Michael Nesmith’s Effect on Society through the Decades

Class: American History (CHA3U1)
Date: October 24, 2005
The Assignment: Choose from a list of topics and do a presentation and write an essay about this person or event’s influence on American society. I, of course, came up with my own dodgy hardly related topic.

Through the years, Michael Nesmith has influenced and contributed to American culture and society. In the 1960s, he was a member of The Monkees, which affected television, music, and other celebrities. In the 1970s, Nesmith continued to change music and began developing music videos. Still involved in music in the 1980s and beyond, he also expanded his work into movies, and the effects of The Monkees are still evident.

The sixties was the decade that most people became aware of Nesmith, due to his exposure from The Monkees. In the beginning, most of The Monkees time was spent on the television show, on which “Nesmith’s trademark was that he always wore a wool cap” (Wikipedia, p.1). The show was very influential, “The Monkees led the way for rock ‘n roll into television” (Pick, p.12). Several shows that feature music prominently and were possibly influenced by The Monkees include The Partridge Family and American Idol. The show also had many special guests, especially in the second season. Frank Zappa, Julie Newmar, Rip Taylor, and many other would appear on the show. The show’s accomplishments were acknowledged in 1967 when they won two Emmys. They received the awards for Best Comedy and Best Director. Although The Monkees began as just a television show to cash-in on Beatlemania, they would also find success as a musical group. The singles “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, and “Daydream Believer” all reached the number one spot on the charts. It was not until 1968 and their seventh single, “D. W. Washburn”, that they did not reach the top ten. In 1967, “Last Train to Clarksville” was nominated for two Grammys. In 1968, “I’m A Believer” was also nominated for two Grammys. The Monkees would not win any Grammys, but in 1967, The Monkees made three new albums. They would sell more than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined that year. Nesmith and The Monkees were influential in many different people’s lives, even those who were famous or would become famous. Walter Koenig was a member of the cast of Star Trek whose fame could be partly attributed to The Monkees. To revive ratings, Koenig’s character was added, mainly because he resembled Davy Jones. The Monkees also influenced Michael Stipe of REM. Stipe would not allow REM to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame unless The Monkees are inducted first. Nesmith affected Linda Rondstat directly, rather than being influenced by The Monkees. Nesmith wrote her first hit song “Different Drum” which reached #13 in 1967.

After leaving The Monkees, Nesmith began his solo career in the seventies, focussing more on music than television, although he would ultimately come up with an idea in this decade that would change television forever. Nesmith’s greatest accomplishment in this decade was undoubtedly that he “predicted MTV years before it happened” (Pond, p.25). In 1977, Nesmith created a short video for his song, Rio. The video did not consist of Nesmith singing the song, it instead told a story, something that had never been done before, and Rio became a top ten song in Australia. In 1978, Nesmith thought of creating a television show with only music videos, though no one was interested in the idea at the time. Eventually, Warner-Amex would ask Nesmith to create music clips for Nickelodeon, 56 episodes of “Popclips” were filmed. Although Popclips was not very popular, Nesmith had faith in his idea and he believed an entire television station should be devoted to playing music videos, just like a radio station. Nesmith sold his idea, which would later become MTV. Tired of the pop music genre forced upon him by his job as a Monkee, Nesmith expanded his horizons to work on country rock. In 1974, Nesmith’s first concept album, “The Prison” was released. The record sleeve contained the record and a book, which was to be read while listening to the music. The song “I’ve Never Loved Anyone More” was written by Nesmith. It was the most performed song of 1976, recorded by more than 30 artists, including Lynn Anderson, whose version reached the top twenty. Nesmith’s albums were often recorded in a short amount of time; 1970 and 1972 both saw two new albums released. Despite this fact, his albums have been critically acclaimed, sometimes called “the best music never heard” (Massingill, p.120).

The eighties brought success in the movie business for Nesmith and he would still contribute his music to society as well as get back together with the other Monkees. Once again, Nesmith would find a new project for this decade, mainly involving himself with movies and videos. Elephant Parts was the first program created just for home video and was very different from regular movies; it consisted of music videos of Nesmith’s songs and comedy skits performed by Nesmith and his friends. In 1982, Nesmith became the first person ever to receive the Grammy award for Video of the Year for Elephant Parts. Nesmith also worked on movies for other people. Nesmith produced, co-wrote, and composed music for Timerider, which did not receive good reviews but was a hit in theatres. He was also involved with Tapeheads, which would later become somewhat of a cult film, starring John Cusak and Tim Robbins. Nesmith’s company, Pacific Arts, worked together with PBS to create PBS Home Video. This new company released many different videos for a wide variety of topics, such as The Civil War, Dinosaurs, and Astronomy, and they made $30 million in one year. Movies took up most of Nesmith’s time in the eighties; however, he would still have time for his music. Nesmith discovered the group The Hellecasters and they recorded an album on the Pacific Arts label. Their first album was “Album of the Year” according to a Guitar Player’s magazine poll. In 1993, Nesmith released The Garden, his follow-up album to The Prison: “The Garden is a concept album that includes an audio portion — instrumental music with echoes of classical, country, and rock” (Seidenberg, p.52). It was nominated at the Grammys for Best New Age Album in 1995. In 1996, The Monkees released their first new album featuring all four members since 1968. The album, Justus, featured twelve songs sung, written, produced, and performed by all The Monkees. In 1986, ten years before Justus, a new wave of Monkeemania had begun. “MTV broadcast 22 ½ hours of Monkees episodes back to back” (Finn, p.10), causing a new generation to become aware of the group. Monkees albums were re-released and new products were created, including a “New Monkees” television show, to take advantage of the new interest in The Monkees. The “New Monkees” was a failure; fans were only interested in the originals. When Nesmith made public appearances to promote his new video, stores would fill up, visitors were lined up outside, some people would wait hours to meet him, and when he finally arrived, he was met with cheers, screams, and even crying. In 1992, Nesmith went on tour, something he had not done for a long time, and all of his shows sold out. The Monkees also went on tour in the nineties, with many of their concerts being attended by celebrities such as Little Richard and David Spade.

After his career as a Monkee, Michael Nesmith had a hard time being taken seriously in his ventures. He may not be scientist or a politician, but he has affected and contributed to American culture. Music, television, movies, and the entertainment industry in general have been in some way influenced by Nesmith in the past four decades.

Works Cited

Finn, E., Bone, T. (1986). The Monkees Scrapbook. San Francisco: The Last Gasp of San Francisco.

Massingill, Randi L. (2005). Total Control: The Michael Nesmith Story. Carlsbad, CA: FLEXquarters Publishing.

Pick, Christopher L. (1999). The Monkees’ HEY Days and The Beatles’ YEAH Days. Retrieved September 27, 2005 on the World Wide Web: <http://copland.udel.edu/~mm/beatles/monkees>

Pond, Steve. (1992, March 19). Michael Nesmith. Rolling Stone, p.25. Retrieved September 26, 2005 from EBSCO.

Seidenberg, Robert. (1999, April 1). Monkee Business. Entertainment Weekly, p.52. Retrieved September 26, 2005 from EBSCO.

Wikipedia. (2005, September 23). Michael Nesmith. Retrieved September 27, 2005 on the World Wide Web: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Nesmith>