Listen to this track by enduring multimedia phenomenon that featured ex-jockey and Artful Dodger Davy Jones as a lead singer, The Monkees. It’s “Daydream Believer”, one of their biggest hits and appearing on the 1968 album The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees.
As with many songs that The Monkees recorded, “Daydream Believer” was sourced from an outside writer. In this case, the writer is John Stewart who was a one-time member of folk group The Kingston Trio. That folk connection seems like kind of an odd fit on the surface of things where The Monkees were concerned, maybe. But producer Chip Douglas, who was a friend of Stewart’s, helped the band turn this into a smash pop single. This is in no small part thanks to Peter Tork, who came up with and plays the bright piano line that helps to define the song so sharply. Additionally, both Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz add their own parts (guitar and backing vocals respectively), making this a full-band effort.
But the one who really shines on this is Davy Jones himself, striking a balance between joy and melancholy that’s as good as any of the best pop songs of the decade. Beyond the era in which it was made, I think this song says a lot about it’s lead singer too, and continues to do so even beyond his time spent on earth singing it. Yet initially, Davy Jones just didn’t get this song.
When you try to forget this song’s pedigree in pop music history and listen to the lyrics, maybe you can sympathize. What do these lyrics actually mean? What is a “daydream believer” and what does it have to do with a homecoming queen, the latter being a very American concept? When you consider that Jones was from Britain where there really aren’t any equivalents to homecoming queens, you might understand his reluctance to get behind the song at first. When the story in the song became more apparent to him, that of an idealistic man convincing his one-time homecoming queen love that happiness can be found in the delight of possibilities rather than in material possessions, it was an easier sell. After that, the chart results spoke for themselves. And Jones had a signature song for eternity.
Even though it appeared on a later LP, “Daydream Believer” was originally recorded during the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, Ltd. sessions in the summer of 1967, along with its B-side “Goin’ Down”. This was during their “hybrid” period, when they were involved in creating their own parts in the studio while also employing outside writers and musicians to help them work up the material with Chip Douglas overseeing as producer. “Daydream Believer” is easily one of the best products of this approach, with orchestral flourishes written and arranged by none other than west coast jazz scene trumpeter and composer Shorty Rogers that lend the material such joyful grandiosity.
The song was released as a single in December of 1967 and proved to be one of the band’s most iconic and enduring hits. It featured in The Monkees TV show on a number of occasions, presented in the musical montage style they famously pioneered, this time with the group huddled around a piano in a candy-striped room, and with a solo Jones doing his patented “Davy dance”.
As often as it’s been recorded by others since The Monkees’ version, it’s hard to think of “Daydream Believer” and not hear Davy Jones’ voice in there somewhere. In September of this year, my eleven year-old daughter and I went to see The Monkees at the PNE in Vancouver. Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz were The Monkees on hand for the show along with a fine band of musicians. Mike Nesmith was busy finishing his memoirs at home during the tour, so his two colleagues sang his material in his stead when it came time to do so. But when it was time for “Daydream Believer”, it was still all about Davy. His death in 2012 presented no barrier. His vocal track from the original cut served as a guide for all of us in attendance who sang along with him. It was a joyously transcendent moment.
There’s something to be said for how much the music we love can change our perceptions about mortality and the passage of time. Davy Jones will always be one of The Monkees, and we’ll always be the age we were when we first heard them every time the opening bars of this song is played anywhere. That’s nothing short of magic. It’s been a turd of a year in many many ways, Good People. But for me, it’s been one that’s had me celebrating the music of The Monkees, which I’ve loved since I was a child and now having lived long enough myself to share it with my own child who loves it as much as I did, and do. That’s pretty magical, too.
Thus ends my Monkees trilogy for 2016 starting with “Me & Magdalena” and then followed by “Sometime In The Morning”, both posts of which had me celebrating their fifty years as a multimedia cross-generational phenomenon. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along.
There are no Monkee tour dates scheduled for 2017 at the time of this writing. But just to make sure, check out this page on themonkees.com.
For more insight, here’s a fascinating article not just on the origins of the band, which we’ve heard re-told so many times, but what each surviving member thinks about the identity of the band fifty years later, and what makes for a Monkees song with that wider sense of perspective.