The Monkees have never received the respect they deserve. While it’s true that the group was assembled for the TV series (1966-1968) and many of their songs came from outside writers and musicians, The Monkees turned out to be a real band and a pretty good one.
At the beginning, The four Monkees’ mission was to emulate the early Beatles as fun, zany, adorable pop stars who (as some believed) lived together, worked together and ran from hordes of screaming girls together.
When The Beatles progressed faster than many of their youngest fans could comprehend (there were only 24 months between “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” – obviously, they were from another planet) and some kids started to perceive them as “too out there” and “too weird,” The Monkees' terrestrial cheery, good-natured, wholesome zaniness filled that heart-throb void beautifully.
A primer on why Davey Jones and The Monkees deserve our respect:
The Monkees are the only act in history to have four #1 albums in one calendar year (1967). Their debut album, “The Monkees,” “More of The Monkees,” “Headquarters and Pisces” and “Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.”
Their 2nd album, “More of The Monkees,” made (at the time) the second biggest jump to #1 in the history of Billboard. In its second week, the album vaulted from #122 to the top of the chart.
Davey Jones appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on the very program that introduced The Beatles to America. On February 9th, 1964, Davey (age 18), appeared as The Artful Dodger in an excerpt from the Broadway production of “Oliver!” About that epic evening, Jones later commented, “I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that."
Craving the same musical respect and praise received by The Beatles, The Monkees demanded control over their third album, “Headquarters.” They wanted to choose their own material, play on every song and provide some original tunes to the album’s lineup. Previously, the job of selecting songs had been up to producer Don Kirshner who was hired by the producers of The Monkees TV series. When Kirshner came to the group with four checks made out for $250,000 each (more than $1.7 million today), he attempted to talk them out of messing with the formula. Monkee Mike Nesmith threatened to quit unless the band was granted control over their music. An attorney reminded him of the contract he had signed, which prompted Nesmith to smash his fist through the wall of Kirshner’s bungalow. Not prepared to lose their golden goose, The Monkees received their wish and the band-controlled “Headquarters” went on to become their third #1 album. That took some major cohones.
The Monkees had the courage to take their manufactured image and turn it upside down in the 1968 psychedelic/comedy movie “Head,” co-written by Jack Nicholson. It helped earn them instant street-cred from some of their peers. When Frank Zappa agrees to a cameo in your movie, you’re cool.
On their 1967 tour, they selected their opening act: The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Monkees were fans of Jimi and it was a noble gesture to give him such a high-profile spot for his first U.S. tour but this unlikely pairing didn’t work. Jimi bailed on The Monkees after seven shows, tired of hearing teens screaming, “We want Davy!”
Among the session musicians who contributed to Monkees recordings: Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Ry Cooder, and Lowell George of Little Feat.
The Monkees created MTV. OK, so The Beatles may have been the first band to shoot videos (or promos as they were called) for their songs but The Monkees TV show really was the earliest example of music television. In 1979, Mike Nesmith developed a music video show called “Pop Clips” for Nickelodeon. The show was sold to Time/Warner who turned it into MTV in 1981. That same year, Nesmith won the first Grammy Award ever given in the category of Video of the Year for his long-form video “Elephant Parts.”
Mike Nesmith’s mother, a bank secretary, developed her own formula for correcting typing errors that she called “Mistake Out.” She later improved the product and changed its name to Liquid Paper. In 1979, she sold it to Gillette for $47.5 million plus a royalty on every bottle sold. She died a year later and bequeathed half her fortune to her son with the rest going to charity.
In the Brady Bunch episode, “Getting Davy Jones,” Marcia Brady tries to persuade Davy to perform at her high school dance. Jones ultimately visits her at the Brady home and asks Marcia to be his date, which results in a kiss on each cheek, earning Davy eternal props from generations of guys around the planet. After Davy’s death last week, Maureen McCormick (Marcia) said, “Davy was a beautiful soul. He spread love and goodness around the world and filled our lives with happiness, music and joy. He will live on in our heart forever.”
My friend Rich Firestone wrote a wonderful memorial to Davy Jones last Wednesday and shared it on his Facebook page. Rich met his wife at a Monkees convention in Los Angeles in 1988. An excerpt: “…(She is) the one they all called 'Frodis' after a catch phrase from the TV show. She married me two years later and we've been together ever since. So many places I'd never have gone to, so many things I'd never have seen. So many people I'd never have met if there hadn't been a Davy Jones and The Monkees. One particularly. I have good reason to feel like I've lost a family member today.”