We leap into 1967 grins and cheeky winks all round. Hey, hey… It’s The Monkees!
I’m a Believer, by The Monkees (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 19th January – 16th February 1967
Wham: The organ riff intro. Bam: The guitar lick. This is a record that doesn’t hang around. I thought love was only true in fairy tales, Meant for someone else, But not for me… And then, less than thirty seconds in, we hit the chorus. It feels quick, even though it’s a regular two and a half minute song. Or maybe it feels like boxes are being ticked. Check, check, check. We got ourselves a hit record.
It’s hard to write about The Monkees – and I say that as someone who knows very little about them – without resorting to the clichés. The first manufactured boy-band. They didn’t write their own songs (This one was written by Neil Diamond, no less.) They couldn’t really play their guitars! The TV series. ‘An American rip-off of The Beatles’. All stuff that has passed into pop-culture legend. You can’t help but picture them running goofily along a beach. But, and I hope that this has become apparent as this blog has gone on, I’m no music snob. A good song is a good song, no matter who it was recorded by. And ‘I’m a Believer’ is ‘A Good Song’. It’s an ear-worm. You don’t switch stations when it comes on the radio.
The chorus especially, hits all the right spots. Then I saw her face, Now I’m a believer, Not a trace, Of doubt in my mind… Then the Mmmmhhh… And the perfect hook of rhyming ‘believer’ with ‘couldn’t leave her.’ Yes, the verses are a bit basic: ‘pain’ and ‘rain, and so on. And the topic is love. Or, not love. Lust. But not lust. It’s a song about the general concept of love, with a smudge of lust, for kids who don’t know yet what those feelings are. And it’s not a Beatles ‘rip-off’. Not quite. It’s definitely influenced by the Beat sound, especially the guitar licks between the verses. But the most Beatles thing about The Monkees were their haircuts. It’s a disc that ends on a high too, with that great Yayayayayaay!
‘I’m a Believer’ feels like a moment. The fact that it’s the first #1 of a new year, maybe. Something’s shifting. Is this perhaps the first ‘pop song’? Hear me out… Up to now pop music has been jazz, and swing, and rock ‘n’ roll, R & B, and rock. All those sounds have been popular. But this. This is a song written with the single purpose of being popular. Of promoting a group of young men and forcing them into the hearts, and onto the bedroom walls, of girls aged between nine and, say, fourteen.
What I mean to say is that The Monkees are taking the sound of the mid-sixties: Beat pop mixed with folk and R&B, on the cusp of flower-power, and diluting it into pure pop. But, of course, that’s been happening for years. Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’ was diluted rock ‘n’ roll. Helen Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’ was diluted jazz. The Four Pennies ‘Juliet’ was diluted Merseybeat. I’ve just answered my own question, then. This is not the first ‘pop song’. This isn’t anything new. It’s just a next step in The Evolution of Pop.
I’ll stop before I disappear any further into my own mind. This is a post on ‘I’m a Believer’; not a philosophical dissertation. But it is The Monkees’ one and only appearance on this countdown and so I did need to cram it all in. Anyway, a quick glance at their discography on Wikipedia shows just how much of a monster hit ‘I’m a Believer’ was: #1 across the world, from Australia, to Germany, to Canada. And, like all the best boy-bands, they burned out pretty quickly. Though not before they left us with some great pop songs: ‘Last Train to Clarksville’, ‘Daydream Believer’, ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’… And one I had never heard of before starting this post, but which may be my new favourite-ever song title: ‘Randy Scouse Git’ (released, perhaps unsurprisingly, as ‘Alternate Title’ in the UK.)
Listen to every #1 so far in this playlist: