Peter Tork, The Monkees and “Shades of Gray”

Saddened to hear the news that Peter Tork of the Monkees has died. Since starting this project, where I journey back in time reminiscing about the music of my youth, it has become apparent that it all started for me at around the age of six, which in my case was 1966. Coincidentally that was when the Monkees first made an appearance on our black and white television screens, and although I was aware of other artists who popped up on the prime time slots watched by my mum and dad, the Monkees belonged to me.

thRXPD4TMH
Peter Tork, RIP

I am sorry Peter, but the Monkee I was most infatuated with at age six, was Davy Jones, and one of the first posts I published on this blog was about him (link here). But you Peter, were the Howard Donald of the Monkees. You weren’t the cutest or the zaniest; you had a bowl haircut, didn’t wear a hat and were the oldest of the group; but like Howard of Take That fame, in time you became my favourite Monkee.

Despite being an accomplished Greenwich Village folk musician when you got the role in the sitcom that would change your life, at the start you weren’t even allowed to play your own instruments. That would change with time however, and you became the man in charge of keyboards and bass. You didn’t get the role of star vocalist very often, but here is a lovely song where you did share lead vocals with Davy Jones. Shades of Gray (American spelling of grey) is also very apt for this post, as it starts off with the lines:

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play, (yes, that would have been 1966 for me)

and ends with the verse:

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray, (oh yes, as our politicians can testify, how complicated life has become in 2019)

Shades of Gray was another of those great ’60s songs written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It was recorded by The Monkees for their 1967 album “Headquarters” and was the first song on which the group played all their own instruments.

But here is another great song from that era, the clip this time in colour, where the boys are wearing those iconic dark red shirts with the silver buttons. Of course back in 1966 we wouldn’t have known their shirts were red, would we, because we watched telly in black and white? But here is where I beg to differ. Our local football team, Aberdeen FC played in red, and whenever their matches were aired on television, the grey of their shirts matched the grey of the Monkees shirts. At age six I was obviously pretty good at working out what the colours should be, based on the shades of grey of the various team shirts. Living in a football loving household meant you developed all sorts of useful skills of a televisual nature.

Last Train To Clarksville by the Monkees:

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote Last Train To Clarksville as a protest to the Vietnam War but had to keep that quiet in order to get it recorded. It is about a guy who gets drafted, and the train is taking him to the army base. He knows he may die in Vietnam, and at the end of the song he states, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

Peter Tork was one of the many artists of my youth to have been born in 1942, right in the middle of a World War, but yet a vintage year for the birth of future musical legends (what was that all about?). Unlike in 2016, when I started this blog, I haven’t actually written any tributes so far this year. Cross fingers there won’t be too many more, but considering the span of time I write about here, I suspect there will be. A great chance to revisit the music though, and I have a feeling that a lot of people who had all but forgotten about the Monkees, might have had a sneaky peek at an old clip of Daydream Believer yesterday – I know I did.

the monkeesUntil next time…

Shades of Gray Lyrics
(Song by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil)

When the world and I were young
Just yesterday
Life was such a simple game
A child could play
It was easy then to tell right from wrong
Easy then to tell weak from strong
When a man should stand and fight
Or just go along

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray

I remember when the answers seemed so clear
We had never lived with doubt or tasted fear
It was easy then to tell truth from lies
Selling out from compromise
Who to love and who to hate
The foolish from the wise

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray

It was easy then to know what was fair
When to keep and when to share
How much to protect your heart
And how much to care

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light
Today there is no black or white
Only shades of gray
Only shades of gray

Davy Jones, The Monkees and “Daydream Believer”

Day two after news broke of the death of David Bowie (Jones) and the media still awash with trubutes and commentaries about the icon.

Got me to thinking about that other David Jones who also died prematurely in his sixties – Davy Jones of The Monkees. My first big crush. Their television show (also called The Monkees) ran from 1966-68 and I was an avid viewer. Bright clothes, great pop songs, psychedelic sets and anarchic, slapstick behaviour – What not to like for a seven-year-old. Their scheduled slot was teatime on a Saturday night so perfect for family viewing.

davy jones

They very cunningly managed to highjack Neil Diamond’s best songs from that era and made them their own, no doubt contributing handsomely to Mr Diamond’s royalty cheques. My favourite was this one however from November 1967 and not a Neil Diamond song as it turns out – Daydream Believer. You only have to hear the first few notes on the piano to recognise what is about to come and boy are you in for a treat (starts at 0:20).

Daydream Believer by The Monkees:

Again, it makes me sad to think of those days nearly 50 years ago watching the impossibly cute Davy Jones leading the rest of the boys with his tamborine in hand. His diminutive size meant that he never really seemed to grow old and was a very handsome man right up until his death. After a spell of acting as a youth (Ena Sharples’ nephew in early Coronation Street) he became an apprentice jockey, but after taking up the role of the Artful Dodger in the West End, his show business path was set. He contined to have a lifelong love of horses however, and died aged just 66 after being out riding.

The Monkees never really did reunite properly although there were a few mini reunions over the years, the last being in 2011 to celebrate their 45th anniversary. The main reason was that they could never get Mike Nesmith on-board. His mother had invented and patented correction fluid, “Tippex”, so he inadvertently became a Tippex millionaire who didn’t really need the money and preferred to concentrate on his own projects – Very Rock ‘n’ Roll!

So from one David Jones (a Londoner turned Berliner turned New Yorker) to another David Jones (a Mancunian turned Angeleno turned Floridian) in two blogs. And both dead by the age of 70 – Far, far too young.

index

Daydream Believer Lyrics
(Song by John Stewart)

Oh, I could hide ‘neath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings
The six o’clock alarm would never ring
But it rings and I rise
Wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shavin’ razor’s cold and it stings

Cheer up, sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen

You once thought of me
As a white knight on a steed
Now you know how happy I can be
Oh, and our good times start and end
Without dollar one to spend
But how much, baby, do we really need