Best Monkees songs of all time: 30 classics, from their biggest hits to album tracks

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Regardless of how many Monkees actually responded to the Hollywood Reporter advertisement seeking "4 insane boys, age 17-21" for a TV show inspired by the Beatles film "A Hard Day's Night,” it wasn’t long before the four young men who got the gig had started sending singles up the pop charts.

“The Monkees” premiered as a Monday night lead-in to "I Dream of Jeannie" in September 1966 with an episode called "Royal Flush," gallantly rescuing Princess Bettina, Duchess of Harmonica, from her evil uncle, Archduke Otto.

The show only lasted two seasons, a total of 58 episodes.

But the castmates quickly grew into the role of actual bandmates while the show itself enjoyed a healthy second lease on life in syndication with an '80s MTV revival expanding its reach to a new generation.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s continued snubbing of the Monkees is, of course, beyond ridiculous.

The impact of the show alone should be enough to warrant their induction. And the catalog they left behind is every bit as worthy of the honor, from those first four albums, all of which hit No. 1, through “The Monkees Present,” which gently grazed the album charts in 1969, by which point Peter Tork had left the fold with Michael Nesmith on the verge of following.

The two remaining Monkees, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, packed it in after releasing one last album, “Changes,” as a duo.

Assorted gatherings of bandmates would go on to stage reunions through the years. And they enjoyed their highest-charting album since the ‘60s with 2016’s late-career revival “Good Times!,” which was followed two years later by their final effort, “Christmas Party.”

It's really quite the legacy, which brings us to this unapologetically subjective countdown of the Monkees’ best songs, from the early hits that topped the Hot 100 through “Porpoise Song” and “Listen to the Band” to “Unwrap You at Christmas.”

'The last man standing': Micky Dolenz reflects on his life as the only surviving Monkee

30. 'Tapioca Tundra' (1968)

Not only did he write and sing this psychedelic spin on Tin Pan Alley music, Nesmith is the only Monkee to appear on the recording, even whistling the melancholy melody that fools you into thinking you’re about to hear a slower, sadder track until those drums kick in.

The song is an experimental poem set to music that begins with Nesmith singing, “Reasoned verse, some prose or rhyme lose themselves in other times and waiting hopes cast silent spells that speak in clouded clues.”

That may not read much like a pop hit, but “Tapioca Tundra” charmed its way to No. 34 on Billboard’s Hot 100 as the flipside of “Valleri.”

29. 'You Bring the Summer' (2016)

When the three surviving Monkees reconvened to make an album after Jones’ death, they drew on a new generation of writers, from Rivers Cuomo of Weezer to Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, who produced this track.

The handiwork of Andy Partridge (XTC), who more than rose to the occasion, this psychedelic pop gem (with well-deployed backward guitar on the outro) feels like the new Monkees classic it is, from the chiming guitar lines to the pop smarts of a vocal hook that makes the most of having Dolenz at your beck and call to bring it all together on lead vocals, setting the tone with “I’ll bring the chips and the dips and root beer.”

28. 'Cuddly Toy' (1967)

The lyrics are so casually dismissive, it’s hard to believe Harry Nilsson was able to place this on a network television show in 1967. Consider the opening line, in which teen heartthrob Davy Jones sends some poor woman packing with “You’re not the only cuddly toy that was ever enjoyed by any boy.” And it only gets darker from there.

What makes this such a perfect pop song is the way it couches all that cruelty in a charming throwback to the British music hall tradition with Tork supplying a piano part that couldn’t be more upbeat while Jones dispenses with the put-downs in a voice that’s equal parts innocuous and gleeful, as though he can’t imagine anybody being put off much less hurt by what he’s saying.

27. 'Saturday’s Child' (1966)

Among the many highlights of the Monkees self-titled debut, this song by David Gates, who would go on to rule the soft-rock ‘70s with Bread, sounds like it can’t decide if it’s supposed to be garage-rock or a sunny blast of pure pop.

And therein lies the genius of this track, the way it swaggers through the darkness of those verses, having ushered us in with a wonderfully scrappy guitar riff, to get to the charms of a magical singalong chorus as Dolenz explains what it is about Saturday’s Child that drives him wild.

As he sings on the bridge, “Seven days of the week made to choose from, but only one is right for me.”

26. 'Listen to the Band' (1969)

Nesmith wrote this highlight of a record that turned out to be his final album as a Monkee until 1996’s “Justus.” It also marked the first time he’d been featured on lead vocals on the A-side of a Monkees single.

The song is on the soulful side of country-rock with a twangy lead vocal from Nez and rousing horns arranged by Shorty Rogers answering the singer’s call to “listen to the band.” Not quite two weeks before the single was released, fans got an early taste of “Listen to the Band” on the Monkees television special “33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.”

The single peaked at No. 63 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Nesmith went on to revisit the song with his post-Monkees country-rock group, the First National Band, sans horns, in 1970.

25. 'Unwrap You at Christmas' (2018)

Another Andy Partridge composition, “Unwrap You at Christmas” opens “Christmas Party” on a playful note with festive echoes of Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album, which, as Partridge told Mark Fisher of “The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls,” was far from unintentional.

And like the instant Christmas classic it was meant to be, it feels a bit like Christmas morning, complete with sleigh bells, Dolenz bringing a suitably childlike charm to the mix as he sets the tone with “I can’t wait to unwrap you at Christmas/ You’re the gift for me/ I can’t wait to unwrap you at Christmas/ Under the Christmas tree.”

There’s even a wonderfully bittersweet bridge, with Dolenz pining, “I’ve been waiting all year now, baby, for the snow and you to return.”

24. 'Love Is Only Sleeping' (1967)

The Monkees’ label, Colgems, briefly toyed with making this extremely trippy 1967 track the follow-up to “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” ultimately landing on the far more accessible “Daydream Believer,” which, of course, went on to top the Hot 100.

This Barry Mann-Cynthia Weill track was relegated to an album cut on “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.,” emerging as an easy highlight thanks in part to that opening riff but mostly to it being blessed with one of Nesmith’s most inspired moments as a vocalist.

There’s so much character in his delivery of “Then she turned away and said, ‘Once I loved but love is dead,” the line that sets him up for “And I whispered sometimes love is only sleeping.”

23. 'Shades of Gray' (1967)

This is as pretty a song as the Monkees would ever record, a richly orchestrated ballad with stately piano by Tork (who shares the vocal spotlight with Jones) and session players fleshing out the understated chamber-pop arrangement on French horn and cello.

The song was written by one of the Brill Building’s more inspired duos, Mann and Weil, as a bittersweet reflection on the changing times that finds them pining for simpler days when “it was easy then to tell right from wrong.”

There are no easy answers here, just a singalong chorus that’s as poignant as it is contagious: “But today there is no day or night/ Today there is no dark or light/ Today there is no black or white/ Only shades of gray.”

22. 'You Just May Be the One' (1967)

Nesmith wrote more Monkees songs than any other member of the group, although the show’s producers foolishly rejected “Different Drum,” a Nesmith song that went on to become a breakthrough hit for Linda Ronstadt.

Nesmith wrote and sang this highlight of the Monkees’ third release, an album titled “Headquarters” on which they famously won more creative control, relying less on session players and outside writers.

This folk-rock treasure dates back to his days as a struggling folk singer playing the Troubadour in Hollywood. The riff is archetypal ‘60s folk-rock, as are those soaring vocal harmonies Dolenz brings to that transcendent bridge, while Tork makes a serious case for creative control with a show-stopping bassline that’s way too busy – in a good way – to believe a session player would’ve thought that’s what the song required.

Different Drum: How a pop song written by one of the Monkees made Linda Ronstadt a star

21. 'As We Go Along' (1968)

After the TV series was canceled, the Monkees responded with one of the most inspired left turns in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, a surrealist film called “Head” directed by Bob Rafelson (the co-creator of the series), working from a script he’d written with Jack Nicholson.

This absolutely gorgeous ballad is a soundtrack standout penned by Carole King with future “It’s Too Late” collaborator Toni Stern.

Dolenz is the only Monkee to appear here, and to say his vocal proves itself to be the perfect instrument to put this song across would be to understate the obvious. There’s a delicate grace to his emotional delivery as he navigates the melody in 5/8 time while underscoring everything that’s beautiful about the music and the lyrics in the same breath.

20. 'Daily Nightly' (1967)

Were the Monkees on the cutting edge of electronic music? Well, this was among the first appearances of the Moog synthesizer on a rock recording, predating the Beatles’ embrace of the iconic instrument on “Abbey Road” by two years.

And it’s being played by Dolenz with the unencumbered brilliance of a restless spirit messing with a new toy, making futuristic sound effects that suit the psychedelic essence of the music to a T. It sounds like 1967. In the best way possible.

Nesmith wrote this trippy triumph for “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.” But Dolenz gets the MVP, from his B-movie synth work to the way he stretches out the phrasing of lines as Dylanesque as “Startled eyes that sometimes see phantasmagoric splendor pirouette down palsied paths with pennies for the vendor” for maximum impact.

19. 'Tear Drop City' (1969)

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were the songwriting duo responsible for half the songs on the Monkees’ 1966 debut, from the TV theme song to the breakthrough hit they took to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the spectacular “Last Train to Clarksville.”

That just makes it harder to imagine how or why this Boyce and Hart song was recorded in October of that same year for “More of the Monkees” and shelved until the “Instant Replay” album three years later.

The sound is quintessential early Monkees, a “Clarksville”-esque rocker that feels like it could easily have followed “Last Train” up the pop charts, Dolenz nursing his wounds in the wake of a breakup while falsetto harmonies complete the scene by chiming in with “Tear Drop City.”

Sure, it stalled at No. 56 in 1969, but that’s because it sounds so much like 1966 (which is never a bad thing).

18. 'Sunny Girlfriend' (1967)

Nesmith wrote and sang lead on this “Headquarters” highlight, which plays to both his comfort zones as the opening folk-rock guitar riff gives way to a country-flavored rocker with a hint of Carl Perkins’ early rockabilly sides in the guitar part.

Meanwhile, Nesmith shares a cryptic portrait of his sunny girlfriend, who “owns and operates her own sunshine factory… painting smiles on dolls and then on me.” High harmonies from Dolenz add to the country-rock charms while the drummer’s backward hi-hat is the lone reminder that this song was cut in 1967, when psychedelic rock was all the rage.

It’s been suggested that his sunny girlfriend may be selling weed, which would explain the line “And she can make you slow while making your mind move fast.” And it definitely suits the backward hi-hat.

17. 'A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You' (1967)

This is the second of two Neil Diamond songs the Monkees took to No. 1 on Cashbox. “I’m a Believer” also topped the Billboard Hot 100, where this one peaked at No. 2, unable to dethrone Frank and Nancy Sinatra.

It’s Jones’ first lead vocal on a Monkees’ single, and his conversational delivery does a brilliant job of putting Diamond’s words across, especially the way he phrases “Girl, I don’t want to fight/ I’m a little bit wrong/ You’re a little bit right.” It’s like a kinder, gentler “We Can Work It Out.”

Acoustic guitars and handclaps drive the rhythm with Stan Free supplying the clavinet solo that takes the whole production (by “I’m a Believer” producer Jeff Barry) to a whole other level.

16. 'Words' (1967)

Is Micky Dolenz one of rock’s most underrated vocalists? Of course he is. And this would make an excellent Exhibit A in any argument on his behalf.

A psychedelic gem from Boyce and Hart, “Words” features Dolenz trading lines with Tork on hazy verses and Dolenz commanding the spotlight when the song kicks into high gear on the stomping chorus hook.

There’s an earlier version of “Words” the Monkees cut (and shelved) in 1966 during sessions for “More of the Monkees.” As luck would have it, they revisited the song in 1967 with Chip Douglas stepping in for Boyce and Hart to handle the production on a striking new arrangement that refines and underscores the promise of its pop hooks. Released as the B-side of the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” single, this one hit No. 11.

15. 'Circle Sky' (1968)

Nesmith wrote and sang lead on this practically punkish rocker for the soundtrack to the movie “Head,” which Leonard Maltin once described as "delightfully plotless" and “well worth seeing.”

From the descending guitar riff that’s met by a Bo Diddley beat on the intro to the garage-rock phrasing of the chorus hook, it rocks in ways that are completely out of character with what most casual listeners would think of as the Monkees sound.

Although the version in the movie shows the Monkees playing live in concert, intercut with footage of the Vietnam war, the studio recording features Nesmith backed by session players, which is weird because it doesn’t sound that different than the Monkees playing live.

14. 'For Pete’s Sake' (1967)

This “Headquarters” highlight was the closing theme for Season 2 of the Monkees’ hit TV show. And it certainly sounds like a suitable soundtrack to a show about a rock band set in 1967, with lines as flower-powerful as “In this generation, we will make the world shine” and “We were born to love one another/ This is somethin' we all need.”

It was written by Tork and his then-roommate Joey Richards, who was in the original Broadway production of "Hair" and toured with the Tubes as Pavarotti on Dope in the ‘70s. The lead vocal is Dolenz, whose range is put to brilliant use here, backed by harmonies that sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash dropped by to lend a hand on “All we have to be is free” while Nesmith fleshes the arrangement out with Booker T.-style organ stabs.

13. 'I Wanna Be Free' (1967)

Jones was the perfect choice to take the vocal spotlight on this swoon-inducing chamber-pop confection.

And not just because he was a heartthrob among heartthrobs in the Monkees camp, but more because he’s got the perfect voice to put this kind of song across, investing the words with a sweetness and vulnerability that makes you swoon despite the fact that all he’s really saying here, essentially, is “Girl, I need to mess around with other women. Can you dig it?”

It’s a beautiful recording from the opening guitar line to the tenderness of Jones’ vocal and the understated string arrangement that seems custom-made to make this song the Monkees’ “Yesterday.” The hint of harpsichord is yet another perfect touch on a Boyce and Hart song that was never released as a single in the States but figured prominently in the TV series.

12. 'You and I' (1969)

Neil Young’s guitar work is a major factor in the ranking of this song. But not because it’s Neil. Because of what he brings to the recording, from the sting of that opening note to way he snakes around the vocal to the actual solo (which, for what it’s worth, could stand to be a little louder).

Jones’ lead vocal is just as commanding, working a grittier side of his voice than we tended to hear on the Monkees hits he sang as he navigates the lyrics to a song he co-wrote with Bill Chadwick, a writer for the TV show. The song is featured on the “Instant Replay” album, their first release that doesn’t feature any songs that turned up in the TV series.

11. 'You Told Me' (1967)

In the event you had been wondering whether every song that Nesmith wrote and sang on “Headquarters” would make this list, well, now you know.

There’s a reason this classic was chosen to kick off the album, a psychedelic masterstroke that finds the Monkees channeling the Beatles of an Eastern-tinged “Revolver” vintage with a bassline that leaves fingerprints all over “Taxman” while allowing room for banjo in the mix.

It’s said that Nesmith wrote this song to showcase Tork on banjo, but it feels more like a brilliant afterthought. Meanwhile, Nesmith delivers the words in a suitably withering sneer with a scene-setting opening verse of “You told me you'd always stay, you told me/ You told me you'd never stray, you told me/ All these things you said, you said sincerely / Still I am leaving you in spite of what you told me.”

10. 'I’m a Believer' (1966)

The biggest-selling U.S. hit of 1967, spending seven weeks at No. 1, this song was destined to remain the Monkees’ biggest hit. As previously noted, it was written by Neil Diamond, who also appears on acoustic guitar, with Jeff Barry producing.

It may be worth noting that Nez is said to have told Barry, “I’m a songwriter, and that’s no hit,” which is among my favorite stories in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. He was reportedly banned from the recording session after that, but it was worth it.

The vocal is Dolenz, who sounds like he was born to sing this song, from the understated sigh of “What’s the use in trying when all you get is pain?” to the full-throated wails going into the fadeout, a flawless performance by one of rock’s best all-time vocalists.

9. 'Randy Scouse Git' (1967)

This Dolenz song brings “Headquarters” to an electrifying finish. The verses feature whimsical remembrances of what sounds like a memorable night at the Speakeasy Club in London, where guests include the singer’s future wife (“the being known as Wonder Girl”), the Beatles (“the four kings of EMI”) and Mama Cass (“a girl in yellow dress”).

The tone shifts when the chorus hits as Dolenz switches character (and sides) to rail against the partygoers. “Why don’t you cut your hair?!” he shouts, becoming more unhinged until he wants to know “Why don’t you hate who I hate, kill who I kill to be free?” It ends in both sides singing at the same time, each side unmoved by the other’s point of view.

The title was inspired by an insult hurled by the uptight father on the British TV series “Till Death Do Us Part.”

8. 'Valleri' (1968)

By the time they got to “Valleri,” which topped the Cash Box charts and peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the Monkees had proven they were capable of playing their own instruments. But that’s no reason not to call in session players for a song that seems like it could benefit from tagging someone in to do the heavy lifting.

Hence the impossibly fluid flamenco guitar work Louie Shelton brings to “Valleri.” Could they have gotten by without it? Sure. But man, it really elevates the whole recording, which also boasts a stellar brass arrangement.

Here’s how brilliant Boyce and Hart could be: Screen Gems President Don Kirshner asked if they had any "girl's-name" songs and they, of course, responded “Yes,” despite the fact that they did not, improvising the song on the way to the office. What?!! "Valleri" also features one of Jones’ best rock vocals.

7. 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' (1967)

This spirited rocker was written by one of the Brill Building’s most celebrated duos – Gerry Goffin and the legendary Carole King, inspired by their new life in the suburbs of New Jersey, with its “charcoal burning everywhere” and “rows of houses that are all the same and no one seems to care.” And you thought “American Beauty” took a dim view of life in the suburbs.

Nesmith contributes the classic guitar riff that makes it feel more like a celebration than a put-down, Tork bangs out a great piano part and Dolenz nails the vocals on a single that builds to a cacophonous conclusion yet remains one of their more contagious pop hits, hitting No. 3 on both Billboard and Cash Box.

6. 'She' (1967)

You’d almost have to put this Boyce and Hart song on the short list of the most impassioned vocals Dolenz ever laid to tape, from his wounded delivery of “She told me that she loved me, and like a fool, I believed her from the start” to those tortured pleas as the track begins to fade (“Why am I missing her? I should be kissing her”).

But everything about this brilliantly constructed Boyce and Hart production is essential to the mix. There’s the bent-guitar intro that feels like it’s channeling “Wild Thing,” the vocal blend on those harmonies sighing “she” at the top of the verses, the shouts of “Hey!,” the way it rocks with a swagger fit to hold its own against the surliest garage-rock records of the day, the dynamics of a stellar bridge that builds to a transcendent climax.

It all contributes to the magic. There’s a reason they made it the opening track of the second album.

5. 'The Girl I Knew Somewhere' (1967)

The B-side of the Monkees’ third consecutive hit single (“A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”), this Nesmith original was the first Monkees song released to feature all four members playing their own instruments, with Nesmith on guitar, Jones and Dolenz on percussion, and Tork on acoustic guitar and a Kinks-worthy harpsichord solo.

It’s also the first instance of a Monkee placing something he had written on a Monkees single. That’s two major wins before you even put the needle on the record.

But enough about what makes it an important piece of Monkees history. It’s here on the strength of its musical merits, an upbeat folk-pop gem with a suitably wistful lead vocal from Dolenz as he lets his memories of “a girl that I knew somewhere” cloud his judgment of a new relationship while bringing one of Nesmith’s most contagious melodies to life.

4. 'Daydream Believer' (1967)

John Stewart of the Kingston Trio wrote the Monkees’ third chart-topping single, which had been rejected by We Five (a folk-rock group featuring Stewart’s own brother) and Spanky and Our Gang by the time he pitched it to Monkees producer Chip Douglas at a Laurel Canyon party. But Douglas heard a single and the Monkees made the song their own.

That whimsical piano part that not only opens the song but shapes the vibe of the entire record? Tork came up with that and plays it on the record, which also features horns and strings arranged by Shorty Rogers, setting up the sugar-coated chorus with a riff whose chart-topping potential had already been tested two years earlier on the Beach Boys classic “Help Me, Rhonda.”

What really brings it all together, though, is Jones, who underscores the sweetness of the lyrics and the melody with a swoon-worthy vocal that adds to the innocuous appeal of their most charming hit, which spent four weeks at No. 1.

3. 'Last Train to Clarksville' (1966)

This Beatles-esque rocker was their “Meet the Monkees” moment, a Boyce and Hart original that had already hit the airwaves by the time the show premiered but didn’t blow up until after viewers got to know them better, hitting No. 1 the first week of November, eight weeks after that first episode.

And you can rest assured that any similarity between this record and the Beatles was entirely intentional. It was the debut single by a band assembled for a TV version of “A Hard Day’s Night.” And the Beatles had just topped the Hot 100 with the eerily similar “Paperback Writer” a month before this single was recorded.

It’s what they do with all that inspiration. though, that ultimately matters, going well beyond the flattery of imitation to create one of the year’s best rock songs while telling the tale of a soldier squeezing in some “coffee-flavored kisses” before shipping off to war. As Dolenz tells his sweetheart, “And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

2. 'The Porpoise Song' (1968)

This melancholy psychedelic ballad was the theme song to the movie “Head,” composed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, with Goffin overseeing what Monkees biographer Andrew Sandoval has called “the most elaborate production ever for a Monkees recording.”

It’s a haunting tapestry of sound with organ, cello, double bass, woodwinds, brass and recordings of porpoise sounds underscoring a double-tracked vocal from Dolenz, who’s clearly feeling every reference to the Monkees’ struggle for creative freedom in those lyrics.

In the liner notes to a “handmade” edition of “Head” on Rhino Records, Sandoval quotes Rafelson, the “Monkees” co-creator who co-produced and wrote the movie with Jack Nicholson. “That song was critical to me,’” he says. “‘A face, a voice, an overdub has no choice.’ In other words, the whole synthetic process of making the Monkees' records was about to be (examined) in the movie.”

You wouldn’t think a track called “Porpoise Song” could break your heart. Unless you’d heard it.

1. '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone'

Paul Revere and the Raiders beat the Monkees to the punch on this Boyce and Hart classic, which appeared on “Midnight Ride” in May 1966, two months before the Monkees hit the studio with Boyce and Hart to try their luck.

The Monkees version is perfection, fueled by Bobby Hart on the Vox Continental organ and a strong contender for the fiercest vocal Dolenz ever managed, sneering lines as bitter as “You’re reading all them high-fashioned magazines/ The clothes you’re wearing, girl, are causing public scenes” in a gritty rasp that’s positively dripping with contempt.

Released as the flip side of “I’m a Believer,” the Monkees’ take on “Steppin’ Stone” hit No. 20 on the Hot 100 to become the most successful version of a song, inspiring countless covers, from the English freakbeat band the Flies to the Sex Pistols and Minor Threat. And yet, no other version approaches the reckless abandon, the garage-rock swagger or the menace of the Monkees’ seminal recording.

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-4495. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter@EdMasley.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: The Monkees' greatest songs ranked: 30 best tracks to play right now