The death of Monkees lead singer Davy Jones at 66 is another sad loss for those of us who love music. In recent years we have lost Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Amy Winehouse, and many others. I tend to look at all this starting with the death of Elvis Presley – all this referring to not only a loss of innocence but perhaps the loss of what defined our youthful days. Certainly the murder of John Lennon turned the page in a way that many of us never saw coming, and since then things have changed the world in ways (many of them not good) that Lennon could never have imagined (yes, I know).
Thinking back to the Monkees and their brief and soaring brush with fame, they were for many of us a poor cousin to the Beatles, but any relation to the Fab Four would be welcome in our homes. When the TV show came out in 1966, the Monkees were a fabricated band (perhaps truly the first boy band) that threw together Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and Davy Jones. The Beatles had started to leave the mop-top look behind, but the show was meant to capitalize on the band and the good natured fun of their films A Hard Day’s Night and Help.
The Pre-Fab Four (as the jokes were made back then) had to have a British lead singer, so enter Jones. The TV show was what could be called a zany, Marx Brothers type of musical comedy, with the four guys getting caught up with spies, assorted other bad guys, and pretty girls. The show shrewdly featured videos of their songs, beating all those lip-synching videos one would see on MTV by fourteen years. Songs like ”Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” became great big hits, and to this day they always bring a smile to my face when I hear them on the radio.
For two years the show was on and then, like many fads, the thrill was gone and the show went off the air. For kids like me, it was gone way too soon as was Batman, Planet of the Apes, and Star Trek, but those shows helped define a generation and pave the way for new incarnations in the years to come.
The last few days I have heard so many people on TV and the radio disparaging the Monkees and their TV show. Surely, they have no legacy as do the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the like, but The Monkees was a children’s show that was entertaining, and we kids pushed our parents to buy the lunch boxes, the singles, and other paraphernalia associated with the group. They may have been a joke to some but to us we were in on the joke, or at least we thought as much, and that was all that mattered.
Once the show was gone and the group disbanded, Davy Jones went on to have a decent career and the Monkees would eventually reunite and tour (minus Mike Nesmith). I know my sister and countless other girls still had Davy’s picture up on their bedroom walls next to ones of David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, and Donny Osmond. And who could forget when Jones guest starred on The Brady Bunch, making Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and all the little girls around the country squeal in delight? Of course, The Brady Bunch was on the same time on Friday nights as my beloved Planet of the Apes, dooming it to cancellation after one season, but that’s another story.
Still and all the Monkees and their TV show hold a place in TV and musical history. Yes, they didn’t play the instruments on their recordings (session musicians did); they didn’t write their songs (but people like Neil Diamond and Carole King did), and their fame didn’t last long. They were prefabricated and no Beatles (not even Herman’s Hermits) to be sure, but they did have a memorable presence in our lives for a time and remain beloved by those who watched the show all those years ago, so I just wish people would stop knocking them and let their fans enjoy their memories.
Rest in peace, Davy Jones!
Photo Credits – The Monkees/NY Times; Davy Jones – FOX News.com