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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Wish I had a more direct connection

Ok, a little breather from the world of Asterix for a week or so (these Gauls are crazy…).

On my ‘to do’ list I have scribbled FACE TO FACE, another Kinks album about which I intend to write. All in good time. For the time being, the opening track off that album, Party Line, simply will not stop playing in my head at the moment.

In many ways going against the theme of the rest of the album, it’s a jaunty, uptempo song, very much of its time. It starts with a ringing phone, a very posh “Hello, who’s that speaking please?” (courtesy of the band’s posh manager Grenville Collins), and a characteristic early Kinks guitar riff.

Written by Ray and sung by Dave, it tells of being torn between wanting privacy while on the party line (a shared telephone line) in question, and wanting to find out the identity of the woman behind the constantly interrupting voice: “Is she big, is she small? / Is she a she at all?”. Kinky.

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The world’s gone and passed me by

At the time, the genesis and birth of Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire) must have felt like something of a waking nightmare for Ray Davies and friends. The concept was to write a soundtrack to underscore a Granada TV play, to be written by Julian Mitchell, but while the recording of the album progressed nicely, the development of the TV programme was troublesome, culminating in last-minute cancellation after funding fell through. After seeing the best part of a year’s work come to nothing, the album was to be released as a standalone concept album – but with the concept itself much less tangible than was first expected. With hindsight it perhaps unsurprising that two pre-album singles were released (Plastic Man, and Drivin’) to either limited or no chart success.
 
The album paints a picture of a fictional Arthur Morgan (based closely on the Davies’ brother-in-law) in the post-Second World War years. He is depicted as an essentially good, decent man who is confounded, let down, and ultimately brow-beaten by the world around him, inevitably serving as a metaphor for the once-great British Empire.
 
Davies’ themes are clear and prominent: nostalgia for a forgotten Britain (the excellent Victoria, and Young And Innocent Days), the fundamental emptiness of life (Shangri-La, and Nothing To Say), and the war (Yes Sir, No Sir is notable for its memorably scathing take on the army’s attitudes to its recruits: “Give the scum a gun and make the bugger fight / And be sure to have deserters shot on sight / If he dies we’ll send a memo to his wife”). Indeed many of the album’s subjects are treated with thinly-disguised scorn. Australia is presented as an apparent land of opportunity which its immigrants expected to believe has “no class distinction, no drug addiction”, while in Mr Churchill Says, the war-time British public is portrayed as both resolute and desperate (“All the garden gates /And empty cans are gonna make us win”).
 
The centrepiece of the album is quite rightly Shangri-La. I’ll go out on a limb here and state that this is possibly my favourite song ever written. It is simply majestic, effortlessly describing the mundanity and desperation of Arthur’s quiet suburban life, which has been reduced to a pursuit of modest material aspirations (his lifetime achievement being that of no longer having an outside toilet archly contrasting with the album’s finale which tells us Arthur “was young, and he had so much ambition”). Arthur’s life is now one of a TV, a radio, and a ‘dream’ car (all on the never-never), in a world of resignation where he knows his place; his place being in his rocking chair by the fire, cup of tea in hand, scared of his own insecurity, enduring execrable visits from nosey neighbours.
 
These lyrics could be taken to be an aloof, damning indictment of the aspirational working man, but in Davies’ hands they are agonised, sympathetic, and bittersweet, despairing of the world we’ve inherited and of what the Empire has become.

This song and the album as a whole are simply musical and lyrical masterpieces.

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I don’t want to die in a nuclear war

Released at a time when The Kinks appeared to be on the wane, 1970’s unconventionally-named Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One brought them back into the public’s conscience largely off the back of perhaps the most celebrated ode to transvestism in pop history.
 
The album itself failed to chart in the UK, which seems somehow fitting, given that large parts of it are a feast of Ray Davies’ cynicism and bitterness about the music industry and its principal actors – agents, managers, the press.
 
Top Of The Pops takes us on an entertaining jaunt through the lifecycle of a hit single climbing up the charts, leading to recognition in the streets from screaming fans and interest from the Melody Maker (ask your Dad, kids). This culminates in a momentous phone call from the singer’s agent with the news that the song has gone to number one, resulting in the opportunity to “earn some real money!”. Similarly, Moneygoround laments the complex web of music industry types who each dip their hands into the money earned from a song’s success, leaving Ray initiating litigation with survival his only goal, while Powerman is both defiant and resigned.

Other themes on the album include alienation, paranoia, and despair at modernity. Perhaps the most touching song on the album is Get Back In The Line, based on the Davies’ father’s experience of unionism and the effects it had on him, not to mention those it had on the young Ray seeing his father return home, jobless still. Also memorable are two Dave Davies-penned songs: Strangers, and Rats. The former is somehow both existential and full of human warmth; the latter drips with fear and paranoia, features a class-A addictive intro, and is oddly representative of my own feelings on my infrequent trips to that London. We also have the call of nature which is Apeman.

For me, despite (or indeed because of) its imperfections this album is essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in The Kinks: it is executed with characteristic humour, and in a way that belies its underlying negativity, showing some of the Davies brothers’ finest moments.

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