News item: Davy Jones of the Monkees is dead at 66.
It seems kind of weird to be a pop music fan and not like the Monkees — the band whose singles were expertly shaped by pop uber-minds to meet Teenage America’s demand for hooks.
How well were the Monkees’ music and image crafted? Consider this:
Many people would say Sgt. Pepper’s was the definitive album of 1967, and it spent 15 weeks at Number One that year.
But More of the Monkees did 18 weeks at Number One. The Monkees and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. did five weeks each. And Headquarters did one week.
The Monkees spent 29 weeks of 1967 with the Number One album — including all but one week between Jan. 1 and July 1. That’s, like, Bee-Gees-in-’78 dominant. (And that doesn’t even mention the 10 weeks they spent atop the U.S. singles charts that year.)
And yet, I never got into ’em.
I think it was the lingering stink of prefabrication that put me off. Snobbism sets in young, and it didn’t take long for me to learn to scoff, “They’re not a real band.”
In retrospect, I think Younger Me also loathed them with the hate that people who are not conventionally cute reserve for people who are specifically groomed and chosen because they are.
I liked Frank Zappa and his bearded, gap-toothed, surly Mothers of Invention a lot more in 1986 than I liked the Monkees. (I might have liked the Monkees more, and Zappa less, had I been exposed to the episode in which Zappa and Mike Nesmith switch places.)
Even now, there are multiple other successful Sixties-Seventies singles acts (Creedence, Three Dog Night and the Guess Who come to mind) whose tunes I would rather hear than those of the Monkees.
While I missed Monkeemania the first time around, I did get to live through a more curious phenomenon — the critical redemption and popular rebirth of the Monkees.
As a child of the ’80s, I watched as the rise of MTV forced every popular band to build themselves an appealing on-screen personality. It was only natural that people’s attention would flash back to the band whose very existence had been built on the TV set, and who had managed to portray a certain roguish slapstick charm that still played well in the age of video.
(Yes, some carbon-copying may have been involved in the creation of that slapstick charm. But we’ll give the Monkees the benefit of the doubt.)
My fellow ’80s survivors will also recall that period as the birth of the reunion tour — a turning point when even the longest-buried groups could be resuscitated, given enough beer-company sponsorship money.
The Monkees were relatively early onto the bandwagon, in 1986. They were also more successful than most, playing to cross-generational sellout crowds. Several of my early-teen schoolmates went to those shows, and at least one proudly wore his Monkees concert T-shirt for quite some time afterward.
It was in the mid-’80s, as well, that a “New Monkees” TV series was briefly floated with a newly selected foursome. It lasted 13 episodes, and was sufficiently charmless — and hitless — that it burnished the original show’s reputation by comparison.
After that it was off to the races. Monkees box sets came out. The band recorded albums of new material. Even their feature film “Head,” slammed as pointless nonsense at its release, has been reissued in multiple formats and has acquired its own cadre of celebrants.
It makes me wonder whether the same kind of renaissance awaits pop acts that 21st-century snobs dismiss as shallow — the Ke$has and Katy Perrys and Black Eyed Peas of the world.
Will critics 20 years from now, fueled by contrarianism and/or revisionism, decide that big hooks from the past are timeless and worth celebrating?
Will the pop landscape then be so dried-out and barren that today’s hits seem mighty by comparison? Will the music scene of 2032 be susceptible to winds of harmless nostalgia?
And will we someday see a box set with multiple unreleased takes of “Boom Boom Pow”?
I’m hedging my bets and not being too quick to reject it, because anything can happen in the pop business.
I didn’t know Davy Jones. But I bet, after a life spent both inside and outside the starmaking machinery, he would have agreed on that.