I wasn’t born when The Monkees went on the air, so I don’t recall Davy Jones as my first teen idol. But he was probably my first image of what a teen idol was, thanks to his appearance in the ’70s Brady Bunch episode, “Getting Davy Jones,” in which superfan Marcia Brady overpromises that she can get the pop star to perform at her school (see video, above).
Jones, the cute, diminutive Brit member of The Monkees, died today in Florida of a heart attack, at age 66. He was the member of the made-for-TV band who probably closest resembled the classic model of the ’60s music heartthrob: English-accented, boy-faced, with a clear singing tone and wide, earnest eyes. (And, of course, his tambourine.) Though Mickey Dolenz ended up singing lead on most of The Monkees hits, Jones performed one of the group’s biggest hits, “Daydream Believer.” (As well as a personal favorite, “Valleri.”) If Dolenz was the singer, Peter Tork the likeable goof and Michael Nesmith the laconic eccentric of the comic troupe/band, Jones was the dreamboat. Or daydreamboat:
At the time The Monkees debuted on TV, there was controversy about the musical authenticity of the “Prefab Four,” who were cast for the part and originally did not even play their instruments. It seems quaint now, when not only have we seen generations of stage-managed teen stars–you can draw a straight line from ’60s Jones, and his haircut, to Justin Bieber–but we have an entire industry of music reality shows dedicated to the idea that TV not only can manufacture musical stars, but should.
And really, even if the show never meant to be more than entertainment and a hit-single generator, we shouldn’t sell the Monkees short. It was far better TV than it had to be; during an era of formulaic domestic sitcoms and wacky comedies, it was a stylistically ambitious show, with a distinctive visual style, absurdist sense of humor and unusual story structure. Whatever Jones and The Monkees were meant to be, they became creative artists in their own right, and Jones’ chipper Brit-pop presence was a big reason they were able to produce work that was commercial, wholesome and yet impressively weird. See this Jones clip (with special guest Frank Zappa) from The Monkees’ surrealistic feature film, Head:
RIP, Davy Jones.