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Hey, Hey, It's The Monkees -- My Memories of Davy Jones And Company
March 1, 2012  | By David Bianculli

Wednesday's death of Davy Jones hit the media hard, and hit us here at TVWW as well.

Managing editor Diane Werts has written a wonderful For Better or Werts column explaining, extolling and encapsulating the Monkees and their impact and influence (read it HERE).

And I have my own memories and observations to add as well -- starting with the fact that, when I was a young teen, The Monkees were the first group I ever saw in concert. I even remember, quite well, their opening act that day in Miami on July 9, 1967. It was a guy named Jimi Hendrix...


I was 13 then, and it was the first concert I was allowed to attend. I hadn't heard of Hendrix yet -- he had performed at Monterey earlier that summer, setting his guitar on fire, but had not yet broken big in the States.

But I remember, that night, a concert hall full of teenybopper girls having no idea what to make of the guy, and many of them screaming "Davy!" as Hendrix played and sang, just to make it clear who they were impatient to see. (Hendrix lasted two weeks with The Monkees, and quit.)

Even before that, in June 1967, I had another memorable Monkees experience. I was in a record store, with enough money to buy only one $2.99 album -- and had a choice between two brand-new releases.


One was the Monkees' Headquarters, the first LP on which they played all their own instruments. The other was the Beatles' latest, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I'm proud to say I bought Sgt. Peppers.

I'm less proud to say, in my first illegal act ever, I simultaneously stole a copy of Headquarters. That's how much I wanted that album as well.

(I reveal this now, 45 years later, because the statute of limitations has run out, and I stopped stealing record albums, and ended my teen music-collecting crime spree, shortly thereafter. I got caught.)

The Monkees were a good group, and NBC's The Monkees (1966-68) was a good TV show. Yes, it was a total ripoff of The Beatles and A Hard Days' Night, but it was a good ripoff.


And the band's music stood on its own, even (especially?) when it was played and written by others. The exception was Mike Nesmith, a strong songwriter from the start -- he wrote "Different Drum," recorded by Linda Ronstadt.

Musicians on the first Monkees album included Billy Preston -- three years before he recorded with the Beatles on their sessions! -- as well as Leon Russell and Glen Campbell. And among the songwriters who provided songs for The Monkees included Harry Nilsson ("Cuddly Toy"), Neil Diamond ("I'm a Believer") and Carole King and Gerry Goffin ("Pleasant Valley Sunday").

Today, I teach The Monkees as part of my TV History and Appreciation of the 1960s and 1970s course at Rowan University. And in my career as a TV critic, I've interviewed Nesmith and, just last year, Davy Jones. The Monkees once drove record sales the way American Idol and The Voice are affecting them now -- a fact that was noted in Wednesday's Associated Press obituary by Matt Sedensky, in a way that made me somewhat proud:

" 'The show's self-contained music videos, clear forerunners of MTV, propelled the group's first seven singles to enviable positions on the pop charts: three number ones, two number twos, two number threes,' David Bianculli noted in his Dictionary of Teleliteracy."


So I looked it up. In that 1996 book, my entry on The Monkees ended with this observation, which is as good a way as any to salute Davy Jones and his contribution to one of the biggest TV and musical phenomena of the Sixties:

"In 1987, a syndicated series, The New Monkees, cast four unknowns and tried to duplicate the magic and success of the original series.

"It proved, instead, that it wasn't all that easy to make a Monkee out of somebody."




Mark N said:

Dear David
Ahhhhh! The 60's! My favorite years! And The Monkees...?....NOT my favorite band. I was an aspiring musician then and I'd say that The Monkees were the first time I felt and saw the Business of Music.
I sort of boycotted the program as I felt it as an attempted (and very successful) manipulation of my generation with its blatant Beatle rip-off. I will admit that the songs that came from them were great and still stand-up to the test of time. All this aside, the death of Davy Jones hits home. I saw him in Oliver when he came to the states with the British version, as the Artful Dodger. I LOVED that show... and I still know and sometimes sing all the lyrics to "I'd Do Anything For You, Dear". He was a fun actor and good singer, although when push came to shove, I was a Mike Nesmith fan. He was a musician in a band that didn't play their own instruments. (On that note I'd like to mention my late friend Bleu Ocean, the drummer behind the curtain at the live show you saw, David).
Now, years later, it's easy enough to just sing Daydream Believer and not quibble with the politics of the time and the exalted art of selling to and manipulating teenagers. But Davy...God Bless. You made your mark and will be long remembered and now years later as regards the Monkees... I'm A Believer!!

PS David....a choice between Sgt Pepper and a Monkees album???...SERIOUSLY????

[Dear Mark -- The drummer behind the curtain? Gads. Another childhood bubble punctured!!! And there are so few left. But look -- choosing the Beatles over the Monkees is the day I feel I hit maturity. And within a year, I had my own record review column in my high school newspaper, my first taste of being a critic in print. We all have to start somewhere. - DB]

Comment posted on March 1, 2012 10:11 AM
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