Why the 1st Version of The Monkees’ ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ Came Together in 45 Minutes
- The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville” became their first hit in the United States.
- It became a No. 1 single in the U.S. and its parent album was even more successful.
- The song was not nearly as popular when it was released in the United Kingdom.
The first version of The Monkees‘ “Last Train to Clarksville” came together in 45 minutes. That version of the song had no lead vocals. Subsequently, Micky Dolenz added his magic to the track.
A songwriter behind The Monkees’ ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ tells all
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart co-wrote many Monkees songs under the name Boyce & Hart. In Hart’s 2015 book Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem Into Miracles, Hart discussed how the first version of “Last Train to Clarksville” came together in the studio.
“The Musicians’ Union allowed music producers to record four songs in a 3-hour union scale session, and that’s what the record companies expected us to do,” he wrote. “This means we had 45 minutes to record a final basic track of the bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, and sometimes percussion instruments.”
How studio musicians helped The Monkees’ song come to life
Hart discussed why creating so much of the track so quickly was a daunting task. “As the producers, in our heads, Tommy and I already knew the way we wanted the record to sound,” he said. “But in just two or three run-throughs, the engineer would have to quickly bring himself up to speed, becoming familiar with a song he’d never heard before and then make it all gel, balancing the level of each instrument with the others and hopefully adding some creativity of his own.” Hart praised studio engineer David Hassinger for doing exactly that.
“Next, Tommy, [studio musician] Wayne [Erwin], and I [and sometimes studio singer Ron Hicklin] would sing the background vocal parts,” Hart added. “Then the recording would be finished, except for one very important element: the lead vocal.” Later on, they finished a version of the song with Micky Dolenz’s vocals that became the recording of the song fans know and love.
How ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ performed in the United States and the United Kingdom
“Last Train to Clarksville” became the first No. 1 single by The Monkees. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for one week, staying on the chart for 15 weeks in total. It appeared on the album The Monkees. That album reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks. It lasted on the chart for 102 weeks in total, longer than any other album by the Prefab Four.
According to The Official Charts Company, “Last Train to Clarksville” reached No. 23 in the United Kingdom, staying on the chart for seven weeks. Meanwhile, the band’s self-titled album peaked at No. 1 for seven weeks and remained on the chart for 37 weeks, longer than the other Prefab Four albums.
“Last Train to Clarksville” was a huge hit even if the first version of it came together very quickly.
Source: Cheat Sheet
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