The Story Behind The Song: How The Monkees created pop masterclass ‘Daydream Believer’
The Monkees song ‘Daydream Believer’ remains one of the most delicious slices of pop magic and there is no rust on this classic anthem which topped the charts in late 1967. The track is tailor-made for singing at full-volume in a room with thousands of fellow jubilant souls who are all lost in the moment. A whole host of artists have attempted to record a rendition of the hit over the years but none of have come close to capturing the delight which oozes out of the original.
The track was penned by songwriter John Stewart who wrote ‘Daydream Believer‘ as the third in a trilogy of songs about the boredom that comes with monotonous suburban life. He later recalled, “I remember going to bed thinking, ‘What a wasted day — all I’ve done is daydream’. And from there I wrote the whole song. I never thought it was one of my best songs. Not at all”. After penning the number, Stewart remained unaware of the universal feelings that he had tapped into while simply writing about his own state of mind. It would go on to be a message that many would immediately connect with upon hearing The Monkees’ beautiful melodies.
Stewart had a rather modest career outside of this hit. The musician was a member of The Kingston Trio from 1961 to 1967 and, shortly after his exit from the group, Stewart would write his magnum opus ‘Daydream Believer’. In a somewhat left-field career turn, the following year Stewart became the official musician of the Democratic Party, a decision which involved travelling with Senator Robert Kennedy during his Presidential campaign. In 1979, he would have his final taste of success when he had a top five US hit under his own name with ‘Gold’.
‘Daydream Believer’, however, was remarkably turned down by We Five and Spanky and Our Gang upon its initial creation. In a twist of fate, while attending a party at Hoyt Axton’s home in Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon, producer Chip Douglas bumped into Stewart and he was now producing the Monkees and asked if Stewart had any songs that might work for the group, alas he offered ‘Daydream Believer’ — little did he know what the song would become.
To appease their record label, The Monkees were forced into making one slight alteration to Stewart’s lyrics, a transition required in order to be as clean as humanly possible in order to fit their brand. The group’s drummer Micky Dolenz later explained, “As we sing it, there’s a line, ‘Now, you know how happy I can be.’ John wrote, ‘Now, you know how funky I can be.’ But the music department said, ‘The Monkees are not singing the word ‘funky.” [Laughs] Funky meant oily, and greasy, and sexy — and they weren’t going to have us say it.”
‘Daydream Believer’ was not envisaged by the label to be a hit and, in fact, it wasn’t even met to be an A-side single. However, an unexpected turn of events would lead to the underdog champion topping the charts for four weeks.
The track was originally scheduled to be the B-side of their cover of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s song ‘Love Is Only Sleeping’ which saw Michael Nesmith take up lead vocals. A week before it was set to be released, in a dramatic turn of events, it was discovered that the European single masters for ‘Love Is Only Sleeping’ were not ready, but the masters for ‘Daydream Believer’ were. This left the label in somewhat of a quandary and they made the call to switch, promoting ‘Daydream Believer’ to the A-side and ‘Goin’ Down’ on the reverse.
The fortunate events that led to ‘Daydream Believer’ repeatedly landing on the right side of history led to the song becoming the monster international hit that it deserved to be. The royalties of this track alone allowed Stewart to live comfortably for the rest of his life until his death in 2008 and, more poignantly, the joy of witnessing millions of fans enjoying the music he had written, was something that he remained eternally grateful for.