“‘Daydream Believer’: Oh, What Can it Mean?”

The Monkees are a band you don’t hear discussed a lot anymore although I still tend to hear “Daydream Believer,” likely their best single, at a decent clip, or at least on my own Spotify playlists with great frequency. If their relative obscurity nowadays seems appropriate, it could be because they were basically conceived within a sort of de facto phenomenological apex of disposable entertainment: a rock and roll band that was to double as a group of actors sharing a TV sitcom. If the experiment was a failure, it was at least a charming one, as many people have fond things to say about them, and “Daydream Believer,” a song written by one John Stewart (not of the band), is, at least in my opinion, one of the top 10 pop songs of the 1960s. 

Now, this very manifestation of a singer singing a song somebody else wrote represents a worthy discussion point, in itself. It’s possible, probably, that this dynamic saw its worst nightmares played out in the form of The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears,” a song that in no way resembled anything else the guy had done and resided on an album with a cover depicting that sort of faux-horror fake blood coming out of the singer’s mouth. I mean, you won’t find a more egregious case of “ca$h for $ong$” if you look over the whole world, at least not yet at this point in time. 

An interesting intermediary might be “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” which, though not written by Elton John himself (it was penned by a team of songwriters, in fact, just like “Save Your Tears”), does at least kind of SOUND like “Don’t Let the Sun Go down on Me,” or “Honky Cat,” or “Daniel,” full of bright, breezy chord changes and earnest lyrics which seek to probe the human heart, if you will. And this is sort of a subjective point but it’s just SUNG with more genuineness and purpose than “Save Your Tears”: it explodes into a glorious, emphatic chorus, replete with a key change, and in general comes across as way more inspired of an effort.

Well, you might ask, how can this truly be the case, authentically, if the artist singing it did not actually write it? Well, is there such thing as falling in love with someone else’s song? You bet your bottom dollar there is. And why shouldn’t Elton John fall in love with rock and roll? He’s got every right to as anybody. 

In the case of The Monkees, then, Davy Jones is singing this song on what’s basically close to the end of their career as television stars, 1967. Their running sitcom would find its origin in ’66 and its culmination two years later. And if you’re like me, you don’t really have to ask why a rock band/TV show hybrid didn’t work… but I won’t make a big deal out of it. 

My point is that “Daydream Believer” is a classic song and it is so because, although it wasn’t written by the band which performed it, it struck especially close to home for Davy Jones, the one delivering the song’s vocal performance. In general, the song is light-hearted, but also tinged with heartache and uncertainty, as in the kind that would accompany a point of impending transition in one’s life. His whole career, in a sense, has been a dream, an enterprise of acting out other people’s songs and scripts and, essentially, inserting a precarious or makeshift element of “stardom” and “success” into the operation. Suddenly, on “Daydream Believer,” life is getting real to him. He’s been bestowed this song to sing by the resident songwriter John Steward at, against all odds, the song actually defines his own life as a sort of pretender encountering a gut check, of sorts. The imminent struggle and strife are symbolized right away by the harsh imagery of a “six-o-clock alarm” and razor that’s “cold / And it stings”. Things get even more descript in the next verse with the lines “You once thought of me / As a white knight on a steed / Now you know how happy I can be”. (As an aside, I’d like to just illustrate the brilliance of this lyrical segment for its sense of humor in denoting this notion from his girlfriend as the pinnacle of his happiness in life, concurrent with an apparent complete absence of courage and chivalry, or anything that would actually justify association with a knight, for all intents and purposes.) 

I mean, what happens when his show gets cancelled? “Daydream Believer” is a disposable pop song geared for kitsch mass consumption but one that accidentally grew transcendent tendrils of self-awareness and self-deprecation. In “I Don’t Mind,” the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley sings “I don’t know if / I’m an actor or ham / A shaman or sham / But if you don’t mind / I don’t mind”. It’s essentially almost the same thing that Davy Jones is voicing in “Daydream Believer”: the daydream in which he’s believed is on the cusp of exposing itself as just that and he’s legitimately scared, and he legitimately thinks he’s a ham, like those child stars who grow up too quick and are ruined by success, with no sense of whom they really are in life. I mean, this guy can’t even find the hot water knob, for Christ’s sake. 


<script async src=“https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js?client=ca-pub-5127494401132808”