From Run-DMC to U2, the durability of the Monkees & Davy Jones
Television was the priority, but the Monkees still made a lasting impression on pop music. The band's string of hits between 1966 and 1968 may have initially cashed in on Beatlemania, but the songs have long transcended novelty status, no doubt due in part to the fact that the Monkees' albums drew from expert pop craftsmen such as Carole King, Neil Diamond and the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
With the news today that Monkees frontman Davy Jones had died, Pop & Hiss takes a look at the band's enduring influence on the generations that followed.
"The Monkees," a TV series heavily influenced by the whimsical nature of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night," first aired in September 1966, and the music from those shows soon crossed over to the pop charts. The members of the Monkees long fought to correct the perception that they were little more than puppets, though their first few singles featured little more than the group's voices over other artists' songs and instrumentation. Those early hits included the Boyce & Hart cut "Last Train to Clarksville" and Diamond's "I'm a Believer."
The Monkees, which also featured Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith (who was considered the serious musician of the group) and Micky Dolenz, saw its show declining in popularity by early 1968. Yet during that short run, the Monkees had toured with Jimi Hendrix and put one of the first-ever uses of the Moog synthesizer on record with the song “Daily Nightly.”
Jones was primarily an actor until his Monkees role as frontman turned him into a teen idol. As the face of the group, Jones led the evolution of the Monkees from a TV show creation to a notable part of '60s pop culture. Below, a look at some of the artists, including Run-DMC and the Sex Pistols, who tackled songs made famous by the Monkees.
Run-DMC, "Mary, Mary."
Included on the 1967 album "More of the Monkees," this was one of the earlier songs written by Nesmith. Rap group Run-DMC revived the song in the late '80s, changing the lyrics but crediting Nesmith and sampling the original. While the Monkees were more concerned with where Mary was heading (it was away from the Monkees), Run-DMC asked, 'Mary, Mary, why ya buggin'?"
The Sex Pistols, "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone."
This Boyce & Hart song had earlier appeared on an album by Paul Revere & the Raiders, and the Monkees' version was sung by Dolenz. The song has proved, however, to be one of the era's more covered songs. It was turned into a minimalistic dance tune by the Farm, and became a punk anthem in the hands of the Pistols.
Smash Mouth, "I'm a Believer."
The Diamond-written cut reached the top of the pop charts for the Monkees and has since been reclaimed by its original songwriter. While the above version was a movie tie-in with "Shrek," it's equally silly and surreal. Smash Mouth's youthful exuberance matches that of the Monkees, and the '90s band adds a little garage rock efficiency and surf rock weirdness. Not a fan? Check out the more dreamy take from Robert Wyatt. Just avoid the EMF edition.
Cassandra Wilson, "Last Train to Clarksville"
The Monkees' first hit, presented here by jazz vocalist Wilson. The ultra-clear instrumentation tends to veer into smooth-rock sleepiness, a feeling that's accentuated in this version by the mellowing sax from David Sanborn.
Trouble, "Porpoise Song"
As the Monkees phenomena was drawing to a close, the band let viewers in on its bizarre side with "Head," a 1968 film co-written and co-produced with Jack Nicholson. While odd, it was viewed as wildly inconsistent with the group's TV image and threw teenage fans for a loop. Nevertheless, this song, originally written by Gerry Goffin and his then-partner King, was a dreamy, slow-moving trip with enveloping harmonies and dizzying keys. It also works surprisingly well as a metal song.
U2, "Daydream Believer."
Covered often by U2 during it gloriously off-kilter mid-'90s period, the song was regularly played during shows from the 1997 PopMart tour. A giant wink toward the consumerist culture it was taking advantage of, U2's version of "Daydream Believer" was presented as a crowd-sing-along led by the Edge. In the video above, Jones joins U2 in Los Angeles.
-- Todd Martens
Image: The Monkees: Davy Jones, left, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith. Credit: Associated Press