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Michael Nesmith

The comparatively level-headed member of '60s teen sensation the Monkees, Michael Nesmith was the most proficient instrumentalist in the group and wrote their best in-house songs, rootsy pop numbers like "Papa Gene's Blues," "You Told Me," "You Just May Be the One," and "Tapioca Tundra." In fact, he had written many songs before even joining the group, and one of his compositions, "Different Drum," was a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1968. After he left the Monkees one year later, it wasn't a surprise that he became the only one of his bandmates to sustain a solo career; in fact, his dozen (or so) '70s LPs were among the most groundbreaking country-rock recordings of the era. Throughout the 1970s and into the '80s, Nesmith continued to record sporadically, though his communications company Pacific Arts began taking up more of his time by the early '80s. Pacific Arts proved to be an important pioneer in the development of music video, the concept he had furthered in the rough-and-tumble pace of the Monkees' TV show.

Nesmith, born in 1942 in Houston, listened to the blues and played saxophone while growing up. After spending two years in the Air Force, however, Nesmith became fascinated with folk music and learned to play the guitar. He played around the area, but then moved to Memphis to play backup on recordings for Stax-Volt. Nesmith was in Los Angeles by the mid-'60s, and formed the folk-rock duo Mike and John with John London. He also recorded several singles as a solo act before auditioning to join the Monkees in 1965.

Almost immediately -- and even before their show premiered on TV -- the Monkees became one of the biggest pop groups of the late '60s. By the end of 1966, the band had notched two number one singles ("Last Train to Clarksville," "I'm a Believer") with the first two Monkees LPs spending more than 30 weeks at number one during 1966-1967. The TV show was a big hit as well, but the group's fabricated origins and subservience to songwriting teams and session musicians betrayed them in the eyes of the rock & roll intelligentsia. While the rock community became smarter every day about the machinations of the music industry, Nesmith led the fight to have the Monkees play instruments on and write songs for their own albums. The band's record label Colgems acquiesced, and on 1967's Headquarters the Monkees played their own instruments, wrote eight of the 14 selections, and produced the album (with a little help from their friend Chip Douglas). Headquarters reached number one (though with no obvious hits) and the Monkees appeared ready to finally enter the rock elite, artistically as well as commercially.

Critics and older listeners weren't impressed with the transformation, however, and the album ended up as something of an artistic peak instead of the beginning of a gradual ascent. Nesmith soothed his wounds in 1968 by recording his first solo album, Wichita Train Whistle Songs, which featured new arrangements of his best-known Monkees songs. He continued with the Monkees for one more year, but then left the band in 1969. Nesmith's first act independent of the Monkees was the formation of the First National Band, with old friend John London on bass, John Ware on drums, and one of country music's best steel guitarists, Red Rhodes.

The First National Band signed to RCA Victor and released two albums in 1970, Magnetic South and Loose Salute. The single "Joanne" hit the pop Top 25, and "Silver Moon" also charted later in the year. Nesmith added several members for 1971's Nevada Fighter, and credited it to the Second National Band. The title track skirted the bottom of the charts for several weeks, but Nesmith proved his pop savvy yet again by providing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with their hit, "Some of Shelly's Blues." The following year, the National Band released Tantamount to Treason.

Nesmith dropped the group credit later that year, recording And the Hits Keep Comin' as a solo artist -- though Red Rhodes continued to play with him. Nesmith's 1973 album Pretty Much Your Standard Stash was his last for RCA Victor, as he formed the music/communications label Pacific Arts in 1974. The following year he released The Prison and co-wrote Olivia Newton-John's hit "Let It Shine." Nesmith re-entered the charts with 1977's From a Radio Engine to a Photon Wing; the single "Rio" was a hit in the U.K., and a filmed version of the song helped develop the concept of music video.

In 1977, Nesmith furthered his efforts in the field of music video by creating a TV chart show called Popclips. When Warner bought the idea from him several years later, the company then developed it into MTV. A stop-gap live album (Live at the Palais) appeared in 1978, while Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma, Nesmith's last solo album for 13 years, was released the following year. During the '80s, Pacific Arts became the most important video publishing company in America, and Nesmith moved into film and TV production as well, winning the first video Grammy award in 1981 for Elephant Parts. He returned to the music business in 1989, appearing with the Monkees once on stage during their reunion tour. Nesmith also released a compilation of rare solo tracks called The Newer Stuff for England's Awareness Records. Rhino Records followed two years later with the best of his early-'70s material, The Older Stuff. In 1992, Nesmith released his first album of new material in 13 years, ...Tropical Campfires... Four years later, he reunited with the Monkees again to record Justus, the first Monkees album since 1968 to feature all four original members. ~ John Bush, Rovi
full bio

Comments

The Crippled Lion - epic. As good as country rock gets.
I own Elephant Parts on VHS. It's silly and lots of fun. I love Mike and the Monkees. Ever read his books? Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora is worth a read or two. Interesting fellow. Glad to see him enjoying himself as a Monkee recently. I know it wasn't a bed of roses, but it couldn't have been all that bad either. Mike is hard to put in a box, and they were pretty boxed up...but hey, the creators of the Monkees invented the boy band formula.
Mike is so amazing! He totally deserves the title of "Creative Genius" for helping to come up with the idea of MTV. Had anyone here seen "Elephant Parts"?
rebekahf77
Nez is the best! :) Pandora should definitely work on adding more of his vast catalogue to the queue.
I saw him in concert!
The REAL talent in the Monkees.
Love his albums -- wore them out by listening so much !
susycreamer
Loved Lucy, Ramona and Sunset Sam
Michael Nesmith, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett - Who says Houston has no soul...
Actually his mom invented liquid paper. Carol King wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday.
michaelsaul4 7
And his father invented the white-out tape. I don't know who wrote Pleasant Valley Sunday, but I think it was the Monkee's best tune. Nevada Fighter was a great album, most memorable, to me, for Tumblin' Tumbleweeds.
Oh... As of December 30th 2012 he is 70.
Happy Birthday Michael !!!
sammiepenn12 3
Mike is the best!
This guy is just flat out a class act. For those of us that can remember the huge packaging that CD's origionally came in, Michael was the guy that shamed the music industry into using the packaging format used today, which is much more ecologically friendly. Nice job Michael on all you do.
just heard Garden's Glow for the first time and I had to check my computer to see who was playing this beautiful song...Micha e l ! ! !
I had no idea that Michael was so great til I started listening to Pandora..Wow , I love all his songs..and his voice!!!
avijae
Don't know if anyone from pandora reads these, but if so, in general, it would be nice to have the liner notes from the albums. It would also be nice to have the artists who perform on various tracks listed. Especially when you like the other artist, and would like to hear more music from them. Tropical Campfires would be a nice addition! Thanks, keep up the good work. LOVE Pandora!
1942! Not 1943
vlowery
Pandora, give us those wonderful First National Band records with Michael Nesmith.
I knew Michael from my days in the light booth with my mentor, Sandy Sanderson, at the Ice House in Pasadena in the 1970's. There was nothing finer than hearing him live. What a treat.
Nez himself has said that Peter Tork was a better instrumental i s t than him.
I'M A YOUNG FAN. I WRITE SONGS SOMETIMES. I STARTED WRITING BEFORE I EVEN KNEW WHAT TO DO WITH A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. ONLY TWO SONGS OUT OF MILLIONS THAT I WROTE WERE EXCEPTED INTO LITERARY MAGAZIES. THOES TWO SONGS WERE INFLUENCED MUSICALY AND I GUESS LYRICALY BY NEZ'S SONGS. GREAT SONGWRITER FOLKS. THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION NEZ.
Sad to note that Pandora can't locate the song, "Rio", one of Nesmith's most delightful tracks.
jonboc
..most proficient, instrumental l y ? I think Peter Tork, who played many more instruments than Mike and was more technically skilled might take issue with that.
Michael Nesmith is a top notch singer, composer and performer. I think he has a unique voice and phenomenal all around talent. He is truly gifted, his ballads are beautiful. Thanks Michael!
daddavejr
Thanks for adding The Prison!
peterzolli
Hey, Pandora - This bio contains some inaccuracies ; Nez never played session guitar for Stax/Volt, or anyone else.
askannenow
Pretty Little Princess (recorded per 1965) has to be one of his best... he is brillant and handsome! And the coolest part of all - to see him perform live, he still enjoys the music so much!! Totally gifted and under appreciated!
Propinquity done by the dirt Band is another fantastic Neamith song.
5601riddell
Joanne is one of my favorite songs. Impossible to hear it played on any station. Nesmith is an under appreciated all around talent.
Go Mike....One of America's most under appreciated musical artist.
Joanne is a great song . Wish I could get it played on my Stations. It doesn't ever come up .
herecomes2mo r r o w
strings61 is right! the eagles should thank him- and so should Ms. Rondstadt... . Mike was so cool! probably the most talented of all the Monkees (and i did know about the liquid paper thing -being a creative genius must run in the family!- i think it was mikes idea to make it in different colors.)
daddavejr
Thanks, Pandora, for adding THE GARDEN. Please add more music from Papa Nez!
i have looked and looked for this song (( joanne )),,i was in service when it came out,,i love it right off,,one of the most beautiful songs i have ever heard,,i though for years george harrison,was the singer,,and i though the name was,,her name was joann,,i jus found it,,doing back-flips,, i had no idea michael was the singer,,,dum b me,, i should have known..he great.. thanks mike for all ur wounderful songs,and ur singing....
He invented country rock. The eagles should thank him,
A lot peopl dont know ts but Micheal Nesmith's mom invented White out in her kitchen sink.

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