There were two albums in my parents’ record collection which made me feel uneasy. Not so much the music. Well that’s not quite true really because the first album was a Music For Pleasure LP of “Peter and the Wolf” and Prokofiev’s masterpiece always spooked me out. Even now thinking about it the main theme running through my mind makes me shudder. I can’t explain it very well but the movement of the music sends shivers down my spine. But more than the music it was the album cover which made me feel uneasy. I’ve only been able to locate the picture via Ebay but seeing it…. It looks quite placid, the actor Paul Daneman in a cosy red sweater, some felt and paper mache animals next to a tree but to me as a five year old, this looked like the creepiest thing ever. I would have nightmares about the cover, worried that the wolf was under my bed. (This may come as a surprise to my parents, but this blog had been an education for them if anything).
The other album was “The Golden Hour Of The Kinks”, a compilation issued by Pye’s Golden Hour offshoot label. The front cover is totally inappropriate, a psychedelic swirling drawing of the four members of the band, possibly in honour of Love’s “Forever Changes”, but bright yellows and oranges and vivid colours.. It was a very psychedelic cover for a record that really isn’t psychedelic at all. But there was worse on the reverse of the sleeve. Lots of pictures of other Golden Hour LPs, one of which had a picture of the moon – with a man’s face superimposed, another was a jigsaw of Donovan. Both looked very weird and slightly disconcerting.
But enough about the sleeves, what about the music? Well have a look at the track listing and marvel at how right it is. If you needed one album to convince you that the Kinks were important then this is it. Ok, so it was clearly compiled before “Lola” returned them to the Top Ten in 1970, but as an overview of their 60s heyday it is nearly perfect. There’s the primal early shredded speaker racket of “You really got me” and “All day and all of the night”, there’s the social satire of “A well respected man” and “Dedicated follower of fashion” there’s the run of classic singles through 1966 to 1967, from “Sunny afternoon” to “Autumn almanac”. Add to this a few oddities – “Sitting on my sofa” and “Louie Louie”, a smattering of album tracks and failed singles and there you go, a truly golden hour.
One curious thing for me is that listening to these songs in this particular order sends me straight back to being a child again. No matter how familiar these songs are – and they are very familiar – this sequence feels right somehow. There’s even the crappy stereo mix of “Wonderboy” where the lead vocal is buried within the song. Still sounds great in context. What is also curious about the album is that it inspired my brother to investigate the Kinks and to dig deeper. The album itself was long gone from my parents’ record collection by 1981, it was only on a cassette, which had a quirk of its own. Because the intro to “Waterloo Sunset” got stuck while it was being recorded. There’s the well known descending introduction, then the first three notes of Dave Davies’ lead guitar part, then it jumps back to the end of the descent and Dave plays three notes, back to the descent, Dave plays three notes and finally my father notices and nudges the stylus on and the song progresses normally. This is how I heard “Waterloo Sunset” for the first 12 years of my life and that’s how it sounds in my head, even now. But back in 1981 my brother had his first music centre, an integrates unit of tape deck, radio, record player with two speakers which immediately were drilled to his bedroom wall. Andy was (and still is, obviously) eighteen months older than me so was 14 in 1981, starting to develop his own music taste much as I would two years later. For him it was the Rolling Stones, at the time experiencing a resurgence of popularity due to the success of “Tattoo you” and “Start me up”. From there it was a logical move to check out the tapes in our parents’ collection and see what was similar. “The golden hour of the Kinks” fitted the bill and was regularly blasted out. I’m sure my parents didn’t mind, it was their music, it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been that sweaty noisy punk rock. (That would start pouring out of my brother’s bedroom a year or so later)
So this album started my brother’s obsession with the Kinks. A few weeks after listening to this tape he bought a cheap double cassette Best Of from Woolworths, full of songs neither of us knew with strangely British titles like “Harry Rag” and “Afternoon tea” but not too many actual hits, but it whetted his appetite for more and he started to buy their LPs. Around this time – early 1983 – the Kinks had a surprise hit single or two when “Come dancing” and “Don’t forget to dance ” returned them to Top Of The Pops, Ray Davies looking half delighted and half bemused by it all, like an uncle at the wrong party. Actually Dave Davies looks more bemused than anything. This resurgence of interest in the band helped my brother, because two books were published, “The sound and the fury” by Johnny Rogan and an official biography by Jon Savage. Then in early ’84 the Kinks played at St Davids Hall in Cardiff supported by The Truth I think, and Andy was there, the first of many Kinks gigs.
I’ve mentioned before how I wasn’t fond of my brother’s taste in music. By the end of 1984 our tastes were diametrically opposed. I liked modern music, always reading the music papers and listening to John Peel, looking for the next new song or band. He was looking backwards, investigating punk and its sources, from the Stooges and Velvet Underground, and digging into Dave Davies’ early Eighties solo career. In retrospect it gave him a better idea of the history of music, so fair play to him. But at the time I didn’t really see the point. Andy didn’t help his cause by playing the most annoying parts of his record collection at me at top volume, often accompanied by his own attempts to play the songs on his electric guitar, also at top volume. And even if he wasn’t massacring these classics, he’d still insist on force-feeding me horrible songs like “Ducks on the wall” from “Soap opera”. He would ask “What do you think?” knowing full well I hated it. He would also turn the volume up for the dull filter sweep at the end of “Attitude” from “Low budget” and say “Look Rob, the Kinks using synths!” as if they were great innovators in that area. I would counteract this by playing “You’re a hoover” by Freur and say “Look Andy, guitars!” We were young….
The first sign that something was changing for me was a tape I compiled in November ’84. It was only one side of a C90 (a green BASF if you’re interested) but it was quietly significant. It was the first time that I acknowledged that some of my brother’s music was worth listening to, not that I’d admit it to his face. I raided my parents’ then meagre Beatles collection for “Not a second time”, “Every little thing” and “I don’t want to spoil the party”. I then moved to my brother’s collection, starting with the gentler sound of the Velvet Underground for “Here she comes now”, “Beginning to see the light” and “That’s the story of my life”. Finally a few Kinks songs, three from “Village Green Preservation Society” – “Animal farm”, “Starstruck” and “People take pictures of each other” – and two from “Arthur” – “Brainwashed” and “Shangri La”. I loved that tape and again hearing those songs in that order conjures up more visions of how 1984 ended for me (which I’ll get back to soon enough). But that tape was my own secret.
I suppose the real turning point came in 1987 when two compilations arrived. “The Kinks Kronikles” was purchased by Andy during the summer holiday in Haworth (I’m pretty sure he bought it in Harrogate) and something about this collection of mid to late sixties album tracks, singles and outtakes clicked with me, so much so that I ended up taping highlights on one side of a tape with the whole of the “Village Green” LP on the other and playing it a lot in my student digs in Sheffield. The sleeve notes by John Mendelssohn were also bang on – admitting that the early seventies Kinks weren’t a patch on the late sixties Kinks, with all the subtlety and pathos replaced by drunkenness and crowd pleasing. A few months later “The great lost Kinks album” also arrived, with more pointed sleeve notes and an even richer collection of songs. Around 1988, whoever owned the rights to Pye Records (I think it was PRT) issued a double CD of all the Kinks’ singles, EPs and b sides, alongside a mini LP collecting all Dave Davies’ songs onto “The albums that never was”. Slowly I was convinced that the Kinks’ golden period spanned from 1966 to 1969 and I started to appreciate them more.
Unfortunately just as I became interested in the Kinks, they went through a stage of making dreadful records, but my brother would still travel around the country to see them. In 1988 he stayed overnight with me in Sheffield as it was halfway between Hull (where he was studying) and Manchester (where they were playing). By 1993 both my father and I loved the Kinks enough to see them at St Davids Hall in Cardiff, and Andy came down from Stockport too. But he made one condition – if they did “It” he would walk out and go to the toilet. “It” was this odd instrumental where Ray and Dave sodded off for a drink or a fight in the wings while some dancers came on and did some kind of art. It wasn’t a lot of fun, and Andy had been to enough Kinks gigs by 1993 to know he didn’t want to see it again. So the Kinks played, Dave Davies played guitar on his knees at the lip of the stage hoping the crowd would be there for him, but St Davids Hall has an orchestra pit there and a thin layer of wood over it so nobody ever gets close to the stage… It was hilarious. But yes the Kinks were great and played old songs and new songs and a few surprises – “Oklahoma USA” sent shivers down my spine. And when the dancers came on, Andy headed for the toilets leaving me and my father laughing out loud.
I think that was the last major tour the Kinks completed before splitting up so I was glad to see them. I can never remember if my father had seen them ar their notorious gig at the Capitol Theatre back in 1964 where Mick Avory nearly decapitated Dave with a cymbal… But Ray and Dave are both still around, I’ve seen Ray a few times solo and he’s always been marvellous, and his books are great too.
So in honour of the Kinks I thought I’d write about fifteen of my favourite songs by them. I couldn’t limit it to ten, I tried a baker’s dozen but what the hell, here’s fifteen of their songs which mean the most to me. They are in chronological order and hell I could have doubled this number and still missed out a ton of favourites.
“Too much on my mind” – from “Face to face” LP, 1966
It was already clear by 1966 that Ray Davies wasn’t just going to celebrate how great Swinging London was. He was too much of a realist for that. The markers had been set the previous year with “The world keeps turning round” on “The Kinks Kontroversy” (oh how my spellcheck protests at that) and “Where have all the good times gone?” But now it was even harder for Ray to hide. By now he’d had a nervous breakdown, threatened to retire and had sued various sections of his management team and publishing, and then there were the problems with America, where the Kinks had behaved so badly they had been banned from performing there, so they watched powerless as other less able bands coined it in through the British Invasion. All these worries for someone so young.
All these worries were rolled into this one song. The music sounds placid to begin with (and you could trace a line from the intro to the start of “The theme from MASH”) but Ray sounds like he’s going to explode, but every so quietly. This tension is what makes the song so special, and it’s never truly resolved either. A highlight on an album full of gems – “Sunny afternoon”, “Party line”, “Fancy”…. Though “Rosie won’t you please come home” is very very close (“And I would bake a cake if you’d tell me you were on the first plane home” – the image of Ray Davies making a cake always makes me smile).
“This is where I belong” – b side to “Mr Pleasant” single in Europe, 1967
Some people don’t like “Mr Pleasant” at all, but I love it. Those chiming guitars, the barrel house piano but more than anything the way it swings from D major to D minor whenever Mrs Pleasant is mentioned, and you could say its a bit obvious but no, I think it’s great. For some reason I always think of “Mr Pleasant” as the husband of the woman in “Mother’s little helper”.
But “This is where I belong” is an amazing song. For a start it sounds like the Kinks are trying to achieve a “Highway 61 revisited” vibe, lots of twiddling organ in the mix and some of the vocal has a Dylan-esque twang. But the lyrics are far from that, it’s a hymn to stability, peace, finding your place and being contented in it. Its a heartfelt performance, and when Ray and Dave sing in harmony together towards the end it makes my heart melt.
What is odd is how well known this song turned out to be. It was never issued in the UK officially until the late 90s reissue of “Face to face” but was a mainstay of “The Kinks Kronikles” since that was issued in 1971, so the Americans knew it better. Which is why the majority of covers of the song are American. A quick trawl through Spotify found almost ten versions, mostly of the garage rock variety. I’m sure Frank Black covered it, and School of Fish. And it even appears within the new “Sunny Afternoon” stage show. But best of all, when Paul K and I saw Ray perform in Cardiff a few years ago he opened his set with it. Well, it saved me having to request it.
“Autumn almanac” – single, 1967
I so wanted to include a song from “Something else…” but we’ll get to some of that album a little later. But for now let’s say that “Two sisters” was a distinct possibility for this list. But in the end I chose this single. The structure of the song is remarkable, how it moves through different time signatures dropping and adding bars along the way, how the different sections of the song all slot together so perfectly, how it evokes so many memories, how it is completely autumnal, slightly psychedelic, almost falling over itself to pack as much incident and melody into the song. And yet it doesn’t sound forced, there’s a relaxed nature to the song -no pun intended. This is a song as good as any late 67 single and should be regarded as one of the Kinks’ true classics.
(Well what can you say about perfection?)
“Do you remember Walter?” / “People take pictures of each other” from “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” LP, 1968
It’s hard to find new ways of talking about VGPS simply because it has been so comprehensively covered in Andy Miller’s superb 33 1/3 book on the album, and his sleeve notes to the three CD deluxe edition issues not long afterwards. And if you don’t own both of these items then may I suggest you get both in your life as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.
There’s so much past in VGPS… It seeps out of almost every song, sometimes specifically and sometimes just in a general attitude of melancholy longing to return to a younger, safer and more innocent place. “Do you remember Walter?” is beautifully ambiguous. I’ve often wondered if there should be a comma between the last two words of the title, to make it more specific. Ray is remembering an old friend, the promises they made to each other, and what happened to those dreams. The final verse always hurts…and Ray sings it with such feeling – such sadness when he sings “i bet you’re fat and married”… Walter is an echo of the past, now he’s grown up and hen pecked and boring (and is Ray implying that he is too?) and not interested in the past. The final line though… “People often change but memories of people still remain”.
At the other end of the album the accumulation of memories has turned into an avalanche and Ray can’t cope. The music sounds slightly manic, the intro ascending a little bit too far, Ray’s vocal is all purrs and sighs, people are trying to prove their existence with photographs so a moment can last forever. And I knew hearing this back in the 80s that it was right, the number of pictures of me on holiday pulling a face because I didn’t want to be there… Seeing the pictures brought it all back to mind. And there’s more hurt too – “You can’t picture love that you took from me, when we were young and the world was free”. By the end of the song Ray is at the end of his tether, one too many pictures, one too many memories… “a picture of me when I was just three, sat with my ma by the old oak tree, how I love things as they used to be” then softly but insistent “Don’t show me no more please”. He’s had enough. The past is too much.
The whole of VGPS is like that, every song is superb, every song tells its own story. Even the outtakes are great. Limiting myself to two songs was hard, the whole album works beautifully, it is a masterpiece. Every home should have one.
“Mindless child of motherhood” – b side to “Driving” single, 1969.
For a short while in 1967 and 1968 Dave Davies had his own solo career. His voice was always distinctive within the Kinks but his songwriting developed in such a way that he could add three brilliant songs to “Something Else By The Kinks” in 1967. “Death of a clown” was a well deserved hit single and follow up “Susannah’s still alive” was just as good. There was a hint of Dylan in the wordplay and his keening voice was distinctive. But by ’68 his third and fourth singles flopped badly and any plans for an album were shelved. All of which is a great shame as the songs themselves were perfectly fine, if not quite in keeping with the rapidly changing times. He still managed to contribute two b sides to the Kinks’ ’69 singles and all these songs were compiled later into “The album that never was”, an approximation of what a Dave Davies solo album could have been.
There is a thinly veiled thread of heartache within Dave’s late sixties songs. A tale of first love, fumbled first experiences, unexpected results and being ostracised by the family. Even a simple line in “Lincoln County” – “got a scarf for my mama that she won’t wear” – disguises part of the sorry tale, Dave bought a scarf for hia girlfriend but didn’t have the courage to give it to her so left it in someone’s hedge, only for his mother to find it and bring it home. All these stories roll into the best of these songs – ” Mindless child of motherhood”.
For a start the songs rocks in a way the Kinks hadn’t for a while by this point, the guitars are gorgeously crunching yet still with a Byrdsian jangle, and the song hurtles towards its conclusion full of chime and desperation. But what makes the whole performance real is Dave’s vocal, he’s searching for her but can’t reach her, he regrets so much, there are intimations of an offspring, and Dave’s voice cracks during the last chorus, it gets too much for him. An emotionally draining song, and a real hidden gem.
“A long way from home” – from “Lola vs Powerman and the Money-go-round volume one” LP, 1970
The “Lola” LP is far more than just the two hit singles on it. A funny, scabrous, cruel look at the music business, kicking out at management, press, publishers and anyone who had done wrong to Ray along the way, it’s a far better album than its predecessor “Arthur”. That LP is ok but … I’ve never seen it as the Kinks’ pinnacle that some people do. Too many of the songs are reliant on the ‘plot’, they can’t stand outside the album. Of course I could have picked “Shangri la” except for the fact that it is almost too painful to listen to as a middle-aged man with all the things in the song, the gas bill and the water rates and payments on the car, too scared to think about how insecure I am. (cough).
On the other hand “Lola” looks outward in ways previously unknown to the Kinks. So many good songs, even Gaz Coombes and John Lewis can’t spoil the joy in “This time tomorrow” and it’s great to hear Dave’s songs assimilated back into the band. And in the middle of all this is “A long way from home”.
I’ve always wondered who this is written about. Is Ray talking about himself, or Dave, or someone else who he has met out on the road? Or is it from the viewpoint of Ray’s wife to Ray? Either way, its beautifully poised, delicate piano mostly, Ray sings of the distance between the person he knew then and now, how the money and success has changed them. It’s as if he’s met up with Walter, and Walter is singing this to Ray. But the distance isn’t just a matter of miles, it’s emotional distance too. At the end, Dave is harmonising too, and its powerful in its quiet intensity. Ray sings “You’ve come a long way, you’re self-assured and dressed in funny clothes but you don’t know me” in such a heartbreaking way. Stunning.
“The way love used to be” – from “Percy” soundtrack album, 1971
“Percy” is an odd record. Asking the Kinks to create the soundtrack to a film about a penis transplant is odd enough. The fact that Ray took it as a chance to produce some quietly beautiful songs about the glory of nature, love and tradition shouldn’t really have surprised anyone. We are all God’s children, after all. Yes there’s a few daft instrumentals too but then it’s a soundtrack, what do you expect? Nestling inside the album is this beauty, the only Kinks on it are Ray on acoustic guitar and Ray Gosling on piano, the rest is a gorgeous string arrangement by Stanley Myers, soft as a feather bed but with enough swerves to make my heart leap into my mouth. And Ray is crooning, reminding the listener about how love should be, getting away from it all, and only talking about love. Not even doing anything, just talking. How old fashioned, how quaint, how utterly perfect.
“Demolition” – from “Preservation Act One” album, 1973
At which point my brother gasps.
In a way “Preservation Act One” is a logical development from “Village Green Preservation Society”, the songs aren’t too specific, there isn’t too much plot until the end, its all character sketches most of the way. There’s some good songs and some bad songs. I would happily never hear “Cricket” and “I think there’s a change in the weather” again. “Where are they now?” is curiously touching, looking back on the Teddy Boys and clothes designers and characters from fiction who defined the swinging sixties with fondness. Of course it wasn’t just Ray looking back at the time, as a quick listen to “Pin ups” and “Quadrophenia” and “These foolish things” would demonstrate.
But in listening to this recently, the song that leapt out was “Demolition” in which Mr Flash starts buying up properties in the village to bulldoze it, build new flats and treble the profit. “it’s the wonderful world of capitalism, I’ve got to make a profit, I’ve got to get rich quick”. Sound familiar? Even in somewhere like Newport this is happening, down the road a load of unoccupied offices are turned into luxury flats, a hotel which closed last year is going to be flats too… It’s happening everywhere, especially in London. An opportunity for luxury living.
The whole Flash persona had been building up for a while, you can see it surface in “King Kong” on the b side of “Plastic man” back in ’69 (“Everybody wants power, everybody wants fame, everybody wants money” and “I’ve got so much money I can buy anyone who gets in my way”) and “Powerman” on “Lola”, but Flash is more fleshed out. Of course it would be developed in “Preservation Act Two” and that one good melody found at the end of “Demolition” would be hammered into the ground. Shame.
“A face in the crowd” – from “Soap Opera” LP, 1974
Oh dear, “Soap opera”. My brother played this all the bloody time back in the day. About a year ago I decided to listen to the album and it turned out that I knew every word, so it must have soaked in through osmosis. The majority of the album is dismal, the plot is risible… A pop star swaps places with a normal person called Norman to gain perspective and write songs about mundane things like ducks in the wall and going for a drink after worm. Eventually he has a breakdown over a shepherds pie (“but I can’t cope with all that fancy stuff you like to eat like pizzas…” cries Norman’s wife) and the ending is a sing-along about the power of music and oh god how tedious and showy and yet…
“A face in the crowd” is the only truthful song here. He’s giving up, fading away, facing up to the truth that he’s ordinary. Is this all a fantasy? Is the whole premise of the album a lie? And considering what had happened to Ray at a Kinks gig in White City the previous year (an overdose on pills, having his stomach pumped, nobody believing him because he was in his stage clothes – “dressed like a clown”), is Ray talking about his ow desire to not be famous, to return to normality? Who knows? All these thoughts are attached to one of the sweetest melodies on the album, with a beautiful descending sequence.
“No more looking back” – from “Schoolboys in disgrace” LP, 1975
Not another concept album! This is about Mr Flash in his youth, and I suppose the story of getting someone pregnant could be related to Dave’s story. Do we need Ray to tell us school is hard and rules are made to be broken and education is a bad thing? Demon headmasters? Dave riffing on “The hard way”?
The album closer “No more looking back” steps outside of the concept. It’s the present day, Ray sees someone he thinks he knows, and all the memories come tumbling back. He can’t escape the past, but does he want to? As the song progresses, Ray gets wilder and more passionate, until at the end he’s practically screaming out.
“No more looking back
No more living in the past
Yesterday’s gone and that’s a fact
So now there’s no more looking back”
But do we believe him? Hell no. Even when I heard this song for the first time in the mid eighties I knew it was special, I already associated with it, I knew precisely what it meant. Read through the blog, see why it holds resonance for me. That’s all I’ll say.
“Too hot” / “Living on a thin line” – from “Word of mouth” LP, 1984
The Kinks’ period on Arista may have given them huge commercial success, particularly in America, but it was to the cost of their songwriting, and their subtlety. Huge power chords, riffs you can guess from a mile away, God the Kinks in the late 70s and early 80s were a bit dull and obvious. For every good song like “Better things” there’s half a dozen tired rewrites like “Destroyer”. Dave’s back contributing songs too, even though sometimes they’re a bit weird – there’s a section towards the end of “Trust your heart” where Dave’s vocal gets so high pitched only cats and dogs can hear him. But for some reason 1984’s “Word of mouth” was half a decent album. Maybe the success of “Come dancing” in the UK had made Ray make an album for Britain not America. There’s a few duffers in there – some of which ended up in “Return to Waterloo” – but when it’s good it’s very good indeed.
“Too hot” is a fascinating snapshot of 1984. The gym is full of people working out and body popping, Julian is trying to make a video, Arthur’s heading towards a confrontation and Sarah Jane is struggling to study while working on the side. It doesn’t sound like much on paper but it has a gleeful nature that is quite infectious. “Living on a thin line” is more serious, Dave in command, not shrieking because this time the words matter. Have a look here. Strange how it still sounds relevant – “Blame the future on the past”? It could be about this government. Some things never change, even if they should. “Living on a thin line” is a song which becomes more truthful as time passes. I think this song has been used on some TV shows so it may be more well known now, and quite deservedly so.
“Only a dream” – from “Phobia” LP, 1993
After some quite dreadful albums – “Think visual” and “UK jive”- 1993’s “Phobia” was a surprising return to form. It’s not all brilliant and suffers from the standard nineties crime of trying to fill as many of the 74 minutes as possible, ao you could happily lose three or so songs, but the rest of the album is great. There’s humour, pathos, tenderness and a lot of rather decent social commentary. It was a toss up whether I would chose “Scattered” or this song. “Scattered” is a great song, it should have been a hit (ditto to non-album single “Did ya” from earlier that year) but in the end “Only a dream” won.
The reason? Because it’s the truth. You’re feeling like shit when someone od the opposite sex says hello, and your mind goes spinning off – does she like me? Is this the start of something? Suddenly the world is a better place and you’re walking on air. The next day she ignores you, but life is that little bit better. Of course it’s corny – especially the last line, oh dear- but I’ve got a lot of affection for this song. Has it happened to me? Ha, yes of course it has.
it was a huge shame that the Kinks didn’t capitalise on Britpop and faded away, and seeing Ray Davies singing with Damon Albarn on “The White Room” was about as far as it got. Every so often the rumours fly of an reunion and it may well happen. Me, I’m just glad I did see them, and that “Pictures in the sand” is finally available on CD at last. (The recent Pye anthology may play fast and loose with the mixes but it’s still a worthwhile purchase)
And with that, I’ll bid adieu.
(Oh lets see if this playlist thing works…)
Next time – it was thirty years ago today…