1945 – 2012
It’s kind of strange that Davy Jones is the first Monkee to go, because much more than their 45th Anniversary tour could have last year or the “big” reunion album Justus could have in 1996, it’s going to really prompt all the talking heads and people who feel like they have a preordained right to tell you what’s what (Hi, my name’s Paul …) to wax on at length about the Monkees and the difficult line they wobbled across between “manufactured pop confection” and “legitimate artists.” I’ve met a lot of people in my life who would put sweat and blood into an argument about the latter, while I’m sure people like Jann Wenner will go to their own graves wholeheartedly believing the former.
Davy Jones is not now—nor was he ever—the Monkee to settle the argument.
Most actually goddamned musical? You have to defer to Peter Tork or Michael Nesmith. Best songs? Well, Micky Dolenz sang the lot of ’em (“Randy Scouse Git,” “Stepping Stone,” “Porpoise Song,” “As We Go Along,” many more). In the end, I’ve always felt that although the initial idea was to make Davy Jones the “face” of the group, he was really the “showbiz” facade to all of it. Sure, he sang “Daydream Believer” and “I Wanna Be Free,” but at the end of the day, he was just the short English dude out front shaking the tambourine and singing along, wasn’t he? (I still believe my soon-to-be-2-year-old cousin could do a better job miming bass.)
Maybe that’s a bit harsh. Jones did have some songwriting credits in the Monkees (“Dream World,” “The Poster,” “You and I”) and apparently could play a little bit of guitar.
But when it comes down to the Monkees’ best tunes, the selectest of the few of them were written by the Monkees themselves and doesn’t it seem a little obvious that for a group put together by a TV production studio, the “face” of America’s attempt to cash in on Beatle-related success would be English himself? If Micky, Michael and Peter had been joined by another American actor/musician, would the group have been as popular? Debatable, considering the market that executives aimed the Monkees at and that to this day, American girls of all ages have a bit of a weakness for that accent. Maybe somedays I do too. Shut up.
But after the decline of the Monkees, Davy was trading in on his teen heartthrob stature via Monkee-related reunion spots or appearances on a variety of shows from The Brady Bunch to Boy Meets World … even Dr. Phil. True, if you look deeply into his career, you will find some non-Monkee related music to his name, but from his teenage days working in various stage productions, up until the end of his life, Jones always seemed to follow a career path that would follow the spotlight as opposed to forging any deep-seated musical legacy.
Not that you could charge his former bandmates of doing things much differently. Tork and Nesmith both tried their hands at solo careers, but neither picked up much notice in their non-Monkee related outings (Tork’s various toilings eventually saw him release a solo version of “Stepping Stone,” while Nesmith was afforded the ability to do whatever he wanted or didn’t want thanks to his family’s fortune tied to Liquid Paper). Dolenz also took Jones’ multimedia route outside the Monkees, appearing in TV and on radio in various programs.
The basic truth is at one point or another, all these guys hated each other, but again at one point or another, they were all willing to put aside those differences for the payday a reunion show or tour promised. In the end, yes, the Monkees as a band—whether legitimate or not—are products of the celebrity that their creators set out to achieve.
Still, with Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith, you find yourself with something to say musically about the Monkees. Because of their collective push for creative control, the Monkees actually became a legitimate musical group as opposed to a bunch of actors singing along to prerecorded backing tracks. You can say what you want about Neil Diamond or Boyce and Hart writing the best Monkees material, but say Dolenz wrote “Randy Scouse Git” or Nesmith wrote “Listen to the Band” or Tork was actually a pretty talented multi-instrumentalist. Any of those three go and we can start breaking down whether or not Headquarters actually was a decent-to-good album (“they played all their own stuff!” vs. “much of the material was not written by them!”) or why Head‘s best songs never get the same amount of play as the best stuff on More of the Monkees.
With Jones passing on, yes, we’ve lost the guy who sang “Daydream Believer,” but Twitter’s already erupted into wars about whether “I’m a Believer” or “Last Train to Clarksville” should be used in tribute since Micky sang those songs. Does anyone want to push “The Poster” or “You and I” as proper tributes if they’re basically aimless songs? Is there a fitting tribute to be found if the first things that pop up on my Twitter feed are jokes about Marcia Brady, this happening the same day as Snooki reveals she’s pregnant or whether David Bowie now gets to reclaim his name? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that the Monkees debate to end all Monkees debates doesn’t start with Jones’ death.
For now we can remind ourselves that the Monkees outsold both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1967. Wait a moment. Allow that to sink in.
The debate about whether that puts them in the same league with their lesser-selling peers is a debate for another day.
Just know this: That success and every Monkee fan’s favorite argument for legitimacy never would have happened if Davy Jones wasn’t a part of it.
The Monkees – Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
Like “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” this track was actually written by Mr. Jewish Elvis himself, Neil Diamond. Taken from the Monkees’ 1967 sophomore effort More of the Monkees (a piecemeal attempt by Colgems to cash in on the Monkees success, Nesmith hated the album and once called it “the worst album in the history of the world ever”), I actually think this is one of Jones’ better lead vocals for the group. Dolenz’s backing vocal threatens to overpower Jones, but Jones rises to the challenge on the chorus—listen to the growl in that “I see all kinds of sorrow” bit. It’s kind of like he’s saying “Back off. Mine.” Then he kind of undermines that strength with those “I love you” whispers over the guitar breaks, but c’est la vie. Everyone’s going to be posting “Daydream Believer” or “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” in the next couple days (or, hopefully, that great performance of “Girl” from “A Very Brady Movie”—laugh out loud worthy). Here’s a cool track that helps stoke the “Hey, you know the Monkees were actually pretty f*cking good” argument. Even if they didn’t write this or play any of the instruments.
The Monkees weren’t about music, Marge. They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!