Monday, 24 June 2013
The Kinks "Something Else" (1967) (Album Review)
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“I am a dull and simple lad, cannot tell water from champagne, and I have never met the Queen, and I wish I could have all that he has got, I wish I could be like David Watts” “And when I lie on my pillow at night, I dream I could fight like David Watts, lead the school team to victory, take my exams and pass the lot!” “The old fortune teller lies dead on the floor, no one needs fortunes told any more, the trainer of insects is crouched on his knees and frantically looking for runaway fleas” “Sybilla looked into the mirror, Percilla looked into the washing machine and the drudgery of being wed, she was so jealous of her sister, and her liberty, and her smart young friends” “Percilla saw her little children, and then decided she was better off than the wayward lass that her sister had been, no longer jealous of her sister, so she ran through the house with her curlers on!” “Tom’s old ma is a dying lass, soon they reckon she’ll be pushing up the grass, and her bones might ache and her skin might sag, still she’s got the strength to have a Harry Rag!” “To keep her little Mama satisfied, she went and bought the weekly classified, for peace and quiet’s sake, Johnny’s got no money, got nowhere to go, Johnny’s in a great big hole, Suzy’s separated, living with her ma, now little mama’s satisfied!” “Baby baby I don’t know what I’m doing! Everything I do it turns to ruin!” “Baby you can kiss my friends, there is nothing I won’t lend, long as you just love me till the sun shines!” “Lazy old sun, what have you done to Summertime? Hiding away, behind all those misty thunderclouds!” “Sunny Ray, shine my way, kiss me with one ray of light from your lazy old sun” “You’re walking round in my memory, it only gets stronger and stronger, smudged mascara and pill-shaped eyes, everything you want was bought with lies” “I see you peering through frosted windows, eyes don’t smile, all they do is cry! But fanny face you’re all right!” “Winter time is coming, all the sky is grey, Summer birds aren’t singing, since you went away!” “Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night, people so busy, makes me feel dizzy, taxi lights shine so bright, but I don’t feel afraid, as long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset, I am in paradise”
THE KINKS “SOMETHING ELSE” (1967)
David Watts/Death Of A Clown/Two Sisters/No Return/Harry Rag/Tin Soldier Man/Situation Vacant//Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Lazy Old Sun/Afternoon Tea/Funny Face/End Of The Season/Waterloo Sunset
If ever an album was wrongly named it’s the Kinks’ fifth long playing record, released slap bang in the middle of the summer of love. Merely ‘Something Else’?! No, this album is a beginning. It’s an ending. For many fans it’s a peak. And even for those who don’t agree it’s the only Kinks album ever to feature two top three singles amongst its track listings. For fans who only love the band’s ‘whimsical social comment’ period its the Kinks album most worth having out of an impressive 24 studio albums released across 30 years. And yet, in sales terms, it’s the last Kinks album that matters as, from hereon in, even the retrospective career classic ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ isn’t going to make the charts. The Kinks, too, are on something of a downward slide in charting terms and even the presence of classic ‘Waterloo Sunset’ can’t help this album sell as many copies as the first four. The Kinkis are being left behind, just at the point when they’ve never been so far ahead of the competition. Ray Davies has never sounded more scathing than he does on this record, especially about the upper classes. The Kinks have never sounded as pastoral, or as far removed from the proto-heavy metallers they were when they began in 1964, fighting the injustices of life not with power but with finesse and wit but fighting them nonetheless. And, for the first time, the band have two voices not one, with Dave Davies coming largely out of nowhere with three of his first five ever Kinks songs all on this LP, one of them a #3 hit. ‘Something Else’ is the sound of a band changing, extending their catalogue with 13 songs that would have been unthinkable even 18 months earlier and a short-term shift in power that was just as unexpected, the whole record building on the templates tentatively drawn-up on albums three and four ‘Kinks Kontroversey’ and the delightful ‘Face To Face’ to go ‘somewhere else’ entirely (surely a much better title for the Kinks albums that takes you on so many journeys?) Things were changing at one hell of a rate for everyone in the 1960s, especially during 1967, but The Kinks aren’t just keeping up with the opposition they’ve already moved ahead and onto the slightly more challenging, insecure rock of 1968 (was there ever a song less suited to being released in the colourful Summer Of Love than the monochrome ‘End Of The Season’?!) This isn’t just ‘Something Else’, it’s a new hybrid of a record that’s consistent with what went before and the other records released around it but which has a sound and style all of it’s own.
Kinks fans can natter all day – and often do – about what the best Kinks albums are.
For me it’s clearly ‘Arthur’, a moving album about World War Two and it’s various ripples affecting the Davies’ own uncle, which is simply the world’s greatest concept album in the world that doesn’t include mods on scooters or whatever high falluting eight-things-at-once concepts Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile’ sang about. The almost-as-autobiographical ‘Face To Face’, with its 14 vignettes of life as an unwilling pop star experiencing his first nervous breakdown and adjust to life through new eyes is only a smidgeon behind. That said, I can fully see where fans are coming from voting ‘Something Else’ ‘Village Green’ ‘Lola Vs Powerman’ ‘Muswell Hillbillies, heck almost any Kinks album really, as their ‘number one’. All of them are (often very) different shades of the same dark-hued colours, a mirror reflecting reality with all its faults and dreams and trying to turn winners with unfair advantages into losers and hapless losers into the most noble people on Earth. For me ‘Something Else’ isn’t quite as impressively consistent as either ‘Face To Face’ ‘Arthur’ or ‘Village Green’, containing three or four slices of filler (understandable for the hurried deadlines of the day, but still deeply unusual for Ray Davies) but I know exactly why it’s so popular: in many ways it’s the ultimate Kinks album, with the social comment turned higher than it’s ever been and even with ‘Village Green’ to come this is, perhaps, The Kinks’ most ‘English’ of albums, full of bored housewives, rich public schoolboys who seem to have everything, tired fading circuses, afternoon tea trollies and aspirations for money and class making for perhaps the most 1960s album of them all – the real 1960s, not the one seen in newsreel footage or shopping down Carnaby Street. There’s a sense of frustration on this album that’s hard to pin down but is almost claustrophobic by the end, opening and closing with narrators looking on enviously as first David Watts and then Terry and Julie enjoy a life that the person actually speaking to us knows he will never have. Not so much ‘summer of love’ then as a ‘summer of hardship’, where hippiedom hasn’t changed anything in the real world except the clothes people wear and the instruments bands fight the system with (notably, after near-enough inventing the sound of Psychedelia on the sitar-like ‘See My Friends’ in 1965, The Kinks don’t use this sound again during the whole of 1967 when every other band was using it).
Some important things had changed since ‘Face to Face’ was released in 1966. Ray is a father now, at the age of just 22 going on 23, with the birth of daughter Louisa and despite the obvious feeling in many of these songs that Ray hasn’t grown up enough to look after himself, yet, never mind another life. Since his breakdown (in 1966, prescribed by doctors as simply ‘nervous exhaustion’, although that perhaps was just a cover-up for someone who’d been pushed so far out of his comfort zone that he’d actually chased his publicist around his office with an axe before the doctors were called) Ray has more time on his hands and a new house to spend that time in, a lovely property on Fortis Green that he’d always wanted to buy since passing it on his way to school. Like Ray in many ways, it was a big house in a small pond, much bigger than anything else in the district but far from the luxurious mansions his peers and friends were buying out of town and what the elder Davies brother, even with financial delays and setbacks, could have afforded after three years of impressive successes in the singles charts. It was, nevertheless, at the ‘heart’ of the people who still inspired Ray and who he’d rubbed shoulders with for most of his life. The three new events even came together, in fact, Ray writing many of the songs for this album whilst ill in his new bed and being ordered to ‘rest’, staring out of the windows at the world going on around outside him and trying to look after his newborn. By anyone else’s standards the Kinks’ rate of record releases in 1967 and a new baby in the house would cause a nervous breakdown by themselves, but by Ray’s levels of hard work even picking away at these new songs every day without having to go out on tour or record just yet was a ‘rest’, of sorts. Perhaps that’s why ‘Something Else’ has such a peculiar feel around it, like a balm or a tonic that’s kinder to the world around it than most Kinks albums even if the people inside these songs are often cruel and uncaring (the Ray Davies of 1the 1980s, for instance, would have the mother-in-law-from-hell of ‘Situation Vacant’ locked up for good instead of getting away with her interference scott free because that’s ‘just not cricket’; talking of which he would have had the cricket club in track 12 closed down for good, not just the ‘End Of The Season’).
It’s noticeable, too, that so many of these songs feature narrators cut off from the dialogue and not in control of their own lives. ‘Two Sisters’ is a key song in Ray’s writing, a thinly veiled song of jealousy at his brother’s wayward teenage lifestyle while Ray is learning to be a househusband (although, impractical as ever, the closest Ray ever really got to doing ‘chores’ was leaving a dinner in to cook and nearly burning the house down when inspiration for a new song got in the way). There are other songs too though: ‘David Watts’ has everything given to him on a plate and the narrator wishes very hard that that could be him; for all his impossibly good looks and charm you can’t help but feel that the pecking order of nature here has got things the wrong way round and the narrator would indeed be fairer and more caring in the situation, not strutting around like a peacock. ‘Harry Rag’ is a series of characters who have nothing in common except their dependence on tobacco – the fact that the song is treated as a knees-up disguises what’s actually a song about sad and lonely characters who need something to get them through the problems of life and even have the narrator doing the same by the end (‘I’ll roll myself a Harry Rag and put myself to bed!’) ‘Tin Soldier Man’ might sound heroic marching up and down the streets every day in his fine armour, but really he’s just a pawn in someone else’s game taking orders and notably has ‘a wife and two little kids to support’ (the timing with Ray’s own newfound responsibilities is, surely, no coincidence, even though his second daughter Victoria won’t be born for a couple more years yet). ‘Situation Vacant’ is Ray’s bitterest song so far (in released terms anyway – 1966 outtake ‘Mr Reporter’, now a bonus track on the ‘Face to Face’ CDs, would have blown the music away had it been issued at the time!) where a couple perfectly in love are torn apart by a meddling mother in law who seems to want a better future for her daughter when all she really wants underneath it all is her daughter back home with her again. The narrator recounts the story aghast, seemingly powerless to stop the events of this eerie song and, very unusually for The Kinks, gets away with it too. ‘Lazy Old Sun’ is one of Ray’s rare songs from this album to feature a first person narrator, but what a lost and searching first narrator this is, shaking his fist at the thunder clouds for blocking out the sunlight he only vaguely remembers; unlike the broke used-to-be-millionaire of ‘Sunny Afternoon’, this narrator doesn’t even have the weather on his side anymore. ‘End Of The Season’ is simply a description of a club being closed after the end of the last cricket match for a few months but is about so much more, Ray’s narrator dreaming of the walks he used to take when he was well almost step by step and sounding like he’s shutting up shop for good, not just a few weeks for the Summer (timings are a little vague but I’d bet that this is one of the earliest post-breakdown songs Ray wrote when he was at his illest).
Finally, much-loved single ‘Waterloo Sunset’ might well be The Kinks’ most misunderstood song of all – yes it is about a romance and how ‘Waterloo Sunset’s fine’, but only for ‘Terry and Julie’ – this narrator is alone, staring at them and wondering what their life must be like and whether his will ever be that beautiful (the song makes more sense if you realise Ray is singing about the ‘last’ time he’d been this poorly, as a teenager with back problems in hospital for a week with a view overlooking Waterloo Bridge and watching all the people living their lives whilst fearing he might never be able to live his own; thankfully this footballing injury wasn’t as bad as feared but could have left him a disabled hunchback for life – and with an active imagination like Ray’s the word ‘could’ is all it needed to change the way he saw life forever). In almost all of these songs, then, the narrator isn’t an active part of the world he inhabits but a spectator, gloomily looking out of his curtains at other people living theirs from the outside in (books say Ray’s house at Fortis Green was set quite a way back from the pavement, as if it was in a world of it’s own).
That would make ‘Something Else’ a deeply inward album, even by Kinks standards, were it not for Dave Davies’ sudden writing breakthrough. Unlike some fan comments I’ve read I like Dave’s early songs a lot (‘I Am Free’ from ‘Kinks Kontroversey’ and ‘I’ll Wait Till The Summer Comes Along’ from the ‘Kwyet Kinks’ LP respectively), but there’s no doubting that the three released here are miles better, more finished and quite unlike anyone else’s work of the time (which is quite a coup when the shadow of his own brother was so big). Few fans in 1967 would have seen this coming – Dave turned just 20 during the making of this album and even then his brother was his usual mixture of supportive and dismissive about his efforts (helping to finish ‘Death Of A Clown’, although unlike some Kinks books that assume its a Ray song with a few bits and pieces from Ray its nearly all by Dave except for the intro; tales of Ray fighting off his brother’s requests of a ‘proper’ songwriting partnership with the words ‘anyone can write a song!’ – according to Dave’s autobiography at any rate; telling the BBC during a session for one of Dave’s songs ‘I don’t think I’ve exploited him quite as much as I could have done yet!’) So why now? I look on Dave’s sudden creative spurt as being a practical response to his brother’s collapse in 1966, figuring that on the one hand The Kinks might disintegrate without his brother’s songs to keep them going and on the other that this was his first chance since 1963 to make The Kinks ‘his’ band again (Dave of course being the lead singer when The Kinks formed as The Ravens and were mainly a R and B covers group). Dave, too, had problems of his own and after three years of being ‘Dave The Rave’ was suffering from the same tiredness as his brother, which is inevitably going to appear in his songwriting. After all, your 150th party in three years is never going to seem as good as your first, even you are hanging around the likes of party animals Graham Nash and Keith Moon, and he wasn’t alone: Cat Stevens was going through a similar phase in this same year at almost exactly the same age after 18 months of endless parties.
While Ray is only really talking about himself when he’s using a different character, all three of Dave’s songs couldn’t be more personal if the narrator was called ‘Dave’. We’ll look at this in a bit more detail for our top five, but there’s one event from five years earlier, not long before ‘You Really Got Me’, that changed his life forever and inspired at least two of these songs. Getting your high-school pregnant at 15, under the age of consent, is still pretty frowned on today – in 1962 it was tantamount to making a pact with the devil, stealing the Queen’s handbag and making faces at the president combined. The fact is, though, that Dave and his school sweetheart Sue were very much in love – and still are, if Dave’s moving autobiography is anything to go by. Their parents, though, took the joint decision that the pair should be kept apart and that Sue should bring up the baby alone – both halves of this love affair were told that ‘s/he doesn’t love you anymore’ and that they would have nothing to do with the other, an act that broke both their hearts far more than the unexpected pregnancy. Dave only found out years later, long after The Kinks, that his mother had been in contact with her grand-daughter without ever telling him, a fact that broke his heart even more (if the story sounds familiar, by the way, its because the 1975 Kinks album ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ is Ray’s take on his brother’s own story, starring the elder brother on stage as the wicked headmaster who ‘expels’ his own brother; psychologists have a field day with this group, they really do!) The songs become clearer and more personal by 1968 (see ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’), but even here in 1967 they’re pretty emotional. ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’ reads like a lively catchy and pretty song about a light-hearted love affair that’s one of Dave’s best, but the way he sings it is nothing short of world-ending despair. ‘Funny Face’, with Dave’s narrator stuck in a mental asylum seeing his love peering at him through ‘frosted glass’, alive at last but unreachable, is deeply moving when you know the full story (and simply sounds strange if you don’t). ‘Death Of A Clown’ might not be about ‘Sue’ at all, but it was what life is like without her, five years on – the ‘clown’ wearing make-up in a small dressing room is only a small twist away from a rock performer doing the same (The Hollies use the same metaphor three times during their career); an emotional wreck, unable to function, it could be that Dave is writing about his brother here as well as himself. All three songs are highlights of this very up-and-down record – no wonder there was such interest in a Dave Davies solo record (planned for 1968, delayed to 1969 and then abandoned) and what a shame that Dave won’t get another song on a Kinks album till 1970 (though he does get a couple of excellent B-sides).
Overall, then, ‘Something Else’ is a fascinating record. Ray’s stepped back from the confessional that made half of ‘Face To Face’ so interesting, and yet his brother does a good job at filling in the hole this leaves. Unfortunately there are still too many songs here not quite up to standard: the chain-smoking ‘Harry Rag’ is great fun, but it should have been a novelty B-side not an album track; ‘No Return’ is a second attempt at ‘Fancy’ that isn’t quite as sincere or as original; ‘Tin Soldier Man’ sounded better - if weirder - in its original form (‘Sand In My Shoes’) before Ray toned the lyrics down; ‘Afternoon Tea’ salutes Ray’s favourite and very English beverage in strangely generic terms and Ray’s Noel Cowardesque vocal on ‘End Of The Season’ is the single furthest the 1960s Kinks ever strayed from the power and passion of ‘You Really Got Me’ (is it really only two years since they recorded their raunchiest number ‘Milk Cow Blues’?!) Thankfully, because this is a mid-60s album when every record had at least a dozen songs, this still leaves eight tracks to treasure, all of which add ‘something else’ to The Kinks’ marvellous treasure trove of sounds and topics no other band would dare to cover. ‘The Kinks’ might be rougher, ‘Face To Face’ might be tougher and ‘Arthur’ might have more ground to cover, but ‘Something Else’ is still a mighty fine record with three songs everyone knows and at least another five everyone should. God save The Kinks!
‘David Watts’ would, for most other bands, have been the hit single of the year: it’s catchy, it’s cruel (in an affectionate sort of way) and it’s easily identifiable for the 99% of the population who look on in shock and jealousy at the other 1% who have all the luck, all the looks, all the girls and all the money. In the end it took The Jam to get this song into the charts some twelve years later, where this song’s wicked streak of humour was toned down and the anger turned up high. It remains one of the best Kinks Kover songs even if the original still beats it hands down. Ray’s pounding piano lick, not unlike how ‘You Really Got Me’ sounded before Dave started playing it on a guitar, is relentless, Ray’s double-tracked vocal is full of delicious irony and Dave’s very shimmery-sounding guitar seems to lag a second or so behind, forever playing catch-up to David Watts (and his own brother’s playing) which is simply genius. David Watts was in fact a real character, a homosexual tour promoter who ‘borrowed’ the use of the band after a gig and seemed to get on rather well with Dave Davies (Dave recounts in his autobiography that his brother seriously thought of ‘selling’ his brother to his namesake to make sure he ‘got a good home’; Dave’s reaction to this is unprintable). The band were all in fact quite angry at being ‘used’ to sweeten a tour deal and Ray is clearly angry that despite being a successful rockstar – with enough money to be termed upper class – he still can’t escape being ‘used’ by other people around him, David Watts clearly just the latest in a string of people he’s really niggling at in this song. The ‘Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa’ chorus sounds like a bunch of schoolboys sticking their tongue out at the teacher (and Ray likes it so much he will re-use it on a few more songs, ‘Johnny Thunder’ about the 1950s generation of rebels and ‘Young Conservatives’, his hilarious spoof of Thatcher’s Yuppie Britain included, although sadly not ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ where it would have fitted well). For all its classic tongue-in-cheek lyrics though (‘I am a dull and simple lad, cannot tell water from champagne, and I have never met The Queen...’), there’s a kernel of truth at the heart of this song as Ray sticks up for working class heroes everywhere and the sheer bounce of delight in this song while doing so is infectious. The girls in the song can’t see beyond David Watts’ ‘pure and noble breed’ and nor can the narrator for that matter – but we, the listener can, and we know what a ‘cad’ and ‘bounder’ this seemingly perfect schoolboy really is. In a move worthy of Freud Ray played this to his sisters to ask for their feedback – and they asked him why he was singing ‘I wish I could be like David was’ (i.e. his brother). Like I said, psychologists have a field day with this group!...Listen out too for the curious beginning, perhaps the single most psychedelic opening of any Kinks song as Ray comments ‘nice and sweet!’ and Dave announces the song...backwards! (‘Rouf...eerht...owt...eno!’) in what might well have been a nod of the head to The Beatles’ zany opening to ‘Taxman’ on ‘Revolver’ the year before. All in all, a classic song and one that no other band of the 1960s could possibly have written (indeed its not till The Jam that class becomes such a major theme in songs again, after years of prof rock space age ideals, glam rock posing and a punk sneer that tarred every age with the same brush oblivious of class).
‘Death Of A Clown’ is another justly famous song, a gorgeous Dave Davies lament for times past. Ray gets a co-credit for his opening struck piano lick too (something The Beach Boys used on ‘Pet Sounds’ the Summer before) which neatly sets the melancholic tone, but actually its Ray’s wife Rasa who deserves the most credit for her gorgeous high falsetto ‘oooh’ that is probably her best (and most audible) part despite singing on almost all the Kinks’ singles of the 1960s singles. Like many new writers Dave struggles to keep his inspiration up for the whole song (writing just two verses and a chorus with no middle eight), but like the best of writers he’s already said all he needs to say anyway. Who doesn’t identify with that wonderful opening image of a clown backstage, the make-up thick on his face, turning to the bottle. Expanding the song to include lion tamers, a fortune teller and a ‘trainer of insects’ Dave manages to find the perfect metaphor for his own fading belief in being a party animal (the popularity of circuses in 1960s Britain waning mainly, ironically enough, because of the rise of the pop star). Till now Dave had the image in The Kinks of being the ‘wild child’ younger than the rest of the band and out for a good time – now at last, after effectively being made to put his trademark electric guitar sound in the loft by the songs his brother was writing, he beats Ray at his own game by writing deeper and more honestly than most other writers of ‘pop songs’ in 1967. The rest of the band struggle to get the drift of what Dave is after, turning in a by their standards perfunctory arrangement (where Mick Avory over-plays and Pete Quaife underplays) unusually dominated not by guitar but by the piano part, but Dave’s vocal is perfection; a double-tracked weeping sore full of lost opportunities, bitter regret and fear for the future. Together with a singalong ‘la la la’ riff (that was ripped off by at least one Eurovision entry over the years), it’s easy to see why it was such a big hit but also why it caught the rest of the band and management napping: ‘Death Of A Clown’ was even more out of step with its times (togetherness, happiness, peace and love) than Ray’s work and The Kinks had never really come close to tackling a song like this before. Poignant, memorable and unique, this is still probably Dave’s best known song for some very good reasons.
‘Two Sisters’ is, as we’ve seen, a nice little piece of cod-psychology from stay-at-home Ray, wondering if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence where his ‘sister’ parties every night and comes home late. People who doubt the sibling rivalry between the Davies brethren need only hear how Ray sings the line ‘She was so jealous of her sister and her liberty and her smart young friends’ as if he’s about to kill her. Switching the song from two brothers to two sisters isn’t fooling anyone: this two minute slice of tension and melodrama clearly has its roots in real life even if you didn’t know the full story. Perhaps there’s a little of Rasa in this song too: she was still a schoolgirl when she met Ray in 1964 and just 17 when she married him a year later – she too must have seen her teenage friends out partying every night while she had to stay at home and look after the baby (and, indeed, her husband) while not yet in her 20s. Ray does his best to impress us with his domestic skills in this song with mentions of ‘wardrobes’ and ‘drying pans’ but this is a terribly fairy-tale like kingdom full of ‘mirrors’ and ‘chores’ so that we never get any real sense that he’s hard at work (the only line that links this song to the then-present day is the one about ‘women’s weekly magazines’ in the last verse, which comes as rather a jolt). Even so, and evn if you didn’t know the story, there’s something very believable about this song which musically is the very sound of frustration, the key signature of the melody always sounding as if its about to change but somehow it never quite does. Of course, as ‘we’ve heard on the last song, Dave was actually pretty jealous of Ray’s stability and already regretting his ‘drinking years’, so its nice to hear this song end with ‘Sybilla’ (i.e. Ray) looking at her children and realising how much she loves them, inspiring perhaps the silliest single line in any Kinks song: ‘So she ran through the house with her curlers on!’ Another album highlight.
‘No Return’ is a rather anonymous bossa nova love song that I must admit I loved back in the days when I only owned three Kinks LPs and hadn’t yet discovered Ray’s more inventive and prettier 1960s ballads (‘Fancy’ is the obvious highlight in Ray’s back catalogue; ‘Ring The Bells’ and ‘Nothin’ In This World...’ two other minor gems). Compared to those three, though, this song hasd no chance, being slightly muddily recorded and mixed throughout so that even with two vocals again we can’t really hear what Ray is singing. In fact, the recording sounds like a demo, at one with other period Ray Davies demos such as ‘Time Will Tell’ and ‘One-Night Stand’ intended for ‘other’ artists to sing. Indeed, this song isn’t very Kinks-like, with only a soft, rattled drum part (by Mick Avory on top form) suggesting that any other Kinks play on the track. It’s a shame the band didn’t do more with this song because the tune is very lovely indeed, yearning with heartbreak and trying it’s best to break itself out of its ‘shell’ into full bloom throughout. The lyrics are, sadly, less inspired and don’t actually make that much sense by Ray’s high standards (‘If I could see just how lonely my life would be, if you passed me by and said farewell...’) even though the talk about a ‘first love’ who ‘looks like you’ve gone’ is perhaps the first piece of evidence that things aren’t all rosy between Ray and Rasa (who will leave her husband suddenly in heartbreaking circumstances in 1973, cheered on by his mother-in-law who sounds not unlike the one on this album’s ‘Situation Vacant’, inspiring at least three rock operas). Perhaps the ultimate problem with this song, though, is that it doesn’t sound heartfelt – we don’t believe that the narrator is full of heartbreak and that there is ‘no return’ between them; on an album so full of self-revelation and drama this song simply doesn’t stand out.
‘Harry Rag’ is the joker in the pack, a bawdy song about cigarette addiction that oompahs throughout like some music hall ditty passed down through generations. Perhaps fearing that ‘upper class twit’ songs like ‘David Watts’ were getting beyond his target audience of disenfranchised, intelligent teens Ray puts on his best cockney working class accent and writes a song with more hooks than a pair of curtains, expressing empathy with a whole host of characters in a lost and crazy world, reaching out for a cigarette to get them through the day even though they know eventually it’ll kill them. Even though Ray was as big a smoker as anyone in the 1960s and this song has more references to the cockney slang term ‘Harry Rag’ (i.e. drag, what you do on a cigarette) than is frankly good for it, this song isn’t really about cigarettes at all but boredom, stress and poverty. Like a lesser sequel to Klassik Kinks single ‘Dead End Street’ this is a land where no one of a certain class has a future: young Tom in the first verse is as trapped as his ma, dying in a bed upstairs, both of them pursued by the taxman (a regular theme of Ray’s songs in 1966/67, when The Kinks had every money and managerial difficulty under the sun). A knees-up song about a ‘dying lass’ whose ‘bones might ache and her skin might sag’ but would still do ‘anything’ for a ‘Harry Rag’ shouldn’t be funny, but somehow it is: the real tragedy comes in the last verse where the ‘smart young ladies of the land’ have also fallen under the spell of tobacco; the tragedy is they have no excuse for smoking merely as a ‘fashion statement’; Ray has sympathy with those who really need it (to quote fellow AAA star John Lennon ‘Whatever gets you through the night, ‘salright’) but spends his last verse taking these rich kids to pieces over how they ‘boast and brag’ that they’re doing something that’ll take years off their love. Fun but frivolous, despite the dark nature of the song, this song succeeds so well because of probably the best band performance on the record: as we saw with ‘Arthur’ Mick Avory is the best music hall drummer that ever lived and he’s right at home with this song, while Pete’s weary bass matched with Dave’s quirky, bright sparks of delight on the guitar is the perfect accompaniment to a slippery subject matter. It’s Ray’s vocal, though, that you’ll remember, guttural, raw, edgy and by turns mocking and sympathetic, it’s one of his best. One question though: why does Dave Davies suddenly yell ‘Bingo!!!!’ really loudly at the end (was this take 35 or something perhaps and the band were thinking they’d never nail this song?!)
‘Tin Soldier’ is the sort of song you write when you need one in a hurry. Largely sung on one note, it has a nursery-rhyme-esque quality and a marching strut that’s in 4/4 time and seems to be largely in C Major, the easiest key going. Sadly Ray backed out of his original idea which was an early stab at his ‘tramp’ character (see ‘Preservation’) who has nothing economically or property-wise but does at least have time and a whole world to roam around in (‘I’ve got sand in my shoes, and nothing but my own time to lose!’ – long a bootlegger favourite and now out officially at last on the ‘Something Else’ deluxe CD). Whilst it still needed a lot of work, that set of lyrics is much more interesting than this rather generic finished product about a soldier out on parade. Together with ‘Two Sisters’ it sounds more like a ballet or a fairytale but talks about him walking down a ‘high road’ and having the very realistic and un-fairytale like details ‘a wife and two kids to support’ suggests that this too is set in the contemporary world, even if you can ‘sit him on your knee’ (could it be that Ray is taking inspiration from his daughter’s storybooks or toys?) There’s an unfortunate ‘wicki-wack-wack-oo’ chorus that Ray frankly doesn’t sound comfortable singing and an overall air of nonsense, which is a shame given that this song could have been another Ray Davies gem about people taking orders and doing what they’re told. In the end, the best thing about this song is the use of horns and brass, an early indicator of the ‘horn section’ to come on some of the band’s 1970s tours (when they have more to do than Dave Davies sometimes!) but which never sounded better than here, parping their way through a simply tune built for this sort of thing. Overall, though, one of the weakest songs on the album.
‘Situation Vacant’, however, is a very successful song and the one recording here that uses a little of the band’s old electric power. ‘Susie and Johnny were happy’ begins the song and just from context with the other songs and the way Ray sings it we know something’s going to go wrong. Despite breaking even and being in a job he loved, Johnny leaves his job ‘where he’d been all his life’ and tries to get another job he hates for more money to keep his mother-in-law happy. Johnny is painted as the ‘reasonable’ one in this relationship, doing his best for ‘peace and quiet’s sake’, but the jobs aren’t there (you hear that Coalition – unemployment cannot be the fault of the unemployed when there aren’t enough jobs around!) so the couple lose their flat and in turn each other. For the most part this song rattles o quite merrily, like a Flanders and Swann or a Gilbert and Sullivan tune, but just listen to the ending: dropping a key Ray tells us ‘Susie’s separated, living with her ma, little mama’s satisfied!’, dropping his voice and holding this note so savagely it sounds as if she’s a murderer. A curious false ending (at least if you’re listening to the superior mono version of this record – and I say that as someone who prefers stereo mixes 9/10th s of the time) stretches the matter even more: this isn’t a matter that’s easily solved and Johnny will have to live with the consequences for some time afterwards. It’s great to hear the Kinks back playing together as an electric band and this is another of their best performances, with Ray on piano and organ instead of acoustic guitar, Dave’s guitar providing the sting and Mick Avory mixed so loudly he sounds like he’s beating up the mother-in-law on Johnny’s behalf. It’s tempting, too, to see this song as autobiography: Ray was hardly going to look through the ‘situations vacant’ for another job, but it is fair to say that Mrs Ditzpetredis (Rasa’s mum) wasn’t altogether thrilled when her 17 year old daughter hooked up with Ray and even less pleased when she became pregnant. Not really a natural music lover, she looked on the Kinks with disdain, something that must have riled Ray no end (its notable that even when the couple4 in the song buy their luxury ‘apartment’ they aren’t free from her influence and only feel it more – given that Ray had just moved house to his ‘dream home’ in Fortis Green’, which knowing Ray he assumed in his imagination would cure all ills and solve all problems including wicked mothers-in-law, this detail speaks volumes). Another album highlight.
My favourite song on the album, however, is undoubtedly Dave’s ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’. A pulsating, grungy, powerful rocker it could have been a catchy love song with its killer riff and catch-all lyrics, but no – this song is deeply personal and both Daves (there’s an awful lot of double-tracking on this record!) are on the verge of tears throughout. When you know Dave’s story (see both above and below!) it’s hard not to shed a tear yourself at the sheer length the narrator promises to go to to put things right, she doesn’t have to ‘look’ at him, ‘laugh’ ‘cook’ or ‘sleep with’ him, she can ‘wear my clothes’ ‘play my records’ ‘stay at my home’ and ‘take my money’. Pop star Dave had everything any human being could want in 1967 (fame, celebrity, ‘friends’, money, the works) and he’d give it all up in a jot to have his high school sweetheart there with him (or at least anyone who ‘really’ loves him and isn’t just with him for show). The sourness at the end of each verse, when the narrator knows no one is listening to him and he effectively ‘untuned’ his guitar (or at least repeatedly hits the wrong note) might not be made for easy listening but its a terribly effective idea. Musically, though, either the band don’t understand this song yet or they haven’t had time to work on it (only Mick Avory really gets what Dave is up to here; Ray’s hokey organ part especially sounds as if he’s laughing at his brother’s sincerity – knowing this band he probably is!) I much prefer the BBC session version of this song (either of them, actually, after a second version was released last year) where the Kinks play this song at about five times the speed and ten times the power, Dave’s double-tracked guitar virtually whacking each other round the head and Mick Avory out-drumming Keith Moon! This version is still great, however, sounding quite unlike anything else around at the time and Dave’s vocal(s) are truly moving.
‘Lazy Old Sun’ is the song’s token attempt at psychedelia, highlighted by a rattling drum part that won’t sit still and a loud, groaning out-of-tune guitar part that could be by Ray, Dave or Pete. Sunshine is a big theme in Ray’s songs: the sun can give life, it can take it away and can do everything in-between, saving or mocking the characters who fall under it’s spell (see ‘Sunny Afternoon’ ‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’ ‘Rainy Day In June’ and a whole lot more). This time around its in hiding, refusing to end a Winter that seems as if its never going to pass and which Ray takes personally (‘What have you done to Summertime?!’) Stuck in bed for most of the Summer in 1966, it sounds to me as if Ray is dreaming about the world outside and wondering when not the actual rain but the metaphorical rain is going to pass. Ray almost sounds as if he’s talking to himself at one point, encouraging himself to get up and be back to his old self (‘Sunny Ray! Shine my way!) As ever with The Kinks, though, this song is also about nostalgia for childhood, Ray remembering ‘when I was young my world was three foot seven inch tall’ (this is perhaps a bit early to be inspired by his daughter, still a babe in arms when the album came out – perhaps Ray’s remembering the last time he felt this helpless and adrift in an adult world?) It sounds to me as if The Kinks had been paying close attention to The classic Beatles B-side ‘Rain’, a similarly powerful song about the weather and how its only metaphorical (because ‘when it rains or shines its just a state of mind’) that was recorded at a faster speed and slowed down (this song doesn’t do that but the band plays in a hazy way that gives the same impression). A real powerhouse of a production, complete with more horns and a beautiful end section which really does sound like the sun coming out (due to a combination of Mick’s excellent drum rolls, Dave’s guitar and more wordless harmonies from Rasa) and a balmy, relaxed organ part, this is more like a Pink Floyd song than a Kinks one (indeed ‘Remember A Day’, another song about memories of sunny days that actually weren’t that sunny, is suspiciously similar to this song).
Alas ‘Afternoon Tea’ is a lot more ordinary. The ‘oohs’ from Waterloo Sunset are given an early trial, Pete Quaife at last gets the chance to make his marvellously inventive bass riffs central to the song and there’s a marvellous strut to this song’s relaxed gait. The theme of that very upper class theme ‘Afternoon Tea’ (the one meal of the day intended for pleasure, not sustenance) should also result with another classic lyric. Somehow, though, these items don’t gel together ands instead we get possibly Ray’s most pointless track, recounting past afternoon teas shared with a lover whose no longer there (alas, though, there’s not much back story, most of the lyrics taken up by how ‘you’ll take milk if you please’ and a ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba chorus that sounds like the couple are ordering some Rumba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bas to go with their tea. Oddly empty, vocally Dave and Rasa sound perplexed as to what they’re really singing about and only Ray sounds at home on a song about one of his favourite past-times (indeed, he’ll still be singing about English Cafes like this one as late as his last album in 2007). Funnily enough, this song clocks in the longest of any song o the album (despite lasting just 3:26) despite having the least amount to say. Not a patch on Ray’s sequel ‘Have A Cuppa Tea’ from ‘Muswell Hillbillies’.
‘Funny Face’ is Dave’s third and final song on the album and arguably the least successful of the trilogy, although its peculiar stop-start structure and strange, elliptical lyrics still make for a fascinating song. Sounding like a cross between the ‘Pink Panther’ theme and Z Cars’, the mincing but slightly silly riff stalks the narrator throughout most of the song before finally releasing all that tension in the chorus, a satisfying ringing of guitars. Lyrically too this song is trying hard to escape (literally) from a straight-jacket, the hapless narrator trapped by ‘frosty windows’ that distort his vision of reality and leave him haunted by memories (a ‘girl’ – surely Sue again – ‘walking round in my memory’; by most accounts it was during this point that Dave found out she was indeed still alive and following his career with pride). Dave, though, is still trapped, powerless to do anything with the information that his childhood sweetheart never wanted to leave him, unable to entice her through ‘gates of love’ ‘coloured blue’ and unable to see her because ‘doctors’ (surely his and her parents) won’t let him out into society. The title and chorus, though, is more peculiar still: who has the ‘funny face’? Is it her, or the narrator, or the doctors? And surely, given the glimpses of doom and despair we get throughout the rest of the song, no one in this entombed little world could possibly be ‘alright!’; its as if Dave has suddenly realised that this song he’s pouring his heart out into will make no sense to anyone else so it might as well have a ‘catchy’ chorus. The middle eight, with Dave singing in innocent falsetto, uproots the song further, adding a tone of mock naivety to a world we know to be dark and dangerous, which is in fact pulled away from under him the very next line ‘Eyes don’t smile, all they do is cry’). Like ‘Sun Shines’, this is a man who wants his freedom and will pay almost any price to be let out of his prison, although its notable that he’s doing less shouting and pursuing on this track, instead watching the events in the song unfold helpless to interfere (perhaps Dave had been paying close attention to the songs his brother had come up with for this record?) An alternate reading is even more disturbing: Dave taking on his brother’s persona after his breakdown, imagining him in a mental asylum (not a new concept – Ray visited several child psychologists in his teens back in the day when any psychology even in adults was deeply unusual never mind in quiet 13-year-olds; reading between the lines Ray was almost certainly still in mourning for his sister Irene who encouraged his love of music and died suddenly of a heart condition on the dancefloor one night; a subject Ray still on ray’s mind as late as The Kinks’ ‘Come Dancing’ single of 1983).If so (and I admit this theme is less likely) then Dave sounds his typical mix of nonchalant and concerned (‘What can I do about it? They say you won’t last any longer!’), his own future of course totally wrapped up in what becomes of his brother in this period. A fascinating song, there’s perhaps just a little too much going on in here - and too many locked doors without keys – to make this song work as universally or as successfully as ‘Clown’ or ‘Sun Shines’; nevertheless ‘Funny Face’ is an impressively deep song and one that builds a real feeling of doom and seclusion in just a few lines and one hypnotic riff that songwriters at the end of their career would kill for, never mind a ‘newbie’ in his late teens.
‘End Of The Season’ is another odd and for the times unexpected song, the first glimpse of the ‘pre-war’ vibe Ray Davies feels so attuned to (just check out ‘Holiday Romance’ from ‘A Soap Opera’ for the ultimate I-was-born-in-the-wrong-era Ray Davies composition). Just ask yourself what other 1960s band would ever have tried to do a song like this (well, apart from The Monkees’ ‘Magnolia Simm’ from 1968 and the New Vaudeville Band’s ‘Winchester Cathedral’ of 1966 anyway). True history was looking backwards and forwards all at once in 1967 (the very Victorian ‘Sgt Pepper’ character and all those suits the Beatles wear on the LP sleeve being perhaps the best examples) but not to anything as recent as the 1920s (a date that’s very much the ‘parent’ sound, assuming most parents of 1960s rock stars had their offspring somewhere around their 30s). The theme of cricket, too, is surprising given how ‘American’ everything was back in 1967 and an early sign that the Kinks’ touring ban was turning them inwards not outwards. In actual fact the cricket metaphor doesn’t stretch all that far (not as far as ‘Cricket’ from ‘Preservation Act One’ anyway), the closed down pavilion could have been replaced with any shut shop or tourist resort and still have the same reaction. By far the best passage of this song is the opening, that same old piece of birdsong used by every band in London (we did a whole top five dedicated to it yonks back – it’s the same recording that appears in The Beatles’ ‘Across The Universe’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Cirrus Minor’ among others, although despite rumours to the contrary it’s not the same one the fab four used in ‘Blackbird’) accompanied by a sudden blossoming tune that sounds like sunshine but actually tells a very different story (‘Winter time is coming, all the sky is grey...’) and is more like Brian Wilson’s work than The Kinks (‘Soulful Old Man Sunshine’ especially). You think this is going to be another of Ray’s ‘weather’ songs but instead the backing calms down to a plod for a composition that isn’t so much a ‘song’ as a list of metaphors for things closing down. As we’ve stated, Ray’s long list of old walking haunts (‘I get no kicks walking down Saville Row’) written most likely at a time when he was still ill in bed sounds to me like a wish-fulfilment, a last-time wander down streets he used to see everyday because he fears may never walk them again (how else can we read lines like ‘My reason’s gone, close of play’). To me this is the follow-up to the glorious ‘There’s Too Much On My Mind’ from ‘Face To Face’ only this time its post-breakdown not pre-breakdown, Ray coming to terms with the fact that one part of his life is ‘over’ (even if he does rally amazingly quickly as it turns out, he probably wouldn’t have known it then and in true Kinks fashion feared the worst while trying to grin and bear it). The song loses its way by verse two, turning into another tired ‘you’re-there-and-I’m-here song’ (‘You’re on a yacht near an Island in Greece’), although this verse is quite funny if viewed through the eyes of Ray singing about his managers and the lifestyle her imagines they’re living with money that’s rightfully his (the whole of the ‘Lola vs Powerman’ album continues this theme of being conned). Finally, listen out for the last line dreaming of ‘flowers in June’ – it was in effect the metaphor of a ‘Rainy Day In June’ (again from ‘Face to Face’) that ushered in this brief ‘dark phase’ of Ray’s writing and in retrospect its rather a relief to hear things come full circle (next album ‘Village Green’ is a much happier album than ‘Something Else’ all round). Another fascinating song, then, and yet the Noel Cowardesque backing is not what fans were expecting and it’s not that easy to sit through now, Ray’s vocal seemingly spoofing what sound sounded like they were quite heartfelt sentiments when the song was written down. Still, if you’re the kind of fan who thinks psychedelia is too colourful and Kinks songs should be in monochrome then there’s much to admire.
The album then closes with ‘Waterloo Sunset’, one of the best loved songs our website covers. Strangely enough, it wasn’t that big a seller for The Kinks (who were beginning to drop in sales in this period) and never made #1, but it has become probably the band’s biggest retrospective hit, outshadowing even ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Lola’. Kink biographer Nick Hasted in his excellent book titled ‘You Really Got Me’ spends a whole chapter looking at the ins and outs of this song; even by my longwinded standards that’s a lot so I’ll just remind you of what we said earlier: that it was a view of Waterloo Sunset and people going about their daily business that brought hope and a sort of salvation to a poorly teenage Ray Davies in hospital and that inability to interact with the world is at the very heart of this song. After all, to a workaholic like Ray, the idea of seeing people being so ‘busy’ they make him ‘dizzy’ while he lies in bed ordered to rest must have been a shocking discovery and one that’s returned to his memory after his recent spell in bed. To the narrator everyone in the song is a stranger in a world he sees but doesn’t exist in, ‘Terry’ and ‘Julie’ made-up names for the people he sees (half-named in honour of Terence Stamp and Julie Christie) living the life that the narrator longs for himself. That description makes this song sound like a lonely, sad song though – those of you who’ve heard it (presumably everyone interested in music enough to read this site) knows that it isn’t: ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is a life-affirming song, one where everything has a purpose and the world going about its business brings comfort not jealousy and where even one of the dirtier, more industrial parts of England’s busiest city can also bring peace and serenity. Everything about this song is judged perfectly, from Dave’s staccato opening riff, the angelic harmonies of Dave, Pete and Rasa and a chord progression that might be meandering and taking it’s time but knows exactly how to get from A to B to the closing circle of hypnotic power chords. This is a song that’s restful and idyllic and a description of ‘paradise’, but the sheer weariness of the song and the hints in the lyrics make it clear that this isn’t some silly made up utopia but a respite in the midst of chaos and confusion; it’s eerie calmness like the one that comes after a storm as Ray once again tries to connect with the world outside his bedroom and take his place back in the world. The Kinks had a bit of a hit-and-miss reaction to including singles on their albums (The Beatles The Who and The Stones only rarely did in the 1960s; acts like The Hollies and The Searchers nearly always did; the Kinks are somewhere in the middle) but ‘Waterloo Sunset’ fits on this album much better than ‘Sunny Afternoon’ did on ‘Face To Face’, for instance. This is Ray’s healing song, the stepping stone between the ‘imagination’ of this album and the more personal songs from ‘Village Green’ and ‘Arthur’ to come. And for now even the hectic pace of the 1960s, with demand for new singles and product can’t make him feel afraid; as long as ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is in his back pocket ready to be recorded, The Kinks really are in paradise. A lovely song and candidate for the band’s best single, beaten in my eyes only by the yearning of ‘See My Friends’ and the sheer power of ‘Dead End Street’.
Overall, then, ‘Something Else’ takes a swipe at every subject matter in sight: from public schoolboys born with silver spoons to mother-in-laws from hell, there’s an attack and verve about this LP that sometimes seems at odds with its very unique sense of calm and inner peace, highlighted by ‘Waterloo Sunset’. Considering that Ray is recovering from a breakdown and Dave is about to have one, it’s amazing that The Kinks were functioning at all and yet here they bounce back again, as sharp and as melodic as ever. To fans tracing their singles career, in fact, they’ve never been better: ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Death Of A Clown’, released in a few weeks of each other, are the kind of killer one-two blow even The Beatles had trouble keeping up with (in fact I’d take these two songs over period fab four singles ‘All You Need Is Love’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Hello Goodbye’ anyday). It’s only when you look at the album that you notice the fragileness behind the cracks and the unusual bits of uninspired filler that cement over the speed with which this album was made. I’d never place ‘Something Else’ on the pedestal I reserve for ‘Arthur’ or ‘Face To Face’ (two albums that come as close to perfection as any in my collection) – there’s simply too many songs that don’t quite fit or don’t quite work and as an album this record simply doesn’t have the Kinks’ sheer consistency. All that said, there’s a still a great long list of things to admire this album, from the resurgence of Dave Davies to the ‘David Watts’ scowl to the funky psychedelia of ‘Lazy Old Sun’ to the shimmering beauty of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and between them they overshadow all of the album’s lesser moments. Hardly just ‘something else by The Kinks’, this is a milestone album and the band’s records will never quite be the same again... 7/10
Links to other articles on this site you might be interested in:
‘Kinda Kinks’ http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-kinks-kinda-kinks-1965.html
'Face To Face' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-8-kinks-face-to-face-1966.html
'Lola vs Powerman and the Money-Go-Round' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/news-views-and-music-issue-74-kinks.html
'Preservation Acts One and Two'
'A Soap Opera' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-111-kinks.html
'Give The People What They Want' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-81-kinks-give-people-what-they.html
'Word Of Mouth' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/news-views-and-music-issue-96-kinks.html
'Think Visual' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/news-views-and-music-issue-37-kinks.html
'UK Jive' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-93-kinks-uk-jive-1989.html
Pete Quaife: Obituary and Tribute http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010_06_27_archive.html