Everyone’s familiar with the initial wave of Monkeemania that swept America in the 1960s, not to mention the second wave spurred on by MTV’s reruns of The Monkees’ classic sitcom in the 1980s. But 7a Records – that tireless label dedicated to all things Monkee – has trained a well-deserved spotlight upon a lesser-known chapter of the Monkees phenomenon. The time was 1981 and the place was Japan. The late Davy Jones seized upon the popularity of a Kodak commercial there featuring “Daydream Believer” to take to the country’s pop charts and concert stages by storm. Two live albums and a host of rare bonus tracks comprise 7a’s altogether delightful Live in Japan, a 2-CD/1-DVD set chronicling this period in wonderful detail.
The first disc boasts the 1981 album Live in Japan. Thanks to the success of “Daydream Believer,” the old Monkees albums were charting anew, and Messrs. Jones, Dolenz, and Tork (separately) found the country a hospitable one for touring. Davy was first to stake his claim, backed by musical director Doug Trevor and a sympathetic local band, Ricky and Revolver. (The group had formed as a Beatles cover band and now found themselves backing a Monkee!)
The setlist was heavy on Monkees classics starting with two traditional Dolenz leads, “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer,” and continuing through favorites originally sung by Jones and his bandmates. Davy was clearly reinvigorated by the enthusiastically screaming audience, whether channeling his best vaudeville on “Cuddly Toy,” bringing intimacy to the large crowd for “I Wanna Be Free,” or bopping happily to “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” in arrangements hewing closely to the original records. Jones also performed his new material which was released to chart success in Japan: the light country-pop of “How Do You Know” and the bright synth-flecked “It’s Now.” Naturally, “Daydream Believer,” Jones’ most indelible Monkees lead, was saved for the concert’s climax.
The entire concert is presented twice on CD 1. The first version emulates the original LP; the second presentation is an alternate mix (de-emphasizing the audience shouts and applause) in an entirely different sequence. The original version captures the thrill of a Jones concert while the second is a more purely enjoyable listening experience.
The singing star followed up Live in Japan with a second in-concert release for the country. Hello, Davy was conceived as the springboard of an international revival; choreographer Michael Shere recalls in the liner notes that Davy hoped to stage a similar revue in Las Vegas, and also used the Japanese earnings of the show to promote an album in Australia.
The single “Dance, Gypsy” opened the concert with a light disco beat and a musical quote of “Oh, Pretty Woman,” signaling that the evening wouldn’t be just a nostalgia trip of Monkees tunes. The setlist was more diverse than its predecessor, blending classics with new singles like the floor-filler “Can She Do It (Like She Dances),” teenage throwback ballad “Baby, You’ll Soon Be Sixteen,” the imploring “Baby, Holdout,” and once again, “It’s Now.” (The latter and “How Do You Know” were recorded at Pete Townshend’s Eel Pie Studios with The Who genius present.) Davy also drew on beloved 1970s solo tracks like the bouncy “Rainy Jane” and the amorous “You’re a Lady” (complete with a bit of Japanese warbling, much to the happy squeals of the audience!) for a true tour of his past and present. Among the highlights is “(I’ll) Love You Forever,” a tender concert staple penned by Jones which was demoed in 1979 in the U.K. and eventually found its way onto The Monkees’ 1987 album Pool It!
Equally essential are the nine rare single sides which fill out the Hello, Davy disc, including all of the 1981-1982 Japan releases as well as both sides of a 1978 Warner Bros. U.K. single and even a 1983 private press track. The Warner single is a fascinating curiosity, finding Davy backed by a chorus of “A Million Kids” (or thereabouts…). The A-side “(Hey Ra Ra Ra) Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse” (penned by Disney tunesmiths Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn in celebration of the Mouse’s 50th birthday) is a upbeat children’s sing-along; flipside “You Don’t Have to Be a Country Boy (To Sing a Country Song)” found Jones jovially name-checking C&W heroes from Buck Owens to Glen Campbell in a twangy salute. “Rainbows,” originally issued privately in 1983 and given a commercial debut by 7a in 2018, is another, equally amiable country sojourn.
The video presentation of Hello, Davy is included on a Region 0 DVD (playable on all DVD players worldwide) here. A simple menu allows the viewer to play the whole concert or watch song-by-song. 7a has stated that the source of this DVD is the laserdisc release of the concert film, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent. It’s eminently watchable, and well worth the experience. There’s a brief introduction from Davy as well as a glimpse of the simple production values onstage; Davy even enters riding a motorcycle! The energetic performance comes to life even more fully with the visual component of Jones dancing and playing off the excited crowd.
Typical for 7a, the packaging is deluxe. The set is housed in a an eight-panel, standard CD-sized digipak, with the three discs each in a pocket. The wonderful cover art even incorporates the look of an OBI strip for added authenticity. A colorful 24-page booklet is included, as well. Compilation co-producer Iain Lee’s introduction wonderfully incorporate warm and fond memories from Japanese fans Misoro Hare, Akiko Ikada, Kyoko Hosokawa, and Sachiko Ishikawa at the shows. Mark Kleiner’s essay then describes the rise and fall and rise of The Monkees in vivid detail, placing Jones’ Japanese comeback in context of a period when the former teen idol was living in a trailer some 29 miles outside of London and pawning his jewelry to finance a recording session. [A 3-LP colored vinyl version of Live in Japan is also available. Get the details here.] One hopes 7a will return to Jones’ discography to give a proper presentation to the many archival tracks he released on limited-edition CDs sold at concerts over the years.
Davy Jones’ Live in Japan is another indispensable release for fans of The Monkees, and a wonderful tribute to the late artist whose infectious sense of fun is still felt here. If you’re not already a believer, this set might well make you one.