An eternally boyish-looking singer and actor who courted a generation of fans from grade school to retirement age, Davy Jones died today from a heart attack. He was 66.
As the only Englishman in a group perceived (at least initially) to be a cynical, kiddie-friendly rip-off of the Hard Day’s Night-era Beatles, Jones would have instantly stood out in the Monkees even if he wasn’t also the cute one. It didn’t matter that Jones was an actor (he starred as the Artful Dodger in Oliver! when he was 18) and wannabe horse jockey (he started training when he was a teen) or that he couldn’t play an instrument. (Aside from the tambourine, of course.) Jones wasn’t even that great of a singer, but that was okay, too. What the Monkees did have was an excellent assemblage of songwriting and musician talent at their disposal, ensuring that the group’s singles would, to this day, be regarded as some of the best pop records in rock history. With that kind of support, all Jones had to provide was the face, some charisma, and a large dose of rock-star style. He delivered big time.
Jones also had that dance. Long after the Monkees’ moment came and went, future generations watched Jones sing “Daydream Believer” on the lovably strange and ramshackle Monkees TV show doing that snaky little sashay of his. He slipped his feet around, shook his hips, snapped his fingers—taken together, this maneuver would be known simply as “the Davy Jones dance,” and its coolness bridged the generation gap for years afterward. (It's kind of a shame that he turned down an offer to do Dancing With The Stars.) It’s widely assumed that Axl Rose ripped it off during his Appetite For Destruction period—who is Axl if not the Davy Jones of the ’80s?—and for those of us who weren’t around during the Monkees’ initial rise, the “Daydream Believer” video has come to encapsulate all that was innocent and stealthily sexy about the ’60s.
Jones was born Dec. 30, 1945 in Openshaw, Manchester. He found work as a child actor at age 11, appearing in soap operas and primetime TV shows. Even as he continued his dalliance with horse-jockeying, Jones acting career flourished, with his Oliver! run and appearances in American TV shows like Ben Casey. It was while doing Oliver!, however, that Jones caught a glimpse of his future, when the cast was invited to perform on the same Ed Sullivan Show episode that featured the Beatles’ historic first appearance.
Jones joined the Monkees in 1965 after putting out a solo single and album that came and went without much notice. The Monkees, on the other hand, soon became one of the most popular groups of their time. Their 1966 debut, The Monkees, spent 13 weeks at No. 1; it was usurped by the Monkees’ second album, More Of The Monkees, which spent 18 weeks in the top spot. That record was replaced by Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass’ Sounds Like…, which after one week was replaced by another Monkees album, Headquarters. Add in the five weeks that the Monkees’ fourth (and best) LP, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. spent at No. 1 at the end of 1967, and the band’s chart dominance at the time is clear and crushing.
It would also be short-lived. Early in the Monkees’ run, Jones was often front and center, applying his puppy-dog vocals to pure-pop fluff like “I Wanna Be Free.” By the time of Headquarters, the members (particularly Michael Nesmith) insisted on having more artistic control of “their” music and started playing on Monkees records, upsetting a successful formula tightly administered by producer Don Kirshner. But, in a sense, it was already too late, as an anti-Monkees backlash fueled by the perception that the band members were untalented puppets (or the belief that this even mattered, considering how great the records were), proved to be their undoing. “Daydream Believer” became the Monkees’ last No. 1 single in December 1967.
After the Monkees broke up, Jones parlayed his teen-idol status into a solo career that included a famous guest-star appearance in a Brady Bunch episode where Marcia is absolutely beside herself at the prospect of meeting a member of a past-its-prime pop group. Still, against the predictions of critics who said the Monkees had no substance and would be forgotten, Jones’ stardom proved enduring as new generations discovered the Monkees music. The band re-formed periodically over the years, though not without contentiousness. The Monkees’ most recent tour in 2011 was canceled with several dates remaining "due to internal group issues and conflicts”; it was the third time that at least part of a Monkees reunion tour had been scuttled. While three members of the Monkees are still alive, it’s hard to imagine the band performing again without its swinging, adorably tiny dancer.