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On This Day In Music… February 29, 2012: Davy Jones, King Monkee, Dies

'Wherever I go, people still shout out: "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!" And I never tire of that.'

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Davy Jones was the first of the Monkees to be cast for the TV show.

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Anyone who loves music, loves The Monkees. Debuting on U.S. television in September 1966 and running for two years, the adventures of the fictional (and then actual) pop group were a huge hit, winning two Emmys in 1967, including Outstanding Comedy Series. And everyone who loved the Monkees, loved Davy Jones.

Inspired by the Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, The Monkees was a direct response to the mid-60’s British Invasion of America; producers wanted a music-based sitcom following the antics of a young band, full of the mop-topped cheekiness of the British acts, but also backed up by some serious tunes.

In September 1965, advertisements were placed in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety: “Madness!! Auditions. Folk & Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17–21.”

Out of over 400 applicants, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz made the cut. Despite advertising for “4 insane boys”, Davy Jones had already been cast before the ad was even posted.

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the monkees
Source: mega

'The Monkees' was a huge TV hit - but the band would become even bigger.

Although all four were musicians in their own right, the songs, at least initially, were provided by seasoned writers including Neil Diamond and Carole King – and their characters based firmly on the Fab Four. Dolenz was the anarchic John Lennon, Nesmith the deadpan George Harrison, Peter Tork the lugubrious Ringo Starr and Jones, with his cherubic looks and infectious charm, Paul McCartney.

If the show was a hit, the Monkees were a musical smash beyond even the wildest expectations of the TV executives. Their first single, “Last Train to Clarksville” (a slyly anti-Vietnam song written by veteran musicians Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart) was released to coincide with the start of the show and went on to top the Billboard Hot 100. It was quickly followed by their self-titled debut album – that spent 13 weeks at No. 1 and stayed in the Billboard 200 for 18 months.

The follow-up, More of the Monkees, released in January 1967, replaced The Monkees at No. 1 – it too would remain in the charts for 70 weeks and go on to become the third-highest-selling album of the entire decade. (Its lead single, the Neil-Diamond-penned “I’m a Believer” was also the best-selling single of 1967.)

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Front and center of it all was Jones. Born in Manchester in 1945, the former jockey and child actor had appeared in the soap opera Coronation Street and as the Artful Dodger in the original production of Oliver! in the West End – a role which won him a slot on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 on the very same episode in which the Beatles made their U.S. TV debut. He later recalled: “I saw the girls going crazy and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.”

Ed Sullivan led to a contract with the television wing of Columbia Pictures, and in 1965, an album, David Jones, and the single “What Are We Going To Do”, which just edged into the Hot 100. When producers began development of The Monkees that same year, his was the first name on their list.

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davy jones
Source: mega

Davy Jones cherubic looks and infectious charm cast him in the 'McCartney role'.

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Although the Monkees faced a critical backlash once audiences cottoned on to the fact that they did not write their biggest hits (with the British tabloids dubbing them the “Prefab Four”) their performances of those songs, along with their natural comedic talents and abilities as musicians, nevertheless won admirers including John Lennon. The story goes that upon meeting the Beatle, Nesmith asked him if he thought the Monkees were simply a “cheap imitation” of his band. Lennon replied: “I think you’re the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers. I’ve never missed one of your programs.”

The show was also revolutionary for pioneering the idea of music videos: each episode contained a performance sometimes completely at odds with the plot, designed simply to showcase what would become a single release.

The Monkees’ final big hit was “Daydream Believer”, with lead vocals by Jones. In December 1967 it peaked at No. 1 in the Hot 100, and stayed there for four weeks. The following year the show was cancelled, and despite releasing a further three LPs (all minus Tork, and the last, 1970’s Changes, featuring only Dolenz and Jones) the Monkees officially disbanded in 1971.

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Through the following decades Jones continued to make music, as well as appearing in TV shows and in 1977 reuniting with Dolenz for a role in the stage production of the Harry Nillson musical The Point!

And still the affection for the Monkees remained. After MTV broadcast the original series in 1987, Jones, Dolenz and Tork reunited for a series of concerts, a new album, Pool It!, and in 2011, for a 45th anniversary tour that took in 45 dates across Britain and North America. Monkees biographer Andrew Sandoval noted, “Once they hit the stage, the old magic was apparent.”

In December 2008, Yahoo! Music named Jones their “Number 1 teen idol of all time,” and the following year he was rated second in a list of 10 best teen idols compiled by Fox News.

Shortly before his death aged 66 on February 29, 2012, Jones commented: “Wherever I go, people still shout out: ‘Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!’ And I never tire of that.”

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