Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hey, Hey, He Was a Monkee!

He was, as heartthrobs go, portable.

Davy Jones was adorable and could fit in your pocket, it seemed. He was the pipsqueak of the Monkees, the tiniest of the singers/actors who captivated young women of the late-1960s thru the mid-1970s.

He was part of the British Invasion but in a decidedly American way. The Monkees, save for Jones, was made up of Americans: Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. They had an American producer (Don Kirshner at first) and their shtick was concocted by Americans (Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider).

Rafelson and Schneider, who were each steeped with television experience, wanted to make a quirky TV show about a rock and roll band. They didn't, initially, intend for that band to actually become a rock band.

But that's exactly what the Monkees did; they were every bit of a rock band as the others they shared spots with on the Billboard 100.

The lead singer was Jones, with his very British mop head---and very Beatles-like at the time.

Jones quickly became the unquestioned star of the Monkees---at least with the sweet young things who cried and fawned and fainted upon seeing him in person. Also very Beatles-like.

Jones is dead now, of an apparent heart attack at age 66. He's the first of that generation's heartthrobs to pass---unless you include Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison.

The list of singers, off the top of my head, who caused the females to swoon in Jones' time includes David Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Bobby Sherman. Joining that group a tad later were the likes of Shaun Cassidy and Donny Osmond.

But Jones was one of the first to mesmerize the girls; the Monkees were formed in 1965, around the time Beatlemania was gripping our nation.

His British accent was part of his charm, because it stood out from the rest of the group. It gave him a waifish, almost vulnerable aspect to his persona.

The Monkees were carefully crafted. There was the Class Clown (Dolenz); the Goofball (Tork); the Intellectual (Nesmith); and the handsome, delicate front man (Jones).

But it was Jones, without question, who the girls came to see, when the Monkees would go on tour. From 1966-68, when the TV show was on the air, a ticket to a Monkees concert was as hot as anything.

The band (by this time they had removed the shackles placed on them by producers who wanted to limit their musical performances and replace it with studio musicians) continued to record several years after the show was canceled.

The hits were genuine and red hot at the time: "Daydream Believer"; "Last Train to Clarksville" (my personal favorite); "Pleasant Valley Sunday"; and "The Monkees Theme," to name just a few.


Davy Jones, at the height of his heartthrob status


Jones didn't sing lead on all of the hits, but he still managed to be the sexiest tambourine player that any teenaged girl could dream up, when he wasn't crooning.

Jones had performed as recently as February 19. He was always up for Monkees reunions, and participated cheerfully---unlike Nesmith, who for whatever reason has consistently resisted Monkees-related events.

The Monkees each had trivia tidbits about them. Dolenz has a daughter who is an actor; Tork's last name is short for Torkelsen, and he had a brother who was a running back for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL; and Nesmith's mother invented Liquid Paper.

And Jones?

He was an actor before he became a rock star. There was irony to his career.

On February 9, 1964, he appeared with the Broadway cast of Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show, the same episode on which The Beatles made their first appearance.

According to Wikipedia, Jones said of that night, "I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that."

He got it, and then some.

As recently as February of 2011, Jones spoke enthusiastically of a possible Monkees USA and UK tour. His reasoning was brilliantly simple.

"You're always hearing all those great songs on the radio, in commercials, movies, almost everywhere."

I know what Jones meant. To this day, I get excited when "Clarksville" comes on the radio.

Time Magazine contributor James Poniewozik summed up Jones and the Monkees thusly: "Whatever Jones and The Monkees were meant to be, they became creative artists in their own right, and Jones’ chipper Brit-pop presence was a big reason they were able to produce work that was commercial, wholesome and yet impressively weird."

Impressively weird. That may not be a compliment when spoken of others, but it's dead on accurate when it comes to the Monkees. They may have started as a gimmick, but they ended as a legitimate part of rock-and-roll history.

Thanks largely to that tiny little Brit with the mop head.

No comments:

Post a Comment

As you will...