The 1960s spawned more than one band of lovable mop-tops. The Monkees were a made-for-American-TV group of actor-musicians, namely Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Englishman Davy Jones.
Despite their squeaky-clean, prime time family viewing image, the Monkees managed to deliver some surprisingly subversive songs.
‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ was a poke at rampant consumerism and people living in the ‘status-symbol land’ of suburbia.
Then there was ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ with its distinctive jangly riff. The plot involves a phone call from a soldier to his sweetheart. He asks her to “take the last train to Clarksville” for one final night together before he leaves on the morning train for his deployment.
The clue is the geography: Clarksville Tennessee is the closest stop to Fort Campbell – home base for the 101st Airborne Division which served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. So essentially, ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ is a protest song and a potent one at that.
Those zany guys in US Army Recruiting quickly spotted an opportunity and used the song in a film for inductees. It played over a scene showing new recruits arriving and getting off the train.
Apparently it always got a big laugh from the men watching…
Mature readers will remember Bob Dylan’s classic anthem ‘The Times They Are a-Changing’. It’s usually regarded as quintessential Americana and very much of its time – the mid 1960s.
In fact, it was in fact heavily influenced by traditional songs from this side of the pond, particularly Irish and Scottish ballads. Dylan himself cited ‘Come All Ye Bold Highwaymen’ and ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’ as important influences. And the ‘A-Changing’ of the song’s title is definitely old-school England, harking back to 18th and 19th century songs like ‘A Hunting We Will Go’ and ‘Here We Come A-Wassailing’
‘Times’ is also widely regarded as younger-vs-older generation song, thanks to angry lyrics like “come mothers and fathers, please heed the call: don’t criticise what you don’t understand” and “your old road is rapidly fading”.
Dylan disputed this interpretation saying “it had nothing to do with age. Those were the only words I could find to separate aliveness from deadness.”
While the song was widely popular, reaching No. 9 in Britain’s Top Ten, not everyone was initially convinced.
A friend visiting Dylan’s apartment saw an early manuscript. After reading the words “come senators, congressmen, please heed the call”, the friend reportedly asked Dylan: “What is this s**t, man?” to which Dylan responded, “Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear.”