Davy Jones was the grooviest of the Monkees, which makes him one of the grooviest pop stars who ever existed. He was the best dancer in the Monkees, the Cute One, the one with the coy English accent, the bowl-cut boy-child who shook those cherry-red maracas and always got the girl. He was also the guy who stole David Bowie’s original name. A theater kid from Manchester, England, he was an old-school trouper with the work ethic of the professional hoofer. Just last summer, on the Monkees’ great 45th anniversary tour, he busted out his trademark moves with astonishing vigor, doing a world-class boogaloo to “She Hangs Out,” despite self-deprecating banter like, “Hello, I’m Davy’s dad.”
What set Davy apart from the other Monkees was that he loved being a pop singer. He was never squeamish about the heart-throb role, and he didn’t pine for hippie credibility the way his dashiki-donning American bandmates did. He was from a different world – while Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork were lapsed folkies, and Micky Dolenz was a Hollywood kid, Davy was a child of the stage. He was a little out of place in the psychedelic romp Head, later musing that the movie they should have made instead was Ghostbusters.
Davy obligingly strapped on an electric guitar for his rock ballad “I Wanna Be Free,” but it never really clicked as a Davy Jones song, because he clearly didn’t sound comfortable telling some girl to buzz off. He was the Monkee who welcomed girlie adoration, without rolling his eyes about it like his fellow Monkees. He was the one with stars in his eyes for a different girl every episode, to the point where the show made a running joke out of the other Monkees complaining that all the girls were in love with Davy.
There’s an episode of The Monkees where the bad guys are spying on the band with a hidden camera. When they watch their footage of Davy Jones, as he’s walking down the street, he looks right into their camera and starts doing an impromptu soft-shoe routine to “Way Down Upon The Swanee River.” The bad guys ask, “Do you think he knew he was being watched?” For the devoted Monkees fans at home, the joke was that this was Davy exactly how we pictured him: always on, a true showman. In an excellent TV Land documentary from a few years ago, we see Davy at home, semi-retired on his Pennsylvania farm with his prize racehorses. But he sets up a folding chair in the mud by the stables, busts out his acoustic guitar, and sings “Daydream Believer” to one of his horses.
Anyone lucky enough to catch the Monkees’ 45th Anniversary Tour last summer can tell you: he never lost that spark as a showman, and he never lost a step as a singer, dancer or performer. That’s why he’ll always be beloved as a great pop star in a great pop band. Jones never became a major part of the Monkees’ songwriting, but his boyish, flirtatious voice was always one of their main attractions. So here’s a playlist of Davy’s greatest moments.
“Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” (1966). Written by Neil Diamond, this is a typical Davy scenario where he gets torn apart by two different lovesick ladies, as he keeps sighing their names in his heavy breathing style. (“Mary…I love you. Sondra…I love you.”)
“Forget That Girl” (1967). An exquisitely mod example of how Davy could sound wistful and moody, without slipping over the line into cloying mush. It should have been a hit, but it was just another great album track on Headquarters, the second-biggest-selling album of 1967. (After Sgt. Pepper.)
“She Hangs Out” (1967). Davy crushes out over a sweet young thing who can dance the boogaloo almost as well as he can–he seems to take it as a personal challenge.
“Cuddly Toy” (1967). A retro vaudeville-piano homage written by Harry Nilsson, the perfect vehicle for Davy’s voice and sensibility.
“Star Collector” (1967). Davy’s most psychedelic moment, one of the first pop tunes to feature a Moog synthesizer solo, and a near-perfect groupie-baiting satire from Carole King and Gerry Goffin. This showed off his bitchy side, which he usually kept well hidden – when he sneers, “It’s been niiiice knowing youuuuu,” it’s clear he’s been studying his Mick Jagger records.
“Daydream Believer” (1968). His most famous pop hit, as it deserved to be: Davy and his girl ascend to the heights of endless domestic grooviness, key change after key change. The TV performance, where the other Monkees sing along and look genuinely happy for him, is perhaps the group’s sunniest video clip.
“Valleri” (1968) Davy’s most rocking moment, with some of his fiercest head-bobbing ever, as well as the powder-blue blouse he rocks in the TV version. His “oh yeah – come on” banter is the essence of the Davy Jones worldview.
“You and I” (1969). From the end of the Monkees, when it was down to a duo of Dolenz and Jones, this was one of their few songs co-written by Jones. It’s a surprisingly frank and disenchanted account of the teen-idol grind, with guitar from none other than Neil Young. When Davy sings, “We’ve got more growing to do / Me and you,” it brings his whole Monkees journey full circle.