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How TV made a hearthrob out of Monkees’ Davy Jones
Question of the Day
In August 1966, the Beatles performed in San Francisco, playing their last live set for a paying audience. The same month, the Monkees released their first album, introducing the group to the world. The show would debut the following month.
It was a shrewd case of cross-platform promotion. As David Bianculli noted in his “Dictionary of Teleliteracy,” “The show’s self-contained music videos, clear forerunners of MTV, propelled the group’s first seven singles to enviable positions of the pop charts: three number ones, two number twos, two number threes.”
The Monkees would soon come under fire from music critics, however, when it was learned that session musicians _ and not the group’s members _ had played the instruments on their recordings. They were derided as the “Prefab Four,” an insulting comparison to the Beatles’ nickname, the “Fab Four.”
In reality, Jones could play the drums and guitar. Although Dolenz, the group’s drummer on the show, only learned to play that instrument after he joined the Monkees, he also could play guitar.
Nesmith played guitar and wrote numerous songs, both for the Monkees and others. Tork, who played bass and keyboards on the TV show, was a multi-instrumentalist.
The group eventually prevailed over the show’s producers, including Kirchner, and began to play their own instruments. Regardless, they were supported by enviable talent.
Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and Neil Diamond penned “I’m a Believer.” Musicians who played on their records included Billy Preston, who later played with the Beatles, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Ry Cooder.
If the critics didn’t initially like them, the group’s members had admirers among their fellow musicians.
“The Monkees were such a sensation that it was a thrill for me to have them record some of my early songs,” Neil Young tweeted Wednesday.
Frank Zappa even appeared on an episode of the show, disguised as Nesmith for a bit in which he pretended to interview Nesmith, who was disguised as Zappa.
Jimi Hendrix opened for the group during part of its 1967 concert tour. He left early, however, in part because fans kept chanting Jones’ name during his sets.
Eventually, even the critics would come around, with Rolling Stone’s rock encyclopedia acknowledging that the Monkees made “some exceptionally good pop records.”
After the TV show ended, Jones continued to tour with the group for a time, sometimes playing the drums at concerts when Dolenz came up front to sing.
“He was one of the funniest men and most talented I have ever known,” Tork said in an interview Wednesday night.
Although the group would eventually break up over creative differences, it would reunite periodically over the years for brief tours, usually without Nesmith.
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