I have written previously on the purifying rage of the likes of John Lydon and the righteous power of certain late seventies punk-peeps, believing passionately in the anti-pomp and anti-twiddle manifesto they pogo-istically propounded. Music must be cleansed of the filth that is The Bizz itself! Stop showing off you bearded psycho-doodlers – the people are revolting! No More Heroes!! Oh and by the way I AM AN ANARCHYSTE!!! And quite right too.
But I have a confession to make; speaking as I do, as a fully paid-up member of the (Specials) Nightklub and former well if not outwardly a punk, exactly, certainly Two-Tone/Gang of Four/Joy Division/Bunnyman type-individual. As a nipper (born 1960 – do the math) not just me but my bro’s in the hood – literally now, 4 lads in our family – loved The Monkees for years. Before puberty/surreptitious bottles of QC/pints of Mild/The Flamingo on Cleethorpes seafront intervened; before it got unmanly to like pop or laugh. Before that, in a treacly period when it was still acceptable for kids from a lower lower middle-class household to run around like maniacs and play Cowboys ‘n Injuns, we sat glued to The Monkees. Because it was great; pop seemed great.
Perhaps aged 7 or 8 or 10, we hadn’t fully grasped the revolting nature of the Capitalist West; so that the cynical regurgitation of popsongs by Bizz-generated young Americans failed to repel us entirely. And we flunked the Don’t Fall For That Natty-Tricky Camerawork test too – the ‘wit’ and ‘style’ of the gurning popsters Show somehow being well-received by us, in our Grimsby home and the rest of TV-owning humanity apparently. Monkees were a laugh, or a convincingly cra-zee, admittedly saccharoidal baker’s dozen of laughs, quite often, in fact. They were likably kooky (before kooky existed, I imagine?) and swanned or maybe Benny-Hilled about in a way that was boyishly appealing. Almost as if it was… planned.
But then we found out – pretty soon, I think, us being No Mugs – that one of them was one of ours; which sealed it. Davy Jones; was a Brit-popper! With the That’s Alright Then factor nicely embedded, we proceeded to enjoy Monkees on telly or the record player in our sportily junior unstill way. For years, it seems. The lads jumped about or got chased by girls (yukk!) or broke ‘spontaneously’ into song – effectively but kindof seamlessly marking out the ground for pop video as well as marketable TV frivolity of a family nature. Micky Dolenz was witty/hysterical-in-a-mad-drummer-stylee, Peter Tork was dumb, Michael Nesmith wore a tea-cosy and raised his eyebrows whilst cogitating, Davy Jones sang and swooned or got swooned over by California Girls. (See – it had everything.) But beneath that surfaciously groovicious surface… revolution stirred.
Well kindof. Because The Monkees had or developed attitude… an independent force free of their original puppeteers. They knew they could do stuff, suddenly; amazingly, they could even PLAY!
Having been arguably the earliest significant truly manufactured pop outfit with continental appeal, the boys found, after a year or two, their er… mojo. Which said something like We Can Do This Thang. Or Thing. Man. Leading them to battle for the right to play and sing and actually (shock horror probe) take control, commit to their music; properly.
Maybe the moment of this minor triumph is relatively unimportant – and it’s certainly true that they knocked out a coupla their pop faves before Boogie-syndicalism dawned upon them – but still it fleshes out the caricatures and the story itself rather nicely. Those dreamers dreamed and then… fought for something. Proving if nothing else that there were one or two brain cells active in The Monkees collective way back then. (One impression is that Dolenz and Naismith may have been the more liberated and vocal souls, but this is difficult to establish 40 something years after their 1966-68 peak.) In no way am I suggesting that The Monkees were ‘about’ the subversion of the business, or drawing parallels with them and Public Image Ltd; I think I’m just saying it’s one of the things I like about Monkeestuff. Chiefly though, they were – or they felt? – colourful and funny and they swept us along a now ludicrously implausible wave of innocence and cheek. When we were young.
So Davy Jones’s death at 66 feels an absurd affront to much of what he in particular stood for. Davy was the beautiful one, the natural, smiley-swoony one, the one the girls skweeemed and skweemed at. He was the handsome and maybe even slightly exotic Englishman in this cabal of yankeepups. He did the kaftan thing and the unassuming front man thing and the attractively wittyboy thing successfully – more attractively than the rest of the band, who lacked his stunning but unchallenging good looks. We liked or even loved him; but surely the thing that would please him the most is the love that still exists for some of those songs?
Jones sang the magnificently built “Daydream Believer”, a song that still rises and sears truly poptastically in the hearts and hums of many of us 45 years after the event. Not that longevity or sales or any of that Bizz-crap we’re supposed to acknowledge means anything. Most art created with an eye on either posterity or mass-sales is either indulgent or crass, right? But some things – some songs – just work, and go on working. Even pop, that most ephemeral of genres, can be profound in its simple voicing of some transcending now; when reflecting a moment we can feel, for its beauty or tunefulness or emotion or meaning. Sure we can wash up to great pop, but we can sing our hearts out too, either bewitched by some collection of chords – by the production – or by the words sung. With Monkees, or with great Monkees, there’s both brilliant crafting and singalongability in a popular but uncheesy way.
“Last Train to Clarkesville” and “I’m a Believer” remain remarkably alive as pop songs. (I know, I just checked.) Which is something of a relief, as I want to feel able to look back on a period of my childhood with rounded, post-modernist satisfaction as well with the beaming nostalgia of one needing/wishing to recapture lost innocence, lost joys. Davy Jones will be missed by his family, his friends and those of us who enjoyed that daft, wonderful popthing The Monkees gave us. Tomorrow, I play it to my kids.