Peter Tork was far more than comic relief. He was miles away from the often bumbling "dumb one" he played on the Monkees TV show.
In truth, Tork not only had a great and natural sense of humor, he was well-read and a genuinely liked musician. He was also an astute student of the folk-music scene, learning various instruments – including guitar, banjo, bass, piano and organ – which he would add to Monkees recordings.
Tork was far more complex than the often one-dimensional character he played in the TV series.He even added banjo to George Harrison’s Wonderwall album back in 1968. It didn't make the soundtrack record, but he can be heard in the movie.
Even though his vocal and writing contributions to the Monkees’ catalog were few and far between, they were always significant, as you'll see in our list of the Top 10 Peter Tork Monkees Songs.
"Your Auntie Grizelda" From: 'More of the Monkees' (1967)
Found on the mega-selling second album More of the Monkees, "Your Auntie Grizelda" was Tork's spotlight song for a long time. You can argue it's more of a novelty song than a genuine rocker, but the track – written by Jack Keller and Diane Hildebrand, and produced by Jeff Barry – is a fuzz guitar-driven stomper in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Tork's vocal ad libs push it toward the goofier side of things, but it's ultimately two minutes of raucous fun.
"Come On In"From: 'Missing Links Vol. 2' (1990)
Left over from the 1968 sessions for The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees, "Come On In" sat in the vaults for decades. Shame, because it features one of Tork's finest vocals on top of a Buffalo Springfield-styled tune, which isn't surprising since Springfield's Stephen Stills and Dewey Martin both play on it. The song – which eventually appeared on the 1990 compilation Missing Links Vol 2 – was written by folksinger Jo Mapes and included on her 1964 LP And You Were on My Mind. Tork takes total control of it here.
"I Wasn't Born to Follow"From: 'Good Times' (2016)
A highlight from the 2016 reunion album Good Times, "I Wasn't Born to Follow" features Tork taking center stage on a Gerry Goffin and Carole King classic that had been previously recorded by several others, including the Byrds. Tork still manages to add his voice this version, which not only includes one of his best vocal performances but also some great banjo playing.
"Can You Dig It?"From: 'Head' (1968)
The psychedelic chaos of the Monkees' 1968 movie Head can't be easily explained. In a way it's a cinematic triumph that walks hand in hand with the great music heard in the film. One of the highlights is this stellar Tork composition. While there is a version with Peter singing lead, the Dolenz sung version from the soundtrack is the definitive.. Tork and his old Greenwich Village pal Lance Wakely provide the psychedelically woven backdrop of guitars you hear.
"Words"From: 'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.' (1968)
Written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, "Words" includes a vocal split between Tork and Micky Dolenz, whose voices blend to add another dimension to the song. There are two different versions of the song, with the most well-known closing out Side One of the band's fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. There's also a take recorded a year earlier that features some extra backward guitar.
"(I Prithee) Do Not Ask for Love"From: '33 & 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee' (1968)
There are a few different versions of this song dating back to 1966. There is one with Davy Jones on vocals, and another with Micky Dolenz taking lead. Neither was released at the time. A couple years later the song was resurrected for use in the Monkees TV special 33 & 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, a free-for-all program that aired after the Monkees' TV show was canceled. That newly recorded version featured a more sparse setting, with sitar and Tork's plaintive vocal at the center of it all.
"Tear the Top Right Off My Head"From: 'Listen to the Band' (1991)
A lost Tork gem, "Tear the Top Right Off My Head" was originally recorded in 1968 for inclusion on the Monkees' fifth album, The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees. It didn't make the cut and was shelved until it was dusted off for the 1991 Listen to the Band box set. Buffalo Springfield's Dewey Martin plays drums here, but it's Tork's and Lance Wakely's guitars that bring it to life. The song was briefly heard in an episode of the TV show, where Tork and Dolenz performed an acoustic version. Dolenz also recorded a vocal during a session, but Tork's take is the keeper. "It wasn't exactly the most common expression," Tork said in the set's liner notes. "It was an expression of how radical the feelings could get. Something radical was happening here."
"Shades of Gray"From: 'Headquarters' (1967)
"Shades of Gray" features Tork and Davy Jones sharing lead-vocal duties. And they both deliver a suitable amount of world-weary melancholy that's also found in the song's overall mood and melody. One of many highlights from the band's self-contained third album, Headquarters.
"For Pete's Sake"From: 'Headquarters' (1967)
"For Pete's Sake" leads Side Two of Headquarters, and is one of the Monkees' most recognizable tracks. Written by Tork and his friend Joey Richards, the song was never released as a single, even though it became the closing theme of the TV series' second season. Lyrically, "For Pete's Sake" is very much of its era; musically, it's straight-up garage-band rock 'n' roll. It's one of the group's finest recorded moments and from an album that didn't include any singles, but managed to hit No. 1 anyway – until the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band knocked it out.
"Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?"From: 'Head' (1968)
The soundtrack to the 1968 movie Head runs less than 30 minutes, but some of the band's best and most cherished songs are found here. Tork contributed two of the album's six songs, most notably the fuzzed-out rocker "Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?" It's probably the most ragged song the Monkees ever recorded. Penned by Tork, the track features a couple of Buffalo Springfield friends: Stephen Stills on guitar and Dewey Martin on drums. It also was a showcase moment in the film.