As others have always pointed out, he wasn’t impish, charming, “Circus Boy” Mickey Dolenz, the guy who everyone wanted to be friends with and who sang “I’m a Believer” in that unmistakable Mickey voice. He wasn’t the cool, laconic, hep, cap-wearing Michael Nesmith, the one who wrote the great “Circle Sky,” and who palled with Frank Zappa, the one who is considered an innovator of MTV (though the show itself should be seen as an innovator as well). And he wasn’t sensitive folkie Peter Tork.
He was Davy. The one all the girls screamed for. The one Marcia Brady went ga-ga over and lived out every girl’s dream by actually going to the prom with him (“Girl. Look what you’ve done to me!”) The British one. The short one. The ex jockey, the ex Artful Dodger -- the song and dance man who wasn’t quite as hip as the rest of the fellows. And yet, in his own way, he was just as hip.
The Monkees needed Davy Jones. The show, inspired by Richard Lester and most especially A Hard Day’s Night and Help! about a group of friends/pop band (it ran from 1966-1968) was co-created by none other than Five Easy Pieces director Bob Rafelson, who quite clearly and quite cheekily, knew what he was doing. And in spite of its initial detractors -- detractors I can’t believe exist today (think of all the prefabricated boy groups – who sing terrible material and can’t even play an instrument! The Monkees could actually play and write their own songs…) it’s a piece of history that produced some of the greatest pop songs of that time: “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone,” “Daydream Believer,” “Valeri" (one of my favorite songs Davy sang),” “A Little Bit Me (A Little Bit You),” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Cuddly Toy,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “I’m A Believer,” “Star Collector,” "Mary, Mary” and more and more and more.
No, they were not Jimi Hendrix or the The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. No. They were for kids. Sort of. Perhaps secretly for adults. They were subversive -- and could have been a lot more had they gotten extra control. They knew what was down. But again, as a kid. You just knew how special they were -- you felt that extra something to those songs and crazy stories. When they ran on re-runs on Nickelodeon, my sister and I became almost manically obsessed with them. They provided a lot of happiness and escape from what we considered the dullsville of our time. The pop songs! The clothes! The shenanigans! Why couldn’t we turn on a radio and hear “Randy Scouse Git”?
The older I got and the more I researched, the more I realized how much they managed to transcend mere bubblegum and turn it into something more, something mysterious -- and how much they tried. I realized many adults did respect The Monkees, as they should have. Dig just a few of the songwriters and compositions they worked with -- Neil Diamond, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, John Stewart and the great Harry Nilsson. That genius Jack Nitzsche even provided backing music for the band.
And then there was their masterpiece (or, chaos-ter-piece) Head (directed by Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson). See, back then, if you had a novelty band, and you still had to sing and play your instruments, you still had to prove yourself. And The Monkees had some balls when they made that 1968 counterculture movie -- a movie that opens with the band running (I'm thinking from girls, but who knows when it comes to this picture...your mind runs away with the band itself) through a quite serious, official ribbon cutting on a bridge only to have Mickey jump off that bridge in form of suicide/surrender (you think N Sync would have done that? Or make an anti war movie for that matter?). It’s a funny, shrewd deconstruction of Monkees mania. And it's often so gorgeous. After the plunge into a watery death/swim, complete with mermaids, one of their most hauntingly beautiful songs kicks in -- the exquisite, psychedelic “Porpoise Song.” This is one of my favorite musical moments in all of film. How can you dismiss The Monkees after this sublime sequence and song? I have no idea what Jean-Luc Godard thinks of the picture or the TV show or the band, but I want to believe he reveres them.
As the LA Times reported from Bob Rafelson: “It's a sad day for me. Of all the films I've made that have received attention from the Academy Awards, or Cannes [Film Festival] or the New York Film Critics Awards, nothing ever pleased me more than hearing a [radio] announcer say 'Here's Davy Jones singing "Daydream Believer." '
But Davy wasn’t all “Daydream Believer.” He also sang, in Head, Harry Nillson’s magnificent “Daddy’s Song.” He does Nillson proud. It’s pure song and dance Davy. Joyful, nostalgic, a little insane -- perhaps without him even realizing it -- and then just downright poignant. Mickey and Mike were always my favorites, but I adore Davy. And the more I comb through his clips, I feel like I was taking him for granted. He makes me so happy. He always did. Oh, Davy. “Look what you’ve done to me!”
As Jones asks in "Daydream Believer" -- "What number is this, Chip?" Oh, the number. His last number. He was only 66. The the same year the show began. A great year for music. And a great memory for many -- and for many of different generations. Rest in Peace, Mr. Jones. You knew how happy we could be.