How Michael Nesmith’s Rejected Monkees Song Hit for Linda Ronstadt
The Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt's band at the time, had a No. 13 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the song during the fall of 1967, a year after The Monkees TV show began airing. The Monkees already had four Top 5 singles of their own by then, and Micky Dolenz recalled that Nesmith — who died on Friday at the age of 78 — offered "Different Drum" to the band first.
"It's so funny," Dolenz told UCR earlier this year, when he included the song on his Dolenz Sings Nesmith album. "He went to the [Monkees] producers in the early days and brought 'em 'Different Drum.' He played it for them, and they said, 'Well, that's nice, but it's not a Monkees tune.' He said, 'Wait a minute. I am one of the Monkees.' They said, 'Yeah, yeah, we know. But no thanks. It's really not a Monkees tune.' So he said, 'Okay,' and gave it to Linda Ronstadt, and look what happened."
The Stone Poneys version – which featured future Eagles member Bernie Leadon and future Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon on the track — wasn't the first recording of "Different Drum," however. Nesmith wrote the song in 1964 and the Greenbriar Boys recorded it a year later, while the Monkees were still in formation. Nesmith recorded the song for his 1972 solo album And the Hits Just Keep on Comin', adding another verse that wasn't part of the Stone Poneys version.
Listen to the Stone Poneys' Version of 'Different Drum'
The ability to write their own songs was always a frustration for Nesmith and his Monkees mates, although Nesmith was able to contribute two songs to the group's self-titled 1966 debut: "Papa Gene's Blues" and "Sweet Young Thing," the latter co-written with Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
"Remember that he was cast in The Monkees, but he was not an actor. He was a singer-songwriter," Dolenz explained. "They said, 'Yeah, you'll be able to write and sing songs,' and the powers that be and the record company and the Donnie Kirshners and everyone were all involved and didn't let that happen. He must've been incredibly frustrated, hoping he'd be able to use [the Monkees] as a sounding board for his material."
Nesmith famously once punched a wall during a meeting with producers, telling one that "that could've been your face" — a legend that Dolenz confirmed as "absolutely accurate."