NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hey, Cuz! Welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, and today we’re taking a look at The Monkees’ last Number One hit.
Hi there! I’m Claude Call, I’m proud to be amongst you. If you’re coming to me from Amazon, please let me know by dropping a “Hello” on the website or however you prefer. Now: I’ve got some rather chilling trivia for ye today. In 1988 all the members of a classic Motown act avoided dying because they overslept. What group was that? I’ll have that answer for you near the end of the show.
To get into the story of “Daydream Believer,” we have to start with the song’s composer, John Stewart. Stewart was born in 1939 and grew up in Pasadena and Claremont, California, and graduated from a Catholic school in 1957. By that time he’d already demonstrated some musical talent, and was enamored of acts like Tex Ritter and Sons of the Pioneers. While still in high school, he put together a band, Johnny Stewart and the Furies, and they got enough local traction in the college and coffee house circuit that they were able to produce a regional hit called “Rockin’ Anna”…
Now, while the Furies aren’t mentioned on the record’s label. I can tell you that Stewart isn’t the credited writer, so maybe it was one of the other Furies. That credit goes to someone named Ilah Haynes, about whom I couldn’t find anything other than that composer credit.
So the Furies broke up, probably because they graduated high school, and Stewart joined a group called the Cumberland Three, the other two in that trio being John Montgomery and Gil Robbins. Robbins, who later became a member of the Highwaymen, is also known as the father of actor Tim Robbins. That group released three albums in the style of the Kingston Trio, which was rapidly growing in popularity. Two of those albums were Civil War-era songs. After that, the band broke up and Stewart actually joined the Kingston Trio in 1961 after that group’s founder Dave Guard left. Between 1961 and 1967, the Kingston Trio recorded a dozen albums, and in that span they took the music into different directions, they added more original material, and they showcased newcomer songwriters such as Tom Paxton and Gordon Lightfoot. As the folk pop era began to fade, the Kingston Trio finally broke up for good in 1967 and Stewart continued to write songs and record music for Capitol Records, while touring as a solo artist.
Stewart conceived of a trilogy of songs about suburban life. The first song was called “Do You Have a Place I Can Hide?” and the second was “The Ballad of Charlie Fletcher.” Stewart said in a 2006 interview that he remembered vividly the day he wrote the third song, which became “Daydream Believer,” because he spent the entire day writing it. You see, part of the song was making him a little bit crazy. Specifically, the chorus and the phrase “to a” before the words “daydream believer.” He figured it didn’t really scan with the song and because of that, nobody would want to record it. It was so bad, he thought, that he nearly scrapped the song altogether. However, he held on to it and did try to sell it to other artists, including the We Five and Spanky and Our Gang, both of whom passed on it. And in fact he said in that same interview that he’d play it during his shows and it got very little reaction from the crowd, so he really thought it wasn’t going to go anywhere. But one day at a party at Hoyt Axton’s house, he met up with Monkees producer Chip Douglas, who coincidentally had auditioned for Davy Jones’ part. Douglas knew about Stewart’s role as a songwriter, and asked him if he had anything that the band could record. Stewart played “Daydream believer” for him, and Douglas asked for a version of it on cassette. Stewart delivered a tape a day later, and three days after that he got a call saying that the band wanted to record it. However, they were going to change a lyric. But it wasn’t the “to a” thing, of course. The changed lyric comes in the second verse of the song. The original lyric is “now you know how funky I can be”, however the label, Colgems, wouldn’t permit Davy Jones to sing it that way. Instead, they wanted to replace the word funky with the word happy. Stewart argued that that change didn’t make any sense to him. However, chip Douglas said that the change was a deal breaker. Now, you might be wondering about the reasoning behind this, and I remind you that at that time, the word “Funky” generally didn’t have the fun definition of being unconventionally stylish; funk as a music genre was quite new at that point. Instead, it generally meant something or someone was greasy, or smelly. So of course Colgems wasn’t having any of that. Stewart, not being a complete fool, said he thought about it for a minute and decided, quote, “Happy’s working real good for me right now.” (unquote.) To his credit, Stewart conceded that when he went to the studio for the recording session, when he heard the playback he realized this could, in fact, that the song he was going to throw out was going to be a hit. He also said that the money he made from the song pretty much kept him alive all those years.
“Daydream Believer” was recorded by The Monkees during the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Limited sessions, but didn’t get used until 1968 when The Birds, the Bees and The Monkees was released. And this is a track on which all four Monkees appear. Davy Jones is on lead vocal, of course, but you’ve also got Michael Nesmith playing the lead guitar, Micky Dolenz on backup vocals and Peter Tork playing the piano; in fact he came up with that opening piano riff you hear. And if Davy Jones sounds a little irritated during that opening bit, Jones did admit in Eric Lefcowitz’ biography of the band that he was, in his own words, “pissed off,” though he doesn’t suggest that it was for any other reason than the fact that the number of takes was starting to climb. In later years, Jones cited it as his favorite Monkees song. The orchestra was arranged by jazz trumpeter Shorty Rogers, and if the notes that the horns use leading into the chorus sound familiar, you’ve got a good ear. First, let’s hear the Monkees’ horns…
[SEVEN NOTE PASSAGE]
…and now the Beach Boys, with guitar…
Unfortunately, having led you down this particular garden path, I do have to admit that it’s probably a coincidence, since I can’t find anything that suggests Rogers ever worked with the Beach Boys, never mind “Help Me Rhonda.”
According to Joel Whitburn’s book about Billboard’s Number One hits, “Daydream Believer” was originally slated to be the B-side of “Love is Only Sleeping,” however the label discovered that the European masters for “Love is Only Sleeping” weren’t ready for pressing, but “Daydream Believer” was. So at the last minute, “Daydream Believer” became the A side, and “Goin’ Down” became the B side. This was bad news for Mike Nesmith, given that he sang leads on “Love is Only Sleeping,” and wouldn’t get another A side until 1969’s “Listen to the Band.” Not that the label cared what Nesmith thought; because they didn’t like him or his voice at all.
The record was released in the US in October of 1967 and was at the Number One spot on the Billboard Hot 100 by December, a slot it held for four weeks until it was knocked out by The Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye.” It also went to Number One in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland, and was Top Ten in the UK, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Japan and Norway.
The song was covered by Anne Murray in 1979, where it went to #12 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the Country chart, and made it to the Hot 100 a third time in 1986 when a re-tooled version of the Monkees without Mike Nesmith re-recorded it. That time around it peaked at #79.
Let’s see, what else? Anne Murray re-recorded the song as a duet with Nelly Furtado in 2007, Olivia Newton-John did the song—among others—for the 2011 movie A Few Best Men, in which she also has a supporting role as the Mother of the Bride.
And here’s a recording of note: in 2017 Micky Dolenz recorded a concert live with the American Metropole Orchestra. The resulting album, called Out of Nowhere, has a bunch of Monkees songs on it, and a couple of other surprises. It’s an import, so the CD or vinyl will cost a little extra, but as of right now you can listen to it on Spotify.
And now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you to name the Classic Motown band that avoided disaster because they’d overslept. Well, as it happened, shortly before Christmas in 1988 the Four Tops had just wrapped up a European tour, and their last gig was a recording session for the British TV show Top of the Pops. When the recording session ran long and late, the Tops overslept the next day, which caused them to miss Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland after a terrorist bomb exploded on board. The group instead left London on a British Airways flight later on. And the story goes that another rock and roller also missed the flight. Public Image Limited singer John Lydon, maybe better known as Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols, also reported that he’d missed the flight because his wife took up too much time packing their bags.
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