brent johnson and jason stives remember The Monkees singer …
The Charm of The Monkees
By Brent Johnson
Davy Jones owns an odd place in music history. At a time when snarly, innovative rock was starting to explode in the late 1960s, Jones was a pop star — well-coiffed, often goofy, always singing in a sweet English accent. And to some critics, his worst sin was being a member of The Monkees, a band created specifically for a television show.
But really, Jones — who died today from a heart attack at age 66 — leaves behind a legacy that’s misunderstood.
The Monkees represented both the good and bad of ’60s pop. They were a prefabricated band — patched together through casting calls. And studio musicians handled the instruments on group’s early singles, at a time when The Beatles and Rolling Stones were legitimizing the self-contained rock band.
But The Monkees’ music was rarely throwaway. Their hits were well-crafted, their TV show was delightfully zany, and when they started playing on their albums and writing their own material, they experimented with country-rock, psychedelic freakouts, show-tune melodies and kooky acoustic pop.
As for Jones? He didn’t have the serene and soulful vocals of Micky Dolenz, the songwriting chops of Mike Nesmith or the musical dexterity of Peter Tork. But he was the face — and charm — of The Monkees.
Born in Manchester, England, in 1945, Jones had a wildly varied career before his 20th birthday. At 11, he was acting in a British soap opera called Coronation Street. At 14, he was training to be a horse-racing jockey. Then, in 1963, he was nominated for a Tony award for his role as the Artful Dodger in the Broadway run of Oliver!.
In 1965 — when Beatlemania made rock ‘n’ roll a hot commodity — Jones was cast in The Monkees, a candy-colored sitcom about a rock band. The songs they sang on the show — written by pros like Carol King and Neil Diamond — quickly hit the pop charts.
Jones was a focal point. He was a proto-Justin Beiber — 5-foot-3 and cute, causing girls to swoon across the globe. He was also from the U.K., a key weapon at a time when the British Invasion was sweeping the U.S.
Jones was a charming singer, too. His sly croon was perfect for tracks like ‘(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow’ and ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.’
But the music press harped on the fact that The Monkees didn’t control their own music. In 1967, the band fought back with Headquarters, a record they wrote and performed largely by themselves — and one that remains one of the most underrated albums of the ’60s.
Jones wasn’t a musician — outside of his ability to tap a tambourine — and in the group’s later years, he sang mostly sugary pop, middle-of-the-road ballads and music-hall throwbacks. But many of those songs were great: the stately ‘Shades Of Grey,’ the groovy ‘Early Morning Blues And Greens,’ the shuffling ‘Cuddly Toy,’ the rocking hit ‘Valleri.’
Then, there was his signature tune: ‘Daydream Believer,’ a beguiling, chart-topping piece of bubblegum pop with twinkling piano and rousing french horns. It’s the kind of song only Jones could have made sparkle.
Jones is also a strange footnote in another chapter of music history. In the mid-’60s, a young British musician named David Jones decided to change his name to avoid confusion with The Monkees’ frontman. The moniker he chose: “David Bowie.”
The Best of Davy Jones
By Jason Stives
Of all The Monkees, Davy Jones was definitely the most teen-idol worthy.
Each Monkee had their own skills — for the record, Mike Nesmith and his wool cap holds is my personal favorite — but Jones made it clear that he was a song-and-dance man. On the band’s television program, he catered to the slapstick nature of the show, going full-blown Vaudeville on the audience. Always with a dance as he walked and a Broadway song to rescue a dull moment, Jones was destined to stand out from his peers.
But this talent went beyond the color television and is more important in the Monkees songs he sang lead on. Sure, he will always be remembered for ‘Daydream Believer’ and ‘I Wanna Be Free,’ but it was his contribution to other noted classics that really made him go beyond his bowl cut and dimple-laden complexion.
Like ‘(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow,’ written by a young Neil Diamond …
Or Jones’ Broadway-like take on the Harry Nilsson-written ‘Cuddly Toy’ …
And ‘Daddy’s Song,’ a Vaudeville number about abandonment …
But Jones was also capable of adding as much soul as his cohorts did, as demonstrated in a song tacked on at the end of their ’60s career: the 1969 freakout love letter ‘You And I’ …
All these are the antithesis of Jones as a showman and pop singer, but his best is ‘Valleri,’ a track that’s part Tom Jones and part late-’60s garage fuzz-rock. Jones puts his back into it as he takes on something intentionally out of his comfort zone — he’s still swinging for the fence where that pretty-haired girl would be laying. With a fleeting Spanish guitar and thunderous horns, it’s a classic all unto itself …
But for many, he will still be the white knight on a steed in their 1967 hit ‘Daydream Believer,’ a testament to Jones as a member of a band never given the full credit they deserved. Yes, he only played the tambourine. Yes, he appealed more to the teen-idol crowd than the average rock critic. But through it all, Jones was a constant professional who showed that even with a lot of help at their bestowal, Davy Jones and The Monkees were capable of creating something impossible to replicate: timeliness.