Davy Jones's Death and the Right Side of Music History
Davy Jones died Wednesday, leaving behind performances on some of the most memorable pop songs of the 1960s, a surprisingly excellent sitcom, and, for movie-goers and music fans of a certain age, this transcendent power-ballad send-up from The Brady Bunch Movie. He also left behind a warning: Be careful which manufactured pop idols you make fun of, because some of them, for the rest of their careers, are going to put your objections on the wrong side of music history. Even if they begin their careers explicitly as little more than a cash-in on the Beatles' rapidly shifting identity.
Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, the latest American Idol or sub-Idol: I don't know who it will be this time, but through sheer volume, time will eventually make you feel dumb about music.
It helps, I guess, when your manufactured pop group is put together to ape the sound and style of the most important rock-and-roll band of all time, and not, I don't know, Far East Movement. And eventually the Monkees wrote and performed their own music. But "Last Train To Clarksville," for all its hooks and production value, was a set-up--written by someone else, performed by session musicians, written not to scratch some artistic itch but to sound like the Beatles at their jangliest. A nascent pop-rock purist, if such a thing existed in the middle of the 1960s, might have been disgusted.
And time would have done bad things to their seemingly reasonable opinion. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what my grandchildren will think of me when I pooh-pooh their decision to watch the Flo Rida 50th-Anniversary Spectacular on Future-CBS, but I do wonder about what time's going to do to the particular, organized music scene each of us grows up with. Music-wise the years after college, or whenever your musical peak came, seem designed mostly to tell you that all the bands you thought you were unique and fascinating for listening to will eventually prioritize eating over and license their songs for some Payless commercials. And it's fine, is the weird part.
The Monkees might be one of the most artificial chart-toppers in the history of rock, and that might have been incredibly infuriating to people at the time who knew better. Now we're buying up their back catalogue in the wake of Jones's death, because all that's left is the music. So far as I can tell, Davy Jones didn't actually sing or perform anything on that recording of "Last Train to Clarksville"; 50 years later, nobody seems to mind.