One week before the official 1966-67 television season began, NBC previewed two of its new fall series. Both turned out to be pop-culture milestones, winning millions of fans around the world and making an impact that lasted far beyond the shows' brief network runs.
One of those series was "Star Trek," which premiered on Thursday, Sept. 8, 1966. The other was a half-hour situation comedy, which debuted on Monday, Sept. 5, 1966. It was called "The Monkees."
The Monkees Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 Hits
Only one of the four actors starring in the series had already appeared on the Billboard charts when "The Monkees" premiered. Davy Jones, who died of a heart attack today at age 66, debuted on the Hot 100 the week of Aug. 14, 1965, with the single, "What Are We Going To Do?" The 19-year-old singer, who had already starred as the Artful Dodger in West End and Broadway productions of "Oliver!," was signed to Colpix Records, a label owned by Columbia Pictures.
In 1966, Colpix was abandoned in favor of a new label, Colgems, which partnered Columbia's TV division, Screen Gems, with RCA to release albums by the Monkees.
Long before TV series like "American Idol" and "Glee" impacted the Billboard charts, the Monkees were an out-of-the-box success. The first single, 'Last Train to Clarksville," was released on Aug. 16, 1966, two weeks and six days before the NBC premiere. The song received significant airplay before the series went on the air, which led to instant sales, which led to a debut on the Hot 100 the week ending Sept. 10, 1966 - the same week the series premiered.
Eight weeks later, "Last Train to Clarksville" was No. 1. Meanwhile, the quartet's eponymously titled debut album entered the Billboard 200 the week of Oct. 8, 1966, and claimed pole position five weeks later. "The Monkees" held on to the top spot for 13 weeks, and was immediately succeeded by "More of the Monkees," which debuted at No. 122 the week of Feb. 4, 1967 and soared to No. 1 the following week. That was the biggest jump to No. 1 in the history of the album chart, a record that the Monkees held for 27 years. Today, that 122-1 leap still stands as the fifth biggest move to the penthouse in the life of the Billboard 200.
"More of the Monkees" had an 18-week reign, the longest stay at No. 1 for any group in the 1960s. The combined 31-week run at No. 1 for the band's first two albums is the longest for any artist's first two chart entries in the history of the Billboard 200.
The success of "More of the Monkees" was fueled by the group's second single, the Neil Diamond-penned "I'm a Believer, backed with a cover of a Paul Revere & the Raiders recording, "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." That Colgems 45 ruled the Hot 100 for seven weeks. The Monkees had one more No. 1 single, "Daydream Believer," featuring lead vocals by Jones. That single led the chart for four weeks in December 1967.
After "The Monkees" and "More of the Monkees," the foursome's next two albums also garnered top chart ink. "Headquarters" spent a lone week on top in June 1967 and then spent the next 11 weeks at No. 2, submitting to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." In December 1967, the Monkees were No. 1 again with "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.," which yielded to the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" the first week in January 1968. By scoring three No. 1 albums in 1967, the Monkees joined the Beatles as the only acts to earn three chart-toppers in one year. The only act to match that feat since is the cast of "Glee," with three No. 1 albums in 2010.
The Monkees' chart run on Colgems continued on the Hot 100 until 1970. Their final single to chart was "Heart and Soul," a Rhino release in 1987. The group's final appearance on The Billboard 200 occurred in 2003 with a Rhino CD, "The Best of the Monkees."
They were only meant to be a band on a TV series. You didn't expect Dr. Kildare to perform surgery or T.J. Hooker to actually arrest anyone, but Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork weren't just a fictional band, even if they didn't play their own instruments on their earliest recordings. They became a real band with real hits, and a real legacy that still shines bright.