Neil Diamond wrote this song. He had his first big hit earlier in 1966 with "Cherry, Cherry
," which got the attention of Don Kirshner, who was looking for material for The Monkees. Kirshner was sold on "I'm A Believer," and as part of the deal, allowed Diamond to record the song as well. Diamond's version was released on his 1967 album Just For You
. The Monkees version benefited from exposure on their television series.
This was The Monkees second single, after "Last Train To Clarksville." It was released during the first season of their TV show.
The Monkees sang on this, but did not play any instruments. The producers used session musicians because they were not convinced The Monkees could play like a real band. This became a huge point of contention, as the group fought to play their own songs.
Neil Diamond had intended the song to be recorded by the Country artist Eddy Arnold, and was surprised when record executive Don Kirshner passed it instead to The Monkees.
Monkees guitarist Michael Nesmith didn't believe this would be a hit, complaining to the producer, Jeff Barry, "I'm a songwriter, and that's no hit." Jeff Barry banned him from the studio while Micky Dolenz recorded his lead vocal. (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England, for above 2)
A cover version by Smash Mouth was featured in the 2001 movie Shrek and went to #25 in the US. Diamond wrote the song "You Are My Number One" for Smash Mouth's next album. (thanks, Linda - Oudenaarde, Belgium)
Mojo magazine July 2008 asked Neil Diamond if he resented at all the Monkees' success with this song at a time when his own recording career was less successful. He replied: "I was thrilled, because at heart I was still a songwriter and I wanted my songs on the charts. It was one of the songs that was going to be on my first album, but Donny Kirshner, who was their music maven, hears 'Cherry, Cherry' on the radio and said, 'Wow, I want one like that for The Monkees!' He called my producers, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich - 'Hey, does this kid have any more?' And they played him the things I had cut for the next album and he picked 'I'm A Believer,' 'A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You' and 'Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),' and they had some huge hits. But the head of my record company freaked. He went through the roof because he felt that I had given #1 records away to another group. I couldn't have cared less because I had to pay the rent and The Monkees were selling records and I wasn't being paid for my records."
The single had an advance order of 1,051,280 copies and went gold within two days of release.
British singer-songwriter and Soft Machine founding member Robert Wyatt had a #29 in the UK in 1974 with an intense cover version
. His rendition featured Andy Summers
(later of The Police) on guitar, and drums by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, who also produced the recording.
Wyatt told Q
Magazine that he wanted to make a point with his cover. "I was very uncomfortable with having fans who said 'Your music is so much better than all that banal pop music,'" he said. "It sounds like a socialist thing to say but pop music is the music of the people. It's the folk music of the industrial age. If you don't respect popular culture. You don't respect people, in which case your political opinion is of no great value."
Dolenz has painful memories of performing this on tour. Literally painful. He told Entertainment Weekly in 2016. "I do remember lots of snatches of touring back then. Unbelievable. No monitors. Screaming. Screaming, screaming. [When we played 'I'm a Believer'] I couldn't hear myself. I just had to pound away. Even to this day, I sing with my eyes closed, because I had to close my eyes and hit myself in the leg to keep time on the drums. I had a big bruise. [Laughs]"