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Last Train To Clarksville by The Monkees

Album: The MonkeesReleased: 1966Charted:
1
23
  • This was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a songwriting team who came up with many songs for the Monkees. They also wrote songs for Chubby Checker and Jay & the Americans.
  • Boyce and Hart wrote this as a protest to the Vietnam War. They had to keep this quiet in order to get it recorded, but it is about a guy who gets drafted and goes to fight in the war. The train is taking him to an army base, and he knows he may die in Vietnam. At the end of the song he states, "I don't know if I'm ever coming home."
  • Bobby Hart said of writing this song: "We were just looking for a name that sounded good. There's a little town in Northern Arizona I used to go through in the summer on the way to Oak Creek Canyon called Clarksdale. We were throwing out names, and when we got to Clarksdale, we thought Clarksville sounded even better. We didn't know it at the time, [but] there is an Air Force base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee - which would have fit the bill fine for the story line. We couldn't be too direct with The Monkees. We couldn't really make a protest song out of it - we kind of snuck it in."
  • Hart got the idea for the lyrics when he turned on the radio and heard the end of The Beatles "Paperback Writer." He thought Paul McCartney was singing "Take the last train," and decided to use the line when he found out McCartney was actually singing "Paperback Writer." Hart knew that The Monkees TV series was pitched as a music/comedy series in the spirit of The Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night, so he knew emulating The Beatles would be a winner. To do that, he made sure to put a distinctive guitar riff in this song, and wrote in the "Oh No-No-No, Oh No-No-No" lyrics as a response to the Beatles famous "Yeah Yeah Yeah."
  • The only Monkee to appear on this song was Micky Dolenz, who sang lead. The four members of the group were chosen from over 400 applicants to appear on a TV show based on The Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night. The show was about a fictional band, so the members were chosen more for their looks and acting ability than for their musical talent.

    Session musicians played on the Monkees albums, usually some combination of Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, James Burton, David Gates, Carol Kaye, Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine. According to the liner notes on the 1994 reissue of the album, however, members of a group called the Candy Store Prophets did the instrumental backing on this track at a session that took place July 25, 1966 at RCA Victor Studios in Hollywood. The Candy Store Prophets were Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's band, and included Boyce on acoustic guitar, Gerry McGee on electric guitar, Larry Taylor on bass and Billy Lewis on drums. Additional musicians on this track were Wayne Erwin and Louie Shelton on guitar, and Gene Estes on percussion.

    Often reported as having played guitar on this track is Jesse Ed Davis, a Native American whose accomplishment included backing George Harrison at the Concert for Bangla Desh and playing the solo on Jackson Browne's first hit, "Doctor My Eyes."
  • This was The Monkees' first single. It was released shortly after their TV show started on NBC and got a lot of publicity as a result. The Monkees followed it up with another hit, "I'm A Believer," and had several more chart entries before their show was canceled in 1968. Eventually, the group wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. (thanks to Lucy at Monkeeland.com for helping us out)
  • When this song was released as a single, it went straight to #1, knocking "96 Tears" by ? & the Mysterians down to #2.
  • The Monkees took a lot of heat when they became successful recording artists without playing on their songs. Their drummer Micky Dolenz explained in The Wrecking Crew film: "I think there was a lot of resentment in the recording industry that we’d come out of nowhere, left field, and sort of just shot right to the top without having to kind of go through the ropes. The music industry back then was pretty crooked, and some people say even to this day. And I didn’t know at the time anything about the business end of it, but all of the sudden, the radio stations, the rack jobbers, the distributors, all these people that had a lot of power at that time - all of the sudden, they had to start playing the Monkees songs; they had to start racking them, they had to start distributing them. They had no choice. It was just so huge because of the television show. And that’s the first time anything like that had ever happened. And I think that probably created a lot of resentment."
  • There is a certain lyrical dissonance in this song, as the upbeat music is contrasted with lyrics about being shipped off to war. Carol Kaye, who played bass on the session, told us, "The tempo of the tune was a good tempo. And that's the main thing is to keep that tempo going. Back in the '60s, you're playing for people who dance. And if the tempo is 1-2-3-4, that's a dance tempo. So you're going to keep the tempo up, that's important. So no, the mood of the song is not critical if the tempo is high, if the tempo is fast. If it's slow, yeah, it's kind of critical, and it depends upon how much is happening in the tune, too."
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Comments: 45

On December 3rd 1966, the Monkees performed in their debut live concert at the Honolulu International Center in Hawaii...
They opened the concert with "Last Train to Clarksville"; and at the time the song was at #10 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; four weeks earlier it had peaked at #1 {for 1 week}...
The 16th and last song that they performed was "I'm A Believer"; and the very next day on December 4th, 1966 it entered the Top 100 at position #44; then just twenty-two days later on December 25th, 1966 it reached #1 and stayed there for seven weeks.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On September 23rd 1956, the adventure series 'Circus Boy' had its premiere on the NBC-TV network...
The main character in the series was a young boy named young Corky, he was played by Micky Dolenz but at the time his stage name was Mickey Braddock...
The show ran for two seasons with forty-nine original episodes...
Ten years later on September 4th, 1966 "Last Train to Clarksville" by the Monkees entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #67; and Micky Dolenz sang lead on the record.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On September 4th 1966, "The Last Train to Clarksville" by the Monkees entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #67; and on October 30th, 1966 it peaked at #1 {for 1 week} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
And on November 1st, 1966 it also reached #1 {for 1 week} on the Canadian RPM 100 Singles chart {and it also was "96 Tears" that it replaced at #1 in Canada}...
Eight days after the song entered the Top 100 the musical sitcom 'The Monkees' debut on the NBC-TV network...
In the U.S. it was the "Poor Side of Town" by Johnny Rivers and in Canada "Dandy" by Herman's Hermits that knocked it out of #1 after a one week stay...
David Thomas Jones passed away on February 29th, 2012 at the age of 66...
May he R.I.P.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
A number of people have stated that Mike Nesmith's mother invented Wite-Out and made a fortune from it. What she actually invented was Liquid Paper, which was originally called Mistake Out, in 1956. Wite-Out wasn't invented until 10 years later as a response to Liquid Paper, which didn't work well on xeroxed photocopies because it smudged the ink. Today Liquid Paper is owned by Paper Mate and Wite-Out is owned by BIC.Wayne Edwards - New Jersey, Usa
I heard the same thing, Jay (about "Oh, no, no, no"). I like B&H giving the Fab Four a little tweak there.Esskayess - Dallas, Tx
Thanks Tom@St. Louis, Fl. Didn't know that. I've played this tune in quite a few clubs. My mom bought me the 1st Monkees album in '66. Then I took up guitar and she regreted it.Jim - West Palm Beach, Fl
The riff to "Last Train To Clarksville" was written by Louie Shelton, who played it on the record, and also played guitar on the "Here we come..." theme on their show.Tom - St. Louis, Fl
definitely in the beatle mold, this song and arrangement...some of the high harmonies reminiscent of Rain and Paperback Writer? It's a groove!Steve Dotstar - Los Angeles, Ca
is a song really about vietnam if no one knew it, and even today can't tell by reading the lyrics?Dynama - Cincinnati, Oh
The line "Coffee- Flavored Kisses" actually pre-dates this song by quite a few years. It is the title and first line of a song written by Dirk Fischer, brother of Claire Fischer, in the '50s. It was written for a territory band called "Little John Beecher's Orchestra" which toured the mid-west and elsewhere playing dance halls that existed at the time. "Coffee -Flavored Kisses" was constructed over the chord changes of "Take the A Train." I was the bass player on that band for 6 months in 1958, during which we played it every night. It was sung by a Kansas City jazz singer named Betty Jordan (aka Betty Hansen).Don - Ft Worth, Tx
A couple of points about the Monkees: Charles Manson never - repeat, never - auditioned for the Monkees. It would've been hard for Charlie to have auditioned as he was sitting in a jail cell at the time of the auditions for the Monkees's tv series. Second, and more importantly, Last Train To Clarksville was modeled on Paperback Writer - that fact being acknowledged by Hart. Someone mentioned it was also modeled on another Beatles song, Run For Your Life, though I don't hear any similarities between the two. It's slightly ironic that John Lennon himself dissed Run For Your Life as as hack job; that he had built his lyrics around a lyric in Elvis's song Baby Let's Play House (I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man). It's also worth noting that Bobby Hart is quite open about admitting to the fact that one of his songs had been influenced by another song and identifies the song in question. Hart has always mentioned Paperback Writer as being an influence on Clarksville but has never mentioned Run For Your Life as an influence.Boomer - Oklahoma City, Ok
personally, the beatles are WAY betterClaire - Colorado Springs, Co
I heard that Boyce and Hart made the refrain "Oh, no, no, no" as a response to the Beatles' "yeah, yeah, yeah" from "She Loves You".Jay - Voorhees, Nj
Clarksville Base was a Air Force Base first, I was a Marine stationed there, Navy rerieved the Air Force in 1952. I was one of the original Marines to arrive there. The Air Force was still there.Paul - Westfield Center , Oh
I never knew before that this song was about military service. I thought it was about someone leaving for whatever reason, kind of a budget version of Leavin on a Jet Plane. There's a town in northeast Texas called Clarksville about 30 miles from here I always thought the song was about. No passenger train service any more -- which is why it was the *last* train.Kate - Paris, Tx
If you notice in the video, Clarksville is spelled "Clarkesville." There is an "e" in it. Not sure why that was?Lance - Pittsburgh, Pa
The comment that Dave from Madison made is incorrect. Jones did not appear in Illusions of a Lady. It was an actress using the same name.Eric - Minneapolis, Mn
Fred - Mike recorded 3 albums with the First National Band, one with the Second NB, and a number of others. He did some very innovative country-rock stuff and covered some old country classics in very fresh, new ways. Mike was very talented and was the Monkee who fought hardest for them to become a band and not just TV actors.Gerry - Abbotsford, Bc
Linc from TX ----i agree. i wonder why "Saturday's Child" isn't mentioned on the list of memorable Monkees tunes..?? -----that's like one of the greatest sixties songs ever!...[Side A, 2nd track on the debut album.]Daevid - Glendale, Ca
There are some other songs I would like to see under the Monkee's song list - the ones written by Neil Diamond! And my favorite "She"Linc - Beaumont, Tx
A movie with Mike Nesmith was mentioned earlier. That would be "Head", Directed by Bob Rafaelson (who directed the series) with a script by Jack Nicholson. It's a farewell "death of the Monkees" themed comedy with Monkees music video sequences. Although a cult movie with a following now, it sank at the box office on its first release, possibly due to the fact that it had no plot line to speak of, contained some left wing political content, and much of the humor was above the heads of the mass audience. Example: The title itself. "Head" is a word stamped on the first few frames of a reel of film. The opening credits of this movie are at the end of the film, making the entire movie the "head" of the film.

Trivia: Mike Nesmith is independently wealthy due to a huge inheritance. He is the son of the inventor of "White Out", a liquid used to cover up errors typed on an old fashioned typewriter so they could be corrected.

Mike was the only member of the group that did not participate in the reunion tour several years after the show ended.

Davy Jones' career hit the skids after the show ended and the movie "Head" didn't hit the big numbers at the box office. The next movie he appeared in was a hard core porno film called "Illusions of a Lady".
Dave - Madison,
Micky Dolez and Davy Jones also had musical backgrounds. Dolenz played guitar (not drums) and sang in LA-area bar bands while in college and Jones appeared in the musical "Oliver!" on the London and New York stages. Jones was even part of the cast that sang songs from the musical on the same 1964 Ed Sullivan Show that the Beatles made their U.S. debut!Ken - Louisville, Ky
As for who played the guitar riff. It was Louie Shelton. He used a 50s Telecaster through an MXR compressor and a 12 watt Princeton Amp with a 10" speaker. He had (has) a bad habit of giving away GOLDEN RIFFS for free. Sure it's close to The Beatles' "Run For Your Life" which is itself a take on Elvis' "Baby Let's Play House" - The Roots-Rockabilly Meets Straight Time formula was the British invasion sound. Louie gave them the twang of the south with the chime of the day. And if it were today he'd have 25% writing credit, and be a rich musician, because that song DEPENDS on that riff. Mike Nesmith recorded the paperback writer style riff for "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and has writing credit (and money) for that... Justice For Louie! lol. Louie has a few riffs out there we all know. I love this song. I love the recording. I love Mickey's voice on it.Jensen - Los Angeles, Ca
I'm glad someone has finally gotten it right! home of the 101st airborne division fort campbell ky an army post located next to clarksville,tnTina - Clarksville, Tn
This song is excellent regardless the performer. When I was young (in the sixties)I saw on TV one group from UK (I think there were three of them)performing this song in some kind of jazz manner. This happened in Belgrade, Serbia and I'd be happy to find out the name of the group.Miroslav - Belgrade, Yugoslavia
I had always heard that Nesmith was the only real musician at the beginning, so I'm pleased to learn that Tork was, too. BTW, post-Monkees, M. N. went on to record under the name, Michael Nesmith and the First National Band. He made an album or two, with a few mild hits, "Joanne," "(I Think I Will Fly Down to) Rio," and "Roll with the Ball." The album (or one of them) was titled, "From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing." He then went on to do a couple or so TV specials called "Elephant Parts," as is mentioned in an earlier comment. Didn't he also make a movie, or have another album title, that had "Parts" in the name?Fred - Laurel, Md
Sorry, Clarksville Base was not an Air Force installation. It was a U.S. Naval Base and it was located on the Little west Fork Creek inside of Ft. Campbell, KY. People used to kid us that we were "The Little West Fork Creek Navy." It was a highly guarded, classified installation. Even our wives didn't know what we were doing and didn't ask because they knew we wouldn't tell them.
Stan, Winston-Salem, NC
Stan - Winston-salem, Nc
As a Beatles fan and guitarist, the thing that struck me most the first time I heard 'Last Train To Clarksville' is that the intro. guitar riff (which is repeated throughout the song) is modeled on George Harrison's immortal riff from The Beatles' 1965 'Help!' single. If people are interested in hearing this riff, just go to www.thebeatles.com to hear it. As of this writing (December 2007)'Help!' is the main featured song when one goes to the first page of the website.

That's not to say that the 'LTTC' riff isn't original in melody, but it has exactly the same structure (a fast, descending, arpeggio) and uses a very similar sound (Gretsch or similar guitar) to Harrison's riff, and of course, there was a deliberateness to this because the Monkees were based on The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night' film.

Still, it's a great riff, wonderfully played, and I'm grateful to James from Seattle for pointing out that the session guitarists for this recording were Wayne Irwin, Gerry McGee and Louis [or Louie as some pages have it] Shelton.

Does anyone know which of these guitarists actually played the 'LTTC' riff?
Geert - Toronto, Canada
Cassandra Wilson, the jazz singer, does a great acoustic version of this song. It's really worth listening to. Listening to her version was the first time that line about "coffee-colored kisses" really stood out for me. That was a brilliant line.Tj - Chicago, Il
Bobby Hart stated he picked the name Clarksville for the song's town based on the name Clarksdale, a town he recalled having to drive through to get to Oak Creek Canyon. I know that Bobby Hart is originally from Phoenix and I'm guessing he must have been a kid or teen when he was on his way to Oak Creek Canyon, because the town he refers to as Clarksdale is actually Clarkdale (with no letter s between the k and d) and you don't go through it (even on the old highway) to get to Oak Creek Canyon. His family probably made the detour to Clarkdale for another reason since it is only about 25 miles or so from the Oak Creek area.Ava - Phoenix, Az
While Mike Deasy Sr. did indeed participate in the Monkees project as part of Hal Blaine's Wrecking Crew, the session guitarists for this recording were Wayne Irwin, Gerry McGee and Louis Shelton. Gerry McGee went on to play with the Ventures and it was Louis Shelton who played what might be the finest pop guitar solo ever recorded, in "Valleri" by the Monkees.James - Seattle, Wa
the melody of this song is ripped off from 'run for your life,' and the vocals from 'paperback writer' both by the beatlesDaniel - Derry, United States
Mike and Peter might be considered the "serious musicians" in the Monkees, but it didn't matter that Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones couldn't play instruments very well. The key to The Monkees was great songs delivered with great vocals by Mickey and Davy. I thought this was the Monkees song that sounded the most like The Beatles because of vocal harmonies and the lead guitar.Steve - Fenton, Mo
Wow, I learned a lot here! I always vaguely wondered why the protagonist didn't know if he was coming back! And I always thought this song sounded a helluva lot like Paperback Writer and wondered which came first! (I suspected The Beatles song did, of course, but--I wasn't sure!) The only info I can add is that Oak Creek Canyon is a beautiful place!Fyodor - Denver, Co
I always liked the line, "We'll have time for coffe-flavored kisses, and a bit of conversation."Rick - Atlanta, Ga
stsjfsd in Denver--Just on the White Out part of it, for the sake of historical accuracy, it was Mike Nesmith's mother Bette Nesmith who invented the stuff while working as a secretary in Dallas. She made a fortune. Mike was a rich kid. She sold her empire in 1979 for $45 million, and sadly died shortly after that. Ex-Monkee Mike received half of her estate in 1980.Dirk - Nashville, Tn
Peter Tork was a pretty good musician. He actually was friends with George Harrison and George invited him to some sessions. I always liked Nesmith. I never knew what happened to him after the Monkees until I saw Elephant Parts like in 1980 or something. There was a rumor that his Mother invented what became 'White Out'Stsjfsd - Denver, Co
I think it's funny that the Monkeys toured with Jimi Hendricks. They're so different.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
I know a lot of folks look down on the Monkees , but they were one of my first rock and roll experiences. Their music did improve greatly from album to album to the point they were writing their own songs, and they toured with Jimi Hendrix. I think the Monkees fared much better than a lot of today's mamufactured boy bands. Anyone heard from New Kids on the Block since their comic book with Wendy the Good Little Witch got cancelled?Jude - Thomasville, Ga
Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, and Nash also auditioned. They told him, however, that they were looking for someone with "better hair and teeth", so he told his roommate Peter Tork to audition and *voila* he got the part. Also, just to note, Peter and Mike (Nesmith) were actually serious musicians, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz were actors first and later learned how to play.Jessica - Milaca, Mn
Two of the applicants for that original TV show were Paul Williams, the amazing song writer - and Charles Manson. Who knows what this show would have become with Charlie singing leads with his special brand of crazy.

Also Studio wizard Mike Deasy Sr was the guitar player from the wrecking crew that was brought in to play on the Monkees projects.
Mike - Seattle, Wa
Another interesting note; The University of the Ozarks is located in Clarksville, Arkansas and in 1944 the University moved their entire campus down the hill to the local Presbyterian Church.
This was done so that hundreds of members of the Marines, the Navy, and Coast Gaurd could use the school as a training center for special electronics training (radar, sonar, etc) prior to leaving for service duty in World War II.
The Clarksville train station is just two blocks from campus and I would always sing this song as my son headed back to college.
Ed Magee
El Dorado, AR
Ed - El Dorado, Ar
The Arizona town is "Clarkdale."

Clarksville train station is where a young soldier would have told his girl to come to say goodbye before he shipped out. Funny how sometimes you write something better than you thought you had!
Keith - Slc, Ut
Dan from Encinitas is not entirely correct in his comment. If he had checked, he would discover that Bobby Hart was right. There WAS an Air Force facility named Clarksville Base used for Atomic weapon storage.
It was actually adjacent to Fort Campbell. Clarksville Base was annexed by nearby Fort Campbell in 1969. ( 3 years AFTER song was written)
Old Clarksville Base, along with the Main Cantonment area, Sabre Army Heliport and Campbell Army Airfield comprise the major areas of Fort Campbell.
Clarksville Base is in the National Register of Historical districts.
Jim - Charlotte, Nc
Bobby Hart stated that there is an Air Force base close to Clarksville, Tennessee. Actually, it is an Army base. Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Div.Dan - Encinitas, Ca