50 Years Ago: Davy Jones Goes Solo, Leading to Monkees Split
For Davy Jones, the Monkees' resident heartthrob, staying in the group wasn't an option in 1970.
Guitarist Mike Nesmith had left in April that year, and Peter Tork had split in early 1969. Tired of trying to please both his remaining bandmate, Micky Dolenz, and management at the same time, Jones left in 1970. The Monkees, pretty much just a duo by then anyway, dissolved soon after.
“I didn’t know what I wanted,” he wrote in his 1987 autobiography, They Made a Monkee Out of Me. “Part of the time I was trying to get everyone united, and the rest of the time I just wanted to go home and sleep for a few years.”
In 1971, Jones embarked on a solo career and found a small amount of success when one of his singles, "Rainy Jane," reached No. 52 on the Billboard chart in June. The rest of the self-titled album followed soon afterward but wasn't as successful. Jones then spent the next several years hopping from project to project, releasing a handful of poorly received songs and playing himself on The Brady Bunch.
Living in the Monkees' shadow was proving more challenging than Jones or anyone else had anticipated.
Listen to Davy Jones' 'Rainy Jane'
Since their formation, the Monkees had struggled to simultaneously entertain their growing fan base while also maintaining a sense of their own artistic authority. When the Monkees first came together in 1966 for an NBC TV show as a fabricated pop group aimed at the teen market, their popularity immediately skyrocketed. In 1967, they sold more records than the Beatles and Stones combined.
Jones, a child actor who had already landed roles in major productions like Oliver! in London's West End, seemed to fit perfectly into the lifestyle of a star. Young girls just couldn't get enough of him. “For me, David was the Monkees,” Nesmith told Rolling Stone. “We were his sidemen. He was the focal point of the romance – the lovely boy, innocent and approachable.”
"I know what you’ve gotta have in show business," said Jones to Clash in 2012. "I am an entertainer: I love to entertain. I love to show off. I did it in the school play, I did it in church, I did it all over the place."
“David approached the Monkees as a role," said Dolenz. "They gave assignments. We didn’t have a lot of experience, but we could tell these were pretty good pop songs."
A string of popular singles, including the No. 1 hits “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer," made the Monkees a household name, but throughout their career, decisions were largely made without their input. Producer Don Kirshner, who helped steer them from the start, put out their second album without even telling the members.
"Some girl came up with an album and said, ‘Will you sign this?’" remembered Jones. "And we went, ‘What is that?’ She said, ‘It’s your new album!’ It was More of the Monkees. We were dressed in JC Penney clothes." It was a step too far. Kirshner was dismissed in early 1967, even though Jones had to be persuaded to take a stand. “His support made it unanimous,” said Tork. “If Davy said, ‘Nah, I don’t care,’ it wouldn’t have happened. I owe Davy a lot on that front.”
But in many ways, the damage had already been done. Jones in particular knew he didn't want to live in the extreme limelight forever. "I don’t always want to be the center of attention when I walk into a room," he said. "Sometimes I just want to be quiet and I want to listen."
After Tork and Nesmith left the group, Jones and Dolenz were left to record one last Monkees album, Changes, a contractually obligation LP released in June 1970. The group's final official recording session then took place in September 1970, when Jones and Dolenz recorded the single "Do It in the Name of Love" along with the B-side, "Lady Jane," which wouldn't be released until the following April. Subsequently, the two remaining Monkees lost the rights to use the band name in several countries, including the U.S., and the single was mistakenly credited to a misspelled "Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones." It was painfully clear that the Monkees had run their course.
But a revival of The Monkees TV show in 1986 brought Monkees fever back into full swing, leading Dolenz, Jones and Tork to hit the road again for a massive reunion tour across the U.S. (Nesmith, the only member to have a somewhat successful and respectable solo career following the split, wasn't as receptive, though he did appear onstage at a Los Angeles show.)
It was fun while it lasted, and despite his stalled solo career, Jones, who died in 2012 at the age of 66, believed his departure from the group was a necessary step for both himself and his former bandmates.
"I felt that we could've grown together," he told Creem in 1986. "It's just that there was a studio in our way. That's why we all went our separate ways. Now we can see a light at the end of the distant tunnel for Peter, Micky and myself where we can grow. We're not limited to one particular area."