Sure, Ricky Nelson, Frank Sinatra and Elvis predated Davy, and yeah, maybe Leif Garrett and David Cassidy had better hair, and Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake had more solo success, but Davy is still the best.
Davy Jones represented all that’s great about teen idols. Physically, Davy was all you could ever ask for in a fave rave. Small in stature as to not scare away the young girls, with the prerequisite Beatle haircut (or Prince Valiant do, depending on the year), a youthful face, big doe eyes, and a toothy grin. But he had something that other teen idols of the time didn’t have: a cheeky mischievous sparkle behind those eyes and a rebellious spirit.
Before the Monkees, Davy had performed on Broadway in Oliver! and was nominated for a Tony Award. Gloria Stavers from 16 Magazine started hearing about him and featured him in her magazine years before the Monkees began. Executives from Colpix Records (soon to be Colgems) also took notice, and once his run in Oliver! was over, landed a deal with Davy and tried to look for a suitable project to capitalize on his success.
This suitable project ended up being a pilot called The Monkees by Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. Although auditions were held, Davy Jones was essentially locked into the project.
Bob Rafelson remembered in an interview last week, “Davy was sort of a legit showbiz guy more than he was a rock ‘n’ roll kind of singer. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to switch, both in terms of the performance as an actor and the sensibility needed as a singer—or even if he would truly want to. But as soon as we started working together, everything changed. I just thought he would blend well with Micky and Mike and Peter…David had certain qualities just sitting in a room that I was interested in,” he said. “He was witty, his goals in life were not to be a show-business star.”
Rafelson and Schneider wanted to find four young guys that were not like your previous teen idols, who tended to act docile, sweet, innocent, and apt to follow directions. They specifically wanted guys that were a part of the new culture that was emerging when the auditions were held in 1965.
And in Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, they found what they were looking for.
In retrospect it’s hard to realize just how big the Monkees were between 1966-1968, because there’s not a phenomenon that all-encompassing right now, and there hasn’t been one in a long time. But the facts are staggering.
Out-selling the Beatles and the Stones combined in 1967. Four number one albums in a single calendar year (this is a record that still has not been broken), 20+ million viewers of their television show each week. Two Emmy Awards. Not bad for a bunch of long-haired weirdos, huh America?
And Davy was the visual front man of the group and was by far the most popular member with fans, consistently getting more fan mail, attention, and magazine covers.
“Who’s Your Fave Rave,” a book about 16 Magazine proclaimed, “Of course the Monkees were invented for television, but they hit the mark and at their peak they drove the circulation of 16 higher than it ever was before or since. The 1967 “ownership statement” declares monthly sales of a million copies, which of course didn’t count pass-along readership; in all, about four million people a month were reading 16 in the Monkees era.”
Ira Laufer, brother of Chuck Laufer who founded Tiger Beat Magazine added, “Ira Laufer said he and his brother had the Monkees — especially band member Davy Jones — to thank for Tiger Beat’s getting off the ground.
“We were in business for four months at Tiger Beat, funds were drying up,” His brother and the magazine’s editor went to a screening of new television shows and Laufer remembered Jones from the cast of “Oliver!” on Broadway. Chuck had a feeling,” Ira Laufer said. He put a picture of Jones on the corner of the magazine’s cover. “It was our fifth issue, it almost sold out on the newsstands, put us in the black and started our company.”
Meanwhile, the Monkees’ members that were the least popular but most involved in the music, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork were attempting to stage a revolt against their musical supervisor Don Kirshner, who was like the Clive Davis of the day. Don and the Powers that Be on the east coast were responsible for much of the band’s early chart success and sought to have total control over the Monkees’ musical direction.
The Monkees, as previously mentioned, were not people that enjoyed being controlled. Davy had the least experience in rock n roll and at first tried to please both sides. In late 1966, The Monkees started playing live shows and playing as a band on the road strengthened their belief that they could capture this sound also on record. Soon Micky Dolenz was on board with the revolt. After Mike’s infamous “wall punching” incident early in 1967, and after Davy reluctantly appeared on a couple Kirshner sponsored tracks, the lines were drawn.
Davy sided with the other Monkees.
Davy’s always mentioned that the other Monkees were like the brothers he never had, and his loyalty to side with them in the fallout with Kirshner is something that showed tremendous loyalty and balls, to be frank.
These days, the most popular member of a band (ie: Justin Timberlake or Beyonce) almost always try to capitalize on their popularity and embark on a solo career. Davy, to his credit, never thought of himself like this, even though he was way more popular than the other guys. He saw them as equals. He walked away from guaranteed hit songs from the best songwriters in America to show solidarity with the other Monkees, men who he had only known for a year and a half at that point. Amazing.
The Monkees were also the first teen idol group to overthrow their managers and assert their independence, inspiring future bands like The Jackson and N Sync, this particular decision, in my opinion, is one of their greatest legacies.
Besides siding with the other Monkees in musical matters, he genuinely saw the other guys as older brothers. Being the baby of the group, and only twenty years old when the Monkees were at their peak of popularity, Davy also looked up to his band mates, and their influence helped him evolve as a person. The difference between the Davy pre-Headquarters and post-Headquarters is striking.
Sure, he admittedly didn’t have a whole lot of fun making Headquarters, since he was relegated to tambourine duties, but with Mike and Peter’s influence, Davy began to develop into a songwriter, producer and guitar player. In fact, Peter Tork bought Davy his first guitar. Davy also briefly played drums and bass on the Monkees tours that summer.
Micky and Peter, the most “tuned in” of the group, also influenced Davy’s fashion sense, his political beliefs, and his sense of self. Now he was partying with the best of them, draped in Nehru jackets and love beads, and giving frank interviews with Keith Altham of Flip Magazine. He was also singing on controversial Monkees tracks like “Star Collector” and “Cuddly Toy”, and even owned his own head shop and psychedelic clothing boutique in Greenwich Village in New York. On the second season of the show, his cheeky nature was front and center and in some episodes he was visibly high.
Davy’s generosity at this time was also apparent when he invited Jan Berry of Jan and Dean to join the Monkees touring party in the summer of 1967 in an effort to cheer him up after his devastating car accident. Numerous teen magazines articles also wrote about Davy taking time out of his day to visit terminally ill Monkees fans, and he famously flew to Arizona in 1968 to visit a Monkees fan in the hospital that was holding one of their albums when she got hit by a car.
He evolved and changed with the Monkees success, but his loyalty and generosity remained. He walked away from what could’ve been a soul-less success as a puppet for Kirshner to side with his fellow band mates and in retrospect, make some of the best pop records of the 1960s.
Davy had the right combination of non-threatening good looks, natural charisma and charm, musicianship, and a desire to not follow the rules. He was also a born entertainer who loved nothing more than to make his fans happy. It is these things and more that make him the greatest teen idol of all time.
The first time I met Davy, I was at one of his solo shows at a state fair. After the show, a few of us were standing around, just hoping to get a wave from him as he drove off in a mini-van with his band and entourage. Suddenly the van stops right in front of us, the door flies open, and there’s Davy, stopping everything just to get out and sign things and meet the fans. I was in high school then, but it’s something I will always remember.
Thanks for everything, Davy