Davy Jones, "the cute one" among TV's "The Monkees," died from a heart attack Wednesday in Florida. He was 66.
Much of what you've seen on TV having to do with music, from the co-ed covers of "Glee" on back through the creation of MTV itself, can be traced back to the Monkees -- and to Davy Jones, in particular. A short sprite with a winning smile, Jones epitomized television's visual translation of the pop idol and helped convince America that rock and roll had a place in its living rooms, after all.
Trained as a racehorse jockey in his native England, Jones turned to acting and then became a singer when he joined the Monkees in 1965 -- with Micky Dolenz (the zany one), Peter Tork (the goofy one) and Mike Nesmith (the serious one) -- and the band embarked on a wildly popular U.S. television show.
How popular? The Monkees sold more than 50 million records, and in 1967 out-sold both the Beatles, after whom they were modeled, and the Rolling Stones. Jones himself was so ominpresent that another emerging pop star, born David Jones, had to change his name to David Bowie just to avoid confusion.
As the sitcom premiered in September 1966, the Monkees' first single, "Last Train to Clarksville," became a No. 1 hit. The show caught on with audiences, featuring fast-paced, helter-skelter comedy inspired as much by the Marx Brothers as the Beatles.
At first, though, only Nesmith could actually play an instrument. The Monkees were, however, supported by enviable talent: Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and Neil Diamond penned "I'm a Believer." The music was played by session musicians, often members of L.A.'s behind-the-scenes Wrecking Crew, a loose group that included Glen Campbell and Leon Russell.
The formula worked, though. The Monkees scored more hits with songs such as "I Wanna Be Free" and "Daydream Believer," sung by Jones.
For a certain generation (ahem), the most important impact of the Monkees came after its cancellation in 1968. Looped into afternoon, after-school syndication, "The Monkees" allowed many youngsters to conceive, however distortedly, what being a member of a pop band actually might be like. The concept of four guys spending all their time together, riding around in a van and getting into wacky hijinks when they weren't on stage -- that not only allowed aspiring musicians to come to grips with the pursuit of their ideas, it's a model and a mindset that hasn't changed much.
Jones, more than the other members, stayed focused on his Monkees heritage and kept it alive on the small screen. He guest starred as himself in numerous other sitcoms, from "Love, American Style" to "SpongeBob SquarePants" (finally, a "Davy Jones' locker" pun!), and most notably a still-popular 1971 appearance on "The Brady Bunch." In the episode, Marcia Brady, president of her school's Davy Jones fan club, promises she can secure him to sing at a school dance.
"Everybody loved Davy's smile, the way he came across, his incredible presence and was a phenomenal ambassador for a band that didn't really start off a band, but quickly became a force," said songwriter Andy Kim on Wednesday. Kim, author of pop hits such as "Sugar Sugar," wrote the song "Oh My My" for a 1970 Monkees album that included only Dolenz and Jones.
After the TV show, the Monkees starred in a psychedelic film, "Head," which aside from featuring Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson (producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider also helmed "Easy Rider") features Jones in a wild Fred Astaire-like sequence dancing with a young Toni Basil ("Mickey") and later seeking sage advice ("The youth o America depends on you to show the way") from Frank Zappa and a talking cow.
Various solo outings from the Monkees failed to catch fire, though Jones did land a hit with the hit "Rainy Jane."
The Monkees reunited several times, though only once with Nesmith, including an abbreviated 45th anniversary tour last year. A 1987 reunion even resulted in a new album, "Pool It." A rebooted reunion was rumored for later this year.
Jones' fellow Monkees remembered him Wednesday:
-- Dolenz issued a statement saying, "Can't believe it ... Still in shock ... had bad dreams all night long. My love and prayers go out to Davy's girls and family right now..."
-- Nesmith wrote on Facebook, beginning with, "That David has stepped beyond my view causes me the sadness that it does many of you."
-- Also on Facebook, Tork posted "His talent will be much missed; his gifts will be with us always. ... Adios to the Manchester Cowboy."
Jones is survived by his wife, Jessica.