Song of the Day: The Monkees “Goin’ Down” (Peter Tork, 1942-2019)
Today we remember one of the DC’s native sons: The Monkees bassist, keyboardist and occasional back-up singer, Peter Tork, who sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 77. Tork was born in Washington, DC (though he grew up in Connecticut). Tork studied music at an early age, learning bass, guitar, banjo and piano. In the early ’60s, he would move to New York City to join the booming folk music scene in Greenwich Village.
In New York, he became friends with Stephen Stills. Indeed, this friendship with Stills would prove to be Tork‘s big breath-through into the music business. Stills had auditioned for the group that would become The Monkees and when asked by the producers if he knew anyone else with the “open Nordic look” that the producers were looking for, Stills recommended Tork. Tork got the job (though Stills did not) and the rest was history.
While The Monkees were the originally manufactured to create an American counterpoint to The Beatles, they band proved to be an immensely talented group of musicians who eventually went off in their own, weird and wonderful direction. The Monkees traveled far from their 1966 debut to the completely madcap psychedelic film they made in 1968, Head. Their path from TV-show hosting pop impresarios to psychedelic art rockers is like a miniaturized history of the trends in popular music of the era.
Peter York immediately proved to be a capable member of The Monkees. Partnered with fellow Americans, drummer/ singer Micky Dolenz, and guitarist Michael Nesmith, along with English actor/ musician Davy Jones, the band were launched as a 4-person media empire featuring records, concerts, a TV show and movies. The band had a number of chart hits, beginning with their debut single ” Last Train To Clarksville” and including such indelible classics as “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”, “I’m A Believer”, “The Theme From The Monkees” and more.
While the group really only lasted until 1970 (when Nesmith left the group and things started to crumble), the band reunited a number of times over the years until Jones‘ death in 2012. What remains most staggering about The Monkees is just how good so much of their material was. People can say what they will about the authenticity of the group, but their was no denying that the quartet were a group of immensely talented musicians who turned in a number of indelible pop hits and wrote some wonderfully innovative material.
One of my very favorite The Monkees songs has always been the ‘down south’ jazz and R&B inflected “Goin’ Down”. Featuring a stellar turn on vocals by drummer Micky Dolenz, bright horns and a ferocious bass line care of Peter Tork, the song is a great tribute to York‘s talents and to all that The Monkees brought to the table.
RIP Peter Tork.