12 March 2012

Davy Jones, Rocker

After Davy Jones’s unexpected death on 29 February, a lot of commenters responded by citing or quoting the Monkees’ biggest chart hits—most of which he didn’t sing lead on. Micky Dolenz was the band’s most successful singer, with the best pop voice.

But Davy Jones was crucial to the band as an entertainment entity. Without him, there would have been no Monkees. There might have been a similar television show, but the combination of those performers and their personalities wouldn’t have gelled successfully.

First of all, Jones was cute. So cute he could put over a song like Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy,” which has some of the most heartlessly caddish lyrics in pop:
You’re not the kind of girl to tell your mother
The kind of company you keep.
I never told you that I loved no other—
You must have dreamed it in your sleep.

You’re not the only cherry delight
That was left in the night
And gave up without a fight!
You’re not the only cuddly toy
That was ever enjoyed
By any boy.
Watch the video of that song, and you’ll see that Jones was at heart an English music-hall song-and-dance man. And at the height of the British Invasion, being English was another of his assets.

Jones was already under contract with Screen Gems when the Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider started to develop the sitcom. His manager, Ward Sylvester, was part of the search for other cast members. The show could easily have been built around Jones with the rest of the group treated as his backup band: Davy and the Three Tall Guys! Indeed, his character’s penchant for falling in love drove the plot of the pilot.

But Rafelson and Schneider had a different vision, inspired by the Beatles. They wanted four distinct, interesting personalities. They cast four talented young men. And, crucially, Jones threw himself behind that decision.

In his self-published autobiography They Made a Monkee Out of Me! [doesn’t everyone have a copy?], Jones described an awkward lunch with the other three Monkees early in their training, and how (after bursting out with criticism at Dolenz’s table manners) he broke the ice by gobbling up his salad. If he’d played the aloof Broadway star or the solo teen idol, I doubt the group would have found the chemistry to make their show so entertaining, much less to try to break out of its constraints.

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