Last Train to Clarksville

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"Last Train to Clarksville"
The Monkees single 01 Last Train to Clarksville.jpg
US single cover
Single by The Monkees
from the album The Monkees
B-side"Take a Giant Step"
ReleasedAugust 16, 1966
RecordedJuly 25, 1966
RCA Victor Studios, Studio A
Hollywood, CA
LabelColgems 1001
  • Tommy Boyce
  • Bobby Hart
The Monkees singles chronology
"Last Train to Clarksville"
"I'm a Believer"
Music video
Listen to "Last Train to Clarksville" (Official Music Video) on YouTube

"Last Train to Clarksville" is a song by American pop rock band the Monkees. It was released as the band's debut single on August 16, 1966 and was later included on the group's self-titled album, which was released on October 10, 1966.[1] The song, written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, was recorded at RCA Victor Studio B in Hollywood on July 25, 1966,[1] and was already on the Boss Radio "Hit Bounds" playlist on August 17, 1966.[2] The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 on November 5, 1966.[3] Lead vocals were performed by the Monkees' drummer, Micky Dolenz.[4] "Last Train to Clarksville" was featured in seven episodes of the band's television series, the most for any Monkees song.


The song, written by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart,[5] has been compared to the Beatles' "Paperback Writer",[by whom?] particularly in its "jangly" guitar sound, chord structure and vocal harmonies. The Beatles' song had reached number one on the U.S. charts three months earlier.

Hart got the idea for the lyrics when he turned on the radio and heard the end of "Paperback Writer." Thinking Paul McCartney was singing "take the last train," Hart decided to use the line himself after he found out that McCartney was actually singing "paperback writer."[6] Hart knew that the Monkees' TV series was being pitched as a music/comedy series in the spirit of the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night, and he was hoping that by emulating the Beatles the song might become a successful single. He included a distinctively rhythmic lyric and wrote in the "Oh No-No-No, Oh No-No-No" lyrics as a response to the Beatles' famous "Yeah Yeah Yeah," looking for a guitar riff to match it in the studio.

The lyrics tell of a man phoning the woman whom he loves, urging her to meet him at a train station in Clarksville before he must leave, possibly forever. There is no explicit reference to war in the song, but its last line, "And I don't know if I'm ever coming home," was an indirect reference to a soldier leaving for the Vietnam War.[7] Hart has denied any connection by the song to the city of Clarksville, Tennessee, near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the home of the 101st Airborne Division that was then serving in Vietnam. According to Hart, "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 Clarkdale. We were throwing out names, and when we got to Clarkdale, we thought Clarksville sounded even better. We didn't know it at the time, [but] there is an Army base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee — which would have fit the bill fine for the storyline.[citation needed] 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."[8]

Although Clarksville, a common location name in the U.S., is in the song's title, the video accompanying the song on the Monkees' TV show depicts a sign pointing to Clarkesville, a much less common spelling now used only for a single town in Georgia.[citation needed]


Boyce and Hart's band, Candy Store Prophets, performed the instrumental session work on the recording.[9] Their lineup included Boyce, Wayne Erwin and the Ventures' Gerry McGee on guitar, Hart on keyboards, Larry Taylor on bass guitar, Billy Lewis on drums and Gene Estes on percussion.

The song was written in the key of G, aligned to the electric guitar, and there were three guitarists on the recording: Erwin played chords, McGee assisted with lead guitar flourishes and the lead guitar part was written on the spot and played by session musician Louie Shelton on a Fender Telecaster and Fender Super Reverb amp. Shelton was hired by Boyce and Hart to participate in the The Monkees television project. Hart had drafted a lead middle riff to match the lyrics that he had written, but Shelton created the lead-in section on the spot. Shelton became a mainstay on Monkees recordings and went on to be a highly sought-after session musician in later years.[4][10]


The single's B-side, "Take a Giant Step," later appeared as the closing track on Side 1 of the Monkees' debut album.[11] Micky Dolenz performed lead vocals.[11]

The song is presented as a plea to a heartbroken girl to move on from her past romantic disappointments and to "learn to live again at last" by "taking a giant step outside your mind." Critic Eric Lefcowitz describes the song as "proto-psychedelic."[12]


Of "Last Train to Clarksville", Billboard remarked that "all the excitement generated by the promotion campaign for the new justified by this debut disk loaded with exciting teen dance beat sounds."[13]

Chart performance[edit]



  1. ^ a b The Monkees Greatest Hits Rhino Entertainment R2 75785 Liner notes
  2. ^ "KHJ's 'Boss 30' Records In Southern California! Issue No. 59 - Previewed August 17, 1966". August 17, 1966. Archived from the original on June 24, 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  3. ^ Ashley Brown, ed. (1990). Marshall Cavendish Illustrated History of Popular Music. Six (Reference ed.). Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 1-85435-021-8.
  4. ^ a b "Last Train To Clarksville by The Monkees Songfacts".
  5. ^ Kotal, Kent. "The Music of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart". Forgotten hits. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  6. ^ Brown, Craig (April 2, 2020). "Chapter 91". One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time (hardback ed.). 4th Estate. p. 363. ISBN 978-0-00-834000-1.
  7. ^ Smith, Chris (February 21, 2019). "Is 'Last Train to Clarksville' about Clarksville, Tennessee?". The Leaf-Chronicle. Retrieved July 30, 2021.
  8. ^ "After 50 Years, The Monkees Reveal The Surprising Truth Behind "Last Train To Clarksville"". Society of Rock. n.d. Songwriter Bobby Hart admits to sneaking in the controversial subject matter under the radar,
  9. ^ Sandoval, Andrew (2005). The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the 1960s TV Pop Sensation. Thunder Bay Press. p. 46.
  10. ^ Arax, Mark; Feldman, Paul (June 24, 1988). "OBITUARIES : Backed Up Major Artists : Jesse Ed Davis, 43; Noted Rock Guitarist". The Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ a b Planer, L. "Take a Giant Step". Allmusic. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  12. ^ Lefcowitz, E. (2011). Monkee Business. Retrofuture. pp. 43, 52. ISBN 9780943249018.
  13. ^ "Spotlight Singles" (PDF). Billboard. August 27, 1966. p. 16. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  14. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Last Train to Clarksville". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  15. ^ Flavour of New Zealand, 25 November 1966
  16. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved September 5, 2018.
  17. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1966/Top 100 Songs of 1966".
  18. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Archived from the original on August 12, 2016. Retrieved November 20, 2016.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Rock Band' Five Most Unexpectedly Rockin' Downloadable Songs", PlayStation: The Official Magazine (January 2009): 58.

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