This week, Torontonians were all a-Twitter over a monkey. Forty-five years ago, the city went bananas for four of them.
Since the first photos hit the net on Sunday afternoon, Toronto has been glued to the saga of Darwin, the shearling-clad, curious little monkey who wanted to check out the latest IKEA furniture. It’s possible the city hasn’t seen this much excitement surrounding monkeys since four of them showed up at Maple Leaf Gardens 45 years ago—or, rather, make that Monkees.
Over 18,000 tickets sold out weeks in advance before the made-for-TV band played an afternoon show at the Gardens on April 2, 1967. To hype the concert, local station CKFH-AM repeatedly played an edited faux interview with Davy Jones, which annoyed Star radio columnist Barbara Frum. When Jones declared that “it’s groovy” to entertain screaming Monkees fans, Frum thought that “he means gravy.”
Even less of a Monkees fan was Star columnist Robert Fulford, who criticized the band for lack of originality in a lengthy piece published on April Fools’ Day, 1967. “Their story, if it proves anything,” Fulford declared, “proves that youngsters can be sold a bogus product as easily as they can be sold the real thing.” While his children loved the series, Fulford loathed it—“the format is porous and the plots are pointless.” He felt the group’s appeal to youngsters lay in their simple, innocent nature and songs that were easier to decipher than The Beatles’ increasingly complex lyrics. Fulford’s savaging of the group provoked plenty of hate mail from irate fans who called him a liar, a square, and their arch-enemy. One letter writer asked, “Do you get a big kick out of chewing people apart?”
Click here for a close-up view of Robert Fulford’s column about The Monkees
Almost as savage was concert reviewer Ralph Thomas, who found the band’s performance fifth-rate. “Any four other young men with the Monkees’ lack of musical and vocal talent,” Thomas wrote, “would have difficulty getting a job with a poverty-stricken high-school dance committee.” That he barely recognized songs like “Last Train to Clarksville” didn’t matter, as fans ate up the spectacle. They screamed at everything from stills projected onto the stage to Micky Dolenz’s James Brown-inspired performance of “I Got a Woman.” Dolenz repeatedly collapsed to the stage screaming and sobbing a la the Godfather of Soul. When Mike Nesmith draped a cape over him and attempted to lead him offstage, Dolenz rushed back to the microphone. “As phony as this bit of stage gimmickry was,” Thomas noted, “it worked—with ear-shattering effect.” Like Fulford, Thomas was rewarded with a stack of angry letters.
Click here for a close-up view of Ralph Thomas’ review of The Monkees’ concert
Around 300 Metro Toronto Police officers provided security. The only serious incident occurred when an eager fan was intercepted on her way to the stage after climbing over a chicken-wire fence installed around the balcony. After being booted out of the arena, the girl sobbed on a nearby step. Otherwise, fewer hysterical fans required first aid than at The Beatles’ final Gardens concert in August 1966.
Click here for a close-up view
of the Toronto Star’s coverage of The Monkees’ April 1967 visit to Toronto
Despite the over-the-top criticism, the group’s core audience was satisfied with their idols. Twelve-year old Scarborough fan Patricia Bradley was convinced, via binoculars, that Jones looked right at her. “I felt I was one of the privileged ones,” she told the Star. “I felt it was just me and The Monkees.” To Bradley, it didn’t matter if the band sounded rougher on stage than in the studio: “All they had to do was just be here, that’s all.”
Additional material from the April 1, 1967, April 3, 1967, and April 6, 1967 editions of the Toronto Star.