Saturday, May 5, 2012

Singin' To the Music Again

(Sony Music Entertainment/Friday Music)
AS of May 2, the Davy Jones CD The Bell Recordings (1971-72) ranked at #192 on Amazon's list of best sellers for music, #12 for classic rock. Such a performance for a reissue is proof of how Davy's untimely death on Feb 29 still resonates among his many fans over two months later. Actually in the works by reissue label Friday Music prior to his passing (the liner notes say the digital remastering was completed the day before he died), TBR is a near-complete collection of the songs Davy recorded for Bell Records, featuring the Davy Jones LP plus rare single sides as bonus tracks.

Unlike ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith, Davy had a rough go starting up his solo career. A year after the Monkees disbanded in 1970, Davy hooked up with Bell, then hot with acts like the Fifth Dimension and the Partridge Family. (In fact, when the Monkees' record label, Colgems, subsequently folded, it became part of Bell.) Wikipedia's entry on Davy says he was signed to "a somewhat inflexible...contract" where he had no input on selecting songs or who would produce them, but considering he recorded "Rainy Jane" (by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, a tune dating back to the Monkees he reportedly held onto) as his Bell debut, this account may be in dispute. Jackie Mills, fresh off of making hits for Bobby Sherman, became Davy's producer. With few exceptions, the music resulting from this brief collaboration sounded like Davy was merely singing along to backing tracks leftover from Bobby's sessions (especially with Al Capps on board, who was Mills' regular music arranger).

Of the four singles issued by Bell, "Rainy Jane" fared best, getting no higher than #52 on Billboard's pop music charts (competitor Cashbox had it at #32). None of the follow-ups cracked Billboard's Hot 100. As for the Davy Jones album, it went to #205 on Billboard's Top Albums. Overall, the ripple created by these records was minuscule, even in comparison to Monkeemania at its lowest point. In turn, Davy's attempt at establishing himself as a bankable solo artist was scuttled. Of course, he went on to make more solo recordings (to the delight of his biggest fans), but he only showed up on pop culture's radar when he reunited with any of his fellow Monkees.

In addition to "Rainy Jane," notable tracks on TBR include:

"Girl" (Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel) Originally composed for the movie Star Spangled Girl (a mediocre adaptation of a Neil Simon play starring Sandy Duncan), the song was rewritten for single release. Oddly enough, when Davy performed it on the "Getting Davy Jones" episode of The Brady Bunch, he was lip-syncing to a re-recording (and a sped up one, at that). Of them all, the single version is the best.

"Road to Love" (Carol Carmichael) The first song on the LP is buoyant with an enthusiastic vocal. Later made the B-side to "I'll Believe in You" (his last Bell single), I think it should've been the A-side. Brady Bunch fans may also recognize this through a bad cover version (also produced by Jackie Mills) sung by Christopher Knight and Maureen McCormick on the one album they cut as a duo (a sideline to the "Brady Kids" recordings they were also making around the same time).

"Look at Me" (David Gates) A diverting break from the upbeat nature of the LP with an appropriate moody arrangement.

"Say It Again" (Ed Welch and Carl Simmons)  In this case, a cover sung by aspiring teen idols Andy and David Williams when they guest-starred on The Partridge Family (their rendition was finally released in 2002!) improves on Davy's original. While he sounds okay, the arrangement is a little too busy and cutesy. Not one of the better moments on this set.

Actually, all the music on TBR is likable on the strength of Davy's own affability, but Mills undermines him by trying to fit him into a Bobby Sherman mold. Instead, he should've offered Davy more variety in the song department like he had access to while still in the Monkees. That Mills stubbornly kept him in this rut was a bad judgement call, and it may be a key reason why Davy didn't take off big as a solo.

Unlike Friday Music's earlier reissue of Davy's '65 Colpix LP, all the tracks on TBR are remastered from the original master tapes. A few anomalies are audible, but the sound quality is otherwise fine. The liner notes within the CD booklet provide relevant track-by-track information and an essay written by Friday Music's Joe Reagoso (who also produced the reissue and did the remastering), which features a memorial to Davy that looks like it was added on at the last moment. Considering his passing was unexpected, this is forgivable as Reagoso adequately conveys how much he'll miss Davy.

TBR is flattering to Davy Jones's a point. Could more have been added to its 48-minute running time? Sure, but as Friday Music appears to be a small operation, they were likely limited to licensing the masters from Sony Music. Still, it would've been nice if they were able to include additional bonus tracks like the Brady version of "Girl", Davy's Monkees-era demo of "Rainy Jane", the mono single mix of "Rainy Jane" and even Neil Sedaka's rare single of "Rainy Jane" (which has a "trippy" feel to it, unlike Davy's hit). Also, a little more historical perspective and critical analysis incorporated into the liners would've made for a better, balanced read. Above all else, it's important to know this disc is a limited edition, so fans of Davy shouldn't linger long on deciding whether to buy it or not, rare as the recordings are. (I don't think it will be made available as a download on Amazon or iTunes, but I could be proven wrong.) Casual fans may be better off just watching a YouTube video of Davy on The Brady Bunch.

Brother Fang cuts to the chase: "An essential (but very lightweight) purchase for hardcore followers of Davy Jones. Three stars (out of four)."

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

P.S.--Buy The Bell Recordings (1971-72) here.


  1. Excellent and thoughtful review.

    I am surprised by how hard the death of Davy Jones has hit me. A part of my youth I guess I expected would always be around.

    1. Thanks for reading, Caftan Woman! I definitely agree with your sentiments.

      It was a shock he wound up being the first Monkee to pass on. When I first heard that Davy was gone, it felt like it took the breath out of me. It hit me harder than John Lennon's death, and that's no exaggeration.