R.I.P Davy Jones: Memorees From A Childhood Monkeephile.
Davy Jones is dead from a heart attack suffered in the early hours of February 29th, a day that doesn’t exist most years. It seems kind of a fitting day to mourn a pop star who is best known for being in a manufactured band, The Monkees.
Davy was the English one and the cute one, making him the Paul McCartney of the fake Beatles. He was, arguably, the best actor (at least at the start, Micky got really good too). He was pure showbiz, and appeared to have lived the suitcase life to the end (as evidenced in this scandalous blog post by Kate Flannery from NBC’s The Office.)
If you didn’t know, here’s a catch-up.
The Monkees was a TV show about a rock band, launched in 1966 by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. After an exhaustive audition process, which included failed tryouts from Stephen Stills and (allegedly) Charlie Manson, Rafelson and Scneider settled on musicians Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork and musically inclined actors Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. Their premise, a Hollywood based American Beatles, with hooky songs plus comedic shenanigans in the tradition of the Marx Brothers, was a stroke of genius. Yet, besides the natural charisma of the cast, what made the series connect to the masses (me included), was the music, supervised (at first) by legendary publisher and producer Don Kirshner. Some of the best talent went into writing the songs that the band sang along to in the musical segments: including Carole King, Jeff Barry, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, David Gates, Neil Sedaka, Carole Bayer Sager, Chip Douglas, Harry Nilsson, John Stewart and many more.
The Monkees international hits include “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I’m A Believer”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer” and one online source tallies their accumulated album and single sales well over 65 million copies worldwide.
Mike, all knit-cap and Gretsch guitar, was the sincere troubadour and the least “pop star” oriented member of the group, but Davy was on the other end of the scale. Pure vaudeville. A song and dance man. The perfect foil for songwriters like Nilsson, who’s “Cuddly Toy” was given an innocent leer by Jones.
I would suggest to girls of my age group, that without the Davy character on The Monkees, there would be no Keith character on The Partridge Family. In fact, they must have recycled many of the “debutante falls for Davy” storylines as “debutante falls for Keith”, only by the 70s it was more “emotionally troubled eco-activist debutante falls for Keith”.
No one held a pair of maracas like Davy, the man who taught Axl Rose how to dance. Davy was the TV popstar dreamboat template and I don’t know a woman my age (and I suspect some of the gents) that didn’t melt for “Daydream Believer”:
If you know me personally, if you read my blog, or know me from Facebook or Twitter, you will already be quite aware that I am a huge Beatle fan. But what may surprise you is that, at a very, very young age, I would often argue in the schoolyard that the Monkees were the better group. As blasphemous as that sounds today, and believe me I know it’s wrong, but before high school, I responded to the Monkees, in a deep way. Probably because they were so hated by the older kids, who knew better. In a perverse way that only Ratt-loving Chuck Klosterman would understand, The Monkees spoke to me. This is not your usual revisionist history, by the way, I didn’t know about the cult movie Head until many years later. Wouldn’t have known a Wrecking Crew from a racquet ball, and certainly didn’t have any idea who Gram Parsons was or that someday Nesmith would become an influential player in the birth of alt-country.
Nope, we’re talking naive pop worship. Pure and simple. But pure. Imagine that. Like their Beatle forerunners, The Monkees went psychedelic on their last season (the show was gone by 1968!).
After The Monkees went out on tour, and met their audience in the arenas, they became something akin to an actual band. The Frankenstein’s monster Kirshner had created in a lab took on a life of its own. The pre-fab four demanded (and claimed) ownership of their material. They wanted to become themselves. The result was an album that I bought with my own allowance, Headquarters.
Headquarters was the album that I fought for in the schoolyard. I recall it having equal importance on my tiny (tinny) record player with The Beatles Revolver. The band played most of the backing tracks themselves, even Davy, and the result was an actual group sound, perhaps less polished than on their earlier discs, but really cohesive. Songs like “You Told Me”, “You Just May Be The One” and “Sunny Girlfriend” are still some of my favourites, and in truth, the album is all about the Mike Nesmith parts. Perhaps we’ll talk about him on another day.
While Davy still wasn’t writing any of the song, and was by no means the best musician on the record (although that’s really his maracas and tambourine) he really worked it on his lead vocals on Headquarters.
He’s all breathless heart throb on:
“Forget That Girl”
And of course he does his soft-shoe thing on the (lightweight) Boyce & Hart number
“I Can’t Get Her Off Of My Mind”
Mild social commentary on Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil’s
“Shades of Grey” (shared lead vocal with Peter Tork)
Vaguely San Francisco vibe and major maracas work on Diane Hilderbrand and Jack Keller’s:
“Early Morning Blues And Greens”
And on the ridiculous, and dadaesque word piece, “Zilch”, Davy is the one who says “Zilch. China clipper calling Alameda” over and over again.
(Note you may know some of this piece, it was sampled by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien in “Mistadobolina”)
There goes Davy Jones, he died, too young for a song and dance man (age 66). He was a part of my own youth, which is now gone too. And while I evolved from my Monkees days, as we all inevitably do, I’ll always have a soft spot for the soft shoe guy.