Davy Jones, 1945-2012
Baby Boomers felt poignantly tugged back to their childhood the other day with the news that Davy Jones, 66, had died of a heart attack in Florida. Mr. Jones was a member of the Monkees, a wildly popular singing group concocted for network TV during the 1960s. With his gentle British accent, pretty face and diminutive stature, he made many a girl swoon.
In deference to the Beatles (the “Fab Four”), critics dubbed the Monkees the Pre-fab Four, as in prefabricated. The group was an absolute rip-off, reprising the Beatles’ early mop-top personas and madcap movie antics after the originals had grown mustaches and started to produce moodier, lyrically deeper music.
But the Monkees quickly became huge stars in their own right, outselling the Beatles themselves for a time with toe-tapping, cheerful pop. With the help of top session musicians and expert songsmiths, the Monkees churned out eight top-20 hits between 1966 and 1968, and three number-one singles.
The last of them, “Daydream Believer,” was sung by Mr. Jones, who also sang lead on the hits “Valleri” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”
From Manchester, England, Mr. Jones broke into show business as a BBC-TV child star in the 1950s. In 1964, he appeared in the Broadway musical “Oliver!” as the Artful Dodger and – irony of ironies – performed in that role on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” on the very night the Beatles made their explosive first appearance. “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,” Mr. Jones said.
Although the Monkees stole their act, the Beatles befriended them and even admired them, knowing how hard it was to create hit after hit. “It’s obvious what’s happening, there’s talent there. They’re doing a TV show, it’s a difficult chore and I wouldn’t be in their shoes for the world,” George Harrison said.
The Monkees’ heyday ended as abruptly as it had begun, though their records sold tens of millions of copies over the years. As years went by, Mr. Jones performed Monkees songs in various bands and returned to the stage – including “Oliver!,” playing Fagin this time. In a 1995 Pizza Hut commercial, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr talked about a long-hoped-for reunification of an unnamed band, only to have Mr. Jones and two other Monkees join him. “Wrong lads,” Mr. Starr deadpanned, shrugging.
Mr. Jones will always be remembered for what he did in his early 20s. Anyone who remembers that era cannot help but smile when hearing the Monkees theme song begin: “Here we come, walking down the street . . .”