Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RIP Davy Jones of The Monkees

Davy Jones, one of the distinctive voices of the group The Monkees, has passed away at the age of 66.

News outlets are reporting that he died after suffering a heart attack.

Jones, the voice on such hits as "Daydream Believer," "Valleri," "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" and many classic album cuts, was one of the most recognizable of The Monkees. He was the cute one, the British Monkee, the member who sang the cutesy songs to girls on their TV series.

But he did more than that. He was an ambassador of entertainment. A song and dance man, who was the Artful Dodger in "Oliver!" for performances in London and on Broadway, Jones was always theatrical. His song selections for The Monkees often followed in the vein of musicals or show tunes. In videos and live performances, he'd ham it up ... twirling and dancing and giving a big smile.

When I was a kid, sometimes I'd watch reruns of the TV series in the mornings with my dad when he didn't have to be at class or at one of his jobs. We'd stretch out on the floor together and watch the antics together.

Jones was never my favorite Monkee (when I was a kid, I thought Micky was cool; these days, Mike is my favorite). But I always liked how he seemed to be having a laugh all the time. He just seemed so good natured and fun. I can remember seeing the "Daydream Believer" video, it was an instant pleaser. The chorus is so simple, a kid could sing along easily. And Jones' vocals always had such a pleasant, warm and upbeat vibe to them. He was a natural charmer, but in the best possible way ... he wanted you to enjoy the show.

Jones sometimes was willing to "just do the job." When The Monkees were having their creative struggles during and after the making of their second album (the tremendously successful "More of The Monkees"), Jones still sang on some cuts selected by Don Kirshner, the executive responsible for corralling material for the group to sing on (the guy charged with finding surefire hits), even though the group (and their parent company) weren't OK with it. Some of the material, like the original version of "She Hangs Out," was pretty good ... but it wasn't what the group wanted to do. It sure didn't represent who they wanted to be. But Jones was earning his paycheck. There may have been hope that The Monkees would have longevity, but there was certrainly no guarantee of it. So he did what an entertainer does: he entertained. He sang when he was told to sing.

That didn't make him naive or oblivious. He believed in the band concept: contributing instrumentally when he could, singing backup vocals or lead vocals regularly, and even writing and co-writing songs for The Monkees. Many of his songs were realistic, sometimes verging on cynical. Songs he helped write, like "Changes" and "You and I," reflected on fleeting fame and the flavor-of-the-month quality of celebrity. He had no problems singing about groupies in "Star Collector" or scolding misled young women in "Cuddly Toy."

The Monkees were never The Beatles, or The Beach Boys, or Bob Dylan, or even The Byrds. But they didn't have to be. They were great for what they were (and make no mistake, the guys knew exactly WHAT they were and what they WEREN'T). Too many people dismiss them. Too many cling to the "they didn't play their own instruments" thing (which wasn't accurate, anyway), or consider The Monkees just singers on other people's songs (all the group members wrote original material for the group).

The plain truth is this: The Monkees were a bunch of young actors or musicians (or both) who were looking for a break, they got cast in a TV series to ride the wave of youth entertainment a la The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," they sang other people's songs ... and they sang their own songs. And eventually they wrested control of their output, played on their own materials, produced songs, compiled some classic albums that featured original songs and performances of other people's materials. Their popularity peaked, the group started to rely on outside producers, songwriters and musicians again, members quit and the group disbanded (to reunite in different configurations in the Eighties, Nineties, etc.).

The Monkees were a lot of things, to a lot of people. All the members were talented and charismatic. They all worked hard. They all hard their faults, but they brought a lot of strengths to the group. Their different backgrounds, different interests and different tastes in music provided a rich melting pot for the material the group would create.

Jones wasn't always held in the highest regards when it came to playing an instrument, and his songwriting rarely earned the praise that Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz (and Peter Tork, sometimes) received, but he brought ENTERTAINMENT to the stage. He'd egg on the other guys. He'd put his very being into bringing joy to the audience. He sang his heart out and he tried, on every song and on every tour, to help people enjoy themselves.

Who could ask for a better legacy?

Rest in peace, Davy Jones. Your voice will live on in your recordings, and your fans will remember you. I know many share my appreciation for your talent, your work and your tireless efforts to put on a good show. Thank, you sir.

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