Friday, March 2, 2012

Davy Jones

Davy Jones, a member of the Monkees, died Wednesday of a heart attack near his home in Indiantown, Fla., just months after he, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz had completed a tour marking The Monkees’ 45th anniversary. He was 66. It is a case of you had to be there. When the Monkees first appeared in the fall of 1966, many heaped scorn upon them because they were “made for TV.” and did not play their own instruments or write their own songs. Soon they became everyone's guilty pleasure. Each Monday night for the next two years, people would tune into NBC to see the comical trials and tribulations of four young musicians who tooled around in a tricked-out car called the Monkeemobile. 

Jones, the onetime child star of the British musical stage, quickly became the group’s heartthrob. With his boyish good looks and endearing British accent augmented by a strong, Broadway-trained singing voice, it was a role he would play for the rest of his life. Born in Manchester, England, on Dec. 30, 1945, Jones had been a child star in his native country, appearing on television and stage, including a heralded role as “The Artful Dodger” in a London production of the play “Oliver.” When the show came to Broadway, he earned a Tony nomination at age 16 for the role, a success that brought him to the attention of Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Television, which created “The Monkees.” At 5-feet-3 inches, he was by far the shortest member of the group — a fact often made light of on the show. But he also was its dreamboat, mirroring Paul McCartney’s role in the Beatles.

The Monkees used some of the best pop songwriters of the period. Neil Diamond, the Boyce-Hart partnership, Jack Keller, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Harry Nilsson, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and many other highly regarded writers had songs recorded by the Monkees. The cream of LA session artists – the Wrecking Crew – worked on the Monkee sessions. Dr. John, Leon Russell, Carol Kaye, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine and James Burton were just a few of the musicians who were the core of the Crew. Their chops graced recordings from the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Nancy Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel and the Mamas and Papas.

In the final analysis, the Monkees were central to many pop classics. Here are three songs Davy sang lead on. The first is "Valleri" with a memorable opening lead and more by Glen Campbell:

"Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" reached #2 on the pop charts.

The biggest hit he sang lead on was John Stewart's "Daydream Believer" which reached #1.

Rhino Records released a double disk of the Monkees' Greatest Hits. Buy it or burn it.

1 comment:

Jim Desmond said...

Great piece. I'm glad you pointed out the Wrecking Crew and the incredible songwriting talent here.
The Billboard charts were full of great stuff in the late 60's, and the Monkees had to compete with Motown, the Beatles, the Stones etc. And they did because those were damn good pop songs that were very well executed.
I also believe it's easy to overlook just how artsy and cutting edge the TV show and especially the film Head were. That was some pretty cool, funny and also countercultural stuff.
And Davy Jones had to be believable as the front man and he was. He was a terrific entertainer and a fine singer.
As your piece demonstrates, one dismisses the Monkees as manufactured and thus insignificant at their own peril. Those songs have held up well over time.
They were also really the first music video stars and also the first American Idols (though we won't hold that against them!).
Good post Frank.