Interesting Facts About the Beatles and the Monkees

the_monkeesThe Beatles vs. “The Monkees”… Well, that’s really no contest, is it? Isn’t that rather like comparing Marilyn Monroe to J. Lo? Jim Carrey to Pauly Shore?

As we all well know and readily concede- fame-wise, talent-wise, popularity-wise, music-wise, and immortality-wise, it’s no contest. But did you know The Monkees’ records outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined in the years 1966 to 1967?

With that, let’s take a quick look at these two very popular “musical groups” of the 1960s, the parallels, the similarities, and the differences.

Beatles-Monkees- both cleverly punned, albeit misspelled, names of living non-human creatures. The Monkees were a synthetic “rock group” formed by four young men (two actors and two actual musicians) in 1966 to create a television show about four young carefree musicians, in direct homage to the Beatles’ first film “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The series made no attempt to hide or shy away from their all-too-obvious Beatles influence. In the very first episode of The Monkees TV show, we see Mike Nesmith throwing a dart at a Beatles poster (hitting Ringo). In another Monkees episode, we see the four boys lying on the ground, mumbling, all four heads pushed together, in a shot directly taken from “A Hard Day’s Night.” In yet another episode, Davy’s British grandfather comes to the states to pay him a visit (Paul’s grandfather was the main center of “A Hard Day’s Night”). Even in the very last Monkees episode, we see the boys waking up to their alarm clock / record player, which blares out “Good Morning, Good Morning,” the John Lennon song.

Almost every “Monkees” episode, in fact, featured a rollicking romp of the fours boys running around Helter-Skelter, in the exact same manner as the Beatles did in the famous “running in the field” scene from “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The exact character comparisons were fairly obvious too. John Lennon and Mike Nesmith were the “leaders” of their respective groups- the smartest ones, cracking sly jokes and asides, each with their droll sense of humor. Both somehow seemed “older” than the other three (Nesmith was, but Ringo Starr was actually the oldest Beatle).

Paul McCartney and Davy Jones were the “heart-throbs” of the teams- the two romantic leads, the best looking of the eight and the girls’ favorites. Paul’s trademark ballad song was “Yesterday,” (originally titled: Scrambled Eggs) while Davy warbled “I wanna be free.”

Ringo and Peter Tork each took on the “cute and dumb one” title, the “Harpo Marx” of their respective teams.

Micky Dolenz, definitely the most gifted singer of the Monkees, and George Harrison “The Quiet Beatle,” were a little harder to pigeonhole. Micky and Ringo were both drummers. And George and Peter were each group’s respective most dedicated musicians.

By a strange bit of irony, when the Beatles made their legendary first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in Feb. Of 1964 before a record-breaking TV audience of 73 million viewers, a young Davy Jones appeared in the cast of “Oliver!” on the same broadcast.

Feeling his oats by 1967, Davy Jones was to state publicly that the Monkees had shown more growth and advancement from their first to third albums than the Beatles had from their first to fifth albums. But for their part, the Beatles showed no resentment over their imitators huge success in 1966-67. John Lennon said the Monkees were “the funniest comedy team since the Marx brothers,” adding that he “never missed an episode” of their TV show.

George Harrison, another Monkees admirer, said “When they get it all sorted out, they might turn out to be the best.”

When the Monkees came to England in 1967, the Beatles even threw them a big party at the “Speakeasy” club. Mike Nesmith had dinner at John Lennon’s home and the two, and their two respective wives, became friends. Mike also attended the Beatles recording sessions for the song “A Day in the Life.”

Paul McCartney became acquainted with Micky Dolenz and is seen at the “Sgt. Pepper’s” recording sessions grinning happily with a mustachioed McCartney. In 1967, the Monkees album “Headquarters” hit the #1 spot on the charts. Of course, its success lasted only one week, before being replaced by the Beatles and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Want more? How about these connections:

  • On February 13, 1967, Paul and Ringo attended a Jimi Hendrix concert. In early June of ’67, Paul saw Hendrix again live, and was flattered to hear the genius guitarist strumming the strings to the opening notes of “Sgt. Pepper.” In less than a week, Hendrix was the opening act for the Monkees on their 1967 world tour. (In possibly the most ridiculous, eye-rolling, irony in the history of rock music, Jimi was booed off the stage at each of his appearances by angry, impatient Monkees fans, and left the tour in disgrace after a few days. Yep…)
  • The very first self-written song by Micky Dolenz was called “Randy Scouse Git” and mentions “Four Kings of EMI” (Gee, I wonder who he was referring to?)
  • In the Beatles album “Rubber Soul,” they have a song called “Girl,” while Davy Jones sings a completely different song called “Girl” in his guest appearance on “The Brady Bunch” in 1971.
  • Peter Tork was actually a guest guitar player on George Harrison’s first solo album “Wonderwall.”
  • In 1968, John Lennon was famous for bringing his girlfriend, Yoko Ono, into the sacred “no chicks allowed” Beatles recording sessions. But in 1967, Micky Dolenz often invited his sister, Coco, to sit in at the Monkees recording dates.
  • In 1977, Micky and Ringo appeared together in a Levi’s commercial. And when Micky Dolenz hosted a radio show for WCBS-FM in New York, he interviewed Ringo. Micky also made a brief guest appearance in Paul McCartney’s 1976 documentary film “Wings Across America.”
  • In 1995, Ringo appeared with Davy, Micky and Peter in a “Pizza Hut” commercial.
  • In 2002, Paul can be heard singing “Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees” in his 2002 concert film “Back in the Us.”

So the Beatles vs. The Monkess? Well, let’s look at it this way- yes, there is “Seinfeld” and there is “Gilligan’s Island.” The Beatles were, obviously, four immensely talented singers and musicians, with their cornerstone being the greatest songwriting team of the past half-century (Lennon-McCartney). In their famous press conferences and their all-too-brief film career, the Beatles also proved themselves to be very gifted, funny comedians.

The Monkees were very gifted comedic actors. They were renowned for not even playing their own instruments, but they did compose a handful of very good songs between them.

Jim Backus, perhaps, said it best when he was once asked about the low-grade, childish humor of his show “Gilligan’s Island.” The questioner made the point that Gilligan’s Island “wasn’t Shakespeare.” Backus, not insulted, agreed with the interviewer’s premise and readily acknowledged that his popular series, indeed, was not Shakespeare. “I know, but there’s room for us all. There’s room for everybody.”

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  • If the Monkees didn’t play their own instruments, how did they manage to play live concerts?

    • They played their own instruments. Mickey had to learn drums, and Davey only did percussion live – but Mike and Peter were players… They played.

  • When the dust of the rockin 60s had all settled, the truth finally came out. The only thing Beatles had over the Monkees was song writing. As far as musicians, The Monkees could play circles around the Beatles. Mike and Peter put John and George to shame when it came to playing their instruments. Mickey, not a drummer in the beginning but after lessons and a lot of practice ended up being able to drum Ringo under the table. YES! they did play their own instruments and exceptionally well to boot. I personally like both the Beatles and the Monkees but the truth of the entire matter is that the Monkees really did have it all over the Beatles.

  • Omg. Tim Kline. What are you basing your comment on?? Even on film Peter does the WORST job of FAKING Bass. Go ahead and say they played/learned instruments. But to say “played circles…..”?? WhaT an absolutely unqualified statement. Absolutely laugha

  • (Cont.)…laughable. The fancy lead guitar in Valleri isn’t any of the Monkees. Now I love both groups to. But at least I’m educated on the topic. The Monkees musical prowess was Spartan at BEST.


  • That’s actually a rumor. Mike Nesmith (member of the Monkees) confirmed this in a Gilbert Gotfried interview saying he started the rumor for attention.

    • I thought it was the Mickey Dolenz interview but yes one of them just made up some 93,000,000 sales figure and now its in Wikipedia and there are quiz questions floating around now saying that the Monkees outsold the Beatles.

  • I find it hard to believe that they sold more records than the Beatles in 1967 given the classic material that the Beatles released that year.

    • The Monkees definitely dominated the UK charts in 1967. At some points they had two albums simultaneously in there, which would account for sales volume. They also outdid everyone else by far in terms of holding the number one position. The Monkees were also accepted at a higher level in the UK than they were in America. Also pop radio was heard in literally every house, as television had not yet finally arrived, so radio and records were a major source of entertainment.

  • Excellent article, thanks for it. Interesting histories.

  • My dad used to work with both these bands, he tells me stories all the time.
    His funniest story is how The Beatles were the BIGGEST Monkees fans – they were always talking about them and would show up at concerts in secret.
    And, yes, contrary to what rumors say, the Monkees did, in fact, play their own instruments – Peter and Mike were the original musicians, and Davy only played percussion live, but Micky learned how to play. In movies and music videos and their show, of course, they didn’t play in the videos-it was the 1960s, people were still learning the best way to fake things, and most people lipsing/fake play in music videos anyways.

  • It was Mike Nesmeth, who in a 1977 interview, decided to have fun with the interviewer by peppering his answers with lies just to see if the guy would even bother to check. So he claimed that The Monkees sold 35M records in 1967, outselling the Beatles and Rolling Stones combined.

    He totally made it up, and forever after, news services from The Washington Post to NPR have parrotted this claim without ever checking.

    First off, what does “records” mean? Albums? Singles?

    The Monkees had 4 albums simultaneously on the charts in 1967.

    “The Monkees” – certified by the RIAA over 5M sales. But that is total certification, done decades later, in the late 1990s.
    “More of the Monkees” – Ditto certified over 5M.
    “Headquarters – 2M
    “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” 2M

    So that totals 14M and that’s after 30 years. So I find it absurd to believe that they came anywhere near 35M records sold in 1967.

    I’ve done a little digging around, and it’s pretty hard to find any Rolling Stone or Billboard charts that narrow these things down to how many units were sold in that one year. But on the fact of it, it really looks quite impossible that The Monkees actually outsold The Beatles, and I haven’t even added in the sales for The Rolling Stones.