IT SEEMS that not a week goes by without the death of a celebrity grabbing the headlines. Of course, some of those headlines are bigger than others.
The recent passing of Whitney Houston garnered so much interest that her funeral was carried live on major news channels. And while the death of Davy Jones on Feb. 29 didn't grab quite as much attention, I was glad to see that it wasn't passed off as a simple footnote. Indeed Jones' death at age 66 was treated as a significant loss to the world of pop culture, and though we all would have liked to have seen him around for another 25 years, I'm glad that in death the ex-Monkee is getting his due.
The Monkees, at least initially, were not an actual band, but in fact put together for a TV show in order to capitalize on the success of The Beatles and films such as "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help." But something quite remarkable happened along the way. The Monkees became a very good band.
The Monkees had albums that topped the charts for months. They had singles that hit No. 1. And they made some terrific pop music. It was the mid-'60s, an incredibly exciting time for rock 'n' roll, and The Monkees were right there in the middle of it.
Yes, we probably all know the story: They used a lot of outside songwriters, and they didn't play most of the instruments on their first few albums. In a time when acts such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were writing their own material and playing their own music, that cost The Monkees some street credibility and critical acceptance. But having professional songwriters write the hits and having polished studio musicians play on the records always has been pretty common in pop.
That's how Elvis Presley did it. He found good songs, he got great players to record them and he sang them. Perhaps by the late '50s, with the arrival of Buddy Holly, and later with the arrival of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, people might have thought that pop music had become an art form strictly for songwriters, but it hasn't quite worked out that way. The charts, even today, are still usually sprinkled with a few pop singers.
The Monkees, however, were more, and while recently listening to some of their old hits, I was reminded of how much I used to like them. "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" is a fabulous pop song. And tunes that I really hadn't heard in years such as "Papa Gene's Blues" – written by Monkee Mike Nesmith – are definitely catchy. And of course there was "Last Train To Clarksville," "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" "I'm A Believer" "Pleasant Valley Sunday" and Jones' signature number, "Daydream Believer." It's all good stuff.
By all accounts, when The Monkees toured – and played their own instruments – they did just fine. And when they were able to get more creative control of their recordings, write their own material and play on their albums, they also did just fine. And, man, could they sing. Some of them – particularly Jones – sang very well.
It was nice to see some of this discussed last week as people reflected on Davy Jones.
Good for him. The man – who genuinely seemed like a nice guy – had earned it.
When The Times Leader asked me for a few thoughts, I mentioned how much l liked the TV show when I was a kid, how I thought the group's music was really a terrific brand of '60s pop, and I shared a story of the time I saw The Edge of U2 perform "Daydream Believer" in concert. The crowd of 70,000 went wild. This was in 1997, and at the time, I remember wondering if Jones knew that the biggest and most critically acclaimed band in the world was playing his most famous song every night.
Well, a quick YouTube search answered my question.
At one show on that same tour, Jones was in attendance and Edge brought him to the stage to sing it with him. At one point, the entire crowd sings along and Edge does an "unworthy" bow toward Jones.
A lot of people showed Davy Jones a lot of love last week, and while that's very kind, I'm glad that U2 and that enormous crowd allowed him to feel it while he was still here. And the fact that he was still touring as late as last summer indicates that he probably still felt that love quite often.
RIP, Davy Jones. When some of us hear your songs, we are kids again, sitting in front of our little record players as your albums spin. We are, once again, daydream believers, falling in love with music. And that's not a bad gift for anyone to have left us.