Peter Tork, The Monkees and “Shades of Gray”

Saddened to hear the news that Peter Tork of the Monkees has died. Since starting this project, where I journey back in time reminiscing about the music of my youth, it has become apparent that it all started for me at around the age of six, which in my case was 1966. Coincidentally that was when the Monkees first made an appearance on our black and white television screens, and although I was aware of other artists who popped up on the prime time slots watched by my mum and dad, the Monkees belonged to me.

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Peter Tork, RIP

I am sorry Peter, but the Monkee I was most infatuated with at age six, was Davy Jones, and one of the first posts I published on this blog was about him (link here). But you Peter, were the Howard Donald of the Monkees. You weren’t the cutest or the zaniest; you had a bowl haircut, didn’t wear a hat and were the oldest of the group; but like Howard of Take That fame, in time you became my favourite Monkee.

Despite being an accomplished Greenwich Village folk musician when you got the role in the sitcom that would change your life, at the start you weren’t even allowed to play your own instruments. That would change with time however, and you became the man in charge of keyboards and bass. You didn’t get the role of star vocalist very often, but here is a lovely song where you did share lead vocals with Davy Jones. Shades of Gray (American spelling of grey) is also very apt for this post, as it starts off with the lines:

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play, (yes, that would have been 1966 for me)

and ends with the verse:

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray, (oh yes, as our politicians can testify, how complicated life has become in 2019)

Shades of Gray was another of those great ’60s songs written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It was recorded by The Monkees for their 1967 album “Headquarters” and was the first song on which the group played all their own instruments.

But here is another great song from that era, the clip this time in colour, where the boys are wearing those iconic dark red shirts with the silver buttons. Of course back in 1966 we wouldn’t have known their shirts were red, would we, because we watched telly in black and white? But here is where I beg to differ. Our local football team, Aberdeen FC played in red, and whenever their matches were aired on television, the grey of their shirts matched the grey of the Monkees shirts. At age six I was obviously pretty good at working out what the colours should be, based on the shades of grey of the various team shirts. Living in a football loving household meant you developed all sorts of useful skills of a televisual nature.

Last Train To Clarksville by the Monkees:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote Last Train To Clarksville as a protest to the Vietnam War but had to keep that quiet in order to get it recorded. It is about a guy who gets drafted, and the train is taking him to the army base. He knows he may die in Vietnam, and at the end of the song he states, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

Peter Tork was one of the many artists of my youth to have been born in 1942, right in the middle of a World War, but yet a vintage year for the birth of future musical legends (what was that all about?). Unlike in 2016, when I started this blog, I haven’t actually written any tributes so far this year. Cross fingers there won’t be too many more, but considering the span of time I write about here, I suspect there will be. A great chance to revisit the music though, and I have a feeling that a lot of people who had all but forgotten about the Monkees, might have had a sneaky peek at an old clip of Daydream Believer yesterday – I know I did.

the monkeesUntil next time…

Shades of Gray Lyrics
(Song by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil)

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play
It was easy then to tell right from wrong
Easy then to tell weak from strong
When a man should stand and fight
Or just go along

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray

I remember when the answers seemed so clear
We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear
It was easy then to tell truth from lies
Selling out from compromise
Who to love and who to hate
The foolish from the wise

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray

It was easy then to know what was fair
When to keep and when to share
How much to protect your heart
And how much to care

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
Only shades of gray

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

16 thoughts on “Peter Tork, The Monkees and “Shades of Gray””

  1. Sad news about Peter Tork of the Monkees, these legends of the past have been dropping like flies the last 5 years.That Shades of Gray song is a lot more innocent than the shades of grey I was reminded of!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, they certainly were one of the first “manufactured for telly” bands but they ended up recording some of the best and memorable songs of the 60s (many courtesy of Neil Diamond). I have really enjoyed re-watching them in some of these clips – they were all excellent musicians and performers, so inevitable they became so well-loved.

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  2. Peter was my favorite of the Monkees on the TV show, he was so innocent and quirky. Also underestimated as a musician. Like the message above suggests, Peter was a little troubled about the novelty aspect of the group but warmed up to their legacy after a while. RIP Peter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad he accepted their novelty aspect in time – Here we are writing about him over 50 years after the band’s heyday, so they did get something very right. Fond memories of watching them as a child and like you, I think Peter became my favourite.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is sad isn’t it – I have really enjoyed revisiting some of these video clips over the weekend. I’m also kind of smitten with Shades of Gray as it was one of the lesser known songs I had kind of forgotten about. As for Last Train…, it does make sense doesn’t it and yet another song where there was a subtle reference being made. (Say A Little Prayer I discovered recently, was also about someone whose other half was fighting in Vietnam – hadn’t clicked before.)

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    1. Yes I read that too. Stephen was first up for an audition for the Monkees but he had the wrong kind of hair apparently – Peter, with his Nordic look, was what they were looking for. If things had gone a different way we might have had Crosby, Tork, Nash and Young!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know why, but not since the news of Strummer has the news of the loss of another ‘one of ours’ affected me like Peter Tork. Even the lad Jones was, I thought, expected back anytime now – he’d only nipped out for a pint of milk, or so I was told.

    The Monkees have always been, are, and will continue to be a marker in my life that only denotes good. Nothing bad ever happens if the iconic Monkees logo is close at hand.

    Until now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure either why we are all so sad about Peter Tork. He and the rest of the boys just remind me of my ’60s childhood where optimism and colour were the order of the day. End of an era, but some great songs have been left for us, and I for one have really enjoyed watching the clips of them in action this weekend. In Daydream Believer I love how Davy Jones and Peter sit there at the piano, picking out the tune – It really looks as if they’re having the best of times, and were genuinely great friends. Hope so anyway.

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  4. Sorry I’m so late here – I read this the other day and meant to come back sooner but got distracted (happening all the time at the moment!) Yes, was sad to hear the news about Peter Tork. Just like you, I grew to like him the most after an initial younger crush on Davy Jones; I think I just fell for Peter’s more comedic charm too, a reflection perhaps of maturing appreciation of things other than just a cute face! He also reminded me a bit of my older male cousin, looks-wise, which gave him a sort of comfortable familiarity. Had no idea about the protest aspect of Last Train To Clarksville – love it when these unexpected facts surface and show things in a whole new light.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can never be “late” but it is funny how we sometimes worry we’ve offended frequent visitors if we don’t hear from them. I thought I had maybe scared you off with my “offer”, but it seems not!

      You too then. Yes we always fall for the cute front man at the beginning but then change our ways as we start to appreciate what some of the other band members have to offer. I am a sucker for the one who always seems to be overlooked by the fans (Howard from Take That) but who are integral to the band as a whole.

      Yes, that was a new bit of info for me too about the song. Aretha’s Say A Little Prayer was also about someone off fighting in Vietnam which was news to me when I found out about it. Great songs, both of them

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  5. Peter wasn’t my favorite, but the Monkees wouldn’t have been the same without him. I listen to my Monkees albums as much now as I did when I was 12 years old. Trust me, that’s a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

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