The Monkees, the Beatles and Jesus

The shock wave that followed the news of Davy Jones’ passing last week shook loose this realization: There have always been four Monkees. You thought there always would be four. Now there are three. There will never again be four.

It was the same shock wave that followed the news of John Lennon’s death in 1980. There had always been four Beatles. You thought there always would be four. Then there were three. And then, 21 years later, there were just two.

Davy Jones was the man the Monkees could not lose, just as John Lennon was the man the Beatles could not lose. Davy Jones and John Lennon in the same breath? Absolutely. Going on without them? Unfathomable.

Time proved Davy Jones irreplaceable. Girls who loved the young Davy Jones kept that torch burning for years. Fans — including some remarkable names — kept finding the Monkees’ music fresh and vital decades later.

In his solo shows and on Monkees reunion tours, the 60-something Jones gracefully navigated fans’ expectations as he — and they — grew older. He’d walk out on stage, hear the cheers, smile and announce:

“Hi, I’m Davy’s dad. Davy will be out in a minute.”

Only the most fearless, confident entertainers can pull off a self-deprecating line like that with such ease and charm, immediately winning over an audience not sure what to expect from a man who long ago was a teen heartthrob.

Micky Dolenz is a better singer. Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith are better musicians. But Davy Jones was a great entertainer, the straw that stirred the drink, and that’s why it’s impossible to imagine the Monkees without him.

Davy Jones and John Lennon were friends. Lennon enjoyed “The Monkees” TV show and thought the lads to be a bit like the Marx Brothers. High praise.

In a fascinating 2006 interview with a suburban Chicago newspaper, Jones said:

“He was a very big influence on my life, John Lennon, you know?
So were all the Beatles, and Ringo’s a good friend still.”

So when you think of the Monkees and the Beatles, remember their mutual admiration. “There’s talent there,” George Harrison was to have said.

But please, may we set the record straight on one thing? “The Monkees” TV show was not inspired by the Beatles’ film “A Hard Day’s Night.”

So says Bob Rafelson, who with Bert Schneider created the show. Rafelson told the Los Angeles Times’ Randy Lewis:

“This was a show I had written six years before the Beatles existed, and the pilot was based on my own life as an itinerant musician when I was 17 years old. What the Beatles did was to create a kind of permission for any rock ‘n’ roll to be a popular subject for television.”

And if the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, as Lennon suggested in 1966, then the Monkees must have been, too. Rafelson explains:

“This was a massive thing, They sold something like 23 million records in 1966 — and that was more than the Beatles, more than the (Rolling) Stones that year. They had more No. 1 hits. I tell this to people now, and they say ‘What are you talking about?'”

Ah, what a time it was. Imagine.

“Paperback Believer,” Mark Vidler (Go Home Productions), 2004, from “This Was Pop (2002-2007),” a free collection of the British producer’s mashups.


Filed under March 2012, Sounds

4 responses to “The Monkees, the Beatles and Jesus

  1. JohnnyDiego

    In 1966 I was just starting my freshman year in college. We liked the Monkees on TV but none of us really took their music seriously. A few years later I discovered Michael Nesmith and the First National Band and that kind of rekindled my interest in other Nesmith stuff, including the Monkees, and I am a fan of his to this day.
    To me the passing of Davy Jones is an occasion to remember but after reading all the tributes to him I am astounded at the number of people, who were probably ten years younger than me in his heyday, who are genuinely touched by his death. I really had no idea of his status as a generational icon.

  2. I was in junior high when MTV revived the Monkees TV show in the mid-80s. My brother and I loved that show, and it was one thing on MTV that my parents didn’t mind us watching. Great post Jeff.

  3. Scott Thomson

    Jeff: Totally flummoxed that Bob Rafelson — never heard of him before, but so what — would deny the influence of “Hard Day’s Night” on the Monkees’ TV show. Why would anyone admit that they copped their ideas from someone else?
    Fact of the matter is that, “permission” of the Beatles aside, Mr. Rafelson’s reminiscences of his life as an “itinerant musician when I was 17 years old” — was that vaudeville, or MOR, or what? — would have gone nowhere had there not been some Hollywood Suits saying, “‘Hard Day’s Night’ is hot — find something like it!” Not that “Catch Us if You Can,” the derivative Dave Clark Five movie, didn’t influence them, too.
    But don’t get me started on that — in the mid-60s (when, based on your other post, you were like eight years old), I not only needed to fend off the Stones fans, but my best friend Eugene actually thought the DC5 was better than the Fab Four! Instead of being like the Monkees, but without a network TV show …
    And without a Michael Nesmith, who unarguably was an iconoclastic musical genius. The TV show would have been a lot more interesting if he had had creative control at that point, but Rafelson probably was the guy calling the shots. And trying to keep Davy and the former circus boy in line …
    Bottom line: I don’t care what Davy Jones said about Lennon, or what George Harrison said about the Monkees. Or, for that matter, whatever destruction the Beatles individually — Lennon abominated much of his song-writing tradition with McCartney, who as a solo artist left us with crap like “Ooh You” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” — wreaked upon their sum-is-greater-than-the-parts careers. (Harrison individually was probably the best of them as a songwriter.)
    The fact of the matter is that no one should conflate the Beatles and the Monkees. The former created a body of work, and a set of styles, that has lasted decades. (There was a piece written 30 or so years ago about how all the great second-genreation rock vocalists — Jeff Lynne of ELO and others — copped their licks from either Lennon or McCartney.)
    The Monkees — they performed some great tunes, some not so, most of them penned by other people, and had a TV show. Judge for yourself.

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