Say what you want about the Monkees; they sold 37 million albums in l967 and none of those millions was too terribly bad. Their third LP, Headquarters, was the first truly by them (playing most of the instruments and doing all the singing). It came out shortly after the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and, while lacking the genius of that work, was and still is an exciting if comparatively crude bit of nasty joy. It did much to enhance the good vibes during the Summer of Love and forced their rabid critics to begin curtailing their assaults.
Much of their TV series’ pilot was shot in Belmont and Balboa Parks, so I was always happy about our town’s Monkee connection. I’ve mourned the loss of Belmont Park’s wild fun zone for decades and suddenly I’m confronted by the decision whether or not to mourn the Monkees.
Most of the hottest girls in eighth grade were Gaga over the group (in unLady-like ways) in those ancient times. Two of the finest squeezes in my early twenties were still heavily devoted to the so-called Pre-Fab Four. Went with one up to Magic Mountain in ‘75 to catch the first partial reunion. Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones, along with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, had recorded an album and were on tour. Both the album and the live show were very, very good. How could they fail when the two most prolific songwriters of the TV show combined with the two flashiest Monkees, indeed the two with the best voices?
Yeah, I said best, and I’m sticking to it until you pry my cold, dead mantool from my Monkees Go Mod paperback. No offense to Mike Nesmith, who is a competent singer, fine musician, superb songwriter, and visionary, but…
That’s the weird thing about Dolenz – he’d been a kid actor I’d watch in the late fifties on TV’s “Circus Boy,” when he was known as Micky Braddock. He grows up and is strangely blessed with a magnificent pop/rock voice that fits the songs he sings like Connery fit Bond… so damn well it was creepy.
I saw Davy Jones the first time I saw the Beatles perform: February 9, 1964 on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The date is forever branded on what remains of my brain. The Beatles had started and ended the show, and among other acts in between were some of the cast of the current Broadway hit, Oliver, in which the young Mr. Jones acted, sang, and danced the part of the Artful Dodger ( a part that jump-started a remarkable number of careers, including Zeffirelli’s Romeo, Leonard Whiting).
Suddenly I wanted to be a Beatle. And I also wanted to be in a Broadway show. Strangely, I never really wanted to be a Monkee. It was enough for them to provide me weekly entertainment on the tube and an ongoing collection of some of the finest makeout music of the sixties.
Jones’ voice was more of a trained instrument than that of Dolenz. It was equally effective on ballads and rockers for a long time, until it ultimately took on an annoying showbiz-schmaltzy quality that it never really needed (Elton John, in my opinion, has developed the same problem but to an increasingly intolerable degree.) His tonal quality, everything about his voice on “Daydream Believer” was hauntingly magnificent; what I consider a masterpiece of a performance could only have been accomplished by a singer with great acting chops, since he did it in one take after a vigorously angry argument with a studio antagonist. To this day, it is among those rare records I never want to end once they start.
I’ve always been a grand admirer of the Monkees’ film Head, too, as a perfect example of true psychedelic cinema. Jack Nicholson’s in it (he wrote most of it) along with Frank Zappa, Victor Mature, Annette Funicello… Take it from me: certain films terrifically enhance even the most modest DVD collection. For a truly great time, get Head. Or give it to someone you want to make very happy.
Jones and Dolenz were involved together in several projects after their Monkee years; besides the occasional band reunions there were stage projects and TV shows in England and their ongoing relationship seems to have been the love/hate kind, but mostly love. I’ll always love the memories Davy provided for me and the fact that his voice will always be available on a lot of music I’ll never tire of.
There’s a group I’d heard about but never actually heard or seen who presented themselves to me on a recent edition of “Saturday Night Live.” Despite the audience’s wildly positive response, it made me grieve for the current state of popular “talent.” To me, the singer (a redheaded, very do-able, striking figure indeed) projected an intriguing theatrical persona and a deceptive voice. Deceptive in that the audience was gulping it down and begging for more while I sat transfixed, in awe of its worthlessness. Sort of like I’ve always felt about Sade, but this voice made Sade an opera singer.
Shortly after this chick and her band appear on SNL, Rolling Stone does a big, adoring piece on her, and she receives similar worship from the Los Angeles Times while I want to run into the streets and warn mankind that they’re being taken and brainwashed by a banshee from hell. Turn away from this Medusa or you’ll turn to stone! But first check out her live duet with Elton John on “Tiny Dancer” on YouTube, for irrefutable evidence for the prosecution in her tragic case. I can not get myself to mention the name of the group lest it foment further nausea; I’ll just say that it sorta rhymes with “Torrents and a Bad Dream….”
I went up to Hollywood on the first to catch that much-buzzed-about Monkees tribute band from Japan, the Funkees, and ended up sitting next to John Fogerty and his wife! During intermission, she asked me who my favorite Monkee had been as a kid. She told me hers had been Cornelius, so I said mine was King Kong, a choice John said he agreed with. That gave me the courage to ask him the question I’d been carrying around for around 40 years. “We need to talk,” I said with mock gravity and he chuckled as he confirmed my suspicion: that in his classic “Bad Moon Rising,” during the fourth time (and only the fourth) that he sings that key line; he actually is singing “There’s a bathroom on the right.” He did it as a joke. Listen and believe anew. “Guess the truth can now be told, mah man,” he laughed, commemorating this date with abundant significance, again burned in the brain.