In the ‘60s, with the possible exceptions of David Cassidy and The Beatles, there was no bigger teen idol than Davy Jones. During his years with The Monkees, he sang lead on many of the group’s chart-topping hits and his face graced the glossy covers of every teen magazine on the stands.
On December 3, PBS will premiere 60s Pop, Rock and Soul: My Music, a program devoted to AM radio hitmakers of the era such as Paul Revere and the Raiders, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and The Ventures. Jones will handle co-hosting duties along with another ‘60s heartthrob, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame.
Jones took some time out from working on his Pennsylvania horse farm to talk with me about '60s Rock, Pop, and Soul, and was not at all reluctant to discuss his feelings about today’s music and the entertainment business in general.
The special was made about a year ago, Jones explained. “It took about a day and a half. I met a lot of old rock and rollers, people I’ve admired and enjoyed over the years. It was a great experience. I got to sing a couple of songs and just generally socialize. That was the beauty of the whole thing. I think maybe that feeling will come across when people start to look at the collection of artists PBS put together for this particular project. It’s a wonderful thing that people still admire and enjoy the music that we’ve all been making for years.”
He attributes the enduring quality of the songs to the fact that people relate to music as a "comfort, a recognizable time in their lives." He is not fond of the music of Jay-Z and many other current popular artists.
“I always make comments when I see them and my daughters tell me, 'Oh, shut up, Dad.' I say, 'Oh, yeah, they’ll be playing that one in 20 years.' I just think it’s so hilarious. It’s brutal, you know, their pants hanging down. How attractive is that? I find it very, very distressing to watch a lot of the artists that are out today. Lady Gaga and entertainers like Bette Midler and Cyndi Lauper dress up to go onstage. They just don’t walk out in their street clothes and the same underwear they’ve had on all day."
So what do his kids think of their dad’s legacy, especially his years with The Monkees? “The kids were babies when the show started. I got a comment at one point, which I thought was great. I asked my oldest, who’s going to be 43, I remember, I asked her [pointing at the TV screen] who’s that? She said, 'That’s my other daddy.' It’s kind of interesting to see. Now the grandkids are watching it but the grandkids are more interested in seeing me on Spongebob or one of those rerun shows.”
Rudeness is not something Jones tolerates and he becomes enraged as he recalls Kanye West stealing Taylor Swift’s thunder on the 2009 Video Music Awards show. “If I had been there when that guy got up and started mouthing off at the young country artist, I would have knocked him on his ass! I just find it ignorant and rude. I can’t let it go by. I just cannot let it go by. I see a woman pulling a kid around in a supermarket, I’m right in there. 'Excuse me, don’t do that. Do not do that.' People harassing children and men talking down to women. Oh, my god, come on, man. What is this world about here? I just say, if I was six feet tall I’d be knocking people out all over the place.”
Jones has no problem performing the songs that brought him fame. “What we’ll see on December the 3rd will be a fun, music-filled evening with song after song that’s recognizable, with artists who are there because they can sing the tunes that people enjoy. It’s not just good music and not just good vocals but confident, successful people who have no problem at all [singing their hits]. I’m sure Tony Bennett at some point was disturbed about singing 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco' and then he realized it was a major part of his repertoire.”
His memories of his years with The Monkees are fond ones, and he is happy to embrace that part of his career. “I enjoyed every time I went in the studio and every time I was on the TV set. I was working with great guys: Mickey, Mike, and Peter. We collaborated, we cooperated, and we put out a product people enjoy through today, 45 years later.
“The music? Some of it was not really made for record. It was made for the TV show as the theme for what was going on at the time. But then they got smart. 'I’m A Believer' was a hit and it was the theme of the show that week. 'Daydream Believer' got recognition, they put that into the show. 'Pleasant Valley Sunday,' they adapted the show to that particular song.”
The Rhino Handmade re-issues of Monkees albums such as Head, Instant Replay, and Headquarters, with their alternate tracks and unreleased material, are fans’ dreams. Did Jones have a hand in putting these collections together? “No, and I don’t get paid for it either. It’s not about dollars and cents at the end of the day. I’m not going chasing after money. I just wait for a little while and every ten years you audit. That’s about where that’s at. I’m not a fool. I know they have good people doing these things.
“We went on a tour recently and Rhino took 60 percent of the merchandise, 25 percent went to the venue, and the rest of it went to making the product. And I still haven’t seen a check. I’m not very, very friendly with record companies and people who are holding on to my old material. I haven’t done anything about it. It’s not a sore point because that would be a contradiction. I don’t go chasing after money. But there has to be some satisfaction for the artist. Not just the writer or the publisher or the record company. They’ve taken advantage of artists. That’s why Arista is closing down now. They’ve been sold to RCA. And some of the other big record companies have been sold to RCA. Eventually they’ll come up with something else. They said that DVDs and CDs were the ultimate but now they’ve gone back to vinyl. Nothing is forever.”
In general, Jones is happy with his lot and satisfied with his performance on the PBS special. “I enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be with my family in California. I’m going to see my little granddaughter in The Nutcracker. She’s playing the snowflake. Maybe that’s where my reality begins or continues. I’m very happy to have done what I’ve done, enjoy the music I sing, enjoy the company I keep, and I have time to be with my family, my friends and I still love a good fight.”