Single Stories: The Monkees, “Last Train to Clarksville”
51 years ago today, the Monkees entered the recording studio to lay down the track that would serve as their debut single.
Written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, “Last Train to Clarksville” was recorded at RCA Victor Studio B in Hollywood and released less than a month later, on August 16, if that gives you an idea how quickly things were moving for the group at the time. (Hey, that’s what happens when you’ve got the combined power of Don Kirshner and Screen Gems in your corner.)
According to Hart, he had originally referenced Clarksdale in the lyrics, having recalled a town in northern Arizona that he’d passed on his way to Oak Creek Canyon once upon a time, but it became Clarksville by the time all was said and done.
Was it really a protest song about a soldier going off to Vietnam? Micky Dolenz once described it as “an antiwar song about a soldier going off to war,” but Peter Tork said he’d never actually heard the Vietnam aspect confirmed by Boyce or Hart themselves. The internet is filled with pages which reference a quote attributed to Hart in which he explains that “we couldn't be too direct with The Monkees,” says that “we couldn't really make a protest song out of it,” and adds that “we kind of snuck it in.” Having said that, however, we’ll be damned any of those pages actually offers attribution to the original interview, so we’re hard pressed to commit to its accuracy. It seems fair to say that it was at least a protest song, though, whether it was specifically about Vietnam or not.
But does it really matter? It’s still one of the most memorable pop songs of the 1960s, and one that you’ll have stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
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