Peter Tork has a theory about why the Monkees were always so popular with kids.
"The Monkees' TV show was the first and only situation comedy about young adults featuring no senior adult," he said by phone from Connecticut. "The Monkees was revolutionary in that respect, without ever having made a point of it. We never said it, it was never alluded to. We just never did have a senior adult to guide us, lead us and show us the error of our ways. That displayed what the kids needed to see."
He might be on to something. The Monkees aired on NBC from 1966 to 1968, an era when many young adults were, to put it mildly, distrustful of authority figures. The connection they made with kids back then — and through decades of reruns — still pays dividends, as the band this week embarks on a 50th anniversary tour, including a stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall on May 20.
Tork and fellow Monkee Micky Dolenz will be without Davy Jones, who died in 2012, and bandmate Michael Nesmith, who has toured infrequently since 1970. But they will have new songs — their first in 20 years — from an album called Good Times!, which comes out May 27.
Good Times! makes a good case for the Monkees' lasting influence on kids from the '70s and '80s. It features an inspired cast of songwriters — Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, Oasis' Noel Gallagher — and production from Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, the pop savant behind That Thing You Do.
The album sounds exactly how you'd hope a new Monkees album would sound: bright, snappy, sunny, not far from iconic hits like Daydream Believer and Pleasant Valley Sunday. But going in, Tork had no idea who some of these younger collaborators were.
"I had pretty much given up on pop music," he said. "When I listen to music, doing the dishes, I listen to the Kings of the blues — Albert, B.B., Freddie. That gets me. That has always gotten me."
Jones also pops up on the album, on a slightly overdubbed version of their 1967 Neil Diamond-penned track Love to Love. "It's basically intact from the day that it was recorded," Tork said.
For Tork and the others, it was never a question whether to keep the Monkees' name and music alive in the wake of Jones' death. If there was an opportunity to tour, and more than one member felt like doing it, they would.
"How many bands, you book them and there's nobody of the original left when it comes time to do the show?" Tork said. "Basically, it came down to: 'You want to go? You want to go? Okay, let's go.' If we didn't feel like going, if there wasn't enough interest for the three of us — and now two — to go, then we didn't. That was all there was to it."
Tork, 74, has had his own health issues in recent years, including a bout with a rare tongue and neck cancer in 2009.
"They tell me that with this particular cancer, it does hang around," he said. "But the question is, is it impending on your well-being? And mine is not. I'm actually in great spirits, great physical shape for my age, and cheerful. I have no aches and pains, no discomfort. All the distractions to my life right now are the ones you might expect from being my age."
He admits that surviving long enough to do a 50th anniversary tour kind of boggles his mind.
"Think about it this way," he said. "When we first started off, if we had gone to see a show of somebody's 50th anniversary, it would be like watching Charlie Chaplin try to make a new silent movie in 1966, or Theda Bara. Gene Austin singing a song. Rudy Vallee having a comeback. Imagine an act from 1916 having its 50th anniversary in 1966. Are you kidding me?"
It probably wouldn't appeal to many kids, that's for sure. But in 2016, the Monkees just might.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.