In 1965 a savvy cabal of Los Angeles-based pop-culture stem-cell researchers coalesced to formulate three-quarters of the verities that have come to define the rigid boy-band genre: modest singing ability, some facility with light comedy, and a certain ineffable cuteness. Among the participants: writing partners Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker (four years before they collaborated to script the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which Mazursky also directed), record-industry guru Don Kirshner (eight years before he brought Rock Concert to late-night television), and intrepid TV producer Bob Rafelson (five years before he directed the movie Five Easy Pieces).
Zeroing in on the current Zeitgeist, Mazursky and Tucker brainstormed a whipsaw half-hour network TV knockoff of the Beatles' frenetic hit 1964 film A Hard Day's Night, building it around diminutive English stage actor David (Davy) Jones, already signed on for the task. In search of warm bodies to fill out a group, Jones and his manager scoured the L.A. club scene, recruiting former child actor Micky Dolenz. Then an open cattle call yielded 500 additional wannabes, including Stephen Stills, soon to be famous in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby Stills & Nash. "The applicants were insulted, ignored, asked irrelevant or impertinent questions," notes Alan Green in the book They Made a Monkee Out of Me, co-written with Jones. A subsequent winnowing process resulted in manufactured boy-band Mach 1 -- Jones, Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith. The Monkees. Or, as they'd famously be dubbed soon afterward, the Prefab Four.
Given the Monkees' ridiculous success (TV, records, merchandise), the laboratory experiment that spawned the group has since been regurgitated ad nauseam, producing -- feel free to cringe -- Menudo, New Kids on the Block, the gender-flipping Spice Girls, plus thousands of smiling anonymous teens who, mercifully, tanked in Palookaville.
As preeminent heir to the Monkees formula, music mogul Johnny Wright has helped to genetically engineer a fistful of gleaming, revenue-generating pop stars: Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, 'N Sync, and, this past year, Triple Image, a trio of ponytailed Lolitas. His minions rule the pop charts, decorate the covers of teen mags, and clog the airwaves. But Wright wants an empire: This Friday reps from his WIRE Records will swoop into town seeking components for what they hope will metamorphose into the Next Big Boy Band. Expect to witness aspirants ages eleven to fifteen singing and dancing and mugging in hopes of joining the Wright juggernaut.
Caveat, lads: In the cosmos, white dwarves burn out to become black holes. Ditto in the pop universe. Four years after the Monkees hatched, the group perished from lack of interest. "Their disastrous last tour ground to a halt at a 10,000-seater venue in Forest Hills, New York," writes Green. "The promoter came to their hotel room and, almost embarrassedly, told them they'd only managed to sell 3000 tickets."