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Michael Nesmith

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Michael Nesmith


If you compared the Monkees to the Byrds (the bands have been pitted against each other ever since the Byrds penned "So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star" in response to the overnight success of the Monkees), you would also have to compare the Monkees' Michael Nesmith to the Byrds' Chris Hillman. Like Hillman, Nesmith first hit pay dirt in a band that was immediately pigeonholed by the music media as "America's answer to the Beatles." Both men were the multi-instrumentalists and consummate professionals of their respective groups, and their musical bases were deeply rooted in the fertile soils of folk and country music. And like Hillman, Nesmith dabbled in psychedelic country rock before embarking upon a solo career that continues to thrive to this day. Comparisons with Hillman aside, Nesmith followed the rhythm of a different drum. He wrote hit singles for Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and his own country rock outfit, the First National Band, among others. But there is much debate over just who was the first to invent the country rock sound, of which Nesmith is most certainly a pioneer. Nesmith wrote and produced "Papa Genes Blues" and "Sweet Young Thing" on the first Monkees album -- songs that may very well be the first country rock songs ever recorded -- and he recorded the experimentally twangy Wichita Train Whistle Sings in November 1967 as well as the defining country rock album Magnetic South in 1970. However, it has also been documented that Gram Parsons' International Submarine Band was playing and recording electric country music as early as 1966, while the Byrds injected a Beatles-esque backbeat to the old country standard "Oh! Susannah" in 1965. Still, others contend that it was the Everly Brothers who fused twang with rock long before anyone else. In any case, Nesmith forged ahead, assembling a new group, the Second National Band (which included pedal steel guru Red Rhodes), before venturing off to pursue various solo projects. In addition to playing an important role in the history of country rock, Nesmith also made music television history. Not many people know that he essentially invented MTV. He put together a half-hour show named Popclips, which consisted of Top 40 music videos, and eventually sold the concept (as well as the show itself) to Warner Amex, who turned it into MTV: Music Television. Today, Nesmith continues to make music. Some categorize his balance of rootsy songwriting and innovative sensibilities as adult alternative, but listen closely to his latter-day work, and you'll notice a seasoned singer-songwriter sensibility akin to David Gates' or Jackson Browne's, coupled with a bit of the grit found in Nesmith's tone-heavy twang of yesteryear.
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