There was a brief time when the Monkees outsold the Beatles in the U.S., and Davey Jones was the face of the band.
Now comes word that Jones, 66, has died of a heart attack in Florida while on a solo tour. Granted, the band is a thing of the past for modern-day music fans, many of whom don’t realize that the Smashmouth song “I’m a Believer” on the Shrek soundtrack was a cover of one of the Monkees’ biggest hits. They’re on the oldies stations, and few remember that Marsha Brady was a huge fan and president of the Davey Jones fan club on the hit show “The Brady Bunch” – another baby boomer sensation.
But give Jones and the Monkees credit for the impact they had in their day.
The Monkees’ TV show lasted three years, but they recorded their music for two more years, until 1970. They started as a promotional gimmick, hired in 1965 for the cast of a TV show about a mischievous but well-intentioned rock band. It was cast with four hand-picked performers from varying backgrounds. Band member Peter Tork, for instance, was a legitimate musician, and reportedly interviewed for the gig after his friend Stephen Still was turned down. Jones was a child actor from Manchester, England, when he was hired to join the band – the boyishly handsome frontman who was the Monkees’ most recognizable face.
But the band wasn’t just a musical sensation – albeit briefly. They were a marketing jackpot well before Kiss perfected it. Their TV show, which borrowed liberally from the Beatles “Help” flick, was a hit and continued to be so on re-runs. Their merchandise included action figures, lunch boxes and more. And their music – much of it written by producer Don Kirshner and others at the outset – included catchy pop tunes like “Daydream Believer,” “Stepping Stone” and “Last Train to Clarksville,” all of which became hits.
After the group disbanded Jones continued to enjoy celebrity status, both in cameos like the one in “The Brady Bunch” and in solo appearances. He remained a recognizable face at oldies shows, and continued to tour, as he was doing at the time of his death. Last year the Monkees even reunited briefly, although a full-fledged reunion seemed unlikely – nor was there a guarantee that there was enough of a fan base left to make it lucrative.
Still, Jones continued to find an audience. And in a little-known bit of trivia, Jones is also responsible for the stage name of one of rock’s most accomplished songwriters and performers. Jones and the Monkees were in their prime when an up-and-coming British performer named David Jones was hitting the scene and appeared destined for musical fame in his own right. Fearing he would be confused with the Monkees’ singer, he changed his name to David Bowie.
So, we here at the Listening Room pay our respects to Davey Jones, for his contribution to pop music and all else he contributed to rock and roll. We can only guess that somewhere in TV land Marsha Brady has shed a tear. Rest in peace Davey.
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