 1970 with the split of the rest of the band, the Monkees hadn’t seriously considered a reunion. Each member of the quartet dabbled in various, but quiet, TV projects and one-off musical endeavors. Jones released a self-titled solo album in 1971. Tork launched a new band called Release. Dolenz put out a handful of singles but found more fruitful work in British TV. Michael Nesmith enjoyed a spot of success with First National Band, the group he formed after quitting the Monkees, as well as with producing others.
For the most part, the Monkees, as a band, appeared to be a fad of the past until the MTV relaunch, but it may have been the key to bringing them back together. With fans eager for more Monkees, the group decided to give reunification, in the form of a tour, a chance.
“We’ve got a lot more in common now,” Jones said. “We’ve all been through a lot of the things that we’d never done before. We didn’t know each other very well when we were originally working together, and we hadn’t experienced a lot of things in common. For instance, we’ve all been through marriages and divorces now. We’ve all got children now. We can all identify with each other on a different level about different things which we never could before.”
The subsequent 1986 tour consisted almost primarily of Jones, Dolenz and Tork. Nesmith’s commitments to his production work kept him busy, but he did join the band for one performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. “I think we performed admirably, considering we’re a television show,” he said to MTV after the concert. “It gave me a real buzz, I loved it. It was wonderful being up there on stage with the guys.”
Dolenz, Jones and Tork even released a new album as the Monkees in 1987, but Pool It! didn’t fare as well as the previous year’s relaunch. The album stalled at No. 72.
Watch the Monkees’ ‘Heart and Soul’ Video
That same year, a new television series called New Monkees aired. Aside from centering on a new group of young musicians, the show had little to do with the original, and, having made no waves, it left the air after 13 episodes. It was the original Monkees fans wanted.
“Moms are coming with their daughters and sons, and people are saying to us, ‘Can I have your autograph for my mother?’ And ‘I’m coming to the show tonight with my mother and my grandmother,'” said Jones. “So there’s an audience for everything, and the Monkees have an audience. It seems to be sort of like a carbon copy of the original audience – plus the older fans.”
The band would continue to meet for occasional reunions over the next several decades, and though the lineups usually shifted for each run of shows (Nesmith being the least consistent), each member maintained his deep love for entertaining.
“I love to perform,” Tork told CNN in 1986. “As far as I know, it’s all I’ve really liked to do since I was four years old. …There’s probably a downside, but I won’t know what it is till it hits me.”