DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Forty years ago this month, four wacky moptops bounced onto the nation's TV screens and into the hearts of generations of screaming teenage girls. Yes, we're talking about The Monkees. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer Petra Mayer is our resident Monkee maniac. And she has these thoughts on her decades of fandom.
(Soundbite of theme from The Monkees)
THE MONKEES (Band): (Singing) Here we come, walking down the street...
PETRA MAYER: Okay, let's get one thing straight here. I hate that song. I'm not sure there are any Monkees fans who really like it. For one thing, mention that you're a fan of the pre-fab four and inevitably someone will treat you to a few mocking choruses. Yuck.
(Soundbite of song, Pleasant Valley Sunday)
THE MONKEES: (Singing) The local rock group down the street is trying hard to learn this song.
MAYER: Ah, much better. This is Pleasant Valley Sunday, written by the legendary songwriting team of Jerry Goffin and Carole King. It was the first Monkees tune I ever heard, in the dim cool basement of my friend Mare's(ph) house in the summer of 1986. Back then the band was celebrating their 20th anniversary. MTV was rerunning the entire series and the reformed Monkees went back out on tour. My friend Mare caught the Monkee mania bug and she passed it on to me. Twenty years later both of us are still unabashed fan girls.
Luckily, Mare still lives near me, so I called her up a few weeks ago and we arranged an evening of nostalgia. I kind of cringed a little when she brought out her old scrapbook of Monkee memorabilia with my name written prominently in the front.
MARE (Friend): At the beginning of this lovely album that I put together, it says, warning, you are about to enter the beautiful world of the great Monkees. Use great caution unless you are a Monkee maniac.
MAYER: Is that the ticket stub from the show that we went to when we were 12?
MARE: Yes. Yes, it is, from Meriwether Post.
MAYER: Oh my God. Look at that, 16 bucks, that was a long time ago.
MARE: Yeah, it was.
MAYER: And ungodly long time ago. So why do we still care? I'll never see 13 again or the picture of Peter Tork that I had taped up over my bed. So why is it that I still sing along with the Monkees in the car and I remember almost all the lines of my favorite episode, which by the way is called Fairy Tale and involves Peter, the hapless peasant trying to rescue an ill-mannered princess, played by Mike in drag, with the aid of a magic locket.
(Soundbite of The Monkees episode)
Mr. PETER TORK (The Monkees): (As character) That must be the tall tower where the maiden lies languishing.
Mr. MICHAEL NESMITH (The Monkees): (As character) Yes, here I am - languish, languish.
Mr. TORK: (As character) In a dim lit cellar...
Mr. NESMITH: (As character) This cell is so dimly lit.
Mr. TORK: (As character) ...with her spirit unbroken.
Mr. NESMITH: (As character) Man, you better get me out of here or you're in big trouble.
Ms. KATE SULLIVAN (Music Editor, LA Weekly): They perfected a form that ended up being incredibly influential in our pop culture.
MAYER: Kate Sullivan is the music editor at the LA Weekly.
Ms. SULLIVAN: Especially for people of our generation who were kind of the original MTV generation, it's something that we were kind of wired for. And nobody ever did it better, as far as I'm concerned.
MAYER: She's right. If you were mapping out the history of music video, from A Hard Day's Night to the birth of MTV, The Monkees would be there right in the middle. Every show had what they called a romp, which was basically a music video dropped into the middle of the story. Those romps had the same quick editing and visual humor you can see on MTV today. And The Monkees did it first.
The music itself was pretty darn good too. And yes, they did eventually start playing their own instruments.
Ms. SULLIVAN: The truth is that there was as much, like, human artistry and the hunger to innovate and to express real things in this music as there was in the best music of the early '60s. And it would be a shame to deny yourself the pleasure of that music.
MAYER: And one of the pleasures of my job is having an excuse to call up my childhood idols, like former Monkee Davy Jones.
Mr. DAVY JONES (The Monkees): You know, music mingles souls. It brings people together. And so this is what The Monkees does all the time. I don't think that's very good grammar, that Monkees does. But never mind that because, as they used to say, The Monkees is coming. The Monkees is coming. And then we arrived on the scene and, you know, it was unabashed devotion, because it was simple. And they want that simplicity. They want John-Boy Walton sometimes and they want The Brady Bunch, you know, and they want release from this high-powered society, goal-oriented world.
MAYER: I'm looking forward to another 20 years of simple pop happiness. Petra Mayer, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, I'm a Believer)
THE MONKEES: (Singing) Then I saw her face. Now I'm a believer. Not a trace of doubt in my mind...
ELLIOTT: You can hear more from Davy Jones at our Web site, NPR.org.
(Soundbite of song, I'm a Believer)
THE MONKEES: (Singing) I'm in love. I'm a believer. I couldn't leave her if I tried.