Fifty-four years ago this week, the Monkees’ fourth single, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by the dynamic songwriting duo of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, this solid rocker bemoaned the bleakness of American suburbia. It was the only Top Ten single by the group making a clear social commentary, and a nod toward the countercultural movement.
When the single broke into the charts, the Monkees were in the middle of their American Summer tour. Though putting on a happy face for the fans, all was not well between the group members. After fighting to play their own instruments on the previous album, it was evident the group reverted to studio musicians. By the time the next album was completed, none of the men were on speaking terms.
Studio sessions for this single began on June 10 and ended two days later. Even though studio musicians filled in to polish the sound, three Monkees did contribute to the track playing instruments. Chip Douglas, the producer, wrote the memorable guitar riff introduction and created an up-tempo version of the original song. He also expanded the bridge. Dolenz reportedly added an acoustic guitar track. Douglas taught Nesmith the opening riff, and Mike played an electric guitar fed into three 1966 Vox Super Beatle amps. Tork added a rhythm track on an electric guitar and played piano. Session musicians were Bill Chadwick on an acoustic guitar, Chip Douglas on bass, and “Fast Eddie” Hoh on percussion. In the end production, Chip Douglas added echo and reverb. The signature ending was created by Douglas and engineer Hank Cicalo, pushing up gain, reverb, and echo until the song distorted and faded into a discordant psychedelic ending.
Both Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz recorded the lead vocals. Douglas felt neither vocal captured the spirit of the song, so both lead tracks were remixed, overdubbed, and consolidated into one. Nesmith and Peter Tork also sang harmony. Noticeably absent was David Jones. Though he is credited with adding vocals, Jones was MIA during the recording session. His absence spawned more rumors all was not well between the four men.
Though “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was one of the most critically acclaimed hits by the group, few connected to the song were happy with the final cut. Though Peter Tork was pleased with the result, Michael Nesmith called it “wooden sounding.” David Jones was indifferent and uninvolved. Songwriter Carole King was not happy at all. After the final cut, she met Chip Douglas in the hallway near a Screen Gems office. She said nothing but shot Douglas a “sour glance,” then walked away without speaking. Concluding she did not like the opening riff and added lyric in the bridge, Chip went his way. To date, it is unknown why King was so miffed at his arrangement. Douglas called it an unresolved “mystery.”
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” would be featured in several episodes of the second season of The Monkees. One promo clip features the band playing with David Jones faking the bass line on ¾ scale custom Gretsch bass. For all the discontent over the song, it remains a great rocker over half a century later. The bland materialism of middle-class American suburbia remains, too. I guess that will never change, always doomed to haunt the American homeowner. Check out both versions below. Both can stand alone on their own merit.