Thursday, 9 August 2012
The Kinks "Kinda Kinks" (1965)
The Kinks “Kinda Kinks” (1965)
Look For Me Baby/Got My Feet On The Ground/Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ Bout That Girl/Naggin’ Woman/Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?/Tired Of Waiting For You//Dancing In The Street/Don’t Ever Change/Come On Now/So Long/You Shouldn’t Be Sad/Something Better Beginning
The year is 2011 and Adele is looking to release her follow-up top one of the world’s most successful albums. What do her management and her record company do? They let her take her time to get things just right, taking months if need be, wait until she’s happy with the whole album and devote a large percentage of their budget to the project safe in the knowledge that they’ll more than get their money back. The record companies go to the ends of the earth to make things as perfect for their new groomed star as is humanly possible. What do they do when she reveals she’s pregnant? They protect her and keep her safe, realising that the idea of having a family will no doubt inspire an even bigger album by the time she releases ‘23’ or ‘24’, whatever the date might be.
Meanwhile in 1964 The Kinks are riding high at the top of the charts, with a best-selling album and three top two singles. What does their management and record company make them do? You guessed it, fly halfway around the world on some grotty tour where they’re bottom of the bill, demand another album with only three days of recording time booked and refuse to let Ray Davies see a doctor to get treatment for an elephant bite he’s picked up on tour that could have killed him. What happens when Dave Davies requests a new electric guitar to fit the snarling tone he hears on many of his brother’s new songs? Their road manager looks in one shop, can’t find what he’s looking for, comes back empty handed and Dave is told to stop whinging and make do with what he’s got! And the whole family bit? Ray only got married to his childhood sweetheart Rasa weeks before the band went on tour in early 1965 and only saw his newborn baby girl for the first time for a full half hour before being whisked back to a London recording studio to make the recordings for ‘Kinda Kinks’.
No wonder Ray has such bad memories of this second LP, the one he was already being crafted in his head the minute ‘You Really Got Me’ became a hit but became so rushed in execution that it’s barely the outline of the great record it could have been. Getting your head around just what went wrong with the sessions for this, the second Kinks album, involves an awful lot of incomprehensible treatments, the sort that followed The Kinks throughout the whole of their troubled 30 years existence. You think it’s the Rolling Stones that promoters refused to hire, aeroplanes used to evict and hotels used to ban for life? Actually, in 1964-65, it was The Kinks, the most feared group in the United Kingdom and their treatment at the hands of record company and tour promoters was brutal. Air India arrested the band after bass player Pete Quaife insults Russian president Khruschev. In one concert in New Zealand the concert promoters pull the plug mid-song because of an impending riot. The Kinks refuse to sign a contract to join the AFTRA musicians union in America which all but gets them booted off their first US tour. The band anger the producers of ‘Shindig’ for some risqué cheek-to-cheek dancing during rehearsals that all but sees them banned there too. One promoter in France ‘forgets’ to get amplified equipment, nearly causing another riot. And all that little lot is just in the two months leading up to the three-day recording session for ‘Kinda Kinks’.
No wonder this second album sounds rushed, as if it’s being recorded in the eye of a hurricane while outside carnage rages. Understandably, there’s not as much of a change in direction and professionalism between first record ‘The Kinks’ and this one as the giant leaps that are on later records like ‘Kinks Kontroversy’ ‘Face To Face’ and ‘Something Else’. ‘Kinda Kinks’ is still a very poppy record, something of a surprise to fans who figured ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ were exceptions rather than the rules in the generally softer Kinks default sound. There’s also a few cover versions hanging around for almost the last time on a Kinks record, back in a period when most bands from Britain were doing their best to go all-out with original material. But for all the faults in this record, the ‘filler’ songs, the weak cover material, the occasionally sloppy performances and the atrocious mis-use of double-tracking, given the context it’s amazing what a sophisticated, forward-reaching, tidy little record ‘Kinda Kinks’ is.
Ray Davies had already written a handful of excellent groundbreaking and – most impressively given the vintage – original songs by the end of 1964, The Kinks’ first year in the spotlight. On this record he doubles his tally and delves into subject matters such as worry, time pressures on relationships, infidelity, nostalgia and the hope that short-term relationship failures won’t mean bad luck in the long-term that are light years ahead of their time. Bear in mind, this is still the period when simply being in a band was hip, with teenage record buyers buying anything by people of their peer group in the wake of The4 Beatles’ rise to fame. The Kinks had been going almost as long as The Beatles had before finding fame, with more or less the same mix of rock and roll, soul, Motown, pop and r and b, but unlike Lennon and McCartney songwriting was still new to Ray Davies, then not quite 22, when this album came out and he’d only really been dabbling in writing songs since as late as 1962. That means that, unlike The Beatles, he has no repertoire of earlier songs to draw on and re-write (something the fab four are doing as late as ‘I’ll Follow The Sun’ on ‘Beatles For Sale’) and as the band’s only songwriter to date the pressure to come up with enough songs for two albums a year and four singles must have been huge for someone who’d barely written a dozen songs by then maximum. That’s not unique to music of the period or even AAA stars (Jagger and Richards didn’t get going as unit till 1964) but what’s notable is how already the songs Ray is writing are more than up to the standard of the covers on these early albums. Traditionally songwriters are meant to throw their first 100 or so songs away – or, in the Stones’ case, give them away to other people when they’re too embarrassing to record. In this context it’s a wonder Ray came up with anything useable at all, never mind songs this good. But the one major plus point for ‘Kinda Kinks’ is that as early as album number two every song here sounds un-mistakenly like a ‘Kinks’ song (apart, perhaps, from the couple of songs that Dave Davies sings) and as a result this album sounds less dated than most albums released in 1964/65. There’s a wonderful moment on the Kinks BBC sessions 2 disc set where Brian Matthew asks Ray, in the wake of ‘You Really Got Me’s success, what makes for a hit single. He could have said ‘I don’t know, I’ve only had one hit!’, he could have put it down to the power of the band, the hypnotic riff, the sterling performance, the distinctive sound of Dave’s guitarwork with his slashed amplifier or claimed that he was just a genius. Instead he went all serious and, quietly, muttered ‘I think it has to be sincere...that’s the main thing’. That sincerity doesn’t really come across on the first record, with its Beatle pastiches and American R and B covers, but it’s beginning to on this second album, an obvious stepping stone to the revelations of ‘Face To Face’ and ‘Arthur’ of Ray’s most personal thoughts, fears and frustrations.
Perhaps the uniqueness of this album comes from the fact that, from the first, The Kinks weren’t swayed like other future ‘stars’ into having to ‘fit’ a certain persona that fans could love (one of the biggest differences between stars of the 50s and 60s was how much more ‘human’ stars of the latter period were, unlike the deliberately one-sided characters of the 50s). And that’s not from lack of direction: Graham Nash remembers stepping in during a gig in early 1964 (when ‘You Really Got Me’ had been recorded but not yet released) when The Kinks were bottom of the bill supporting The Hollies and telling the very 50s-influenced promoters and managers to ‘go easy’ on the band’s performance because they already had their own ‘style’. Ray Davies, in his ‘unauthorised autobiography’ X-Ray, remembers that it was this period that he first knowingly refused to ‘fit’ into the star-making system, when his managers Wace and Collins booked him into a dentist to get the ‘gap’ between his two front teeth fixed – and he simply turn up, refusing in the words of a later Kinks song to ‘be like everybody else’. Anyone in doubt of the band’s anti-star image starting here need only look at the British cover for ‘Kinda Kinks’ where only two of the band are looking at the camera and Ray’s impatient sarcastic sneer rivals Pete Townshend on the cover of ‘My Generation’ for teenage impudence. Given the time period – and the fact that every other record released in 1964 sounded to some extent like The Beatles – ‘Kinda Kinks’ is impressive for its ability to sound so formed so early on, despite the rushed recording times and the occasional mistake.
There’s even two songs that look forward to the ‘folk rock’ boom of mid 1965, when first The Byrds and later Simon and Garfunkel brought a more thoughtful, less amplified sound to the table. Recorded as early as February 1965 (before ‘Help!’, generally seen as the first folk-rock LP), both ‘So Long’ and the lengthily titled ‘Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ Bout That Girl’ sound like soul played on folk arrangements, but unlike other bands of the day Ray doesn’t in any way try to hide who he is and where he’s from. Whilst Mick Jagger tried his best to sound American and Paul McCartney pretends to be his idol Little Richard, Ray knows it’s ridiculous to try to sound like ‘his’ idol Big Bill Broonzy and instead adapts the blues-soul records of his youth to what he knows he can sing, adding references to his own beginnings in ‘Muswell Hill’ and adding a softer, more reflective lilt to his voice. At the time hearing probably the most famous amplified band of the day (before The Who got going) sounding this soft and delicate must have seemed very odd indeed, but it makes perfect sense in the context of what will happen later in the year and shows Ray to be ahead of the game yet again. Arguably only The Searchers got the whole folk theme earlier than The Kinks – and everybody ignored them when they did it (on ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’?)
That ability to see the near-future is all the more impressive given how backward everybody around The Kinks were in the early days. People think Brian Epstein and George Martin were from a bygone era, but at least they recognised that there was a ‘new’ youth movement after them - they seem like grandchildren compared to Wace and Collins, upper class chaps who got into music for a bit of a hobby and producer Shel Talmy, who was of the old tin pan alley do-it-this-way school of recording where the right bands covered the right songs to produce a hit (he ended up giving The Who an even harder time than The Kinks). None of this trio considered ‘You Really Got Me’ to be singles material and were incredibly shocked when the song was a hit (especially as ‘their’ choices, the Little Richard cover ‘Long Tall Sally’ and Ray’s Beatley ‘You Still Want Me’ flopped so badly). Despite having three mega songs under their belts by the time sessions on ‘Kinda Kinks’ started the trio still have no belief in the band at all. Ray spoke years later of how he felt his ideas were being ignored and that he was being ‘rushed’ into making this album so they could ‘make as much money as you can in case we don’t come up with anything more’. In fact The Kinks are regular hit contenders until 1968 (and occasionally beyond), vindicating Ray’s vision for this album, but at the time nobody had belief in this album except The Kinks themselves and that comes across in many of the songs too, with Ray at his most puzzled, confused and stubborn on several of the songs.
Perhaps that’s why there’s a half theme of dis-illusionment throughout this album. Like all albums of the time its been dispersed into songs about upsetting relationships and betraual in love, but its not too much of a jump to see that already Ray has become fed up with the star-making process. Of the 10 original songs on this album no less than five are about relationships turned sour and ‘worrying’ about what’s really going on behind what the narrator can see. A further song (‘Got My Feet On The Ground’) sounds like the narrator is trying to convince himself that everything is fine and dandy when it isn’t, ‘Something Better Beginning’ is full of hope and optimism – but only after a lover has burned the narrator quite badly. There’s a tone of impatience on several songs too, for two possible reasons. One is that Ray was being nagged at to come up with another song to match ‘You Really Got Me’ with the same insistent, relentless riff and ‘impatience’ is clearly an obvious subject matter that fits (typically Ray, ‘Come On Now, a song as good as any in the ‘You Really Got Me’ style, becomes a B-side and the slower, quieter ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ became the hit; it may well have been directly inspired by the endless nagging for him to come up with another number one single soon after the first). The second is that Ray had indeed been nagging his girlfriend Rasa to marry him for some months now. Desperate for some stability in his life, which had been turned upside down with Ray going from a disillusioned nobody to a magazine pin-up in less than a year, Ray was convinced that Rasa was the one to give that to him. Unfortunately she was all of 17, even younger and less able to cope with the fame than Ray and took to leaving home and moving away to a big new house even worse than her husband did (the song ‘So Long’ is one long goodbye to his childhood in Muswell Hill, ridiculously old-sounding nostalgia for a lad of just 20 and the start of a life-long obsession with the past). She does sing some superb backup harmonies across this record though, blending into brother-in-law Dave’s voice most superbly across the album (she’ll be doing this on and off until ‘Waterloo Sunset’).
Not that this is a solo album. People forget, but until somewhere around 1963 Dave Davies was the lead singer as well as chief guitarist and he still plays a major role in this album, gaining his first ever writing credit on a song (the surprisingly wordy ‘Got My Feet On The Ground’, one of only two songs where he’s credited together with his brother – ‘Death Of A Clown’ being the other) and taking the vocals on four of the 12 songs. His spiky guitar, such a part of the early Kinks singles and first album, is already being suppressed as Ray’s writing gets gradually subtler and more about dynamics and finesse, but it still roars with wild reckless abandon several times, with a sound that in 1964 must have been like something from another world (people talk about the late 60s seeing the birth of heavy metal thanks to Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, but frankly it was played better and louder back in 64 by Dave, when it was a hell of a lot newer). Mick Avory’s drumming is really coming into its own after a shaky start on the band’s eponymous first LP, at its best on the subtler more personal songs Ray is writing (I remain agog at how the Kinks got this drummer out of all the wonderful ones around in London at the time from nothing more than an advert in a local paper, as Mick is about the only drummer of the period with the R and B sound the band wanted early on but the ability to adapt to songs like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Wonderboy’). Pete Quaife turns in some fine harmonies as well as some fine bass playing, managing to find the perfect stepping stone between Ellas McDaniel (bo Diddley) and Paul McCartney.
The Kinks aren’t the world’s greatest performers on this album – there are too many missed cues, ramshackle drumming and truly awful double-tracking to make that statement true (getting Ray to double track his vocals at all was a stupid idea – he’s never sung one song the same way once yet in 45 years of performing!) But what they have is promise: several times across this record, especially on highlights ‘Come On Now’ ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ and ‘Worryin’ Bout That Girl’, they nail the songs superbly, sounding like a ‘real’ band all in tune with one another. Given the short recording time of three days, the fact that they’d just come off tour and were unfamiliar with all the songs on the record barring two ‘cover’ songs, the fact that they nail three songs is much more remarkable than the fact that they slightly mess up the other nine. ‘Kinda Kinks’ is nowhere near as sophisticated as the later Kinks albums where Ray Davies has firm control, the material is not yet excellent all the way through and there’s only hints at the Kinks sound that’s to come. But if you love this band as much as I do and want to hear where their unique records came from then you need to own both this album and ‘The Kinks’ and marvel again at how this record has more in common with later records from late 1965 and 1966 than it does with other records from a similar era. Kinda Kinks? This is all Kinks, all the way through, with that impressive blend of bittersweet melancholic nostalgia and angry bitter dissatisfaction that will serve them so well in place already, with only the two cover tracks sounding like they come from another band.
One final note: the recent Kinks double disc re-issues have been coming in for a lot of stick recently and if you already oiwn this album on CD you really don’t want to fork out another £20 just for a handful of alternate mixes and some BBC sessions that will be out again later this month as part of the ‘Kinks at the BBC’ set. However the previous re-issue on Castle at the end of the 90s is superlative and possibly the best disc of the entire re-issue series, adding no less than 11 bonus track sin the shape of six classy A and B sides (including two of my all time favourite Kinks songs: ‘See My Friends’, which is psychedelia two whole years early and ‘I Need You’, perhaps the greatest variant on the ‘You Really Got Me’ riff the Kinks ever came up with), plus the folky four-track ‘Kwyet Kinks’ EP and Ray’s demo for ‘I Go To Sleep’, a lovely song that wasn’t heard until The Pretenders finished it off 15 odd years later. Hearing all 23 tracks together makes you marvel again at the prolificness of Ray Davies in this early period and effectively means you get an even better ‘second album’ tucked away at the end of the first. If only all the Kinks re-issues had been this generous!
The album starts with ‘Look For Me Baby’, one of the more unusual Ray Davies songs of the period, with its stop-start melody and staccato vocal phrases. It sounds to my ears as if Ray had been listening to The Beatles singing ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Money’ and wanted to come up with his own variation on the same kind of idea. As Motown as the Kinks ever got (even their cover of ‘Dancing In The Streets’ sounds poppier than this), the song reverts to a more natural Beatlesy pop by the time of the middle eight with its harmonies and big, wide chords. In another universe where the Kinks had mases of time to perfect the sound this song could have been pretty special: Dave, Pete and Rasa’s harmonies are pretty and Dave’s guitar part copes well with what must have been a very difficult and unusual part to perform (notably Ray’s rhythm is absent from this track, perhaps because it was too hard to play – Ray hadn’t been playing all that long by 1964). Lyrically this is a fascinating song – sure there’d been over songs in this period about a narrator searching everywhere for his lover (The Hollies’ cover of Leiber and Stoller’s ‘Searchin’ being an obvious example), but none switch the song around like this one so that its the girl searching desperately for the narrator while he basically laughs in her face about what she left behind. By and large ‘The Kinks’ was an innocent first LP, full of enthusiasm and zest, but as early as this opening track of the second album Ray’s bitterness is showing – perhaps inspired by the lack of belief his companions had in his work (as if this is a daydream about his managers pleading with him to write a hit song ‘his’ way, instead of assuming his successes so far have all been flukes). Alas given just three days to record 10 songs mean that the end result sounds rushed, with Ray’s vocal having a particular difficult time of things – his vocal is hoarse, suggesting this was the last of the tracks recorded (although alas Pye’s recording session notes aren’t as extensive as, say, Abbey Road’s list of Beatles and Hollies recordings) and the double tracking is woefully bad, with the uneven backing track causing Ray to struggle working out what he sang where last time around: as a result several words are missed out, others are garbled and the two vocals veer wildly from ‘doubling’ each other to harmonising, often on the same line. Still, like many of the ‘mistakes’ on this album, there’s a real sense of the band coming together on this track and tackling a song light years ahead of anything they’d tried before. The fact that this experiment is only a partial success doesn’t mean that the idea was a bad one – with more time they’d have made this song work really well.
Dave Davies’ first vocal on the album and first co-writing credit ever on ‘Feet On The Ground’ sounds musically much like his songs from the first ‘Kinks’ album, speeded-up slices of R and B hollering. Dave’s a lot more confident with his vocals than Ray is on his and he nails the double-tracking much better too, although his higher pitched tones are already showing a gravel and grit that shows signs of the heavy living of the period rather than his tender age (he was in his last week of his 17th year when the bulk of these songs were recorded). There’s a nasty distorted ‘pop’ at the beginning too that comes from Dave being too close to the microphone – a beginner’s error that usually would have been covered up had the band had the luxury of time. It’s easy to see why Ray gave this song to Dave to sing: upbeat and optimistic, the narrator of this song is clearly closer in personality to the younger brother than the pessimistic Ray, although lines like ‘I’ve spent a lot of time watching other people’s mistakes’ sound more like his brother. The song’s demands that ‘I don’t need nobody else’ may well be inspired by Dave’s desire to escape Muswell Hill in this period when he was a teenage rockstar still living in his parent’s home (he moved in with Mick Avory soon after recording this album – a bad move for both of them as it turns out and kick-starting their legendary onstage fights). A fascinating first couple of verses, all wordy philosophy about independence and learning from your mistakes, gives away to repetition and an endless chorus which is a shame, but this is still a good song with much promise that is well handled.
Better still is the calm folk-rock of possibly the world’s longest song title ‘Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ Bout That Girl’. My favourite of these early songs that aren’t well known from being singles, it’s where Ray really finally finds his voice after a year of either acting the part of ‘You Really Got Me’ et al or trying to sound like a brash American. Sung to just his own acoustic guitar and some sterling gentle drumwork from Mick Avory ( a sound a million miles away from what he was hired to play, remember), it makes Ray’s vocal all the more fragile and poignant on this song about doubt and insecurity and brings out the best in him and his ability to tap into the worries and doubts of a generation. Worry is a theme of many a great Kinks song in later years but hearing it in early 1965, with ‘Help!’ and ‘Needles and Pins’ still waiting in the wings and the band still best known for their electric confidence and swagger this must have been a shock. More adult than possibly any other Kinks song to date, this is the confident narrator discovering that love isn’t all he reckoned it to be and that his girl has been cheating on him – not that new an idea, sure, but the sheer horror and doubt on this song, with the narrator finding the rug of life whipped away from underneath him is a really brave stab at something different for the period. With lines like ‘ I ache inside’ and ‘I felt just like dying’ this could easily have become a melodramatic song but Ray’s vocal is so affecting and deliciously understated that it’s easy to believe in what the narrator tells us. Interestingly there’s no resolution either: Ray’s sad narrator ends the song as confused as ever, sure his girl’s been up to something but unable to split up with her because he still loves her so. A catchy chorus is the icing on a pretty special cake.
If ‘Worryin’ Bout That Girl’ is the sound of things to come then next track ‘Naggin’ Woman’ already sounds like an old and dated sound, even by early 1965. It’s a Dave Davies sung cover of a West and Andersen blues song that simply doesn’t sound right in the hands of a bunch of white teenagers rather than a middle aged blues singer. Dave sings well and the band find a nice groove behind him, but like many of the covers on the first album the band sound like they’re trying too hard. This is, after all, a terribly difficult song to pull off: the word ‘nagging’ is repeated no less than 14 times in this rather short song, as the narrator re-iterates just how often he is nagged by his beloved. A sympathetic and assured interpreter can get away with that by gaining our sympathy, but well as he tries (and as old as he sounds at times) Dave simply doesn’t have the experience to bring that point of view across. Still, its one hell of a lot better than past horrors like ‘Driving On Bald Mountain’ and sounds like it might have gone down a storm in concert. Listen out for an ad lib from Dave on the fade-out, singing along with his guitar: ‘I’m sure, you’re not, OK...Oh nag on!’
‘Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?’ is a Ray song sung by Dave and is a lot poppier than most of the material on the album, with a tremendous repeated chord progression from the piano (presumably played by Ray as there’s no rhythm guitar part on this song) and sounds very close to how ‘You Really Got Me’ must have sounded in its first form as a piano demo. Dave’s really good at double-tracking his vocal (it comes a lot more natural to him than his brother) and, together with more fine harmonies, this beefs the sound of the track up no end. It’s still clearly a Ray Davies song though, with more doubt and worry over what an absent girlfriend is up to (if this was a Stones song the narrator would have walked off or had a confrontation long ago – but all the Kinks can do is worry and hope things turn out well). Musically most of this song is aimless, drifting round the same boogie woogie chords, but suddenly the narrator decides to take action on the lines ‘Tryin’ hard to find out where my baby is tonight...’, slowing the song down as if trying to take stock of the situation, something that’s really effective. Not the deepest song, perhaps, but a strong performance pulls it though. Such is their confidence on a simpler song closer to their natural style, the band even get away with the rather difficult rhyme ‘brewin’ and ‘doin’!
Side one ends with the band’s second number one single ‘Tired Of waiting For You’ – claimed by many a fan and critic as the moment the band ‘proved’ themselves with a slow song of finesse and sizzling tension a world away from the all-out passion of their first two singles. Its actually an older song than many people think, dating back to shortly after ‘You Really Got Me’ and was actually recorded as long ago as August 1964 (the month after ‘Got Me’ hit #1) but sat on by the record company as a ‘sure-fire’ hit sometime in the future. Its a near-perfect single, with a memorable hook and a chord structure that effortlessly combines all the sections of the song together and an obstinate guitar riff that mimics the impatience of the narrator in the lyrics. The way that sings the opening line ‘So tired of waiting for you’ twice over by breaking it up into small chunks is a touch of genius, sounding like the narrator is so bored and fed up he can’t even concentrate to the end of the first line. As discussed, this song may well have been inspired by the demands on Ray to ‘come up with the goods’ again so soon after writing his first #1 single, but might just have easily have been about the rest of the band at a gig somewhere (never the most punctual or professional of touring stars) or Ray’s own personal impatience at having to wait to marry girlfriend Rasa (who couldn’t marry when Ray first proposed, as she was too young and needed her family’s permission; they only gave it reluctantly when she left school under heavy pressure from Ray). Whatever the source, this is a fine song and a deserved #1 single that shows off a whole new range of ideas for Ray to develop across the rest of his career. A fine band performance, which holds back most of its weight and power until near the end, makes the most out of an excellent song. In fact there’s only one negative comment to make about this song at all: after releasing a ‘ballad’ the rock press stopped comparing The Kinks to the Stones as the ‘bad boys’ of the industry (even though, for promoters at least, they were far worse behaved in the first half of the 60s) and gave that mantle to The Who, a band that never dared to release a song as ‘soft’ as this as a single until at least 1968. For their first two single though – and again on ‘Til The End Of The Day’ – no band was louder or more uncompromising than this one.
Alas the album’s weakest moment comes next, with a truly limp cover version of ‘Dancing In The Street’ that makes even the Grateful Dead’s version on ‘Terrapin Station’ look good. Ray commented later that the band barely knew the song at the time and dug it up at the absolute last minute on day three of a heavy recording block when their management insisted they were still a song short for an LP. The band sound tired and leaden and completely unable to re-create the Martha and the Vandellas original which gets by on sheer verve and spirit. Ray’s double tracking brings out the harshness and lethargy in his voice, while the new urgent riff the Kinks have created for the song is simply not right for a song about joy and abandon. Only Mick Avory seems to have got the message about this being a ‘happy’ song and even he’s sluggish at the start, with four fed up bangs on his drums to signal the beginning of the song. Although, actually, I take that back: I’ve just been listening to this song again and there is magic hidden right in the background in the harmony parts which, despite being hard to hear, are genuinely exciting – especially Rasa’s spirited part (perhaps she should have sung lead instead of her husband?) There’s no escaping the fact, however, that this is the wrong song for the wrong band recorded at the wrong time (revived by many people in the ‘summer of love’ as a symbol of joy and optimism, this song was seen as ‘old hat’ by 1965 when power, feedback and hints of folk were the rule of the day) and despite being short it’s frankly a slog to have to sit through.
‘Don’t Ever Change’ is so different in its bounce and joy de vivre spirit that it’s hard to believe it’s by the same band – although the earlier recording date of 30th December 1964 might as well be from a different world for the difference those 10 weeks made between this and the dates for the bulk of the album. One of Ray’s cleverest songs of the period, this is an ever-moving melody that never sits still for a second matched by a lyric that claims the narrator’s girl is so perfect she should ‘never change’. The hint – especially the sly wink that Ray sings the song with – is that change is an inevitable part of life and that this perfection is only fleeting. A lovely Beatlesy straightforward chord structure brings out the best in the band, who are really on top of this song – especially the unexpected middle eight and its change to a minor chord (‘Don’t ever change, because I’d be sad and I would cry if you leave me’). The song abruptly ends on a last cry of ‘don’t ever change’ – possibly Ray’s way of telling us that change comes suddenly without warning, leaving his plea unresolved and possibly unheard. One of the band’s better pop songs of the period, given a real kick by a great band performance where Mick Avory plays his best yet.
‘Come On Now’ is another fiery recording from December 1964 that’s best known for being the B-side of ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’. It could have been a fine A-side in its own right, what with a hypnotic jingle-jangly double guitar part (that sounds suspiciously like The Byrds five months early) and a terrific hollered chorus answered by Ray and Rasa who – for once on this album – sound like they’re having the time of their lives. It’s Dave’s vocal that wins you over most, however, arguably his best until his third solo album ‘Chosen People’ in 1983: the perfect hybrid of impatience and excitement. Ray wrote the song, despite it being such a fine showcase for his brother’s vocal and guitar, and lyrically it’s the perfect match for ‘So Tired Of waiting For You’: this narrator is waiting to go home after an exciting date rather than marriage but there’s implications that the ‘Come On Now!’ chorus is about something deeper here too (‘Come on honey and let me see just how much you do for me’). Infectiously enthusiastic and spontaneous – in fact everything the carefully planned A side isn’t – this is one of the finest flipsides in the Kinks Kanon and a fine addition to this album where its enthusiasm makes a fine contrast to the album’s often gentler, more subtler songs.
‘So Long’ is the ‘other’ folky acoustic song on the album and sounds like Bob Dylan co-writing with the Everly Brothers. At the time many fans took this song as a ‘spoof’ on the whole folk idiom but actually this song sounds much deeper to me and in fact is the most revealing song on the album. The narrator is closer to Ray than most of his early ‘characters’, although the mood of the song veers wildly from happiness to melancholy. The ‘so long’ chorus that keeps turning up with different lines throughout the song (sporting the marvellous couplet ‘Got no time for tears, I got music in my ears’ the third time round!) is clearly joyous and may well be Ray’s reaction to finally escaping Muswell Hill and buying his own house mere months after being written off by relatives, friends and neighbours as a hopeless misfit who’d never achieve anything. Then again the verses are much sadder, with the narrator sadly bidding farewell to a loved one (perhaps Rasa’s parents didn’t want her to move in with him after their hurried wedding?) and taking a sad walk around his old haunts (‘My old town was good to me, but ohhhhhhhh’). Interestingly Ray promises to return ‘the day that I’ve seen everything’ – his rushed decision to buy another house in another part of London was, he later admitted, a ‘mistake’, cutting him off from the ‘good’ people in his life as well as the ‘bad’ and leaving him panicked that he’d ‘destroyed’ the good vibes when writing sessions at his new house failed to produce anything usable (he actually needed a rest after so long on the road and soon back into writing; the ‘Face To Face’ song ‘A House In The Country’ in a couple of album’s time is probably his sarcastic response to his desire to own a big house away from his friends). Sweet and understated, ‘So Long’ is one of the better songs on the album even if the chorus is a mite bit repetitive and the song needs another something to break up the sound (a middle eight, a guitar solo, a Mariachi marching band, a theremin solo pretending to be a phenomenal cat, in fact anything!) to make it a great rather than a good song.
‘You Shouldn’t Be Sad’ is one of the few songs here with the power and drive of the early Kinks singles. It’s another fine song ruined by a rushed recording, with distorted harmonies (clearly recorded too close to the microphone) and another poor attempt at double-tracking. For me the best part of the song is when the song suddenly drops the weights that are tying it to the ground (the curious flat-footed guitar part and the stop-start rhythm) and finally begins to fly in the middle eight (‘You can’t be sad my darling...’), which sounds almost Buddy Holly-ish in its hiccupped vowels and breezy confidence. Inspiration seems to have given up by the end of the song (‘I feel alright, I feel OK, because I’m in love...’ – hardly the most romantic of lines ever written), but had Ray and the rest of the band been given the time to work on this song it could really have been something. Again Avory’s drumming is spot-on for a song that’s more subtle than your average rowdy rock-pop song and the backing harmonies, though distorted, are another wonderful touch adding a call-and-answer tone to the song that’s very effective. Listen out for Dave’s very Beatleish close to the song, ringing off with near enough the same chord that kick-started ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ends quite a few of the fab four’s songs from 1964 and 65.
Album closer ‘Something Better Beginning’ was well received at the time, a popular enough song to make the first Kinks Kompilation ‘Greatest Hits’ in the US – the only album track (as opposed to A or B side) to make the cut. Nowadays, however, ‘Beginning’ sounds like the most dated song on the album and a surprisingly 1950s ish song from Davies that may well have been his attempt to write something akin to ‘Stand By Me’ (a hit for Ben E king at the time), which has a similar atmosphere and chord structure. The optimism in this song would normally have been given over to Dave to sing and doesn’t really suit Ray’s voice so well and its odd hearing a song talk so much about happiness without the listener experiencing that in the music (‘the word ‘joy’ in the song even hits a down-turning note metaphorically looking at the narrator’s shoes and thus sounding sarcastic rather than heartfelt). It’s still a very pretty song, however, with Dave’s echo-drenched guitar in the distance a good match for this song about a burgeoning love affair and a lovely melody that slowly flowers into the hopeful chorus ‘Is this the start of another heartbreaker or something better beginning?’ Ray then, unusually repeats the title line over and over, as if trying to convince himself but finding some rare resolution in the way the song slowly winds back to the quiet tone of the start of the song. An intriguing experiment that’s not quite up to the rest of the record, although not without its charms.
Recording wise this album really did lead to ‘Something Better Beginning’ on the next string of LPs, although as we’ve seen the songwriting is already as top notch as any album from the distant days of 1964/65 can be. Fans are traditionally disappointed by this album, perhaps because there’s nothing on it as powerful as those first big heavy singles – but then ‘You Really Got Me’ came out of nowhere and as early as this second album Ray is keen to keep proving himself as a songwriter, without having to rely on what’s already become a ‘hit’. This will lead, in the not too distant future, to a string of songs like ‘Set Me Free’ ‘See My Friends’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon’ that are clearly in part based on the first tentative steps towards a subtler, more story-orientated style of songwriting on this album than the sheer unadulterated passion and energy of ‘You Really Got Me’ et al. It’s a shame, though, that there isn’t more of that sheer drive across the album, as ‘Come On Now’ and ‘You Shouldn’t Be Sad’ sound impressive on this album sat next to the rather more inward-looking folkier material here. This album also arguably needs a couple of more wonderful songs to really make it stand out – although a bit more time might have raised a good three or four of these songs up to their own high standards. Certainly there are indeed enough mistakes here ‘to make my toes curl’ as Ray once put it in ‘X-Ray’ but all in all, set back into context, ‘Kinda Kinks’ is still a great album for its times: pioneering, sensitive, eclectic and a clear signpost towards the sheer brilliance of the band’s unequalled run throughout the rest of the 1960s which only The Beatles and The Hollies come close to matching. God save The Kinks!