Sad news broke on Wednesday as we learned that Davy Jones, one of the singers in the made-for-TV band The Monkees, has passed away at the age of 66. Jones, who was known for his small stature, will always be remembered for his part in the band that was supposed to be television’s answer to The Beatles and other bands of the era. Davy was the lead singer on classic songs like “Daydream Believer” and “I Wanna Be Free.”
Jones’ passing brings up an interesting discussion about Davy Jones and The Monkees. What kind of legacy does he leave behind as part of a band that by and large was meant as a show piece for songs that were not written by anyone within the actual group? Can anyone really draw a comparison therefore between the passing of a Beatle or Rolling Stone member and that of Jones, or any of the remaining three Monkees?
It might be really easy to disregard The Monkees’ place in history, but I caution against it. The fact is that while maybe Davy, Peter, Mickey, and Mike didn’t actually write “Last Train to Clarksville,” it still was a massively big hit, and they did actually sing on their records, even if they didn’t play the instruments. The fact is that they still had a major impact on the culture of the time. After all, they were a big enough sensation that Jack Nicholson himself agreed to work with the band to write their movie, “Head.”
Then one has to take into account the brilliant songwriters that as mentioned previously penned many of the big hits the band released. Names like Neil Diamond and Carol King are attached to The Monkees for a reason. So if one can find it in their hearts to dismiss the band members, you can’t dismiss the talent of the folks that producer and band creator Don Kirshner brought in to give them material to work with.
So what about the comparisons to other “fake” bands like Milli Vanilli, for instance. Why has society as a whole managed to gloss over the fact that The Monkees weren’t really a band in the real sense of the word, while Milli Vanilli was cast out of the music business at the speed of sound? The first obvious reason is that again, the band members did actually sing on their records, so there’s some level of authenticity already in the songs themselves.
Thee’s something, deeper, I think though. The time at which The Monkees came about was a much more naive and less cynical time in our country’s history. So they were propped up with a showbiz magic, thought the populace, they still performed very catchy songs, and they still were likable characters. Other musical frauds that have come since The Monkees couldn’t benefit from that collective naivete, and were dissected under much more harsh scrutiny.
Ultimately the legacy that Davy and his fellow Monkees will leave behind is one of a fun group of guys that got together and lent their voices to some really great early rock and roll songs. They’ll probably never be put on the pedestal as the bigger names of the decade. That doesn’t mean though, they’re not a group worthy of being mentioned in the same discussion, just perhaps not the same sentence or paragraph.