The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”

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The high energy blazing tempo, the classic riff, the syncopations, the modulations, the passionate vocals and harmonies, the crazy reverbified outro. This song rocks. Hard.

The Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” has a great recurring guitar riff that was played by Michael Nesmith on an electric (presumably a Gretsch). The song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, but “The Riff” itself was composed by Chip Douglas, the producer of the track [and the album that it comes from: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (1967)]. Douglas also ripped out the tasty bass line on this track. The guitar riff was inspired by the Beatles’ “I Want to Tell You.”

Michael Nesmith's Gretsch 12-string. This 12-string Gretsch was likely not the one used for "Pleasant Valley Sunday" even though it is the model he's playing on the music video. This is the guitar that Gretsch custom built as a 12-string at Nesmith's request. This song, however, makes no use of a 12-string. Nevertheless, he probably did use a 6-string Gretsch.

It may take a while to feel the timing on this one. At first listen, the first note sounds like it falls on beat one, but once the band comes in, it becomes clear that the first note is actually an eighth note pickup on the “and” of the fourth beat. In the outro of the song, listen to the juxtaposition of the riff against the band, the syncopation that results is magical.

Play this with a pick. The riff makes use of a lot of slurs (pull-offs and hammer-ons). There are also a few quick position changes, but these are made simple by the open A-string pedal tones. Make use of the open notes as opportunities to quickly move to the next position.

Pleasant Valley Sunday (Single release with "Words" on the B-side)


About Robbie Kellogg

I love Jesus, my wife and son, music, and guitars. I love everything from the Beatles and classic rock, to U2, to Petra. I am a sinner who has been rescued by an amazing Savior. Jesus is the one for whom I play guitar. He is the amazing creator who made a beautiful world with many colors, pitches, and tones. Psalms 33:1-5 (NIV)    Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.
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3 Responses to The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”

  1. Matt Sanders says:

    On the Video, Mike’s is a custom made 17 inch wide guitar, which has triangular sharks tooth fret markers, unlike the thumbnail markers on this one, I’d love to have one of these though, such a great sound and a great band I think, I think the current 12’s are 16 inch wide. I really liked Mike’s playing on the Monkees songs, I’m a long time (30 year) Gretsch player, the modern Japan made Gretsch guitars are outstanding and so good!

  2. matt sanders says:

    Please Gretsch make a reissue, call it the ‘1966’
    it’s such a nice guitar!

  3. trees and the slipway says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve been trying to get my head round this riff for years – even looking at YouTube videos I couldn’t get it – everyone mentions that the riff is a little “tricky”, but you’re the first person to mention that the trick is that the first open string A drone falls on the “and” of the previous bar! And so now I know where I was going wrong for so long, many thanks again!

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