Thursday, 1 March 2012

Davy Jones and the Monkees

Exhibit a) The Monkees ~ "Porpoise song";

For years the Monkees were known and despised as the first manufactured band. The Pre Fab Four. By the time Davy Jones died this week many were willing to acknowledge that they had many classic songs. Although there are still misconceptions bout them, I heard one newscaster compare them to Milli Vinnili.

Exhibit b) The Monkees ~ "She hangs out";

This is unfair, The Monkees actually sang all their songs and Vinilli did not. It is also not exactly true that they were non-musicians who could not really play and did not write any songs. In fact they all had musical experience. Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were fixtures on the L.A. folk scene, albeit unsigned. In fact Nesmith was an accomplished songwriter and Tork a talented musician who could play any number of stringed or keyed instrument well. He was actually a close friend of the then also unsigned Stephen Stills who also auditioned for the Monkees and if neither hadn't gotten the gig it's likely the Tork would have ended up in the The Buffalo Springfield with Stills. Dolenz was also part of the folk scene as part of a singing duo with his sister, previously he had actually played drums in a garage band. Davy Jones had no rock experience and played no instrument but he had played Broadway as part of the stage show of the play "Oliver" and had recorded a couple of pop singles which had made the lower reaches of the charts, he even had his own fan club.

Exhibit c) The Monkees ~ "Look out; Here comes tomorrow";

It is true that they contributed little creatively to the first two albums (besides the vocals) other than a couple of Nesmith songs and little rhythm guitar by Tork or Nesmith. However by the third album ("Headquarters") they had taken over their music careers and insisted on choosing and playing their own materiel. They also toured live in concert. If after the third album they chose to make use of the excellent songwriters and top flight session players that their budget could allow for, well who can blame them?

Exhibit d) The Monkees ~ "No time";

It's worth pointing out that in the early rock and roll era many artists relied on songwriters, session players and producers for much if not all of their materiel; including the likes of Elvis, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Billie Holliday and any number of Motown acts. And I've never heard anyone say; "Big deal, they didn't actually write those songs you know".

Exhibit e) The Monkees ~ "What am I doing hanging round?";

A sampling of the songwriters and session guys they used would include;

Session players;
Glen Cambell, Neil Young, Clarence White, Buddy Miles, Jack Nitzsche, Charlie McCoy, Danny Kortchmar, Doug Dillard, Shorty Rogers, James Burton, Plas Johnson, Al Casey, Jimmy Bryant, Stephen Stills, Hall Blaine, Larry Knetchell, Dewy Martin, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Keith Allison. Lowell George

Gerry Goffin & Carol King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Boyce & Hart, Lieber & Stoller, Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry, Neil Sedaka, Harry Nilson, Andy Kim, Paul Williams, John Stewart, David Gates, Micheal Murphy, Chip Douglass & Bill Martin and Roger Atkins "who also wrote "It's my life for The Animals"

Personally I wouldn't have turned them down either. It is still a fact that some of their best songs were in fact written by the band itself (usually by Nesmith) and some were also produced by them. It's a;so a fact that Mickey had one of the great voices of his era, a string distinct tenor, while Davy had a less unique but still distinct voice.

Exhibit f) The Monkees ~ "Mary Mary";

In an attempt to take further control and shed their pop image it was actually their own idea to make use of the brand new technology of the Moog Synth for a couple of songs, and make the ultra psych classic "Head" which was a pretty gutsy move. Naturally their careers never recovered. Now it's a classic of 1960's weirdness.

Exhibit g) The Monkees ~ "Last train to Clarksville";

Yes I used to watch their TV show after school when I was a kid and loved them, but I honestly think there is more than pure retro nostalgia going on here. A great song well sung and played is still a great song, and any band that can claim even one classic song is worth knowing. And the Monkees had more than their share. That's more than can really be said for prefab rivals like The Partridge Family, Sean Cassidy, Bobby Sherman or even the beloved Josie & The Pussycats.

If you don't believe me you can ask some of of the bands who covered them, including;

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band ~ "Mary Mary"
The Hollies ~ "I'll be true to you"
The Palace Guard ~ "Saturday's child"
The Coasters ~ "DW Washburn"
The Sex Pistols ~ "Stepping stone"
Minor Threat ~ "Stepping stone"
The Cardboard Brains ~ "Stepping stone"
Quarantine ~ "Stepping stone"
The Grapes of Wrath ~ "Porpoise song"
The Church ~ "Porpoise song"
The Forgotten Rebels ~ "Look out here comes tomorrow"
Les Maccabees ~ "I'm a believer"
The Bicycles ~ "Cuddly Toy"

Note; I know that Paul Revere & The Raiders also did "Stepping Stone" but they actually recorded it a few months before the Monkees, although the Monkees' version would be the bigger hit. And the Raiders didn't write it either.

I wonder why there are seven Canadian bands there? Maybe the show played longer here in reruns.

Exhibit h) The Monkees ~ "Star collector";

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