Friday, 22 May 2009
News, Views and Music Issue 32 (Top Five): Kinks B-Sides
♫ And so to the final stop on our weekly world tour of AAA-ism. Yes, it’s the top five – this week, a handy computer screen-sized guide to the very best B-sides, Kinks-style (and where to find them!)
5) ‘I Need You’ (B-side to ‘Set Me Free’ 1965, available on CD as a bonus track on the album ‘Kinda Kinks’). This song is always forgotten when talking about the ‘classic’ Kinks riffs that run through ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ ‘Til’ The End Of the day’ et al. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the very best, with Dave Davies’ fierce guitar licks right up there with the best of them. These early Kinks songs – in fact almost all of the 1964/65 output of British bands – is centred around addiction and desire (see ‘I Can’t Explain’ and ‘Satisfaction’ for more obvious examples) and this simple riff is perfectly suited to the simple lyrics. Even at his most basic and simple, big brother ray still excels himself in the lyrics department – this isn’t ‘I need you because moons need June’ but ‘I need you more than birds need the sky’. By early 1965 standards this is pioneering stuff! And when dave finally gets to let rip with his guitar solo, after containing his fury for most of the song, it might just be one of the most exhilarating things you’ve ever heard in your life, zipping through more chord changes than most guitarists manage in a whole career.
4) ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ (B-side to ‘Til’ The End Of The Day’ 1965; available on CD as part of the album ‘The Kinks Kontroversy’). No wonder Ray Davies’ songs became terribly grumpy in the 80s and 90s – he was even moaning in the 60s when everything was perfect! (Well, so we’re always lead to believe by documentary makers anyway!) ‘…Good Times Gone’ is an extraordinary track for 1965 – most, in fact virtually all songs will still about fun sun surf and teenage girls, so to hear a 21-year-old Ray Davies spouting off about times gone by and how life will never be enjoyable again comes as quite a jolt, even within the Kinks canon which had already come the closest to touching on this sort of thing. Is it just me or is there a hint of autobiography in this song too – ‘daddy didn’t have no toys’ (it’s well known that the Davies family were far from rich), ‘Mommy didn’t need no boys’ (the two Davies brothers came after six – yes, six – elder sisters). Certainly, Ray gets heavily into confessional songwriting by the time of the next LP ‘Face To Face’ in 1966 (see review no 8), so it’s possible this is an early template. Either way, marry this song’s uniqueness with a pulsating chorus and one of the Kinks’ best group performances of the period and you come up with a B-side so well known everyone assumes it must have been an A-side (but wasn’t).
3) ‘Big Black Smoke’ (B-side to ‘Dead End Street’ 1966; available on CD as a bonus track on the ‘Face To face’ album). More classic storytelling mixed with a strong energetic riff and one of Ray’s best sympathetic vocals on this song about a teenage runaway that pre-empts The Beatles’ ‘She’s Leaving Home’ by a year (and Cat Stevens’ Father and Son’ by four years). A middle class girl from the country who to her parents seems to have everything up sticks out of boredom, desire for new things in the big city and love for her boy named Joe, only to find herself penniless, outcast and in misery by the end of it. A typically hard-hitting song from the Kinks in this period (just look at the stern-faced A-side with its spoof of a funeral march) and underlined here by the pioneering use of sound effects (which Ray wanted to use on everything in this period – see review no 8 again for more on this). ‘Big Black Smoke’ is dirty, smoggy and nasty in equal degrees, but it’s as mesmerising and captivating as it’s namesake city is painted to sound too. The icing on the cake is Dave Davies’ portrayal of a town crier on the fade.
2) ‘She’s Got Everything’ (B-side to ‘Days’ 1968; shockingly this track isn’t yet available on CD officially! – surely they could have found space on the 3CD ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ set for goodness sake!). This B-side always gets forgotten, both because it’s a throwback to an earlier Kinks age and because it was on the back of a relatively flop single and failed to be included on the relatively flop album that’s somehow become a landmark in 60s music during the 40 years since release. But ‘Everything’ is one of the happiest and energetic Kinks recordings of them all, with Ray celebrating everything he loves about his girl to the accompaniment of a great blues riff and some wonderful jazzy piano licks from Nicky Hopkins. If the song sounds ridiculously out of place in the midst of the Kinks’ gloomy and nostalgia-ridden material of the period, then that’s because it was actually recorded in Spring 1966 (during ‘Face To Face’) and only exhumed when the band needed a B-side at short notice. Even the band, then, don’t seem to like this one much (perhaps explaining why it’s not readily available on CD) but they should – the way the track slows down at the end for Ray to add some reflective verses about how he can never live if his love goes away and Dave simply swoops into the empty spaces of the record with a sizzling guitar part is Klassik kinks. This track has got everything, in fact.
1) ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ (B-side to ‘Sunny Afternoon’ 1966; available on CD as a bonus track on the ‘Face To Face’ CD). The ultimate outsider anthem, distancing the narrator from every single scene and group in existence, this menacing, bluesy song is another one so well known that everybody assumes it must have been a single (in fact it never even made it onto an album!) Interestingly, Ray gives the song to Dave to sing, despite the fact that he sentiments sum up his feelings about the world just as well ad they do his brother’s, but the younger Kink delivers one of his best ever vocals here, growling rather than using the falsetto he’s better known for. His guitar part is even better, rising and falling with anger and pride as the Kinks burst forth for the killer chorus shouting about their individuality. Ray’s backing vocals are equally spot-on, showing off how different the two brothers are in their approach.
A suitable end to a five-part guide about a band quite unlike anybody else. Tune in next week for some more AAA-watching and, if I can persuade him to send it in, the first in a new part ‘nelson’s Column’ feature about music past, present and future. See you next time!