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Davy Jones, the British singer who was a member of the sitcom-spawned band The Monkees, died of a heart attack this morning, according to TMZ. Jones was already a Tony-nominated actor when he auditioned for the group, having been honored for playing the Artful Dodger in a run of Oliver! that moved from London to New York. But it was as a member of the band known as the Prefab Four that he became famous; he served as the group’s teen-idol archetype in most episodes of the kooky, slapstick-filled series, and he eventually guest-starred on an episode of The Brady Bunch that had a plot centered on his popularity among the youth. (“I used to be a heartthrob; now I’m a coronary,” he once told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2010.) He was one of the last Monkees standing during the group’s initial run, sticking with it until he and Micky Dolenz lost the rights to use the group’s name in 1971; he was also involved in all the reunions the group would embark on over the years since the initial disbanding. The band, sans Michael Nesmith, last toured in 2011 (a second leg, which would have brought the group to the Theater at Westbury last August, was canceled).
Jones sang lead on “Daydream Believer,” which became one of the band’s most indelible hits, but he also fronted a slew of other memorable tracks. Six of them below.
A note on critical bias: The Monkees were probably the first band that I ever really got into, thanks to MTV and Nickelodeon (not to mention the channel formerly known as WOR) putting the affiliated show on its schedule as often as possible (or so it seemed). The comedic timing of the four was eye-opening back then and is still pretty funny these days (reruns of the show currently air on the weekends on the retrofied digital channel Antenna, if you want to doublecheck my hypothesis); the combination of Monkees reruns and copious airings of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s catalog remains a huge influence on my sense of pop-related humor, for better or worse. And the band’s catalog—stuffed with songs penned by some of the greatest pop music writers of the past 50 years—is pretty forward-thinking, especially when you think about the context of the songs and the sheer amount that were released in a short time (the band put out six albums, including the Head soundtrack, between 1966 and 1968).
“Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow” (More Of The Monkees, 1967)
Somehow I didn’t know this track from the Monkees’ second album had been written by Diamond until about a month ago, and then I thought to myself, “Of course it’s a Neil Diamond song. It’s such a Neil Diamond song!” Jones got his rasp on here, effectively channeling the vocal tics of the man who wrote “Look” on its chorus.
“Star Collector” (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., 1967)
Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, this groupie kiss-off was one of the first pop singles to use the just-hatched Moog synthesizer. (“Daily Nightly,” also on Pisces, would take a more abstract approach toward the spaced-out instrument.) Jones’s voice is in hyperdrive here, its razor-sharpness playing well off the Moog’s bleeps and blats.
“Cuddly Toy” (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., 1967)
Jones plays the cad on this Harry Nilsson-penned track, sweetly telling a woman who he’s loved and lost that he was completely undependable and had never committed to her in the first place. His cherubic looks helped him sell knife-twisting songs like this (and “Star Collector”) so well, it probably took some listeners quite a few years to figure out that, oh yeah, those lyrics were coming from a pretty unromantic perspective.
“Valleri” (The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees, 1968)
A slickly produced pop-rock song by the Monkees’ main songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. This song certainly wasn’t breaking ground, but its slinky cool caused me to tape it right off the TV (holding a boombox up to the speaker and everything) when it aired on the mid-1980s reruns that introduced the band to a whole new generation of preteens.
“Daddy’s Song” (Head soundtrack, 1968)
In this Nilsson-penned track from the Monkees’ 1968 stoned self-sendup Head, Jones pays tribute to-slash-sends up his Broadway past—and in the movie, he shows off his soft-shoe abilities alongside Toni Basil.
“You And I” (Instant Replay, 1969)
This existentially troubled track (with a counterpoint guitar melody by Neil Young) could be a comment on a disintegrating relationship, or on the toxic effects of the pop world’s “on to the next one” cycle, which was present even 40-plus years ago. It’s your call!
Jones was 66. He leaves behind a wife (his third) and four daughters.