Monkee Business

In the week after Davy Jones’ death at the age of 66, Brit pays tribute to the Monkees…

So goodbye to David Thomas Jones (30 December 1945 – 29 February 2012), an Englishman who conquered America, archetype of the hairless boyband cutie. Never my favourite Monkee, Davy was one for the girls. In fact I’d have probably ranked him fourth of four in the important competition for my sympathies when, as a nipper, I first encountered the zany quartet in the early-morning re-runs on my Nan’s TV during the Easter holidays. But I still liked him, who couldn’t? The Monkees blew my mind; I clearly recall agonizing fits of laughter and, as the Hey hey! opening titles began, an undiluted glee of the kind that cannot, alas, ever quite be replicated in adulthood.

The pleasing thing about the Monkees story is that they were actors playing members of a band who became an actual band. As Mickey Dolenz has put it, like Pinocchio, the puppets became real boys. The artificiality doesn’t seem important now – so what if they had to audition (see above) in front of a bunch of suits? Those suits knew what they were doing.

Davy was a lively little bundle of charisma; not really a great singer but that doesn’t matter. His Daydream Believer vocal will last for eternity of course though my favourite is A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You. It was his first single as lead singer and reached number 2 on the Billboard charts in 1967, but it has an undated ‘baggy’ groove and in fact they were still playing it at the indie nightclubs I used to frequent in the mid-1990s.

As I said, those suits knew what they were doing, not least in employing a young Neil Diamond to write the hits. The above is one of his, as was I’m a Believer, another immortal sing-a-longer. Dolenz did it for the Monkees and even Vic Reeves had a hit with it, but it was Mahlerman’s post about Paul Wittgenstein that put me in mind to use the version by psychedelic jazz-fusion Soft Machine prog-rocker Robert Wyatt. Wittgenstein lost an arm in the war. Wyatt’s disability – paralysis from the waist down – was acquired in less heroic circumstances: he fell out of a fourth-floor window while drunk. This, from 1974, was his unlikely first appearance on telly after the accident and the Top of the Pops producer initially objected to Wyatt’s use of a wheelchair on the grounds that it would “not be suitable for family viewing”….

Michael Nesmith was the other end of the Monkee spectrum to nice boy Davy: he was the nasty man. But he was also, it turned out after the puppets became real, a half-decent songwriter. A Different Drum was a hit for Linda Ronstadt, but here is Michael performing his own composition with no little skill…

Let’s finish with the Porpoise Song, which itself both finishes and opens the astoundingly trippy Monkees movie Head. More top songwriting talent employed here by the suits – in this case Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Davy contributes supporting vocals… The Porpoise is waving goodbye, goodbye David Thomas Jones, goodbye …

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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

13 thoughts on “Monkee Business

  1. info@shopcurious.com'
    March 11, 2012 at 11:54

    Ah the free-spirited sounds of youth. In our hearts and minds he will remain forever young. Love the camera-friendly screen test, Brit – though I think Davy was the only Monkee I didn’t have a childhood crush on. Weird that…

    • Brit
      March 12, 2012 at 13:48

      Davy was the Paul McCartney or Mark Owen of the Monkees – appealled to the pre-teens and the mothers, but not those in between…

  2. hooting.yard@googlemail.com'
    March 11, 2012 at 17:42

    In the Robert Wyatt video, the guitarist/violinist in bobble hat and braces is Fred Frith. I think I’m correct in saying this was the only occasion when a member of Marxist art rock group Henry Cow appeared on Top Of The Pops.

    • Brit
      March 12, 2012 at 13:43

      Now that I did not know.

  3. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    David
    March 11, 2012 at 18:36

    It’s always a little disturbing to revisit what, at the time, you thought was artificial schlok and discover that it’s better than 9/10s of what you were actually listening to at the time. It happens with movies, too. The Graduate is actually unwatchable.

    I also love the idea of a “rare” YouTube video.

    • Brit
      March 12, 2012 at 13:46

      A short comment that raises profound questions worthy of long answers.

      The problem with making urgent, earnest, ground-breaking art about contemporary issues and mores is that they will cease to be contemporary and your art will finally look dated or naff. Whereas a nice melody and a words about love will never become irrelevant, I suppose.

      • davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
        David
        March 13, 2012 at 20:37

        And, come to think of it, Paul McCartney, the Davy Jones of the Beatles, later wrote a song making that very point.

  4. danielkalder@yahoo.com'
    March 11, 2012 at 21:01

    I admire Nesmith also for his astounding business acumen.

  5. zmkc@ymail.com'
    March 14, 2012 at 12:49

    Being a gurl, I did always like Davy Jones (even though liking him – and also the Monkees in general – was v uncool, but then I did sometimes wonder if being cool ruled out almost all frivolous, cheerful things). After his death, I was interested to read about his love of horses (not in a rude way) – and cheered to discover that he appears to actually have been nice rather than simply appearing to be – in this article:
    http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/ill-never-forget-the-day-i-got-sent-to-davy-jones/

  6. Worm
    March 14, 2012 at 13:43

    I was always terrified of the monkee that looked like a monkey, called Micky, something about his strange face genuinely unnerved me as a 5 year old boy watching saturday morning TV

  7. meehanmiddlemarch@googlemail.com'
    jane
    March 25, 2012 at 03:57

    Thank you for this. I have vinyl ‘the best of’. Came back to them again in 1981 sharing a house with 2 public schoolboys who knew how to have fun. Daydream Believer one of my favourites. And ‘A Different Drum’ what a fantastic song. I love Linda Ronstadt’s swooping vocals. I share an office with a woman who is obsessed and met Davy Jones several times, so I will be sharing the link… (just when I was thinking the dabbler was for the tastes of middle-aged males).

  8. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    David
    April 6, 2012 at 13:29

    Dear Sir:

    I’ve had Different Drum running stuck in my brain ever since you posted this. All of my usual cures have failed: listening to the song; singing the song; and even my fail safe, nuclear armageddon cure, singing the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies, which heretofore has driven every other song out of my head.

    You will be hearing from my solicitors.

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