My Pop Life #168 : Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees


Pleasant Valley Sunday   –   The Monkees

The local rock group down the street is trying hard to play their song…. 

to serenade the weekend squire who’s just come out to mow his lawn

We are into the territory of pure joy here.  Memories of watching The Monkees TV show which was on ITV (?) between 1966 and 1968 – clearly a manufactured band, created to match or at least run in the slipstream of The Beatles, who were dominating culture all over the world at this point.

I was nine years old when I heard Theme To (Hey Hey We’re) The Monkees, Last Train To Clarksville and Daydream Believer.  We loved the show.  Speeded up film, wacky sight gags, slapstick, pulling faces, always a song, four charming, mop-topped cheeky chappies.  Strangely familiar but American.  Davy Jones was the charming Macca-esque Manc Brit, Peter Tork the lugubrious butt-of-jokes Ringo, Mike Nesmith the quiet musical one while Mickey Dolenz was the unpredictable sarcastic Lennon figure.  He was my favourite, (you had to have a favourite!) he played the drums and he sings Pleasant Valley Sunday (1967), written by the great Gerry Goffin and Carole King (see My Pop Life #135 ) a sweet social commentary-type pop tune that the late 60s had coming out of its ears.  Guitar intro of wonder, lead vocal, lyrics, melody, harmonies, wispy weird middle eight, it’s the perfect pop single.

Peter Tork with Bob Rafelson 1968

The Monkees were formed as a TV show (!) by Producer/Director Bob Rafelson in LA who pitched the idea with his partner Bert Schneider to NBC.  Bob later went on to direct the Monkees in the psychedelic oddity Head (1968), then went on to make Five Easy Pieces (1971) starring Jack Nicholson and other movies such as Mountains Of The Moon which in a strange twist of fate I was employed to help him cast in June 1988, working alongside casting director Celestia Fox.  They saw two actors per day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, for the two lead parts, Burton & Speke, and I would work with the actor for three hours at a time under Bob’s direction.   Many of my mates came in: Adrian Dunbar, Bruce Payne, Gabriel Byrne, then others : Tom Conti (he was really good), Patrick Bergin (he got Burton) and Iain Glen (he got Speke).  When Bob asked me what part I should play I said Speke but they disagreed and offered me a smaller one – so being a twat I turned it down and old friend Chris Fulford got a trip to Kenya instead;  just as well, I’d have probably caught AIDS.  In those days I thought if I did too many supporting parts it would lessen my cracks at playing a lead.  It did, eventually.  So I didn’t work with him on a movie, which was a shame, but of course, I did too.

Bob Rafelson

{I later fell out with Bruce, did two movies with Gabriel (I, Anna & Diamond Skulls), became neighbours in Brighton with Patrick and in 2009 I went to Galway to work with Iain and old buddy Stuart Orme.}

Anyway,  The Monkees couldn’t put a foot wrong for this ten-year old boy, yet to worry about small parts and auditions (although that was the year of the Selmeston primary school nativity play in which I played cuckold Joseph), yet to discover that they weren’t in fact cool, because they were manufactured and didn’t write their own songs, yet to discover that despite all that they were still brilliant.   The TV show was great, the songs, often written by Boyce/Hart were classic pop music.   When I moved to Brighton in the late 90s and found Stephen Wrigley, Dave Barnard & Adrian Marshall playing live in my local pub The Dragon I used to look forward to going down there on a Monday night when Caribbean food was served.   They would open up the mic in the second set, and had a large book of lyrics on the pub table for hopefuls to peruse.  My kind of heaven !  One night we sang Pleasant Valley Sunday to assorted random locals.  It climaxes with a tremendous verse where the lyrics are all ba-ba-baa ba-baa bababa in three-part harmony. We were about as slightly drunk as we should be and ended up over the road in the jazz club, drinking further until we’d formed a Beach Boys tribute band in our heads.  Which became The Brighton Beach Boys.

*

In 1976 aged 19, Simon Korner and I were hitch-hiking our way across the USA and we’d reached Los Angeles (see My Pop Life #130 and My Pop Life #30).  On July 4th it was Independence Day – in fact it was the Bi-Centennial of the United States’ independence from Great Britain – and they were celebrating 200 years of Freedom from the monarchy and the old colonial power.  We chose to visit Disneyland down in Orange County.   What a remarkable place.  Totally surreal, especially on this particular day, and being a little stoned as we were.  Not that we needed to be.  Walking in was like inhaling non-reality.  Like a whole town with different neighbourhoods – Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Bear Country, Snow White’s house, Cinderella’s palace, cascading waterfalls, Mississippi river steamers, large blue grinning cats playing the guitar, jazz, R’n’B and disco bands playing at every corner and a huge Uncle Sam float with the Statue of Liberty prancing weirdly beneath an eagle (and a giant US flag) as crowds lining the streets stand and cheer.  America On Parade.

Disneyland: ‘America On Parade’, July 4th 1976

We choose to take another ride – on The Matterhorn, an enormous rollercoaster, and as we round another hairpin bend hear the strains of “I’m a Believer”  floating through the brightly-colored air.   We climb off the ride and walk over to a nearby stage to find, rather astonishingly, The Monkees playing live – at that point comprising Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz  from the original band playing with their songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

I guess legal reasons stopped them using the word Monkees

I mentioned this moment to Micky Dolenz when I met him in Liverpool a few weeks ago.  Funny old thing life.  The Monkees issued a new album in 2016 which got amazingly good reviews, but he was here for the same reason as me.  The Brighton Beach Boys had been invited to play “Pet Sounds”at Beatlesweek, which is a week-long celebration held every summer in that fair city.  We drove up from Brighton, checked in and scouted the locations – The Royal Court Theatre for the first set, and The Cavern for the 2nd set.  The atmosphere was bank holiday, sunny, the streets were heaving, music pouring out of every venue, everyone was drunk.  Reminded me of New Orleans – the crossroads historic coastal city drenched in music.

the great 1st album

We walked around the corner from The Cavern and went into The Hard Day’s Night Hotel which annoyed some of the entourage (we don’t belong in here).  But we had a drink and when Micky Dolenz turned up I chatted to him at the bar even though he appeared to be more interested in two youngish ladies to his right.  He remembered Disneyland.  They giggled.  “I think you’re in there” I remarked.  He smiled. Sensing my moment I pounced.  “Mind if the band have a picture with you?”

Later that afternoon he drove past us on Duke Street in a taxi with the same two girls and a glazed grin on his face.   He was on the same bill as us the following day, although we were on at 2pm and he was in the evening.  Legend.

So this manufactured pop has woven a golden thread running through my life from the moment it came out right up the present day.    I didn’t know what half the words were in 1967.  “Another pleasant valley Sunday, here in saddasimba land”.  But the thrill of the intro, the voices and the harmonies still work their same magic almost fifty years later, here in status symbol land.

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