The Monkees were a manufactured pop band who came to fame on a sitcom, had most of their songs written for them, and who, for most of their career, had very limited control over their creative output. As a result, they rarely get anything like as much respect as their peers, with many people writing them off as TV fakes who didn’t even play their own instruments. But while it’s true that their creator Don Kirshner kept their artistry on a tight leash (at least initially), it’s also true that they performed some of the most enduring pop gems of the 1960s. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Monkees songs of all time.
10. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
Kicking off our list of the best Monkees songs of all time is A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You. An upbeat, jingly-jangly song, it was the group’s first single to feature Davy Jones on lead vocals. Like the rest of the album it came from (1966’s More of the Monkees), the group’s contribution was limited to vocals only, resulting in tension between the band (who wanted more artistic control) and the record label, who were disinclined to give it to them. The group would eventually get their wish, albeit at the expense of commercial success, but in the meantime, they had to make do with limited control and a No. 1 Cashbox Top 100 chart hit.
She was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and included on the Monkees’ second album, More of the Monkees. Although it was never released as a single, it’s since become one of the band’s most popular songs, and a regular fixture on many of their greatest hits albums.
8. D.W. Washburn
After the Monkees’ sitcom got canceled, their fortunes took a nose dive. Their music didn’t lose its appeal, but it lost its promotional vehicle. The first single they released after the cancelation, D.W. Washburn, was a commercial disappointment, stalling at No. 19 on the pop charts. Subsequent releases would fare even worse, failing to even make the top 40. But chart failure aside, it’s still a lovely song, with a folky pop sound and some surprisingly mature (if lightly downbeat) lyrics from the legendary songwriting partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
When Screen Gems president and music supervisor Don Kirshner decided he want a “girls name song” for the Monkees TV show, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart said they’d just finished one. They’d done no such thing, and were forced to improvise Valleri in the taxi ride over to Kirshner’s office. But Kirshner liked the song enough to use it anyway. A psychedelic rocker with a fuzzy bass line and a face-meltingly good flamenco guitar solo, it became the group’s final top ten hit and their last single to go gold, peaking at No. 10 on the pop charts.
6. Porpoise Song
In 1968, the Monkees stunned the world with “Head,” a frankly bizarre movie that made no sense in the ’60s and make even less now. But at least one good thing came out of it – Porpoise Song, a big slice of psychedelia with distorted vocals, an ambient vibe, and a mind-bending combination of organ, horn, woodwind, and cello. Hugely adventurous and wonderfully elaborate, it represents the pinnacle of the group’s experimental phase. It peaked at No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100.
5. (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone was first recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders, but it took the Monkees to turn it into a hit. If you thought the group could only do throwaway pop, this is the song that will convince you otherwise. A surprisingly aggressive, hart hitting rocker, it’s since been covered by a slew of hardcore bands like Minor Threat and the Sex Pistols. Released as the B-side to I’m a Believer in November 1966, it became the group’s first B side to chart, peaking at No. 20 on the pop chart.
4. Pleasant Valley Sunday
Written by hitmakers Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Pleasant Valley Sunday blends cutting social commentary with sweet harmonies, a wonderful guitar intro from Michael Nesmith, and attention-grabbing layers of reverb. Released in July 1967, it became one of the group’s most successful singles, reaching No. 3 on the US chart pop and the top 20 in numerous other countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, and the UK.
3. Last Train To Clarksville
Songwriter Bobby Hart got the idea for Last Train To Clarksville after mistakingly thinking that Paul McCartney was singing “take the last train” on the Beatles‘ song, Paperback Writer. After realizing he wasn’t and that line was up for grabs, he decided to base a song around it. The result, a sunny piece of pop with Beatles-esque harmonies and jangling guitars, became one of the group’s biggest hits, peaking at No. 1 on the pop charts in November 1966.
2. I’m a Believer
Neil Diamond’s I’m a Believer is one of his best compositions. Thanks to the Monkees, it’s also one of his best known. Although Diamond was the first to record the song, it was the Monkees who took it to No. 1 when they released it as the first single from the album, More of the Monkees. It spent seven weeks at the top of the charts, becoming the bestselling record of 1967. It’s since sold over 10 million units worldwide
1. Daydream Believer
As Liveabout.com notes, Daydream Believer was written by John Stewart of the legendary folk group the Kingston Trio and bought to the attention of the Monkees by producer Chip Douglas. The song became a smash hit, spending four weeks at the top of the charts in 1967. It’s since become a hugely popular pop standard, with everyone from the Four Tops and Anne Murray to U2 and Susan Boyle releasing their own interpretations.