Monday, 1 May 2017
"The Kinks" (1964)
"The Kinks" (1964)
Beautiful Delilah/So Mystifying/Just Can't Go To Sleep/Long Tall Shorty/I Took My Baby Home/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter/You Really Got Me//Cadillac/Bald Headed Woman/Revenge/Too Much Monkey Business/I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain/Stop Your Sobbin'/Got Love If You Want It
'You leave my mouth wide open with the things that you do!'
This debut record isn't quite The Kinks as we know and love them - it's The Kinks before The Kinks have been straightened out, you might say. Anyone expecting Ray Davies classics in the style and vein of then-current hit 'You Really Got Me' would have been disappointed for the simple reason that this wasn't The Kinks' default sound yet. In fact for now, for this early period, The Kinks don't actually have one. Some 1960s AAA bands knew what they were going to do with their debut weeks, months or even (in Oasis' case) years before they made it: they had grand visions of making statements and had ideas coming out of their ideas. 'The Kinks', by contrast, is a clash of many people's visions and only one of those people is Ray Davies who, hard as he shouts, keeps finding himself over-ruled. In retrospect you can see why. The Kinks aren't a fully-formed band in the sense that The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones already were even if they had been going for quite a while with three-quarters of their line-up in tow (with Mick Avory replacing Mickey Willett just ten months before this album's release - funnily enough Avory was the last person to be in The Rolling Stones' fluid line-ups before it stabilised with the famous Brian Jones line-up in 1962). They were formed like so many of their peers as a showcase for American R and B covers, with no more ambitions than that. Like many an AAA band with brothers in the line-up, the group were formed the wrong-way-round to what you might expect: Dave Davies was the 'star', the group's nominal lead singer with his unique growling falsetto, great hairdo and electric guitar to die for during the period more than any other when the guitar was king. Elder brother Ray got to the party late but was a natural choice as a rhythm guitar player alongside Dave (who had more time on his hands after being expelled from school) and school-friend Pete Quaife. At first the band didn't even have a set name, alternating between 'The Ray Davies Quartet' 'Pete Quaife Quartet' and 'Dave Davies Quartet' depending on which of the three happened to book the gig - through Ray's art school/film studies contacts, Pete's graphic design chums or Dave's school-mates. Only comparatively late on did The Kinks settle on the name 'The Ravens' back in the Beatlemania days when every good band name connected to some sort of animal, vegetable or mineral and which had the vibes they wanted to carry: they were slightly darker than their London peers, scruffier and more literary (if Edgar Allan Poe had chosen a band name - and indeed a band - it would surely have been The Kinks).
But bands weren't in control of their own destiny back in 1964 - managers were. And The fledgling Ravens had some of the weirdest managers of the lot. Robert Wace and Grenville Collins had no real interest in R and B. Though passionate and knowledgeable about music they were, like Brian Epstein and Who manager Kit Lambert before them, clueless about working class teenage rebellion and rock and roll. At first their motives were less altruistic than either: rather than falling in love with the band after seeing them in a dingy cellar or wanting to make a 'pop art statement' using violence and aggression, instead The Ravens happened to be the nearest band playing in a pub one night when Robert Wace decided he wanted to be a singer and would pay them to be his backing band. Re-named 'Robert Wace and The Bo-Weevils' the band became more of a laughing stock than the institution they wanted to be and even Wace could see that the line-up wasn't working out. So, more for a laugh than anything, the pair of upper-class gents with more money than interest said they'd be the band's managers and do a 'Brian Epstein'. Their contact book was more useful than their ideas and after an uncomfortable stint playing posh ballrooms (where none of the teens in the audience had heard an R and B record in their life) they got lucky with an audition for impresario Larry Page who signed the band to Pye Records. Between the three cooks they decided 'The Ravens' wasn't good enough and wanted a sexier, more risqué idea, choosing 'The Kinks' between them on the basis that it would be short enough to stand out on posters when the band were playing at the bottom of the bill and daring enough to intrigue and dazzle audiences. Larry also put the inexperienced band under the charge of experienced producer Shel Talmy who took no nonsense from the group and imposed his own ideas on theirs.
Which was a problem. Outsiders from the first, The Kinks weren't your average R and B covers band. They weren't serious enough to do 1950s rock and roll with the seriousness of the Stones, the beat of the Beatles or the aggression of The Who. The name change is unfortunate in the sense that there surely cannot have been a band less overtly sexy than The Kinks (Dave Davies' long hair aside perhaps - but then Mick Avory was still growing out a crew-cut!) and the band were uncomfortable walking around with whips and black jackets. Ray Davies' songwriting wasn't, for now, encouraged but endured - seen as something the band had to get out of their system before Dave got the teenage girls in the audience crying all over again. Unlike the names chosen by The Beatles (Puns! Beat music! Self-deprecating humour!), The Hollies (More puns, self-deprecating humour and thanks to the pun on Buddy Holly and their formation around Christmas time just enough like The Beatles to catch on!), The Rolling Stones (A proper blues name that sounded vaguely threatening!) and The Who (Always in search of an identity) 'The Kinks' was clearly the choice of a group of elder men trying to be daring than anything that reflected the band themselves. As Dave Davies later put it, the band should have been named 'The Misfits' after their 1978 song - they're outsiders, commenting from the outside in, not out there to shock. Shel Talmy decided that the group's material wasn't as good as the songs he was 'writing' for them (well, adapting anyway) and told them so with the first of several rows that will last until as late as 1966 and the making of 'Dead End Street'. The band were encouraged to develop a 'saucy' stage act which they hated; only during a package tour at the bottom of the bill in early 1964 when Graham Nash of The Hollies intervened and ticked their managers 'off' for screaming at the band and that they were fine as they were did The Kinks' sound truly come together. Audiences were wrong-footed from the first. Proof of how unsure of this band Pye really were comes on the original back sleeve where instead of the usual biography and hyperbole the art department decide to spend it discussing the under-rated value of the letter 'K' (I was disappointed to find the Yardbirds' debut wasn't a hymn to the letter 'Y' or the Zombies the letter 'Z' after that, while the letter 'B' could have been a multi-part series in the first half of the 1960s!)
So was any fan who'd bought The Kink's first two singles, recorded under a stingy three-single deal with Pye that didn't give this band (so young and so in need of nurturing and direction) much time to find their way (it took The Rolling Stones and The Hollies three singles each to crack the top ten, remember). It speaks volumes that although no one was paying much attention to his songs Ray Davies still somehow manages to write both sides of their debut single, 'You Still Want Me', which was just Beatley enough to pass Shel Talmy's green light. It's a sweet song (though B-side 'You Do Something To Me' is better) but in a market full of Liverpool soundalikes trying to sound like The Beatles an overtly London soundalike Beatles group stood no chance! Not realising they were onto a shrinking record market, The Kinks were next persuaded to release 'Long Tall Sally' because The Beatles did it in their stage act (but not on a recording until an EP out that October, contemporary with this album) - sadly many other bands of the day had the same idea. Wace, Collins, Page and Talmy all assumed it was The Kinks' fault and all but washed their hands of the group with one single to go.
Which is when it all came together. 'You Really Got Me' had been one of the first songs Ray Davies wrote, hammered out at the piano in the Davies' family front room with some choppy chords as an expression of frustration and longing (possibly for the 'Art School Babe' who crops up decades later in Ray's nostalgic stage-show 'Storyteller' in the late 1990s). It captured the vibe of the time perfectly (matched by fellow Pye and Talmy signings The Who and their debut 'I Can't Explain' released the following March - some say directly after hearing this single). And nobody saw it coming: Ray and even (perhaps especially) Dave realised that this single was their greatest chance at success (the brothers were never this close again - evuh!) but nobody in the 'high-ups' did: Talmy recorded it in a hurry under protest, Page agreed to its release with the warning that he thought the band were blowing their only chance at a hit and Robert and Grenville were already prepared to move to pastures new. This is one of those rare cases where the right song somehow got through, The Kinks brave enough to push to do the song 'their' way and tapping the mood of their peer-group in a way arguably no one since The Beatles and 'She Loves You' had managed the previous Autumn. Even with a minor publicity budget the song was raw, powerful and exciting enough to take off word-of-mouth amongst those who heard it and this ushered in The Kinks' first golden age when for a golden year commercially they could do no wrong - even when, for the over-worked and under-assisted band, nothing seemed to go right (more on that on our 'Kinda Kinks' review!)
The first sensible move anyone connected with The Kinks made was to get the band in to make a debut album quick, before the fuss died down, as soon as possible and no excuses! This record was made mere days after 'You Really Got Me' peaked at number one, before the band really had time to take it all in (only a few weeks before they were expecting to sign on at the dole if their third single was the flop everyone said it was, not make an album - no wonder they sound quite giggly and excited at times making this LP!) However after months of being told 'You Really Got Me' was a silly song and with the likes of Shel Talmy still not convinced by Ray's songwriting talent he's simply not ready. We like to look back on The Kinks' early days as a very Kinks-like moment of David versus Goliath, of the little man sticking it up to the big boys and sneaking through a golden run of soundalike singles that move on to 'All Day and All Of The Night' and 'Til' The End Of The Day' - but that's in the future. For the moment Ray hasn't bothered writing a sequel because, well, nobody seemed to like the first one much and he's not experienced enough to churn stuff out in his sleep just yet. While Ray did have other songs hanging around my guess is that Ray being Ray he hadn't actually written them for the band at all (notably The Kinks did play any of them on stage, as far as I know, until after the album came out). Given the slim chance of any success with their third single my guess is that Ray was trying to work on a new angle as a writer for other people and thus we get the first of many stylistically diverse Kinks albums here, each track exploring a different avenue of the band's current favourite artists. 'So Mystifying' chugs along with the groove of a Bo Diddley, albeit dressed up to the nines with Tamla Motown style harmonies. 'Just Can't Go To Sleep' - the first of many many references to Ray's notorious insomnia - is the kind of pretty pop song you can imagine everyone from The Teddy Bears to The Orchids doing (this all-girl band do indeed become the first to cover a Ray Davies song but plump for the later EP song 'I've Got That Feeling' instead). 'I Took My Baby Home' sounds to these ears as if Ray was hoping The Rolling Stones - not yet writers themselves - would bite the way they had for The Beatles' 'I Wanna Be Your Man'. 'Revenge' sounds like it was written for any number of talented blues harmonica players, maybe 'Little Terry' or perhaps even Mick Jagger who were recording similar things around 1964. 'Stop Your Sobbin' is also such an obvious hit song - albeit an obvious hit pop song - that it's a surprise it takes until the new wave era and The Pretenders to make it one. Not one of Ray's other four songs for this album sounds anything like The Kinks will go on to record and only 'You Really Got Me' sounds like the 'future'. We've been here before of course - not all of 'Please Please Me' or 'The Who Sing My Generation' sound like later records either - but The Kinks (of course!) are like their peers only more so. For any fan who heard 'The Kinks' on first release the next career moves must have been impossible to direct, with this record not so much a map leading to later roads to conquer as a load of darts thrown at different dart-boards in the desperation of getting one of them, any of them, to hit. Though the band like to talk down sequel album 'Kinda Kinks' for its hurried recording and blurry edges, for Ray Davies as a composer it remains perhaps the biggest leap in his catalogue and it's that album that establishes a sort-of Kinks sound, not this one.
Instead most of this LP is taken up with R and B cover tunes of the sort the band had long been doing on record, which is fair enough - that's what every other band of the day was doing around now too (the first to be all original, The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night', was only out in July 1964 and that band had a two-year head-start on The Kinks). But even those don't sound the way future fans assume The Kinks will. It's a sign of just how in flux the band stil were that most of these are handed over, without thought, to Dave Davies to sing. Before Ray started writing (and realised that his very 'English' breed of songs sounded best with his voice, not his brother's impressive mock-American drawl) The Kinks were very much Dave's band, under whatever name they used. While Ray's thoughtful introvertness was perfect for the 1960s as they developed, back in 1964 groups needed energy and extroverts who were a little bit daring. Nobody in 1964 was more energetic, extroverted or daring than Dave: with his long hair, electrifying guitar solos and unique strangulated voice he was one of the pin-ups of the age despite his tender years (turning seventeen in February 1964 he's not really older than much of the band's audience himself). Everyone rightly praises Ray for being so young (he's only twenty!) when The Kinks got going and all that pressure to write resting on his shoulders. But for Dave that's even more so - he was fronting the group, singing the bulk of the songs and playing a lead guitar part that was already being talked about as the band's greatest asset. His vocal performances here, though they have nothing in common with the sound and style of The Kinks to come (including his own later more thoughtful compositions) are stunning for someone so young: 'Beautiful Delilah' sticks knitting needles through our speakers without even the need for a guitar, he huffs and blows his way through 'Long Tall Shorty' in a far more convincing manner than the older Mike Love was doing across the pond, turns 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter' from a silly and oddly out-of-touch song for it's times into a personal motto and does about as much with 'I've Been Driving On Bald Headed Mountain' as any singer could whilst sober. Ray plays good catch-up in this fight for supremacy with his brother, maybe even beating him on the slinky laid-back groove of this album's best cover song Slim Harpo's 'Got Love If You Want It'. But ask any early Kinks fan in the weeks up to the third single coming out who was the band's leader and they'd have answered 'Dave'. Sadly he'll never get as many lead vocals on a Kinks album ever again after this. His guitar too is the band's driving force - while The Kinks are already an impressively tight unit given how recently their drummer's joined (and the fact The Kinks never had the equivalent of The Beatles' experience in Hamburg to straighten them out) it's Dave's guitar that's at the heart of the action throughout. That celebrated solo on 'You Really Got Me' is only one of the highlights here: check out the bonkers break out on 'Too Much Monkey Business' and 'Beautiful Delilah' and the bottleneck groove (unique to Dave in 1964!) on 'Cadillac' for just what a great guitarist Dave was when he's used. Pete's bass is sadly mixed too low (something in common with many a Pye record) but he too is right there at the heart of the sound and Mick Avory is stunning given his new-boy status, starting a career long trait of sounding best and being most supportive on Ray's most revealing moments (such as 'Got Love If You Want It'). His hard-hitting rattles on 'Cadillac' too remains one of his greatest moments with the group even though he's with them another twenty years. You can see why Pete 'got' this material - he loved it as much as the others and knows Ray better than anybody in this period. But Mick? He wasn't even on 'You Really Got Me', session man Bobby Graham was (a condition Shel Talmy insisted on if the band had to do this single their way - the drummer also plays on quite a lot of the album's first half allegedly, although it sounds more like Mick to me) and had spent less time playing the drums than any of the other musicians in the band and yet he's perfect, adaptable enough to give The Kinks just what they need in this early confusing period. Imagine The Kinks with Ringo (too soft), Bobby Elliott (too loud) or Charlie Watts (too strict) and it just wouldn't have worked - but Mick Avory was born to be a Kinks drummer.
Even though nothing else on this album sounds like 'You Really Got Me' you can hear why that sentiment was in the air after listening to this record. Though this album doesn't have a 'concept' in the way the band's late 1960s and much of their 1970s material (though I wouldn't put it past Ray to have thought up one even this early on...) the general album theme is of wanting something you can't have. The record is bookended by two very different takes on this idea - the more aggressive Dave trying to sweet-talk 'Beautiful Delilah' into going out with him and the more laidback Ray trying to coax his girl on 'Got Love If You Want It'. Both men, you sense, are rejected not long after the end of each song. In the Ray originals is narrators yearn for sleep that never comes, demand their loved ones stop their sobbing - a request that's likely to end in another sea of tears - and considers their loved one is 'mystifying' while wishing they could know them better. There may be a reason for this. Ray is, at this point, already deeply in love with future wife Rasa (who sings some gorgeous backing vocals on these tracks even this early on in The Kinks' kareer) but she's still a schoolgirl: he has to wait until she's of age to be with her properly or the papers will go for him (and it didn't take much for the papers to go for a band with a name like The Kinks in 1964!) These lyrics suggest that for all his laidback friendliness and soft-spoken charm ray is already a man who struggles with waiting, with too much passion to keep it to himself (just check out the incredible 'Beat Room' TV version of 'Got Love If You Want It' from the period plugging this album which luckily survived the usual TV clips cull; it's five minutes of drama and tension are incredible for a kid whose only just turned twenty and proof how much Rasa really got to him even this early on). Only on 'I Took My Baby Home' does Ray's narrator sound like a 'winner', perhaps stealing a kiss from Rasa when their respective families aren't looking. As for the other cover songs, the narrator of 'Cadillac' is clearly lying when he says that he won't be seduced by a must-have car (it's more like Janis Joplin's take on 'Mercedes Benz', laughing at the very idea the narrator would ever be able to afford one) while the Talmy pair of 'Bald Headed' songs (traditional out-of-copyright songs which he insisted on having included on the album so he could 'arrange' them and take the royalties that way) are also about longing, of sorts.
The result is an album that 'ties together' better than most rushed affairs from 1964 do, despite the fact that Kinks fans who came later are almost always disappointed by the record's rough edges, lack of original songs and the gulf between this and future albums that will sound much more 'Kinky'. There are perhaps a few too many cover songs for this to be a long lost classic, while as a writer Ray won't hit his stride for a few months yet, the sudden success of 'You Really Got Me' inspiring him to greater heights than he manages on the rest of the album here. But every band had to start somewhere and back when rock and roll was still new enough to be a young man's game and Merseybeat was still in nappies it's impressive just how much The Kinks already both sound like the 'opposition' and yet also sound a little bit like themselves. Had you been around at the time (and perhaps you were?) then this album wouldn't have got you raving and drooling the way that perhaps the early Beatles, Stones and maybe even Hollies and Beach Boys records did. There's a bit too much work still to go - and way too many cooks trying to spoil the broth (with Talmy's 'contributions' sounding like sabotage in retrospect - though it's probably more that he didn't expect The Kinks to be a success at all so he may as well earn a few extra pennies for suffering a month in the studio spent with teenage brats and upstarts). But The Kinks already sound like a band to watch, packed full of potential - potential which they will realise (and how!) across another twenty-three dazzling studio LPs that will all shine even brighter than this one. The future starts here.
A Chuck Berry song was an obvious place to start the set - was there ever a covers band in the 1960s who didn't chuckle through a Chuck song at some point in the decade? However proof of The Kinks' slightly more off-kilter approach comes from the fact that their choice is not 'Roll Over Beethoven' or 'Johnny B Goode' (whilst even The Kinks can't resist the charms of 'Too Much Monkey Business' - see below), but 'Beautiful Delilah'. Chuck's twelfth single from 1958 it was his poorest seller up until that time, peaking at a miserable #81 in the Billboard charts (for comparison's sake The Kinks were nearly dropped after 'Long Tall Sally' peaked at a UK high of #42). You can kind of see why: this isn't a 'normal' type of Berry song - it's about a girl that every boy lusts after and can't possibly be as good as she seems, not an all American boy doing all American things with an all American girl. The description of Delilah 'swinging like a pendulum while walking down the aisle' may well be the single most sultry line in the most un-sultry Kinks katalogue! She comes a cropper in the last verse though, falling for a 'cassanova' who 'breaks her heart' as she usually broke all the boys'. Dave's passionate narrator looks on unimpressed, without much sympathy for either, which is itself very un-Kinks like (in years to come this level of betrayal would result in at least a double record concept album!) Unusually for Berry song the words don't matter much anyway, Dave rattling them off with the sneer of a man twice his age to the point where they sound garbled (but still a lot of fun!) Unusually Dave sings with himself double-tracked instead of getting his brother to join in and dominates the track, especially the rebellious fire-starter guitar solo that makes the one for 'You Really Got Me' sound almost normal. It's not the most polished or poised Kinks kover and is rather an odd place to kickstart the band's album career but it's more than up to period Stones covers of Berry songs if not quite yet The Beatles'.
'So Mystifying', the first Ray Davies komposition on a Kinks album, sounds as if it's by a completely different band. It's much more recognisable for what will come later whilst still not sounding much like The Kinks' later work. Over another Berry-ish beat Ray does his best Mick Jagger impression, cooing over a 'baby' he's just met. However whereas Jagger (or even Lennon) would have been in charge of the relationship, Ray's narrator is already confused and lost. 'Help me baby!' he pleads as he surrenders to a love he never expected to find reluctantly, confused as to why his heart is being tugged so badly by someone he's never even met. He's not in love with this girl as such, he's 'mystified' with the lyrics finding the narrator fascinated more by his body and soul's re-actions to her presence that he's never experienced before. The result ends up becoming a standard 'love' song anyway, as the narrator stands entranced by the way she walks and talks, like a very English version of American standard 'Farmer John' (only this being the most English of bands instead of shouting 'woah-woah!' at the top of his voice Ray keeps it all close to his chest and never gets around to making his move). The result is clearly the work of a songwriter inspired by his favourite writers and writing in a hurry rather than a man with a vision, but Ray is already creative in the way he adapts what he likes and doesn't like about the current musical scene, content to go his own way even though the vocal line he's left for himself leaves him sounding breathless and exposed and gives most of the limelight over to his brother's note-perfect Berry guitar pastiche. Though a lot better is to come this is still a much under-rated song, perhaps the best original on the album bar 'You Really Got Me'.
'Just Can't Go To Sleep' is the start of a lifelong (near enough) Ray Davies theme of insomnia. Though later songs will take sleepless nights as a chance for the songwriter to probe his own psyche, this one is written heavily around the idea that the narrator is too in love to sleep and is missing the physical presence of his girl. It's an energetic song, perfectly in keeping with a restless sleepless night because the narrator's brain is too wired (even if his body is too tired) to go to sleep. Though I'm willing to guess it started life during a sleepless night of pressure when Ray was given a deadline to make this album, it switches midway through into being one of the earliest and purest love songs for Rasa. The middle eight is one of Ray's finest, as he drops away from the Beatle-like pop-friendly rhymes of 'go sleep' and 'count sheep' to a much more 'Kinky' minor key to tell us how lonely he feels at night when he can't physically hold his girl tight the way he wants to in his dreams after staring at her for most of the day. The hint in the song is that she doesn't even know he exists, although in reality it's probably more that Ray wouldn't have been allowed to spend the night with such a young girl just yet. He's counting down the days till he and Rasa can become a 'proper' couple here, which makes her presence alongside Dave's energetic backing vocals particularly poignant, as if she's singing these lines to Ray too. Unfortunately thereafter this song has nowhere else to go except to resolve to yet another repeat of the verse about counting sheep, but for a few minutes there this is the 'real' Kinks peeking through for possibly the first time, sadder and lonelier than most of their contemporaries (assuming for now that the harder-edged obsession of 'You Really Got Me', though a key part of the early band sound, is one that they won't actually use much past 1965).
'Long Tall Shorty' sounds in retrospect like a dead-end, although it was a track that got a lot of attention at the time. A revved up twelve-bar-blues, 'Shorty' is a lot of huffing and puffing and telephone numbers to a Bo Diddley beat that sounds not unlike the similarly titled 'Long Tall Sally' slowed down. Though the songs about as 1950s as The Kinks ever get it was actually quite a contemporary song at the time, a hit for singer Tommy Tucker at the start of the year. The later Kinks would have done this song well you sense, hit the slinky blues groove with laidback control (not unlike Ray's own 1979 song 'A Gallon Of Gas') and had fun with it. Poor Dave, though, is only seventeen and he not only has to nail the song's flatfooted guitar riff central to the song but act like a tough randy sex-fiend whose been around the block (sample creepy chat-up line: 'I can tell you where the lights go when they go out!' plus the admission 'I like 'em long, I like 'em tall...') To be fair Dave had been round the block more time than your average seventeen-year-old but he still struggles to find his inner strutting bluesman. You wonder what girlfriend Sue nursing Dave's young baby in absence would have made of this song, following her ex's exploits via albums from afar (Dave may have been 'busy' in his younger days but more often than not stayed loyal, unlike this swaggering adultering character). Perhaps sensing that he's onto a lost cause Shel Talmy decides to goof around with the stereo mix for no good apparent reason, making Dave (slightly on the right) and the instruments (mostly on the left) switch over midway through while the song seems to 'fade' slightly before turning back up to full volume again (to my ears they've corrected this slightly for the excellent Pye CD re-issue but it's really noticeable on the first CD mix on the 'EP Collection Volume Two' - of course, my ears have been wrong before after years of being contaminated by The Spice Girls!) He had to something to jig this slow and not very interesting cover up I suppose - it's no surprise that the tagline is 'Long Tall Shorty has gone to sleep!' The highlight is some nicely bluesy harmonica puffing from Ray which only joins in during the second half of the song and though his solo starts off pure Americana he slowly moves on to English music hall!
'I Took My Baby Home' had already been released as the flipside of 'Long Tall Sally' earlier in the year. It's another case of Ray trying to sound like both the American R and B-ers the band loved and contemporary Merseybeat. It's fun, given all the seriousness in later Kinks tracks, to hear Ray joke around, portraying a girl who sounds like Lola's elder sister whom he 'kissed once or twice' and 'had a hug like a vice!' and is more macho than him (just who was he hanging round with in the 1960s?!) It sounds like a 'real' romance too - she doesn't seduce him so much as shyly make a few suggestions and invites him for a 'rest' - you could imagine this as Ray longing for what might happen when he finally got to spend the night in the same house as his girlfriend after waiting so long (maybe the above is Rasa too and she was stronger than she looked?!) The Kinks never sounded quite as convincing going 'woah woah woah woah woah' as some of their contemporaries and again sound a little unsure of themselves here - not surprisingly given that this was recorded the day of their first ever professional recording session (which also resulted in both sides of the 'You Still Want Me' and 'You Do Something To Me' single plus outtake 'I Don't Need You Anymore!' This catchy song might have been a more successful choice as a single perhaps?) Insubstantial maybe, but so was most pop songwriting in 1964 and The Kinks have rarely been funnier.
Lazy Lester's 1958 song 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter' is a candidate for the world's first 'hippie' song, despite sounding musically like every other 1950s song ever written (Dave even nicks Carl Perkins' signature line 'I can go cat go!') Most 1950s narrators indeed 'roar like a lion and sing like a bee' as these lyrics put it and Dave's streetwise young punk can do both with the best of them, but when he gets into fights he just walks away, refusing to clash with new boyfriends and exes not so much because of peace but because there are plenty more fish in the sea. Once again Dave needs to sound like a cool dude in his twenties here and comes over as a cute kid of seventeen, but what he lacks in sophistication he almost makes up for with energy and exuberance. The rest of The Kinks struggle to keep up, especially during another gonzo guitar solo and will rarely sound this out of place again but the younger Davies brother almost makes this work through force of personality and guitar sound alone.
Clearly the class of the field is 'You Really Got Me', either the first or one of the first songs Ray Davies ever wrote. Perhaps sensing the tension in the air as the cuter pop world of 1963 turned to the aggression of 1964, perhaps channelling his feelings of lust (this song is too early for Rasa but could still be that art school girlfriend?) or perhaps simply writing the perfect theme for some great chords he came up with on the piano (maybe all three?) this is Ray identifying a darker, sexier, needier side to 1960s pop and rock than anyone had mined before. This song has become so familiar now that we've almost lost sight of how strange and daring it must have once sounded, not least for all the kopykat versions on the Kinks lexicon in later years. Some reviewers reckon later, more controlled songs like 'All Day And All Of The Night' and 'Til' The End Of The Day' are better yet, but for me this original is best. Transferred to guitar that piano hook no longer sounds cute but sinister, an obsession that won't let go. Most pop songs up to here are about crushes, but this one is about intense obsession. Most lazy songwriters would have left the song at that, the message pure enough to be understood, but Ray adds tension, exploring note by note up the keyboard until the passion is so intense the recording sounds as if it's about to burst!
And then, magically, it does. Not in a tidy neat way either but in one of the greatest guitar solos of all time, with Dave Davies recycling a trick he tried at home where he punctured the speakers of his amplifier with knitting needles (other sources say he slashed the cone with a razor blade) to get a distorted sound. This too would have been so alien to the pop scene of 1964 when everything, even Beatles and Stones recordings, came in neat and tidy boxes. As many sleepless nights as it must have caused The Kinks that three-single deal was the best thing that ever happened to them in that for the first time it allowed a production team to take their eyes off the ball on a song they didn't much care about with a band who were already brave enough and passionate enough to stick their neck out for brave 'experiments' like this. Dave's solo doesn't just sound great either, it's actively living in the song, wildly trying to pour out all that desire and passion in a manic way that's the perfect summary of the narrator's new-found feelings and the perfect contrast to the song's rigid unmoving riff. Ray revealed during his 'Storyteller' live show that he and his brother looked at each other before the solo, realising what a big moment it was for them, before Dave smiled a cocky smile and yelled 'F*~# Off!' before launching into the song, making it the first #1 hit to include such a word (although you have to have really sharp ears to hear it, mangled as it is between the first two notes). The most forgotten ingredient in this acclaimed masterpiece though is Ray's lyrics. He's usually a wordy writer, able to convey emotion through intellect and careful prose. Here he's desperate, restricting his feelings to the blind basics and demanding, haiku-like 'See don't ever set me free!' as if stripping back the power of his emotions to their bare basics. This is itself as revolutionary as anything else in this record and led to a feeling amongst the mums and dads of the pop world that The Kinks were urchin uneducated ruffians that even the poetry of 'Waterloo Sunset' and upper class twitism of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' couldn't shake off. But why would you want to shake this of? This is real, this is happening, this is exciting and this is so 1964. Against al the odds every ingredient has fallen into place for a band nobody reckoned singing a song by an inexperienced writer and played by a band largely in their teens who've only been inside a recording studio before twice in their lives. Nobody outside the band cared for this record - but they didn't matter, the teenage fans at home mattered and they 'got' instantly that this was a song for them. Without this single, had The Kinks backed down and accepted what Shel Talmy gave them (probably 'I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain!') we probably wouldn't have had that thirty-career or this book. Or, I suspect, many of the others in this series. The first great rock and roll trend to come out of somewhere other than Merseyside or California, this song got 'us' alright and we haven't let go since. Genius in so many ways.
Clearly nothing else on this first record compares, but if any track does then it's 'C-A-D-I-L-L-A-C'. Taken from the Bo Diddley record 'Bo's A Gunslinger' from 1960, it's actually thought to be about a make of guitar as much as a car (the first verse could be about either - only when we start getting references to 'trunks' does this song settle down into the usual Chuck Berry/Beach Boys motor track). Someone seems to have placed a motor under The Kinks too who turn in one of their best group performances on this album, fizzinf with energy and excitement. Generally speaking Ray is at his best on slow, thoughtful songs but this rocker proves how good he can be at fast-poaced material too, garbling the words while still getting the meaning across while adding a frenetic harmonica part while his brother plays a comparatively slow-burning guitar groove and Pete Quaife excels on the bass, tying so many different parts together. The harmonica is the one to watch - you think at first Ray's just going to parrot the lines between each vocal part but no - suddenly he's away, overcome with emotion and howling peals of bluesy desperation over a solo that just keeps on coming. As for the song itself, it's an interesting choice. The Kinks could have gone for any number of other 'car' songs but they chose this comedy piece with is almost an anti-car song. The vehicle breaks down as early as the end of the second verse and after dreaming of it and saving up his money for so long the narrator is disappointed and vows to take it back, his heart crushed as his friends laugh at him 'walking up and down the street'. 'You Really Got Me' apart, loss is a much more natural Kinks theme than 'desire' and you can hear all sorts of future Kinks songs' DNA arriving here from 'All Of My Friends Were There' to 'Dead End Street'. Life is a disappointment, even and especially the parts of it you were most looking forward to and it could be that even this early on the overworked, overtired and never-over-here-because-they're-always-touring Kinks knew that fame wasn't what it was cracked up to be. This is something next record 'Kinda Kinks' will pick up on in a big way.
Alas 'Bald Headed Woman' is awful. Ray is many things and can generally act his way out of trouble but a blues singer from the deep South? No chance! This was Shel Talmy's pick of song to cover and you can tell - nobody's heart is in this track at all and the slow tempo exposes every weakness in the early Kinks sound: the cracks in Ray's voice, the slightly uncoordinated backing from a band still learning how to play and a tendency to 'busk' their way out of trouble. A manic clap-happy second half tries to get things moving, with an overdubbed harmonica part and some excellent 'ooohs' from Ray, Dave, Pete and Rasa which are the kind of thing The Kinks always did well (this sound is much more menacing than when The Beatles, Stones or Hollies try similar techniques). But it doesn't quite work, the song ending violently on a cry of 'set me free!' that will be put to better use in a later single. As for the song itself, this re-make of 'Bald Mountain' with dumb fake blues lyrics about 'not wanting any sugar in my coffee' and suddenly turning 'mean' is probably not the best idea to an album that already features a version of the track it's based on! Even Talmy, a great 'sound producer' but never regarded as the best talent spotter of the AAA canon, must surely have seen hat Ray's own sons were superior despite his tender age? But then this song was intended from the first as a 'rip-off', a chance for Talmy to earn some extra royalties for 'arranging' this song in addition to his producer's wage cheque. personally I'd have paid a great to deal to keep my name off the credits of this 'song'.
'Revenge' was first recorded during one of the earliest Kinks sessions, though that fiery version still isn't out officially anywhere yet. This slightly less manic re-make is more palatable but less fun, an intense harmonica-led instrumental that's only the second Kinks song to make use of that fat 'You Really Got Me' riff. Multiple Rays huff and puff and threaten to blow the riff down but never quite manage it - instead Bobby Grahan's noisy drums (this is clearly not as subtle a player as Avory!) thunder overhead and Dave's guitar gets noisier by the end. The end result is a draw, made sillier by wild manic cries that vary on the Wild West cry of 'kom-a-ki-yi-yippie-yi-ay!'(and if you don't know what that means, it's apparently a word for exclaiming one's self-satisfaction or one's release of energy through a positive and invigorating manner', which as it happens is a pretty spot-on description of what's happening here!) The result is an instrumental that manages to be both very wild and unusually disciplined, named 'Revenge' apparently at random (The Kinks are too young to have made any enemies yet - chances are Ray picked up on the 'emotional' charge of the riff and figured it sounded more like 'revenge' than say 'joy' or 'heartbreak'). The only Kinks instrumental not to end up on the 'Percy' soundtrack it seems out of place somehow despite it's worth and the power of that central riff and a bit odd for a band already so much happier using words to convey emotion than music compared to their peers.
Chuck Berry's 'Too Much Monkey Business' is as by-numbers as this rushed first album ever gets. In The Hollies' hands it's a pulsating raw dynamic statement of rebellion that passes between band members' hands like a generational rallying cry. When The Stones do it it's dark and dirty, laughing at everyone including us. When The Beatles do it they charge at a hundred miles an hour and really dig out the humour in the track. When The Kinks do it they mess it up so badly that you can't hear what a double-tracked Ray is singing at all. That's a shame because this song is the closest thing in rock and roll to what will become The Kinks' 'theme song' 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' as the song's narrator rejects (and is sacked from) his low-paying job, his dead-end education, his intended wedding and his draft into the army. The Kinks, rebels very much with a clue, should have been perfect for this song of pressure and angst, two things that will drive Ray's songwriting on like few other themes. But they don't 'get' this song yet. Ray is an art student who gave up a job in an office after a month to become a musician full-time. Pete was an art student who didn't even get a month's work. Dave was expelled at fourteen and never held a job down for even that long. The closest Mick came to full-time employment was being in the Boy Scouts. The Kinks, unlike Berry, aren't part of the generation who suffered conscription. They're too young to be trapped into a loveless marriage just yet. The only part of this song that might have resonated for them was the verse about school - and even that was something of a distant memory. Instead of a song used for its bared teeth or performed by a confident, competent band for its tongue-in-cheek humour instead The Kinks appear to miss both aspects of the original. Which is a shame because of all the songs this band cover in their early days you sense 'Monkey Business' is the one most down their street - a quiet rebellion taking a stand against needless back-breaking traditions that are suffered not just by a particular group but by practically everybody and perhaps the truest song to their working class roots until 'Dead End Street' (The Stones, remember, were quite posh really give or take the rhythm section and one of The Beatles was pretty wealthy too). A lost opportunity where only Dave's Berry impersonation in the solo truly flies.
'I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain' sounds no better whether you've already suffered the earlier copycat song about alopecia or not. This time Dave gets to sing, although grumble might be a better word, and he copes better than his brother partly because of the faster tempo but also because Dave's always been a better 'actor' than Ray (who can't help but sing from the heart - which is true whether he's being 'himself', a soap opera version of himself, a schoolboy, a crooked politician or an MOR American pop singer as things turn out). dave sounds like he's relishing the challenge to try and make a song that has no sense to it at all appear as if it has some. He seems to be thinking of himself as a convict here, emphasising the lines 'I've done my time, Lord!' and telling us that he'll be coming round the mountain when he comes. It's still a rotten song though in anyone's books and this second mega black spot in the Kinks Kanon really wasn't worth the few extra pennies it brought in for producer-arranger Shel Talmy. That's a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page on acoustic guitar instead of Ray, by the way, who seems to be restricted to backing vocals - despite rumours to the contrary that he played Dave's solo on 'You Really Got Me' his only other contribution is a near inaudible part on 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter'. Page himself admitted he couldn't have played what Dave did, at least not back in 1964!
'Stop Your Sobbin' is the album's second song, a popular fan favourite even before Ray's missus Chrissie Hynde gets a hold on it in about fifteen years' time. The song's smartly dressed perky melody and compact writing skills (which made it so perfect for the new wave era) have disguised the fact that this may well be Ray's weirdest song of all (well until 'Shepherds Of The Nation', 'Ducks On The Wall' and a song about potatoes in equation to unemployment figures anyway!) Ray's girl is upset. She cries a lot. He's upset that she's upset. Does he try to prevent the problem at source? Does he cheer her up and tell her not to worry like a good boyfriend should do? Does he say that even if everything is going on he still loves her and is going to take care of her? No! He tells her to stop crying now, or else, leaving the song hanging in the air like a threat complete with stabs of 'Stop it! Stop it!' The result of all this, surely, is that the girlfriend is going to cry her eyes out even more because she feel so misunderstood? Only in the chorus does he say that her tears makes him want to 'take you in my arms' - but he doesn't do it, just think about it. To some extent this song seems to have been based on real life. Poor Rasa, who grew up in an all-girl's school and whose mother seems to have Ray on site with a passion, hadn't bargained for her first real elder boyfriend to a) become a successful pop-star so quickly and b) crumple under the pressure of becoming a successful pop-star so quickly. While sources differ as to when she and Ray first started moving in together it seems safe to say it was somewhere round here - and as any couple whose ever tried to do that know, lying awake singing 'Just Can't Go To Sleep' while dreaming of your future life together and sharing half a bed with a partner who snores and reveals weird personal traits you've never noticed during courtship is a very different proposition. Ray's neuroticism is overplayed in most Kinks biographies I feel - he's a sensitive songwriter easily hurt, not a natural bully determined to wipe out any and all other persons at all cost - but it does show itself sometimes in his songs. If I know Ray (and I suspect we're fellow INFJs after all if you know your myers' briggs type) he'll have imagined the perfect rose-tinted life for himself and his beloved for months and it'll have seemed so real he can taste it - and his girlfriend bawling her eyes out wasn't part of his 'fairytale'! He's worried not so much that she's sad and it will look bad on him (as some people take the song to mean, especially in The Pretenders' day when it was a more cutting edge song of a female 'rejecting' a male) but what it will lead to next: Is she going to cry like this every night? Can he keep her happy? How can he ever be happy when she cries so much? Unfortunately Ray isn't 'old' or experienced enough to know quite how to write this song yet - a later Ray would have had more sympathy for the girl and brought his softer side out faster while turning the 'stop it!'s down. But then this was 1964 and The Kinks were working class - other period songs do far worse to their female partners than nag them into submission. Even so, you sense that Ray feels slightly uncomfortable singing these words and was probably quite pleased when his girlfriend took the song over as a feminist anthem (even if, ultimately, the song became more ironic after the pair split, the tough-as-nails Chrissie blaming Ray's neuroticism as one reason for it. Was Ray really singing this song about himself? If so then this is even more of an INFJ song than I thought...)
The album ends on a completely different note to everything before it. Most recordings on this debut have gone for manic energy and obsession over subtlety and thought. But Slim Harpo's 'Got Love If You Want' is a slow-burning cat-and-mouse song that makes good use of its laidback groove and it's sudden changes in dynamics. So far Ray has struggled to find the inner bluesman his brother mines so well, but he's superb on this track, overcoming his natural shyness for a vocal that's big on character (if sadly too low in the mix, did he change his mind on hearing the playback?) He invites his girl to 'let her hair hang down' and invites her up to his room with the sly invitation 'I got love if you want it' and promises, in a very risqué line for 1964, that 'I'll last all the while'. After bringing the song down to a full-stop Ray suddenly leaps back into the more traditional 'obsession' style power of 'You Really Got Me' et sequence, pouring out his passion not through his words but his harmonica while the other Kinks explode into life. As the solo ends he calms the song down again, almost yawning through a second verse where he sings 'I love ya baby woman!' with all the emotion of the speaking clock. We know another explosion is coming and it doesn't disappoint as Ray cries to his fellow Kinks 'alright boys, let's go!' like the spirit of Chuck Berry and Little Richard combined. Just as we think we know what 'games' this song is playing Ray wrong-foots us again, keeping the pressure on the accelerator for a manic third verse where he complains of a 'mistreating baby being all over town'. Ray slides from sultry know-it-all to demented rock and roller in a heartbeat, revealing for once and for all that his calm is just a 'front' and he's really as passionate and emotional as they come. I take it back, this is the most INFJ Kinks recording...
Overall, then, 'The Kinks' is a fine debut. It isn't perfect, it lacks the direction of some others like 'Please Please Me' and even 'Surfin' Safari' over in the States and you can tell that success of 'You Really Got Me' has taken everybody involved with this record by surprise. We know in hindsight that The Kinks weren't going anywhere (well, not for a long time yet in any case) and this album would have been so much better had the band been given even a month off to get their first album together and bask in the glow of that hit single. It's a decision that will have repercussions for most of the 1960s as The Kinks go from being nobodies to celebrities so fast they never quite have time to catch up and end up sabotaging many of their breakthroughs both through that and genuine errors. But even rushed as it is and confused as it is, with 'The Kinks' offering us not one view of the band like most debuts but fourteen, there's a lot of things this album gets right (this is where The Who, a year later to the party, 'beat' The Kinks by having more time to think before making their first LP and caught up that missing ground so fast even though Ray and Dave with a bit of help/annoyance from Shel Talmy effectively 'invented' their style). Generally speaking the cover songs are good choices, Ray's originals show promise and The Kinks are slowly coming together as a powerful rock and roll unit that's still flexible enough to do just about anything. A bit more confidence, a long rest and a lot more help from managers and producer alike and 'The Kinks' could have been a stunning debut - the fact that it's still a half a one is still pretty good going for a band this wet behind the ears whom nobody, except themselves, seemed to believe in. Better is to come but every band has to start somewhere - with its mixture of scrappy but likeable covers and odd but intriguing originals, 'The Kinks' is as good a place as any other.