Davy Jones Obituary 1945-2012
We’ve lost an awful lot of leading lights since I started writing Alan’s Album Archives and now, just 20 issues on from Bert Jansch, there’s another glittering star shining brightly in the sky, because Davy Jones, the youngest of the Monkees, has died of a heart attack in the early hours of February 29th. To the outside world it might seem strange that there’s been so much fuss over an actor/musician who came from a ‘manufactured band’ and who last had a substantial hit over 40 years ago, with his TV appearances since then few and far between too. But to us fans Davy’s loss is monumental because all of us thought we knew him well – even those like me who never actually met him –with each new generation given the chance to fall in love with The Monkees via repeats of the episodes played all over the world. The thought that there are only three Monkees left in the world from that magical place in our childhood is an awful realisation, like the death of Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.
Generous to his fans, with a twinkling mischievous smile, self-deprecating wit, a unique spirited ‘Davy’ dance and the perfect mix of a musical and acting background needed for the world’s first multimedia experiment, Davy was one of the most natural stars of the 1960s, flamboyant but down-to-earth and seemingly more ‘at home’ with the often wayward world of celebrity than other teenage heroes of the day. How thrilled the creators of The Monkees must have been when a real life star walked into their office to audition for the part of a teenage Beatles-wannabe. You only need to watch the audition tapes of Davy (as featured at the end of the pilot episode of the TV series and now found complete on Youtube) to realise how much of a star Davy was even before he was in the band/TV series that shaped the rest of his life. Millions upon millions of fans, especially the teenage girls it has to be said, were more thrilled still when the TV series made it to the airwaves and turned Davy into perhaps the teen idol of the 1960s (back in the pre-Justin Bieber days when being a teen idol was still a good thing to aspire to). Despite being hired primarily as an actor playing the part of a musician, Davy also got the hang of the whole singing and writing thing pretty well too, creating some of the greatest of all Monkees songs on their later albums and singing lead on two of the band’s biggest hits ‘Daydream Believer’ and ‘Valleri’. Even if the years after the band’s break-up in 1970 were fairly quiet, Davy had experienced more in those four years than most stars do in a lifetime and yet still came out of it the same grinning, exuberant, enthusiastic star who went into it. Davy was everything you could ask of a star and filled his role with good grace, leaving the music and acting world now with a hole an awful lot bigger than the 5”3 frame Davy filled on Earth.
Even without the Monkees parts in it, the Davy Jones story is still a fascinating one, a real rags-to-riches tale of a teenager from Openshaw, Manchester, born into comparative poverty who overcame everything to become a star. Born on 30th December 1945 – three years to the day after fellow Monkee Mike Nesmith – Davy spent most of his childhood caught between the pull of the showbiz lights and the excitement of the horse-races that his dad Harry took him to. Davy’s first ever stage appearance was at his school Christmas play (as a ‘spear-holder’), with acting the highlight of an education he claimed not to enjoy and Davy quickly worked his way up to more prestigious parts, clearly relishing his time in the spot-light. At the same time he had very serious dreams about becoming a jockey, spending most of his ‘family time’ with his dad at local race-tracks and submersing himself in the world of racing. Davy was still idly chasing both dreams when his mother Doris passed away of emphysema, a lung disease, when Davy was just 14, after a long protracted illness – incidentally, the same age as the 1960s’ other heart-throb, Paul McCartney, when he lost his mother. Perhaps realising that life was too short to spend doing something he didn’t want to do, Davy successfully managed to convince his dad to leave his school-days behind him and, too shy to push for a showbiz career just yet, sent off to become an apprentice jockey at Newmarket Racetrack (after an advert was posted in the Manchester Evening Post).
Davy did well, with his 5”3 height a great asset to him and those who were there in his early days remember being impressed with the sheer effort Davy put into not only riding the horses but all the extra work involved such as mucking out stables and grooming the ponies. However Davy quickly fell foul of his trainer by absent-mindedly singing pop songs round the stables and scaring the horses! Impressed by his singing – and a series of impromptu concerts Davy had starred in at the local town hall - Davy’s close friend at the stables Basil Foster managed to convince an agent friend of his into having a look at the lad in action. The agent was impressed with what he saw, promptly added him to his list of clients and Davy apparently knew nothing about it until Foster gave him a lift back to his lodgings and passed on the good news. Davy spent the rest of the journey cracking jokes about being a ‘jockeying actor’ and thought little would come of it – but it did. Davy soon got the part of a ‘juvenile delinquent’ for a now-forgotten radio play called ‘There Is A Land’, still only aged 15, which led to an appearance on the TV show ‘Z Cars’. After that he secured Manchester’s equivalent of the big time: playing the part of Colin Lomax, Ena Sharples’ grandson on Coronation Street! Davy didn’t last on the programme very long – only half a dozen or so appearances – but his profile was clearly on the rise, which led to a touring production of ‘Peter Pan’ signing him up to play the part of Michael, the brother of Wendy in J. M. Barrie’s play.
As luck would have it, Wendy was played in that production by Jane Asher (later the fiancé of Paul McCartney) and it was she who encouraged Davy to put his name forward when the creators of Lionel Bart’s musical ‘Oliver!’, based on the Dickens novel Oliver Twist, were in urgent need of a teenager to play the ‘Artful Dodger’. Davy passed the audition and the show became one of the big successes of the day, later ending up on Broadway - Davy even secured a Tony award nomination for his role. Jones, now aged 18, was clearly already set to be something of a star even if The Monkees hadn’t come along – until another quirk of fate came into his life. Davy had agreed to sign up as part of ‘Oliver!’ when it went touring round the States and by chance the travelling troupe ended up performing on the very same Ed Sullivan Show as The Beatles’ first American appearance – the very same edition that still holds the record today for having the biggest teenage audience of any programme.
Although he’d sung in ‘Oliver!’ and enjoyed his records, Davy had never before considered music as a career choice, seeing himself as more of an actor. But watching the screaming girls fall over themselves to get to The Beatles made him think about making records of his own and, while touring with a follow-up production of ‘The Pickwick Papers’, took time out to record the ‘Davy Jones’ record for Colpix. A curious mix of novelty English pop (‘Any Old Iron’ and ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’ – back in the days when Americans assumed every Brit was a cockney rather than a Merseybeater) and some actually pretty good contemporary power ballads, ‘Davy Jones’ was a respectable seller for an unknown, scoring at the bottom end of the charts (which is, actually, more than the last Monkees record managed to achieve in 1970!) The slight success of the record even led to the first ever Monkees fanclub dedicated just to Davy. Jones himself later referred to the record as ‘garbage’, but for an untested 19-year-old in his first professional recordings made in a foreign land (Davy had been in America just months when he made it), it’s actually pretty darn impressive, with Davy already confident with his vocals and developing a style that was all his own. (You can see the sleeve for this record in the ‘Monkees At The Movies’ episode of the TV series’ first season, when the Monkees are trying to groom Davy as the latest beach movie star). However, in retrospect the greatest move that Davy made in this period was to sign with Columbia Pictures, who continued to groom Davy for stardom in a number of B-movie films, a guest part in the series ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’ (in which he sings Boyce and Hart song ‘I’m Gonna Buy Me A Dog’, soon to be recorded by Davy in The Monkees, oddly enough) and own the rights to his music releases. One television idea written around Davy that sadly never happened is a series about a policeman who is the only person in the world who can see a leprechaun, a format loosely based on the successful (and often Monkees-related) show ‘Bewitched’ with its witches and warlocks in a ‘mortal’ setting. When that project fell apart, some considerable time into the planning stage, Davy was offered ‘The Monkees’ as a sort of compensation for taking up so much of his time.
It wasn’t till the 1990s that Davy revealed that, contrary to the usual story about how The Monkees met, he’d never actually auditioned for the TV series. Instead, as one of Columbia’s up and coming stars, he was an obvious choice for the pencilled-in sketchy idea for a TV show Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had come up with to mop up the ‘mop tops’ Beatle craze sweeping the nation and with his acting and musical background was an obvious choice to play the part of a musician (even though, uniquely among The Monkees, he never learnt how to play an instrument). At this point, in mid 1966, Davy is very much signing up to play the part of a musician and only later gets involved in the music side of things – despite being, along with Mike Nesmith, the only Monkee to have any professional recording experience. Apparently Davy was even present at the audition dates for Mike and Peter Tork, with Rafelson and Schneider looking for his input over the other members to cast, and only really started auditioning with the others when the lengthy auditioning process had gone down from around 2000 applicants to the final eight.
That might account for why, at first, relations between the four men weren’t too strong. One story that’s gone down into folklore is an early pre-filming day when the four Monkees-to-be were left together to have a meal. More used to fame than his colleagues (barring Micky Dolenz, who’d been a child star in ‘Circus Boy’) and still full of his working class British upbringing, Davy is meant to have fumed ‘you three all eat like pigs!’, causing a huge in-take of breath from everyone around the table, waiting for an explosion that would see him or them fired. Realising that he had gone too far and trying to defuse the situation, Davy picked up a salad bowl and then started oinking like a pig, something that set all three fellow Monkees laughing and was said by all four men to be what broke the ice between them all. In the end The Monkees did became close, despite what you may have read in the press, finding much in common despite coming from four very different backgrounds, with Davy even sharing a house with Micky before money from the band came through (similarly Peter Tork spent his first few weeks on the project sleeping on local lad Mike Nesmith’s couch!) Another food-related tale says everything you need to know about Davy’s upbringing. For most of Davy’s childhood his family had been unable to buy anything more than a staple diet so when Davy became ‘big’ in his own right – during the early days of ‘Oliver!’ – he made up for lost time by ordering steak for every single meal for a time, including breakfast!
The Monkees’ story itself wasn’t all plain sailing, however. An early edit of the TV Pilot had been shown to an invited audience who simply didn’t understand the series at all, complaining that there were too many camera-cuts (The Monkees series has almost as many as current times and at least three times more than the average 1960s TV show) and not enough, well, Monkees. Rafelson and Schneider were so angered by the reception that they actually hid the results from their superiors, afraid that the show would be prevented from making it to the air without a chance to prove itself. Instead, it became a big hit with youngsters practically everywhere. Like the other three, Davy’s character was a struggling wannabe musician, one who loved The Beatles and wanted a piece of their fame, a condition experienced by so many youngsters of the day that The Monkees TV show was all but guaranteed some form of success. Davy ends up taking the lead role in a majority of the early episodes, suggesting perhaps that the producers trusted Davy’s background more than the other three and the writers quickly came up with the on-screen personality of ‘Davy’ as a fun-loving girl-chasing romantic lovesick teenager. One notable aspect of ‘Davy’s character as portrayed in the TV show was his conscience, with his guilt over getting his latest conquest into trouble over flunking her exams, his shame over his hand-to-mouth existence when his dad pays him a visit and his concern for a princess who nearly drowns in the sea outside The Monkees’ beach home just a few examples of the early episodes. Basically Davy was a kind, groovy teenage heart-throb, one with his own unique ‘Monkee’ dance and who was clearly ‘now’ with his long-hair and Englishness (very in fashion in America in The Monkees years) but a straightforward personality that mothers and grandmothers could love alongside their teenage daughters. As Micky later put it, The Monkees helped put ‘long haired youths’ onto television for the first time in a positive setting, something that’s often under-estimated by modern reviewers. Whilst Davy was never the ‘lead singer’ as the obituaries in this week’s papers put it (the whole point of The Monkees was that it was a democracy), Davy nevertheless played an important part as the ‘heart-throb’ of the band, both on screen and on record. However it was never explained in the series how a kid from Manchester ended up living in America (or why the other three Monkees came from different states for that matter!)
Remember the Monkees episode where Davy’s dad comes to see him and Davy, unwilling to break his heart over what a mess he’s made of his life, gets the other Monkees to pretend that he’s really a big star? In actual fact, the truth was pretty much the opposite to that. One of the most requested clips from The Monkees’ interviews (often included on the end of under-running episodes) is Davy’s tale of when he went back to Manchester at Christmas 1966 acting like a big star – and his dad wouldn’t let him in the house until he’s had a haircut. The first wasn’t short enough for Jones senior so Davy was sent round to the barbers to get another one! Davy always ended the story by adding ‘...so I bought him a house and now he can’t kick me out, however long I grow my hair!’ In actual fact Davy had ‘bought’ his dad a house at the earliest opportunity because his dad Harry was growing steadily more ill in this early Monkees period and had been forced to leave his job. This must have been all the more difficult for his son, still only 20 when The Monkees TV series first aired and an ocean away from his family, to cope with. Harry Jones eventually passed away sometime during The Monkees years (none of the reference books I have say quite when), leaving Davy an orphan in his early 20s and having to deal with that fact a whole ocean apart from most of his relatives, something Davy coped with stoically and never admitted to while The Monkees were still a unit.
Davy threw himself into his work and it was just as well he did because there was an awful lot of work to do. As well as his ‘role’ in the series, almost by default Davy found himself becoming the band’s second-lead singer. It had been decided early on that as the TV series was about a bunch of wannabe musicians they should make music a key part of the show’s appeal. Whilst Nesmith and Tork were the band’s natural musicians, Colgems (the record-subsidiary of Columbia Pictures) felt that Davy’s suddenly in-fashion ‘English’ vocals were more suitable for many of the songs written for the band (mainly by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, then later Neil Diamond, Carole King, Leiber and Stoller and many more) and, alongside Dolenz, Jones ended up spending many a long day in the recording studio alongside his work on the film-set. As we’ve said before on this site, The Monkees’ work-rate between 1966 and 1968 was staggering: music for five albums, several singles and all 58 episodes of their TV show in an 18 month period – other musicians may have moaned about the band not ‘paying their dues’ going to gigs in dirty transit vans, but The Monkees truly were worked to the bone in this period. And all that meant that Davy Jones, groomed from the beginning as the heart-throb of the band, was suddenly everywhere, on the radio, on the TV and in the press.
However, the wheels began to fall off the Monkees’ travelling circus almost before it began. When Mike Nesmith admitted to a reporter that the band didn’t always play on their records (but wanted to) the repercussions were immense, with several (mainly jealous and struggling) bands who didn’t get the point about The Monkees being first and foremost a television project doing everything they could to attack the band. Of The Monkees themselves, both Nesmith and Tork had been growing tired of having no input into ‘their’ band (infamously the four of them actually had to buy a copy of second album ‘More Of The Monkees’ to find out what was on it, because no record company official had bothered to consult them) and over time Dolenz too was beginning to agree with their point of view. Eventually even Monkees creators Bob and Bert agreed the Monkees should have their chance in the studio. But Davy, still thinking of himself as a hired actor first and musician second, was reluctant to jump ship when the band were proving to be such a success (he was, after all, trying to pay for the upkeep of his poorly dad). This resulted in one of the strangest moments in early Monkee history when the band’s ‘musical producer’ Don Kirshner recorded a series of sessions with just Davy’s involvement, eventually releasing Davy’s first vocal on a single on a cover of Neil Diamond’s ‘A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’. The single was released under the title ‘My Favourite Monkee – Davy Jones Sings!’, which tells you everything you need to know about how Davy, the youngest of the band, was being groomed for stardom. Aghast at having their ideas ignored Bert and Bob fired Kirshner from his role as ‘musical executive’ and gave the band their chance to break free, recording ‘Headquarters’ between the four of them (plus producer Chip Douglas – of The Turtles – an occasional guest bassist and a violin section) and started to cut the ties of their old way of life. It says much about Davy’s easy-going side that far from being ousted or distanced by the others he became a key part of the resulting album sessions, recording some of his best vocals for the album and making the most of the new-found freedom by recording in his more natural baritone voice (not a ‘tenor’ part as most of the early Monkees sessions had made him). He also played a pretty mean tambourine, adding a much needed regular rhythm to a still-learning band (Micky, especially, had only had about half a dozen drumming lessons before making the record and the band’s arrangements often used Davy’s percussion in this period as the main rhythm section, something he coped with admirably). Davy was also an enthusiastic part of The Monkees’ touring show, performing ‘I Wanna Be Free’ ‘I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind’ and ‘Forget That Girl’ to a whole sea of crowds all chanting ‘Davy! Davy! Davy!’ at him. The band even hired the then-unknown Jimi Hendrix Experience as an opening act – the future guitar star spent most of his first tour in his own act playing to the same seas of crowds chanting ‘Davy! Davy! Davy!’
For the moment Davy was safe, willing to go along with the band’s new ideas even whilst he didn’t want to bite the hand that fed him, but another incident in July 1967 nearly spelled the end even more dramatically. Despite being a British citizen, Davy was deemed to be ‘American’ by virtue of living in the country to work – and so was unlucky enough to be eligible for the dreaded draft during the middle years of the Vietnam war. The news that Davy was now in uniform was even reported as fact in many teen magazines of the day and the show producers even went as far as talking to Mickey Rooney’s son about becoming Davy’s replacement, but in the end it was pleaded to the draft board that Harry Jones’ medical condition meant he was relying on his son for income. Back in 1967 it was a written rule that such circumstances for Americans would automatically be exempt from the draft – but Davy’s circumstances were unusual in that his family still lived in England and Davy was still paying for his father’s upkeep by wiring funds out to Manchester, instead of keeping them within the country. The situation was a delicate one that took lots of negotiation to resolve and was a worrying time for Davy and the band, even if much of it was kept out of the press at the time.
Instead The Monkees trundled on, although the response to ‘Headquarters’ was surprisingly lukewarm, with an open field day declared on The Monkees despite their resolve to play on all their material. As a result the band’s second TV series slipped slowly down the ratings, with the band clearly showing the strain of 18 months of ridiculously hard work and many complaints from the four Monkees over the recycled scripts passed over for the first series. Many of the Monkees got involved with the backstage craft of the series (Micky and peter directed an episode each and Micky wrote the final episode ‘The Frodis Caper’), but Davy was content just to be an actor. However away from the series he got more and more involved in both recording and promotion during this period, with Davy even commissioning the distinctive ‘silhouette’ cover for fourth album ‘Pisces Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd’ from a friend. He also discovered and co-produced a Texas band called ‘The Children’, who made it all the way to #2 in the Billboard charts with their single ‘Picture Me’, although sadly it ended up becoming the only hit the group ever had. Ever busy, Davy also started two boutique businesses in the tail end of the 1960s, including ‘Zilch’ (named after a Monkee song – well, Monkee spoken gibberish – from the ‘Headquarters’ album) and ‘The Street’. For both of these ventures Davy worked with his friend and own stand-in from the TV series David Pearl, although sadly Davy was forced to cancel both ventures after a few years when it turned out Pearl had been ‘mismanaging funds’ (Davy won a resulting court-case looking into the affair).
Perhaps most importantly, Davy also got involved in writing his own songs, co-writing his first piece with Monkees roadie Charlie Rockett and session musician Kim Capaldi, creating ‘Hard To Believe’ for the ‘Pisces, Aquarius’ album – again, note Davy’s willingness to work with people from the show despite his supposedly ‘lofty’ status as a ‘star’. Soon after, Davy writing regularly with a songwriter named Steve Pitts, creating lots of loved songs including many on our ‘top ten’ list below and some of the Monkees’ bravest material such as the anti-Vietnam ‘War Games’ (sadly not released till the 1980s). In fact I’d go so far as to say that Davy was the band’s most consistent writer, creating several classy (if too often forgotten) songs on four of the band’s nine albums, unlike the up-and-down careers of Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork. More of a fan of lyrics, Davy tended to write the words to a set of chord changes Pitts came up with before the pair of them would work on a melody-line. Davy then went on to work with Monkees auditionee Bill Chadwick, writing a last flurry of songs that remain among The Monkees’ best material. Perhaps the most interesting collaborations, however, were never released, when Davy collaborated with up-and-coming musicals writer Charlie Smalls (later co-creator of ‘The Wiz’, the African-American version re-working of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’). The pair wrote lots of songs together and apparently recorded a few of them for The Monkees (sadly still not released) – a snippet of the pair singing ‘A Girl Named Love’ in one of the final episodes of the TV series is all that’s been issued to date. Davy continued to write songs on his own after The Monkees’ breakup, adding his own compositions to both of The Monkees’ reunion albums ‘Pool It! (1986) and ‘Just Us’ (1997), as well as a small handful of solo albums. Around this time, in early 1968, Davy also sang lead on two of the better known Monkees singles, ‘Daydream Believer’ (a song by John Stewart) which became the band’s last number one single and ‘Valleri’, a Boyce and Hart song with an odd history (Radio DJs, starved of Monkees music, began taping the soundtrack of the Monkees’ TV series where a 1967 recording of ‘Valleri’ became their most requested song – alas a Monkees agreement that only songs recorded or produced by them should be released meant that the band had to record a second version for release as a single the following year).
With The Monkees a dying brand the band discovered that they were still contracted to appear in a film, commissioned at the peak of Monkeemania. Creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, realising that anything they released would probably flop anyway, decided to drop their ideas of expanding a TV episode and make ‘Head’, a surreal boundary-breaking film that sought to end their involvement in The Monkees’ story (following its release the pair back out of the Monkees to work with a then-unknown Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote the ‘Head’ screenplay). Perhaps surprisingly, all four Monkees were enthusiastic supporters of a film that has very little in connection with the band’s TV show or indeed any other film ever made. A tirade against show-business falseness, breaking the ‘third-wall’ by showing how a film is produced, channel-hopping between genres every few minutes and most controversially including the first ever footage of a real death on screen (a Vietnamese soldier being executed, shown in between Looney Tunes cartoons and dandruff adverts as an ‘outcry’ against how life is treated in the then-modern world), ‘Head’ is the pinnacle of The Monkees’ story, a glorious mind-expanding film that was guaranteed to lose money at the box office (the fact that promotions made no reference to The Monkees or that Head was even a film only exacerbated the fact). Davy only gets to sing one song on the soundtrack (‘Daddy’s Song, a Harry Nilsson number) but he’s a key figure in the film, getting to box with heavyweight champion Sonny Liston (and Davy really does appear to get hurt, unlike a similar episode in the TV series), finding himself locked in a box where everything plays in monochrome (Davy’s best dance sequence) and finding himself trapped in a giant vacuum cleaner.
Against all odds The Monkees kept going, lasting for one more TV special as a foursome (’33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee’, another brave idea ruined by a TV strike, poor sound and a less sympathetic script) before Peter Tork left. The Monkees were clearly a dying species, but that didn’t prevent Davy from making some of his best recordings with the group, from the fiery ‘You and I’ (complete with Neil Young guitar solo) to the timeless ‘Time and Time Again’) on the next two albums ‘Instant Replay’ and ‘The Monkees Present’. Finally Mike Nesmith left the band and Micky and Davy recorded one last LP ‘Changes’ under the Monkees name and a further single under their own names before calling it a day.
Davy also got married secretly to first wife Linda Haines in this period, during a secret ceremony in 1968, almost at the same time that Micky got married to Top Of The Pops presenter Samantha Juste. The pair also had children at a similar time, with Davy’s first daughter Talia Elizabeth born in October 1968, making Davy a dad at the age of just 23. Three other daughters followed, Sarah Lee in 1971, Jessica Lillian in 1981 and Annabel Charlotte in 1988 and two other marriages, the most recent being to television presenter Jessica Pacheco in 2009. Davy managed to keep his first marriage secret until late 1969 when a news reporter broke the story and helped to end the series by putting off so many of Davy’s loyal fans. Despite The Monkees being pretty un-news worthy by 1969, shots of heart-stricken fans waving banners saying ‘Davy, you should have told us!’ still managed to make front-page headlines.
Davy said later that the biggest regret of his career was trying to continue as a musician and an actor in the two markets that had been so tarnished by The Monkees’ name and that he wished he’d gone back to horse-racing straight away, still very much a hobby for him at the time. But if so that would have robbed us of some of Davy’s best music, especially his first solo single ‘Rainy Jane’ in 1971, now seen as something of a pop classic. Another five singles followed in the early 70s, including ‘Girl’ , a track that won Davy many new fans when he sang it on an episode of ‘The Brady Show Bunch’. Davy’s cameo was so successful that this led to a whole new line of work in children’s shows, with Davy appearing in ‘The Brady Show Movie’ , doing voice-overs for ‘The Scooby Doo Show’, appearing in two episodes of ‘Here Comes The Brides’ and in more recent times ‘Sabrina The Teenage Witch’ ‘Hey Arnold’ and even ‘The Spongebob Squarepants Movie’ (where, in a very Monkees-style pun, he plays ‘Davy Jones’, who has a locker at the bottom of the sea).
Meanwhile Davy had never quite left the Monkees behind. Along with Micky and the Monkees’ original songwriters he toured as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart for a while in the mid-70s, recording a somewhat patchy album (although psychedelic single ‘Moonshine’ is as good as any Monkees recording) and undergoing a couple of very successful tours (especially in Japan where the band were as big as they ever were). However the reunion didn’t last, with the four going their separate ways soon after. Perhaps Davy’s most lasting achievement in this period was in returning to the stage, again with a Monkees connection when Davy appeared alongside Micky Dolenz in regular Monkee songwriter Harry Nilsson’s musical ‘The Point’ in 1978. Now sadly forgotten, the play-musical was a big hit at the time and inspired a slight return of interest in the Monkees. The play/musical ran in London’s West End for a long time, with Davy playing the ‘good’ and Micky the ‘bad’ inhabitants of a world of exotic creatures who are all born with ‘points’ at the top of their heads (except for Davy, who doesn’t have one and is therefore ‘pointless’). The success meant Davy moved back to England properly for the first time in 15 years and he alternated between a base in Manchester and Philadelphia, America for the rest of his life. Micky moved to England too and the pair socialised more than they ever had in The Monkees days (with their children becoming great friends), although sadly a falling out towards the end of the show’s run put paid to any Monkees reunions for the time being and meant the two former best friends didn’t speak to each other for some years.
However the 1980s saw an even bigger resurgence in the Monkees’ reputation and fortunes. The TV series was a natural choice to be repeated for the new MTV channel (ironically the successor to an idea Monkee Mike Nesmith had taken to the makers of the cable network channels) and at the same time record label Rhino bought up the rights to The Monkees’ discography and produced the first compact discs of their albums. The well presented re-issue series (which saw all four Monkees interviewed for fascinating sleeve-notes and the record vaults at Columbia searched for dozens of unreleased songs and alternate takes) saw all nine original Monkees albums making the charts again, including those, like ‘Changes’, which hadn’t sold enough copies to make the charts the first time round. There was even an album of much-anticipated outtakes cleverly titled ‘Missing Links’ (with two further volumes following in the 1990s). The time was clearly right for a Monkees reunion and, after sitting out the 1983 reunion (credited to Micky and Peter), Davy was on-board for the 1986 record ‘Pool It’ and the 1987 tour which became the biggest grossing of all that year, outselling Madonna and Bruce Springsteen. However a falling-out with MTV meant promotion for the album was less than hoped and The Monkees disbanded again before re-uniting properly in 1997, teaming up with Mike Nesmith for the first time in 28 years to produce a TV special and ‘Just Us’, the first album to feature the band playing their own instruments since ‘Headquarters’ 30 years earlier. A further tour (without Nesmith) followed in 2002 and the three had just finished a final tour in the Summer of 2011, receiving ‘probably the best reviews of our career’ as Micky remembered in obituaries this week. Davy was working to the end too and was partway through a solo American tour at the time of his death (with his last ever show taking place on Sunday, February 19th at Thackerville, Oklahoma, according to his official website Davy Jones Dot Net).
However Davy’s happiest moment in what turned out to be his final years were arguably all connected with his love of horse racing. Among his purchases after The Monkees ended was ‘Grenville Hall’, an old mansion with its own stable located near Portsmouth and as well as owning his own race-horses began to compete against ‘professional amateurs’ in local races. His biggest moment came in February 1996 when Davy rode the horse ‘Digpast’ (actually owned by his daughter Sarah, another big equestrian fanatic) to victory in the Ontario Amateur Riders’ Handicap, winning by two and a half yards. Some 35 years after leaving horse-racing behind, Davy had finally achieved his dream of riding a winner. He remembered that moment as one of his ‘proudest’ in one of the last interviews he gave earlier this month, fittingly not to a national paper or a Hollywood rag but to a Newmarket newspaper covering the patch where Davy had started his career all those years before. Typically, too, the story was not about Davy being a star but Davy’s kind heart and how he was helping pay for the care of Basil Foster, the very same man who’d signed Davy up against his knowledge to become a ‘star’ and believed in him long before anyone else, now that he had returned ‘home’ after years living as a guest on one of Davy’s American farms (Davy had also named one of his race-horses after his mentor). The fact that Davy’s last media coverage in his lifetime was about his well known generosity makes perfect sense to fans who saw their idol patiently hand out autographs and help out at charitable events tirelessly, long past his period in the spotlight.
The Monkees story, meanwhile, continues onward. At the beginning of the year Davy came top in a poll of the ‘greatest ever teen idols’ (two previous polls had also put him firmly in the top 10). Only last week Davy was seen (alongside Micky) talking about his old group for the BBC documentary ‘I’m In A Boy Band’ (the second part of which, ‘I’m In A Girl Band’ is broadcast this week), remembering his role as a teenage idol with a big smile and some typically witty anecdotes. As we write there’s also a Monkees musical, named ‘Monkee Business’ and loosely on the Monkees’ TV series, due to premiere in the UK at the end of this year. Fittingly for Monkees fans, its first performance will be in Manchester, Davy’s home town. Certainly the Monkees’ music and the TV show will live on long after his death, discovered afresh by each new generation every time that ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ ‘I’m A Believer’ and ‘Daydream Believer’ are heard on the radio as well as every time the Monkees’ series is repeated (once every generation or so).
In the few days since Davy’s death all of his fellow Monkees have paid their own lovely tributes, Peter Tork bidding ‘farewell to my fellow adventurer, the Manchester Cowboy’, Mike Nesmith adding a long speech about how Davy’s soul is still among us and Micky Dolenz somehow managing to get to the end of an emotional interview on Piers Morgan’s chat show where he called Davy ‘my brother’ and revealing that he had his own premonition that one of the four was poorly, after complaining to his wife about ‘one of the worst night’s sleeps I ever had’. But we’ll leave the last word to Davy and two messages to his fans written on his official website in May 2010 and January 2011: “I wrote some time ago that not everyone has dreams and hopes that come true. Mine have. Regrets, yes—if you don’t have them you’re a fool. However, I thank all of you—yeah, you—for your support and love. I have high hopes for all of us... I thank all of you, and I hope I can live up to your expectations. I hope I can perform for you all for many years to come.” Sadly those performances are not to be but Davy still leaves behind an impressive body of work on film, TV and record which any star would be glad to have. Davy will be sorely missed by his many thousands of fans and we at Alan’s Album Archives send our heartfelt sympathies to anyone who meant anything to Davy, his family, his friends, his fellow Monkees and – in true Davy Jones style – his fans.
There are many great Davy Jones moments to choose from, so for this tribute we’ve gone for a whole top 10 of Davy’s lead vocals. Many of the songs on this list are Davy’s own, either written or co-written during the band’s run of classic albums – I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Davy’s songwriting elsewhere on this site and invite all curious Monkees fans who only know the ‘hits’ to hear some of his rarer work.
1) Early Morning Blues and Greens (‘Headquarters’ 1967):
For me, Davy’s greatest moment on record - from the Monkees’ third album - wasn’t his choice of song at all. With The Monkees all selecting material for ‘Headquarters’ it was actually Peter Tork who picked up on this lovely Diane Hildebrand song (Peter went out with her for a while a year later) and its much more in line with his own folky style than Davy’s then-usual Vaudeville pop. Davy does this lovely song proud though, singing in his deeper style for pretty much for the first time and showing real sophistication in his vocal, a world away from the teen romance stories of the band’s first two albums (and Davy’s solo work from 1965). In fact, so different was Davy’s sound that many fans weren’t at all sure which Monkee was singing. All The Monkees excel on what is one of the best group recordings the four of them ever made, but it’s Davy’s stark bleak vocal, bemoaning his empty lonely world, that really makes the recording so believable. At first Tork was said to be unhappy that the song had been passed to Davy, rather than himself, to sing – but on hearing the finished product he changed his mind, saying that Davy had ‘surpassed himself’ and that he couldn’t compete.
2) You and I (‘Instant Replay’ 1969):
Davy’s best song remains perhaps the best comment about The Monkees’ declining fortunes. Bill Chadwick wrote the great first verse (‘You and I have seen what time’s done haven’t we? Such a pity what a shame...’) about rising fortunes in general, before taking it to Davy who really identified with the song and extended it to talk about the band’s own experiences (‘In a year or maybe two we’ll be gone and someone new will take our place...’) Among the hardest, rockiest songs in the whole of the Monkees’ catalogue, Davy gives yet another vocal miles removed from his romantic pigeonhole and makes the most of a song whose great riff notches the tension higher and higher with each successive lyric. The icing of the cake comes from a snarling guitar solo played by fellow AAA artist Neil Young, then on one of his many ‘breaks’ from the Buffalo Springfield. After Davy and Bill spent a fruitless day auditioning session musicians who could ‘play like Neil Young’ they decided to get the real musician in after getting in contact with Stephen Stills (Peter Tork’s old room-mate). Neil Young fans rightly regard his passionate outburst in the middle of this song as one of his greatest moments too.
3) Shades Of Gray (‘Headquarters’ 1967):
Another of ‘Headquarter’s first class songs is this Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition, which was another Peter Tork choice for the album (Peter gets to sing his own delightful lead vocal on the song’s second half). Again Davy’s deeper, more resonant tone is the perfect fit for a serious song about growing older and finding the gap between heroes and villains is no longer as clear-cut as it was. Tork and Nesmith rightly won plaudits for their lovely arrangement (the string parts were hummed by Tork and notated by Nesmith) and again the whole band play more tightly than ever before or since. But its Davy’s uncharacteristically deep (in both sense of the words) beginning on ‘When the world and I were young...’ that make the hairs on the back of the neck sit up and reveals how much depth their really was to this supposed teen idol.
4) War Games (‘Missing Links’ 1987):
People forget how daring some of The Monkees’ own songs were. Mike’s ‘Tapioca Tundra’ and ‘Daily Nightly’ are opaque songs about civil unrest and riots whilst Micky’s ‘Mommy and Daddy’ is singlehandedly the most damning song about modern society in my collection (despite a running time of under two minutes!) Sadly fans didn’t get to hear Davy’s own risqué song till 1987, when this lovely slab of anti-war protest finally came out on a rarities set. For some reason ‘War Games’ isn’t that loved by most fans but for me it’s a gem, with Davy’s sarcastic words about war being a ‘spectator sport’ turning into a flag-waving rousing chorus about ‘cries...’ and ‘fear that it’s not over’. If this song had come out on, say ‘The Birds and The Bees’ album in 1968 (for which it was recorded) it would have made quite a stir slap bang in the middle of the Vietnam war at a time when few other groups were brave enough to speak out against it. Davy’s vocal is as great as his song, the right blend of sarcasm, innocence and knowing and the orchestral arrangement (by Davy and Steve Pitts together) is subtle but heart-felt. A real overlooked gem.
5) Time and Time Again (‘Changes’ (Bonus Track) 1970):
The other side of Davy’s songwriting can be heard in this lovely ballad, written by Davy with Bill Chadwick and again sadly missed out of the band’s original recordings (it was recorded during the sessions for ‘Instant Replay’ in 1969 and in the running for last album ‘Changes’ in 1970 till the last minute, before being eventually released by Rhino as a bonus track on the latter CD in the early 1990s). A gloriously breathy, dreamy ballad about girls letting the narrator down again, it sounds like many of Davy’s earlier ‘teen’ songs for the band but better, with an especially glorious middle eight and a nagging circular melody that sounds like it’s been around for years and years. Considering it was recorded during The Monkees’ peak years of orchestration and horn sections, its lovely to hear such a simple song played with such a simple arrangement, with an early synthesiser filling in for most of the orchestra and a mournful horn solo adding a dash of colour in the middle. A delightful song and proof of how good a writer Davy was becoming in the final Monkees days.
6) Daydream Believer (‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’ 1968):
‘Daydream Believer’ seems to be everywhere this week, which is no surprise as it is Davy’s biggest hit with the band that dominated so much of his life. It’s also pretty much the last time (till 1997 anyway) that the four Monkees played together in the same studio (albeit with Eddie Hoh playing drums, not Micky). The opening patter where the rest of the band appear to disagree over which take this is (‘7A!’) is true and a glimpse into the tensions of these final ‘just us’ sessions, but the anger is for the wrong Monkee – it was actually Peter Tork who kept getting things wrong and Davy recorded over his line to add to the ‘put upon, escapism’ feel of the song. However, Davy’s performance in the main song is all fluffy light and rainbows, with a dreamy hazy vocal about daydreams and fantasies with a killer chorus (‘Wake up, sleepy Jean!’) and a perfect video broadcast repeatedly in the band’s second TV series that gave plenty of space for Davy to strut his stuff with his special ‘Davy’ dance and grin his way into the hearts of millions. The song was by John Stewart and wasn’t Davy’s choice at all, but despite all the many cover versions since only Davy has managed to give this pretty song the innocence and cuteness it deserves to make it work.
7) Dream World (‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’ 1968):
This song was Davy’s and one of his first – in fact this was the first song Davy worked on with Steve Pitts and was loosely based on ‘Dream Girl’, Davy’s favourite song from his 1965 pre-Monkees album. Good as that song was, this one improves on it in every way, with a truly exciting rousing orchestral arrangement and a repetitive chorus that finds Davy’s narrator urging his girl to come out of hiding and face real life. Given Davy’s troubles at the time (this was recorded about the time that his father died, with his mother dead nine years earlier) it’s tempting to see this song as Davy speaking about himself, chastising himself for ‘pretending everything’s alright when its not’ – certainly there’s an urgency and despondency about this song that makes it one of Davy’s most heartfelt compositions, pulling at the heart-strings with every sweep of the violin-strings. Unlike pretty much all of Davy’s songs it features a minor key on the verses, traditionally a more melancholic (and autobiographical) way of writing. The song works well as a dramatic opener to ‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’) too,which is probably Davy’s strongest album of all for The Monkees for both vocals and songs.
8) Someday Man (Monkees single, 1969):
More evidence of Davy’s later, mature voice on this lovely song, recorded late on in the Monkees days and one of their last charting singles. It’s low chart placing says more about the band’s low reputation of the day than the song, though, which is a classy Paul Williams piece about believing in success for the future and not letting the pressure of the hustle-bustle of the people around you shake you from your path in life. The middle eight (‘Tomorrow’s a new day baby...anything can happen, anything can happen at all!’) with its sudden yell and its surging, criss-crossing harmony vocals is one of the most thrilling 10 seconds in the whole of The Monkees’ canon. Alas Davy didn’t get much of a chance to continue in this vein after this lovely song (the last two Monkees albums sees him back to recording pop fodder or breathy ballads, many from the vaults and recorded earlier in 1966 or 1967) and that’s a terrible shame because Davy really had a feel for big expressive songs like these.
9) A Man Without A Dream (‘Instant Replay’, 1969):
Like the last song, this was the only other release from the band’s short-lived association with producer Bones Howe, who believed in utilising Davy’s lower baritone voice on more mature songs. This song is in many ways the negative image of ‘Someday Man’, with a man who seems on the surface to have everything still feeling low and empty because he has no ‘dreams’ to achieve. Like the last song, there’s a real see-saw effect between the despondent verses and the optimistic choruses where the narrator finally reveals it’s the loss of the girl who believed in him and pushed him forward that’s left him feeling so low. An unusual song for Davy, it suits him well and gives him a chance to show off more of his vocal range than possibly any other recording he made.
10) Rainy Jane (solo single, 1971):
Our final choice is the pick of Davy’s post-Monkees work, a moody power pop ballad very much in line with the last few Monkees releases from 1970. A moody opening finds Davy complaining that his friend is now a ‘shadow’ of herself after having her heart broken and urging her to go back to enjoying life sometime, like an upbeat version of The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’. The result is very Davy, a feel-good song that tries to take a positive spin on things no matter how bad they are and deservedly made the bottom of the charts (for the one and only time for Davy’s solo work), despite the fact that The Monkees had never been more unfashionable. Alas Davy only recorded another four singles in this period before taking a break until 1978 (and recorded only intermittently thereafter, on such novelty singles as ‘Hey Ra Ra Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse’). But for a time there Davy seemed to have the whole world in front of him again, with a vocal range that was second to none and a feel for a whole range of styles.
And that’s all for now. Strangely enough I was working on a review of ‘The Monkees Present’ when the new of Davy’s death broke – I shall return to it sometime soon but had to spend this week bringing you Davy’s incredible life-story instead. Next week we’ll go back to another AAA band but for now R.I.P Davy and thankyou for all the great music you left us.