Posts Tagged Kinks

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Meanwhile, over on the other side

Here’s a tip-top post about those cheeky Davies brothers and their sibling rivalry / brutish fist-fights (depending on your point of view, not that the two are mutually exclusive). It’s over at the curiously titled, but always interesting, bashfulbadgers blog and I highly recommend you read it, once you navigate away from this here cacophony of semi-intelligible ranting.

No, don’t deny it. I know you’ll be off elsewhere. Secrets will only make things worse between us.

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Fame, fame, fatal fame

Thanks to the magic of the internet (and reading) I’ve just discovered the wonderful Kinda Kinks mentioned my most recent post on its News & Rumours page. This has directly led to around 180 (at the time of writing) people heading over and reading, which is an impressive 25% of the average monthly visits to this site in a single day, people.

However, if only to keep my feet on the ground, still at the time of writing, 1 (one) of those 180 people has formally stated that they liked the post.

Swings and roundabouts, innit.

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A brand new resolution

Just a year after a return to chart success with Lola, and with a move to a new record label (RCA) under their belts, late 1971 was clearly the right time for the Kinks to capitalise on their comeback, seize the moment, and stake their territory as mainstream rock and roll heroes. 

Alternatively, they could release an album of songs inspired by those most reliable measures of commercial triumph in Britian, country and western music, and lyrics about urban regeneration, social exclusion, and mental illness.

Inevitably they went for the latter and the album, Muswell Hillbillies, tanked.

But frankly, and nearly 41 years later, who cares, because here we are dealing with a most rarefied form of genius.

Ray Davies addresses the personal and the global – or at least his own world of north London – opening with a cry for escape from the 20th century, its civil servants and threat of nuclear warfare (interesting juxtaposition). When he howls “This is the 20thcentury / Too much aggravation / This is the edge of insanity! / I’m a 20th century man but I don’t wanna be here” he sets out the platform for most of what follows. Paranoid waking nightmares, wishful escapism, eviction, unjust incarceration, a forced vacation (with a thankfully short-lived impersonation of a toothless blues singer), all of life’s joys are here.

Davies highlights the burgeoning obsession with weight and physical appearance (as well as the carb-free diet a good 30 years or so before ‘Dr’ Atkins brought it to the, er, masses), and concludes the album with a railing against imposed social change. We’re left with an impression of the world ‘out there’ besieging us with its demands, insistences, and constraints, and of a man on the brink of breakdown – in the midst of one, even – but who can still muster defiance against the powers that be.

This is a totally cohesive album, the seemingly disparate elements of music and lyrics combining perfectly. Davies takes the most bleak personal troubles and society’s ills, and somehow, somehow makes them humorous, inspiring, and comforting.

He even found space for a playful homage to that most British of institutions.

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See, my friends

At the age of 21, I was stacking shelves in a Liverpool branch of Kwik Save, and beginning to figure out a way of basing a 20,000-word dissertation on the global football transfer system.

Three and a half decades earlier, at the age of 21 a near-permanently jet-lagged Raymond Douglas Davies found inspiration in the songs of Indian fishermen to write See My Friends, a woozy, dreamy loop of a song.

For a long time I half-dismissed this song, or at least didn’t think about it properly. I was also lazy (and young) enough to automatically classify it as one of those Indian-influenced songs they were all doing in the 1960s. And then, over time, the same things that made me look past it began to make me look into it – the hypnotic quality of the repeated melody, the apparently typical Indian influence (achieved by Dave Davies without even using a sitar), the indistinct meaning of the lyrics – the one constant in the interpretation of these seems to be the death of one of Davies’ sisters, soon after she gave him his first guitar for his 13th birthday.

Then I realised (or, more likely, read somewhere) that it pre-dated Norwegian Wood by a few months, in effect sparking the Beatles’ obsession with sitars, and the penny dropped. This helpfully fitted my already-resolute belief that Ray Davies is a superior songwriter to Lennon and/or McCartney.

It’s fair to say that, beyond the age of 21, I’ve not got any closer to the trajectory of Raymond Douglas Davies. But my dissertation was surprisingly well received.

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We are strictly second class

Speaking of subverting the norms, the Kinks released Dead End Street as a non-album single in 1966 (later included on CD issues of Face To Face), and shot a rather memorable video to accompany it. Another counterpoint to the perception and proclamation of ‘Swinging London’ as being the hip place to be, it paints a picture of a life spent trapped in debt, unemployment and minor squalor. I regularly find myself incapable of the words required to do justice to the phenomenal Ray Davies, so it’s just as well that his inspired works do (most of) the talking for me.

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Everybody felt the rain

By 1966, The Kinks were trying to either recapture the popular success of their earliest singles, or trying to set a new direction for themselves, or, probably ideally, both. Ray in particular was under pressure to recapture his previous glories, yet after three studio albums in barely a year he was beginning to resent the music business and its demands on him as the de facto leader of the group. Add to this a somewhat unexpected marriage and parenthood, and Too Much On My Mind, tucked away as the fourth track on Face To Face, says it all, in both title and lyrics.
 
My thoughts just weigh me down,
And drag me to the ground,
And shake my head till there’s no more life in me
It’s ruining my brain,
I’ll never be the same,
My poor demented mind is slowly going
 
In Face To Face, Davies’ focus falls variously on family loss (Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home, a precursor for Arthur), the material excesses of the 60s (A House In The Country, Most Exclusive Residence For Sale, and Holiday In Waikiki), and the supernatural and mysticism (Rainy Day In June, and Fancy). Throw in some more conventional (for which read ‘staid’) pop songs in You’re Looking Fine and I’ll Remember, and you’re left with something of a hotch-potch of themes, most of which hint at, or scream about, the sadness and frustration beneath the surface.
 
It’s worth lingering on Dandy a little while. In the very middle of the Swinging Sixties, a time of unprecedented sexual freedom, not least for pop stars, Davies castigates a womanising, playboy figure for “pouring out your charm / to meet your own demands”. Predicting a future where the Dandy remembers being told that “two girls are too many, three’s a crowd, and four you’re dead”, Davies is scathing about this selfishness (“And Dandy, you’re alright, you’re alright, you’re alright…”), a fine example of his genius in subverting the norms.
 
Where subsequent albums would rise above their imperfections to become, well, gloriously imperfect, Face To Face doesn’t manage to overcome its limitations. And yet, with Sunny Afternoon the group demonstrated that their move away from rock and roll could be both a commercial and a critical success. As such, Face To Face is best viewed in the context of the Kinks’ career trajectory as a whole. From Ray Davies’ ravages of mental torment came a single which, ultimately, confirmed the Kinks’ growth beyond their contemporaries, and set the foundation for them, in their golden years of 1966 to 1971, to transcend the contemporary full stop.
 

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