BACKSTORY: Monkees’ Single “Last Train To Clarksville” Was a Vietnam War Protest Song
Thanks for the question! Send more!
Q: How many Monkees actually appear on LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE? And some info on the song, please.
A: Micky Dolenz is the only Monkee on that track. The only other name you might know is Tommy Boyce, who not only wrote the song with Bobby Hart, but plays acoustic guitar; the rest were session musicians. Boyce & Hart wrote LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE as a Vietnam War protest song but they couldn't advertise that fact - otherwise the record label wouldn't have let them record it. It was written about a guy who was drafted and sent to Vietnam; as he's on the train that takes him to the army base in “Clarksville,” he realizes he might die overseas, thus the lyric “and I don't know if I'm ever coming home.” Bobby Hart said of the 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 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." Initially, Hart was listening to the radio when the Beatles' new song, PAPERBACK WRITER came on the air. He thought Paul McCartney's lyric “paperback writer” sounded like “take the last train to...” and used that for the idea for a new song (AM radio was not all that clear in those days - and still isn't - with lotsa static and bleed-ins from other radio stations, so in that context it's quite understandable why the lyric was misheard). LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE was The Monkees' first single, reaching #1 for one week in the fall of 1966, just after their TV show made it's debut on NBC.