Today is the birthday of the late Davy Jones (1945-2012). Having already written posts about Messers Nesmith, Tork, and Dolenz, and the Monkees overall, I guess it is time to bite the bullet and do one on Jones. There’s a reason he comes dead last; it’s not a mistake. I’ve never been what you would call a fan of his (never having been a twelve year old girl). But that’s not the only reason. I know plenty of former twelve year old girls who never dug Davy’s thing either. Davy was “cute” in a way that a grown man should never be “cute”. It was fine so long as he was a teenage boy, but even then it grated somewhat. “Cute” like Frankie Avalon? Sure. But cute like a chipmunk? I’d rather not!
Here’s a thing, though. I think both The Beatles and the Monkees and their handlers overlooked something important when their careers took a certain turn in the late 60s. As they were striving for “legitimacy” as “artists”, they absolutely forgot about the fact that their initial mission was a lot broader — to be entertainers. The Beatles had made two very cool musical films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! in 1964 and 1965; the Monkees sit-com ran from 1966 through 1968. Since then — a void, an unfilled niche in the entertainment business for musical comedians in farcical narratives for going on a half century. To me, that’s crazy. People LOVED that stuff.
Most people who hate Jones feel that way because he’s not a rock and roller. But of course…though rock and roll was the context, the Monkees were more of a pop band (and more of a singing group then they were a “band” if it comes to that). With some perspective, Jones’ more old-fashioned show biz orientation becomes kind of interesting. His background had been in stage musicals (Oliver!) and he brought a sort of Anthony Newley like quality into the mix — which you must admit is unique in the context of a sixties musical group. Furthermore, he could act better than the others, and he could dance. In other words, he was a well-rounded entertainer, which in the scheme of things hardly makes his contribution illegitimate.
As for the songs he sings on: I surprised myself when he passed away last year. I began sharing clips of some Davy singles I felt were the exception (in that I liked them) – -and there were a surprising number of them.
The stuff I can’t stand are of course the gloppy, syrupy, treacly songs. In a couple of cases I think the tunes could have been saved by another Monkee taking the lead. “I Wanna Be Free” actually was originally cut with Dolenz on lead vocal, and that version is WAY better. I think “Daydream Believer” would have been vastly better as a showcase for Nesmith — I simply don’t believe that baby-faced Jones ever had anything to do with a “shaving razor”. There’s a bunch of tunes like this, intended to cater to teenyboppers, which is fine I guess if you ARE one, but if you’re not, they are hard to stomach. The speak-sung “The Day We Fall in Love” is probably the most egregious. Others include “I’ll Be True To You” and “When Love Comes (Knocking at Your Door)”. Bleccch!
But there are mess of tunes he does that I actually like a lot. Not surprisingly these include the Harry Nilsson-penned neo-vaudeville tunes “Cuddly Toy” and “Daddy’s Song”. But there are also a number of other songs, usually psychedelic ones, or ones involving an element of humor, that I love to listen to, Including “She Hangs Out”, “Star Collector”, “Laugh”, “I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind”, “Forget That Girl” and the very spacy, “Early Morning Blues and Greens”:
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc