Thursday, March 15, 2012

Take The Last Train: The Monkees' Davy Jones – R.I.P.

Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz & Mike Nesmith: The Monkees in 1969

Davy Jones is dead! I can hardly believe it. The littlest Monkee. Broadway’s Artful Dodger from Oliver! In fact, the weekend before I heard the news about Davy, I had watched a DVD of his performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was watching for The Beatles of course, but there was Davy, so young and innocent. February 9, 1964 it was, and only a year or so later, he was a Monkee. Davy confessed that after seeing the reaction of the girls to the Fab Four that night, he decided on the road his career would take. Rock star! Well … sort of!

August 25th, 1969. Whew! Over forty years ago! A really hot day. In the nineties. Humidex way up there! A few friends from high school and I had spent all day at the Canadian National Exhibition, or “the EX” as it's still affectionately known. We went every year, sort of an end of summer ritual to prepare ourselves for going back to school. I thought my brother Al was with me, but when we talked about it last month he said, "No!" I know Barb was there. We snuggled and necked a bit on the train home.

The programme for the 1969 North American Tour
We had visited all the air-conditioned buildings to check out the butter sculpture, and the international exhibits. We rode the cable car across the grounds, looking down at the rides which had occupied us earlier in the day. We were tired and thought we might go home early, but we decided to see who was on at the Grandstand. Every night, the EX featured some major concert attraction, usually aimed at drawing the parents. (Frank Sinatra once gave a weak, end-of-career performance at the EX.) But on Monday, August 25th, 1969 ... it was The Monkees! And tickets were only $1.00! A BUCK! We lined up! I bought an historic Monkees' programme which I gave to Barb as a souvenir. Then we heard an announcement .... “Now appearing in the Teen Pavilion ... San Francisco's MOBY GRAPE!" It would take almost half an hour to get all the way back to the Teen Pavilion, and we already had our tickets ... so we settled in. A soul/show band called Sam and the Goodtimers, who had toured with Ike & Tina Turner, opened with some covers of a few slightly funky R&B classics. Then the announcer called on THE MONKEES!!! And the place went wild. Well ... the girls screamed. Not us of course. We were too mature. Too sophisticated. Davy Jones. Micky Dolenz. Mike Nesmith. They came out in suits, as I recall. Davy to the microphone. Micky played some drums. Mike had his guitar strapped on. Peter Tork had left the group December 21st, 1968. At least, that's what they said in the British rock mag, New Musical Express.

I can’t remember that many details really. I know I rather enjoyed myself, and there has developed a certain cachet to the fact that I saw The Monkees live. I checked some of my hazy remembrances with facts garnered from a book called The Monkees: The Day-By-Day Story of the '60s TV Pop Sensation, in which pop historian Andrew Sandoval gathered just about every iota of information about the "pre-fab four" that existed, and compiled it into a readable, entertaining book. Can you imagine American Idol or The Voice existing without the Monkees' pioneering work in the creation of pop icons? Do we credit them, or blame them?

The tireless struggle of Nesmith, Tork, Dolenz and Jones to be taken seriously is miles beyond the desire of today's contestants, who simply want to be "an American idol." Everyone concerned with the The Monkees TV program had a different goal: to sell records, to have a hit TV show, to copy The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, or to be seen as professionals. Everyone involved had an interest. Two of the boys were musicians who could act; the other two were actors who could play or sing. Dolenz had starred in his own television series; Jones had been on Broadway; Tork was a folk-singer (and friend of Stephen Stills); while Nesmith had already released a couple of singles on his own (under the name Michael Blessed).

The Monkees onstage during the '69 tour
When I saw them that summer night performing for an audience of young girls and their parents, and the odd pack of "too cool to really care" older teens (like the group I was with), I was mightily impressed by their ability to entertain. Nesmith played guitar and inserted as many of his own songs as he could; Dolenz played drums for a couple of numbers and spent the rest of his time singing the upbeat hits as a potent frontman; and Davy shook his tambourine and sang the ballads – the girls swooned! The opening act, The Goodtimers, were swingingly professional. It was fun, it was musical, but it wasn't Rock'n'Roll. One can only imagine the surreal event of seeing the Monkees touring with Jimi Hendrix in 1967 (Dolenz had seen Hendrix in “some club in the Village” and Nesmith was introduced to him via a handheld tape recorder held by John Lennon). There was no such juxtaposition on the ’69 tour. They knew what their audience wanted. And they delivered.

Recently two brief, silent videos have appeared on YouTube, courtesy of the CNE Archives. They show The Monkees at the CNE (Video 1, Video 2).  Micky doing his schtick, Nez calmly playing the guitar, the band on stage, and Davy Jones dancing and shaking more maracas than you’d think his hands would hold. He was the cute one, the one with the English accent, the one who sang the love songs, and the girls loved him. He always seemed like the one who appreciated what he had, too. He didn’t invent music videos like Nesmith, or move into directing as Dolenz did. He didn’t divorce himself from the image like Peter Tork, who tried for a serious musical career to no avail. Davy Jones just kept being Davy Jones, so much so that Yahoo! Music named him the “Number 1 teen idol of all time”. That’s what he wanted, for the girls to scream for him like they did for John, Paul, Ringo and George on the Sullivan Show. And scream they did. The YouTube videos may be silent, but you don’t need much imagination to know what it sounded like. I don’t remember, but I do know that by the end of that concert at the CNE so long ago I had a new appreciation for The Monkees, and I haven’t lost it.

Below is a set list from another show on the same tour. What I heard may not have been identical, but I imagine it was close.

I'm A Believer
•Pleasant Valley Sunday
•Tapioca Tundra
•I Wanna Be Free
•Show Me (Micky lead vocal)
•A Man Without A Dream
•Daydream Believer
•Goin' Down
Someday Man
Listen To The Band
•Don't Wait For Me
•Get On Up (or) Summertime (Micky solo)
•For Once In My Life (Davy solo)
•Johnny B. Goode (Mike solo)
•I'm A Believer (reprise / R&B version with Micky and Davy trading verses)
•“Last Train To Clarksville” was played on alternate nights.

David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.

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