The Monkees' Hit Song Neil Diamond Actually Wrote First

Six decades on from their heyday, the Monkees are considered one of the biggest pop groups of the 1960s. Indeed, their music is still prominent thanks to its inclusion in comparatively recent movies such as "Shrek," which included a Monkees cover by the band Smash Mouth. But younger audiences may not be aware that the band originally began as a manufactured group put together to be the subject of a TV show, "The Monkees," which aired for two seasons in 1966 and 1967 and later had success through re-runs and syndication. Though the four members of the band eventually transitioned to writing their own songs, their early releases were written by a bevy of other songwriters brought in to make the Monkees sound like a genuine rock band of the psychedelic era.

The show came first, but when the manufactured band released their smash hit single "I'm A Believer" in 1966 — their second single — they cemented themselves as one of the defining bands of the 1960s, with an uncanny knack for tuning into the contemporary pop-rock sound established by groups such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Much of this was thanks to the musicians and songwriters brought in to create their sound, among them a young Neil Diamond, who had yet to become a pop megastar in his own right. Diamond was the sole songwriter on the Monkees' biggest hit and also contributed acoustic guitar to the recording — the only contribution from the Monkees themselves were vocals from Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones.

Was Neil Diamond jealous of the Monkees' success?

"I'm a Believer" topped the charts in numerous countries — including the U.S. and the U.K. — and stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. But any music fan checking the charts at the time would also see that halfway down the chart was Neil Diamond himself, whose budding solo career was receiving far less attention.

At the same time he was commissioned to write for the Monkees, Diamond was trying to launch himself as a performer under his own name. His recording career began in 1965, a year before the Monkees' "I'm A Believer" was released, when he signed to Bang Records. The following year Diamond released his debut studio album, "The Feel of Neil Diamond," and three singles: "Solitary Man," "Cherry, Cherry," and "Oh No No." Though all three of the singles charted, none broke the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, while "The Feel of Neil Diamond" languished on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 137.

But while some artists might have been frustrated by being overshadowed by their peers, Diamond himself has claimed that he was overjoyed by the Monkees' success with "I'm A Believer." "I was thrilled because, at heart, I was still a songwriter, and I wanted my songs on the charts," he told Mojo (via American Songwriter), later adding: "But the head of my record company freaked. He went through the roof because he felt that I had given No. 1 records away to another group. I couldn't have cared less because I had to pay the rent, and the Monkees were selling records, and I wasn't being paid for my records."

Neil Diamond's I'm a Believer

Though Neil Diamond was seemingly pleased to bask in the afterglow of the Monkees' chart-topping success with one of his compositions, he wasn't willing to let the infectious "I'm A Believer" escape his grasp entirely. In 1971, Diamond recorded his own version, which was released as a standalone single.

Diamond's version of "I'm A Believer" came after he had established himself as one of the greatest pop songwriters of the era. Diamond's hits such as "Sweet Caroline" and "Holly Holy" made him a Top 10 mainstay in 1969, while "Cracklin' Rosie" hit the top spot the following year and enjoyed a total of 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. But despite being a familiar song and being released as Diamond was at the height of popularity, "I'm A Believer" didn't perform as well for him as his newer compositions, stalling at No. 51 and dropping off the Billboard Hot 100 entirely after eight weeks. He revisited the song once more in 1979, reworking it as an album track for his 13th studio LP, "September Morn." It remained a constant feature of Diamond's live concert set lists throughout his career.

More Neil Diamond Monkees songs

While "I'm A Believer" remains the song most associated with the Monkees and is surely their most enduring hit among modern listeners, it wasn't the only time that Neil Diamond pitched in to give the pop group some stellar material to work with. He was also responsible for the Monkees' follow-up to "I'm A Believer," "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You."

While not quite a worldwide smash the way "I'm A Believer" had been, "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" was another major hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. But the collaboration between the Monkees and Neil Diamond didn't end there. He was also responsible for the song "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," which featured on their 1967 album "More of The Monkees" alongside "I'm A Believer." After the death of Davy Jones in 2012, the band produced a track featuring a vocal take of Jones singing Diamond's "Love to Love," which ended up on their "Good Times!" album from 2016.