Friday 4 July 2008

The Kinks "Arthur" (1969) ('Core' Review #30, Revised Edition 2014)

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The Kinks "Arthur" (1969)

Track Listing: Victoria/ Yes Sir, No Sir/ Some Mother’s Son/ Drivin’/ Brainwashed/ Australia// Shangri-La/Mr Churchill Says/ She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina/ Young And Innocent Days/Nothing To Say/ Arthur (UK and US tracklisting)

'Arthur' is a moving concept album about love, loss and  what happens to the people left behind after some world-changing event. A requiem for the post-war dream (and much more deserving of that subtitle than Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut'), this is Ray Davies turning his spotlight not so much on the heroes of the second world war who gave their lives but the equal heroes left at home, unable to pick up the lives they once had after all they had seen and never quite able to move on with their lives; always expecting the knock at the door of a loved one. We've written many times about Ray's ability to capture humanity with an eye and empathy few other writers can match and that's all over 'Arthur', Ray Davies' tribute to his parents' generation who held off the invading German forces despite knowing what war had done to their own parent's generation in World War One, this is a deeply unusual album for the 60s: an album that instead of celebrating life mourns for the dead and actually deals head-on with war rather than a hippie utopia. Moreover it's not about the big name stars: there's no Field Marshalls, no spitfire bombers, not even a prisoner of war: instead this is a typically Kinks-like look at what happens when decision made by 'big' men ripple down to the 'little people' - especially those who lost their loved ones, were patted on the head and told to get on with their lives. 'Arthur' is an everyman figure, interested in nothing except long country drives on Sundays, who finds himself insulted and betrayed so much by the land of his birth that he fought so hard for that he leaves it all behind for a new life in Australia, as far away from his homeland as he can get. But this is about more than one man: as the subtitle has it, this is also about the 'Decline and Fall of the British Empire', the 60s generations' attempt to understand the dead-end, sorrow-filled lives of their parents' generation. Ray's lyrics have never hit targets more deserving of his wrath or his pity and the concept - one that's deeply personal but still applicable to everyone alive on the planet in 1969 - easily his best. Other Kinks fans swear by 'Something Else', still more spend most of their time on the 'Village Greens' - but for me 'Arthur' has always been the greatest example of The Kinks tackling subject matters no one else would dream of using and tackling them with more power, style and flair. On the record 'Arthur' is one of life's losers, trapped inside a house with a mortgage he will never pay off and a family he can't communicate with. But on record he's a winner, The Kinks turning his sad story into a tribute to his courage, not just on the battleground but when he got back home and was told to get on with his life all over again.

It won't surprise you after hearing the very real sense of emotion across this album to learn that Arthur is a real person. Arthur was, to Ray and Dave, 'Uncle Arthur', husband to their elder sister Rose and whose story loosely reflects the 'plot' of this album. A peaceful character conscripted into World War Two and told to ignore a lifetime of being brought up to be polite and helpful and fight like a savage beast, he lost friends and family in the conflict but, uncomplainingly, kept fighting, believing in the 'better future 'promised to him and his kind when the war is over. Only that better new world didn't appear.  Arthur has tried hard all his life and never expected a lot from it, but even as a born stalwart of society who hates complainers he still feels as if he’s been given back even less. Disillusioned with the response of a land he helped to save, Arthur decided to emigrate to Australia for a new life with wife and child. The picture is painted so vividly that you can almost see a teary Ray and Dave at the airport, waving their sister and husband and nephew goodbye as they leave for that new life. They aren't to know, of course, that one day they will be rich enough to pay to see them again and will even tour fairly close to where they settle as part of a rock and roll band (the 1950s wasn't like now: in those days when air travel cost a year's wages - or at any rate five times more than the average aeroplane ticket today  - family members who emigrated were rarely ever seen again). Ray was particularly close to his elder sister Rose and for a time stayed at their family home, spending more time with nephew Terry (who was virtually his own age - Rose was a much older sister!) than he did with brother Dave when he was growing up. Their loss was a wrench to them all and the elder brother had already turned the heartbreak of losing his sister into one of his more poignant songs ('Rosie Won't You Please Come Home?' from 'Face To Face'), with being left behind by what was effectively a 'second family' seems to have been incredibly heartbreaking for him and Dave.

Aside from two obscurely written sleeve-notes, no one involved in Arthur’s creation has ever really talked about it and without the TV special to go with it hardly anybody understands what Arthur is all about anyway.  That's a shame because this highly visual album has a tighter plot than 'Village Green' 'A Soap Opera' or 'Preservation', as long as you understand that it is an internal monologue going on in Arthur's head. The album is set on the day that Arthur and family are set to leave, the family taking to him that airport and not quite knowing what to say, all taking place in Arthur's head by way of flashback, memory and guilt. Unlike reality, this fictional version of 'Arthur' was due to have son Terry - all grown up - stay behind, wishing he could say something brilliant that will convince his parents to stay but, well, he kind of feels the same way himself and while he  disagrees with a lot of his dad's politics and reverence of institutions his generation, too, feels squashed and unloved. And that’s where we leave them both really, having a long hard look at their lives and their home country and trying to work out why Britain has gone so downhill in just one short century. As I write this, Ray Davies is in talks about reviving his masterpiece as a TV play - intended to accompany the original back in 1969 but senselessly cancelled by Granada at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of this album's planning. 'Arthur' would surely have made a bigger splash with those visuals - as the TV event of the month (if not the year), engaging those who lived through the war originally rather than just curious Kinks fans with problems of their own and no interest in what their parents were going through. Instead it flopped badly, becoming the first Kinks album not to make the charts at all and just one middling-selling single ('Victoria'). Somehow that's quite apt too though: 'Arthur' is all about the people who got left behind and forgotten and ignored in their lifetimes, only to be celebrated and revered later. 'Arthur' is an album destined to be revived: it was written, after all, not for the present day like pretty much every other 1960s album but as a historical document, recording times recently past. It was almost inevitably going to be ignored in 1969, the grand year of new beginnings and brotherhood: in the 21st century, though, we need it's warning sounds and moral messages more than ever. Hopefully the TV special will get made and a wider proportion of the world than passionate Kinks fans can finally enjoy The Kinks' masterpiece.

Ray Davies’ unique genius is that he can combine writing epic songs about the bigger picture with being able to write the small details and observations that allows his audience to empathise with his subject matter. From Dead End Street (which tackles poverty by exploring how it affects an individual) to Lola (which combines sympathy for the title character and tackles the wider subject of transvestitism head on) and on to The Kink’s Preservation triple album epic (which looks at how individuals are affected by two very different character’s attempts to rule over them), Ray has always applied a sort of writers craft to his songs and his lyrics are often more important than his melodies. Nowhere, however, has the big idea and smaller detail technique been more on display than on Arthur. Take the album's two singles for instance: one a middling seller that just scraped the charts - the other a complete flop. 'Victoria' - a song most casual Kinks fans who only know it from compilations treat as a catchy quirky singalong about Queen Victoria- encapsulates a character and a generation who yearn for the old ways and seemed to start chuntering about the modern world from birth. Queen Victoria would never have let a world war happen on her watch (not least because she was related to half of the German opposition!) 'Shangri-La', meanwhile, is an easily identifiable song about the restrictions the modern world gives you: that while if you work hard one day you might earn enough to buy your house, it isn't really 'yours' - there's a whole row of identical cottages in the same town, with exactly the same small hopes and dreams being lived inside. Anyone of any generation will inevitably feel a little like Arthur does when the thought strikes him how very similar his life is to other people's, trapped into the tiny confines of what people are expected to want and need - and afford. 'Shangri-La' is specifically linked to the plot though: every soldier on every battlefield must have thought about what they would do when they got home and lived comfortably in their own house. Arthur, though, is every bit as trapped as he was in the war, a victim of a game far bigger than he is; a pawn, a statistic, a number his seniors don't really count about when he survives and who society doesn't seem to care about when he gets home.

The key line of the entire album is from that song: 'you're in your place and you know where you are'. In fact almost all the songs (except lighter moments like 'Victoria' and 'Drivin')  follow more or less the same theme: ‘There’s a big man watching over you with a stick, ready to beat you down when you stand out of line, but ignore them – there’s nothing ordinary about the ordinary man.’ Ray's politics doesn't come through too often in song (we still don't know which party Mr Flash and Mr Black from 'Preservation' represent, for instance, even if you have a sneaky suspicion  Ray would vote for wide-boy Flash - assuming of course he couldn't vote for 'The Tramp', whose wiser than any of them), but the TV play seems to have been full of politics, with Terry and Arthur clashing ideas. You might expect the nostalgic  Ray, whose just spent an entire album talking about the importance of institutions and history to the present day, to side with Arthur. But writing this album seems to have brought out his 'inner communist' with several tracks commenting on the 'have nots' and the 'have nothings'. It must be remembered that by the end of the 1960s the Second World War was undergoing a bit of revisionist history. Treated as the story of human spirit and courage throughout the 1940s and 50s, a seed of thought was growing that only the soldiers had been brave; 'lions' led by 'donkeys' - speedily promoted officers who had less practice of army drill than many of the soldiers working under them and got their jobs through their class and background. This idea has undergone another revision recently - especially the First World War, where the coverage of the centenary recently spoke about little else. There's actually strong evidence to suggest that the second world war broke down a lot of the barriers between the classes (it's easier to be snobbish about people you never meet than those who fight side by side in your platoon), but 'Arthur' isn't about the sergeant-majors and colonels so much as the politicians left behind 'defending' Britain, a million miles away from the trenches.

That topic crops up time and again across this album: 'Yes Sir No Sir' details just how low the cost of human life is to  certain power-mad people in control; 'Some Mother's Son' is one of the great anti-war songs, imagining the childless mothers on both sides of the war waiting in vain for their sons to come home, with The Kinks usual solid harmonies cracking under the strain; 'Brainwashed' details a generation conditioned to obey their masters, ordered to 'get down on your knees!' without question in rapidly fired bullets of orders that Ray can only just keep up with; The percussion filled 'Mr Churchill Says' sounds like fun for him and 'Lord Beaverbrook' (aka Max Aitken, proprietor of several influential newspapers and part of the war cabinet as 'minister for air production') but sheer hell for everyone else, Ray's mock 'posh' voice giving way to one of the most nightmarish passages of any Kinks albums: a two-way guitar battle and drum solo to the accompaniment of the 'all clear' siren, a sound harsher and scarier than any amount of feedback; Finally, 'She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina' depicts the war-hit family who have nothing but still save up what little they have to act like the rich whose lived carry on unaffected, Ray's voice caught halfway between a sneer and genuine sadness. 'Arthur', and those 'ordinary people' like him, are bigger heroes than all the big-named people who gave a few speeches and went home: Arthur fought on when the world was against him and whatever your politics you're there cheering him on as he decides to fight back for the first time in his life and leave the world he fought so hard for in exchange for a new life. However even this new life isn't that grand: 'Australia' starts off like a travel brochure but quickly turns into the second scariest passage on any Kinks album, a four minute jamming sessions where the ghosts of the dead seem to be rising up to try and prevent Arthur from leaving.

I always struggled studying war poetry at school: most poetry is uplifting or gives valuable insights into the human condition (unless it's Ted Hughes, which is just bonkers and mainly seems to be about crows). But war poets exist outside the mainstream: there's isn't a response to an element of the human condition that's haunted us or held us back since time immemorial (unless it's a sonnet, of course,  in which case it's about the eternal passing of love through the generations) but a diary: something that they hope no other generation ever gets to feel or experience but feel they have to record for posterity to prevent us ever going back there again. Treating war poems alongside other poetry from earlier and later years, as the curriculum in many countries usually do, is completely wrong: it's an audio diary designed to show people who weren't there what life was like, not reach out a hand from the book of past ages to future generations. As a result I consider Ray Davies our first 'true' war poet: he may have been born after the war had ended, he may have never experienced it first hand, but he doesn't have to: other people have recorded that experience before him (some even putting the thoughts into song: the trenches saw several hundred 'new' songs created out of boredom, satire and escapism). In terms of how most poetry works though: the ramifications of the conflict and the ripples it creates for other people, Ray Davies is categorically England's greatest war poet. 

'Arthur' conjures up all the madness, all the fury, all the confusion and  in the last crowd-rousing finale, all the love the war stirred up. 'Some Mother's Son', with its depiction of sudden unnecessary violent death, is a far greater war protest than any war poet I ever read. Ditto the two songs that never fail to make me cry: 'Shangri-La' with all its dashed dreams, broken fantasies and ignored promises and 'Young and Innocent Days', one of Ray's greatest ever songs, that in true Kinks style looks to the past for healing before all the worst fears came true. You can almost imagine Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen nodding, their work in safe hands: 'Arthur' is of course a wonderfully written album (it's by The Kinks - what else would it be?) with some classic songs. But I think 'Arthur' goes further than that: it's a brave album about a subject matter no other writer of Ray's generation was willing to face (not till Roger Waters on 'The Wall' 11 years later than 'Arthur' will World War Two be a mainstream background for a rock album), the moral argument behind the flower power era's demands for peace and refusal to be like earlier generations. This most English of albums (like 'Village Green', The Kinks are making the most of their American band and making music free from the need to be understood across the Atlantic) could have been made by no other band but the Kinks and its mixture of weary sarcasm and warm, supporting love makes it their quintessential album, forgotten and unloved as it long has been in the public eye. Few people may have heard it, at the time or since, but I say 'Arthur' is a key work of the 1960s, showing that - far from ignoring what their parents and grandparents went through - the generation of the 1960s listened with open ears to everything half said, drew their own conclusions and vowed never to see the like of it again. You sense, too, that all the little 'Arthurs' out there, while horrified at the short skirts and long hair and loud music, secretly approved: this generation (as an extremely wide generalisation) weren't going to get brow-beaten the way they had been (as an equally wide generalisation).

The subtext of this album, of course, is that Britain isn't as great as it used to be. This is another very out-of-touch idea for the times (when 'Swinging London' was all the rage and The Beatles got an MBE not because the Queen liked their music - she hated it - but because of the sheer amount of money they'd made for their homeland) but typical of both England's most English of bands and a group who had already sung 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' at the exact moment (1965) when it seemed as if the good times were there to stay. The decline of the empire, this album seems to say, is a good thing if it means that we won't have the toppling dominoes of the first world war (a battle fought by basically every country who was anybody in 1914, simply because half of them had signed treaties to protect those signed by the other half, all triggered by that infamous assassination of Archduke Ferdinand  in Sarajevo). But the decline of the people isn't: Arthur and his fellow ex-soldiers and the wives they left at home aren't any 'less' simply because their money got spent on war ammunition and never quite recovered from the loans handed out by America (which we've only just paid back at the end of last century, by the way). No wonder the album it ends like it does, with a cry of 'Arthur we love you and want to help you...someone loves you don't you know it', the thankyous and support to all the world's Arthurs who ever tried to make the world a better place simply by obeying orders and one final 'thankyou' from the 60s generation before a new one takes over. You sense the war poets would have been pleased by that too; even the legendary taciturn Arthur is meant to have cried buckets when his eager nephews arrived at his house in Australia to play him the album they'd just named after him. You might well cry too: Arthur is more real as a character to me than most of the people I know, exquisitely drawn by a writer at his best and performed by a band who are absolutely on the money throughout (especially Mick Avory, whose a pillar of strength across this album, holding it together with some scintillating playing, just as he always does when Ray has something really powerful to import). Let's hope that TV special comes out soon - 'Arthur' deserves greater recognition than it ever got at the time and could yet take its rightful  place as The Kinks' greatest glory: the world may have passed it by at the time, but an awful lot of Kinks fans - including me - rate this personal and moving album very highly indeed. Don't worry, 'Arthur' the album, somebody loves you don't you know it.

The Songs:

[140] Victoria, the opening track of the album, is the best known song herein and may come as a bit of a shock to people who are used to hearing it on Kinks compilations as that nice catchy song about Queen Victoria. Well, yes it is, but in the context of the album this is all the wonderful things that Britain was meant to have stood for in the past before two world wars, crippling debt and political confusion brought the country to its knees – in the opinion of this album’s characters at any rate. By showing us what’s been taken away from the country he love-hates, Ray is then able to stick the knife in much further later in the album than simply moaning about how rotten everything suddenly is. Ray had been threatening to write Victoria for many years before 1969 – it’s the logical culmination of the Kinks’ many concept albums full of preserving traditions and celebrating Englishness, no matter how cosmopolitan or international the pop charts were becoming in the 60s. The chorus is especially moving, with the narrator – presumably Arthur – calling out Queen Victoria’s name over and over in a desperate wail for her to come back and save Britain from its then-current decrepit state. The song makes it clear that Arthur should be facing a prosperous and bright future as his birthright as a member of the British Empire born in the late 19/early 20th century – especially after upholding Britain’s courageousness in two world wars which according to one sleeve-note for the album claimed the life of his brother (whether true or not I don’t know) – but instead his courage is going without reward while he faces a dull retirement in anonymity, facing debts as big in proportion as those facing Britain as a whole in the 1960s. When you get to know the album and realise this, Victoria suddenly makes you feel a bit sick and rather than being the jolly little sing-a-long it used to sound, this track suddenly sounds rather painful. Incidentally, Ray named his newborn daughter Victoria after writing this song (not the other way around as many Kinks fans think!), finding something deeply hopeful and traditional in what the name meant for him and his characters. Incidentally, despite the closeness of the subject matter to Ray, he’s at pains to sound as if he’s acting on most of this album: witness the lower tones he uses throughout this album which somehow makes it sound very un-Kinks like although the new pitch suits him very well.

[141] Yes Sir, No Sir reveals that life wasn’t all good back in Victoria’s day though  – Britain’s harsh authority and corruption in its higher ranks quickly turned what was once a glorious empire into a pompous mass of decay and dishonesty. Everyone in a position of power from ruling generals in the army down to teachers in schools simply treat those in their power as anonymous mass fodder,  weakening the faith and the pride of its people as a result. A brutal, rather sullen song, Yes Sir No Sir is effectively the sound of Ray talking to himself and trying to decide whether he believes more in his uncle Arthur’s traditional values that he still clings to or whether he believes in his departing cousin Terry’s growing 60s values more. Yet Ray eventually decides that answering back to callous authority figures who think they are better than everyone else has got to be better than simply giving in to them. Sounding not unlike a play (or indeed the forthcoming Preservation LPs), Ray introduces a whole host of characters into the scenario: a brutish high-pitched Sergeant Major who barks ‘authority must be maintained’ who seems to signal the corruption of many of those in power who led people like Arthur to their death and a rather warm-hearted deeper-voiced general who gets his troops to fight by telling them white lies, that they are directly ‘fighting for their homes’ and are ‘important to the cause’ – although in reality both sides of the War suffered so many casualties that individual sacrifice barely registered amongst the hundreds and thousands of dead piled up on the battlefields. Still, scathing as Ray is, his main character (Arthur?) still surrenders to higher authority rather than question, wondering whether harsh discipline might in fact be better than the carefree 60s values he sees coming round the corner, whose end effect is ultimately the same: confusion, lack of respect and bitterness. This philosophical debate is mirrored by the indecisive riff which dominates the song and refuses to tie itself to any particular key throughout.

[142] Some Mother’s Son is a gorgeous song about that long list of casualties in the Second World War and in typical Ray Davies style refutes the above idea of pointless sacrifice, instead concentrating firmly on one individual soldier and using him as a sort of ‘everyman’ and portraying the ‘everyman’ family bereaving for him back home. By giving humanity to a situation usually discussed in terms of cold hard statistics, Ray excels himself with his lyrics here and the band’s unusually ragged, broken harmonies should irritate but instead only add to the emotional drama of the song, although ultimately the musicianship is perhaps a little bit too ragged to do this pretty song justice. The use of harpsichord on this track – an instrument which features strongly throughout most 60s Kinks albums and Arthur in particular – might be another sub-conscious reminder of Britain’s past as, despite its other-European origins, the instrument looms large in 60s psychedelia and only very rarely features in American music of the period.

[143] Drivin’ is a peculiar song and like Victoria is a single better known from its appearance on Kinks Kompilations: again, it takes on quite another meaning when heard in the context of the album. A brief little sojourn about Arthur’s escape from everyday life with his family (actually Ray’s own memories of escapes from home while out motoring with his dad, according to his book X-Ray), this song is sweet and gentle for the most part and simply motors around its chord changes before driving back home once more. However the song is not as ‘safe’ as it first appears, as each road that the mainly major key Drivin’ turns down seem to suddenly find him in the minor key, the musical equivalent of turning off a motorway and finding yourself in the middle of a field. It’s not clear till you’ve played this album loads, but it seems that even though Arthur is telling us about how wonderful things are his mind is still sub-consciously lost in thought about the escalating war and the debt collectors knocking at his door, a fact he can’t shrug off easily no matter how much he tries. Though the ‘troubled world behind us’ seems ‘an eternity away’ geographically in the song, you can really feel the thunderclouds hovering overheard here. 

[144a] Brainwashed is one of the album’s un-sung classics, strangely overlooked in most discussions of this album perhaps because it’s the shortest song on the album, but for all its brevity Brainwashed is integral to the plot of Arthur. A two-minute epic of thundering brass riffs, frantic drumming and Ray at his most low-toned and bitter, the song follows Arthur’s gradual realisation that the country he served for so long at war and at work have been taking the mickey out of him and his colleagues, over-working him in the prime of his life and then leaving him with nothing in his old age. This song – the only piece from Arthur played live with any regularity with the exception of the successful single Victoria – sets the tone for much of the bands work in the 70s too, both with its uncompromisingly bitter accusatory lyrics and in its use of horns (there’s more brass bands on the group’s 70s albums than there is guitar!) The song is made up of increasingly desperate-sounding rat-a-tat verses deliberately mixed low for the most part so that the ‘get down on your knees’ tag line at the end of each verse has more power, simply bursting out of the speakers when let loose from its prison. The band really cook up a storm on this one, mixing in the best of their old r and b improvisations with something that still sounds very mature and forward-looking for 1969 standards.

Side one rounds off with [145] Australia, a curious song in two parts. The song starts out as one of the sunniest Kinks song in years, telling us of the bright new future awaiting eager disillusioned British citizens who want to leave the mess of their homeland behind and travel down under. However, this gentle parody of a travel brochure gradually ends up getting more and more sinister as the group finally get on with things and head into a rare four-minute jam session freakout at the end. With piano to the fore and crashing cymbals from Mick Avory at his peak - always Ray’s most supportive interpreter on his epic songs - Australia soon descends from the tongue-in-cheek start that makes up most of this album into an epic horror journey into the unknown. If the first half is Arthur’s son gloriously dreaming of all the things that Arthur used to dream of himself during the war, then the second half is Arthur’s torment at watching him go, realising that he used to think all the same things and now has nothing to show for his spirit and ideals. The idea that the whole of his family are fleeing the rotting past of Britain for a new start against all the things that Arthur once fought for and stood for is horrifying to Arthur and the poor man is left absolutely helpless at the thought of being left behind by relations that seem to be turning their back on him and all his values. Listen out too for the piano version of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me riff, summing up both the hold that British values have ‘really got’ for Arthur and the lure of modern ideals of Australia for his son, while reminding us of the Kinks’ past to boot. (‘No class distinction, do drug addiction’ sings Ray almost sadly in the end, as if aware that the Britain of 1969 will forever be rooted in its fine past, unable to join in the party going on on the other side of the world). So scary is this song when it gets going that you can almost hear the ghosts of Britain’s finest coming back from the dead to push the boat along its way to Australia and flee Britain’s madness. A journey and a half, quite unlike any other in the Kinbks Kanon.

There’s no lessening up for side two either. [146] Shangri-La is one of The Kinks’ most powerful songs, with a beautiful first half celebrating Arthur’s achievements and his hard work before a rocky acerbic second half returns to the empire laughing in his face. Ray’s deeper narrator’s voice (or is it Dave? it’s really hard to tell on this album!) adds his interjection in the long, heavily extended middle eight that piles on the pressure and seems to go on forever. Telling us that Arthur’s generation are facing the same pointless bills, live in the same little houses that can only be told apart by giving them a name (witness the ‘shangri-la’ of the title) and have the same boring, limited aspirations, it then slowly falls back into the first half with a flurry of drums from Mick Avory at his finest, suddenly mocking and sneering where at first it was proud and content. The sound of a human being caught in a trap against his will with no way to get out, it’s a stunning tour de force with the band half-laughing and half-crying on behalf of the poor little man crushed by the weight of a country out of control. The song’s ear-catching acoustic opening and especially Ray’s alternately warm and detached vocal is also a masterpiece of arrangement, while brother Dave’s sensitive guitar and harmony vocal, Pete Quaife’s desperate bass runs and another great brass arrangement are also perfectly cast for this complex song. In short,  Shangri-La is one of The Kinks’ best ever recordings and is so full of all the things that make this band great that its highly recommended to anyone who ‘gets’ this band, even though thanks to its ‘flop single’ status hardly any one has ever heard of it these days.

After putting his heart and soul into one of the greatest five minutes of his life, Ray’s content to let the album fizzle out with some more jokey songs for the rest of side two. The much-derided [147] Mr Churchill Says is another song of two halves, balancing the obviously heartfelt emotion at the core of the song with the static, suddenly empty-sounding phrases of Churchill’s war speeches sung by Ray in a terribly offhand way. The song is highlighted musically by the fierce drum duet in the middle section (featuring two Mick Avorys!) and one of Dave’s rare-for-this-album but typically spot-on solos, but lyrically its arguably the album's weakest music, with a few of Churchill's speeches related in a mock accent and stapled together with a single verse about 'another plane flying over head'.

[148] She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina is slightly better, although even this song wasn’t exactly made for repeated listening. Featuring one of Ray’s funniest, deliberately comic lyrics, it’s another bitter damnation of both the state of celebrity and the upper classes who pretend to share the same hardships as their working class underlings. The song is for once not about Arthur, but possibly his wife - reduced to a state of poverty by the war, unable to feed or clothe her children, she still feels pleased because she has recklessly spent her family’s weekly income on the same sort of hat worn by one of her upper class heroines, someone who sounds like they own too many hats for their own good. The song bursts into life for the chorus two minutes in as the situation suddenly hits the characters (‘this poverty is hurting my pride’), but soon they’re back at it again, desperately looking for something with which to brighten up their day and escape from their troubles. Mick Avory is at his loudest here with some classic uncontrolled but still just-about-in-control percussion, although on the minus side the song also sports some rather annoying kazoo that rather overpowers the song by the end (what is it with classic albums on this list being ruined by kazoo solos?!?)

[149] Young and Innocent Days is far more powerful and heartfelt and is possibly the only song on the album sung straight, without the trace of irony that gives the other songs on this album a rather bitter taste. It’s no surprise, then, that this moving song returns to two of Ray’s favourites themes: nostalgia and innocence. Not content with writing a whole album’s worth of the stuff on Village Green Preservation Society, Ray excels himself with this haunting song about mundanity gradually replacing childhood dreams and steeliness and scepticism replacing childhood trust and warmth. The lyrics pack quite a punch considering that there is only three short verses on this song (and no chorus as such) while the quietly meandering tune is one of its composers loveliest, allowing the band to turn in some of their finest harmonies with Dave earning special praise for his falsetto. The welcome appearance of a harpsichord – always a special, welcome feature of Ray’s nostalgic songs – merely adds to the song’s beautiful charm. On any other album this song might well sound terribly gauche or naïve – but coming after 40-odd minutes of doom, destruction and unhappiness its perfectly placed on this album, becoming one of the most moving pieces in The Kinks’ Katalogue as Arthur turns once again to a happier past as an escape from a persecuted present.

After this return to form, [150] Nothing To Say is a bit of a let-down. The song, which features Ray’s deepest drawl now confusingly playing Arthur’s son, showcases the downside of the ‘new’ generations’ revolutionary changes - without a common ground of understanding the older and the younger simply don’t know how to talk to one another. The song would probably have made a lot of sense in the finished play, which was mainly set round Arthur’s family trying to find a way to say goodbye without hurting him, but Ray’s blasé vocal and almost complaining lyrics rather undermine the album’s hard work by making us empathise with neither man instead of both of them as before. The song’s false joviality also sounds a bit out of place, with the listener soon becoming as bored as the two men trying to find a way to say goodbye. All the more strange, given the wealth of ideas that we’ve heard simply sprouting through every bar on the album so far – surely there’s a good deal too much for each of these characters to say to each other, even if they don’t quite know how to say it.

[151] Arthur itself is a cracking send-off, however, sparkling with warmth and comfort for the title character and expressing hope that all of this everyman’s problems can be resolved one day. Afraid that the whole world is turning its back on the past, Ray offers one last lone voice in the wilderness here, giving his uncle the credit he truly deserves and finally giving him the praise and comfort he longed for during the war. To a rattling country-rock riff, Ray and Dave sum up the album’s storyline for us while praising and then gently chastising Arthur for letting the world ‘pass him by’. The song’s extended ending is particularly thrilling, as the Kinks and assorted friends just keep on going, telling Arthur ‘we love you and want to help you, somebody loves you don’t you know it’ over and over, making up for the lack of times Ray’s uncle has heard those words during his life. The perfect rousing closing song to Arthur, complementing the album’s bitterness without diluting its bigger themes, it leaves no doubt as to how important this album was to the Davies brothers. No wonder Ray’s real and generally unemotional uncle cried his eyes out when he heard this track as well – it’s a perfect embodiment of individuals fighting a monolith society and an absolute milestone in the power that music has to right wrongs and move people to tears.

More than any Kinks album, Arthur celebrates Ray’s themes of taking the best of our past and translating it into hope for the future and in Arthur we have one of the greatest three-dimensional characters ever written. Forget your Tommys, your Sgt Peppers and your Court of Krimson Kings, this is one concept album that really does see its character progress, overcome obstacles and grow old before your ears. Arthur we understand and we sympathise, somebody loves you don’t you know it.


‘The Kinks’ (1964)

‘Kinda Kinks’ (1964)

'The Kink Kontroversy' (1965)

'Face To Face' (1966)

‘Something Else’ (1967)

'The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society' (1968)

'Arthur' (1969)

'Lola vs Powerman and the Money-Go-Round' (1970)

'Muswell Hillbillies' (1971)

‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ (1972)

'Schoolboys In Disgrace' (1975)

'Sleepwalker' (1977)

‘Misfits’ (1978)

'Low Budget' (1979)

'Give The People What They Want' (1981)

'State Of Confusion' (1983)

'Word Of Mouth' (1985)

'Think Visual' (1986)

'UK Jive' (1989)

'Phobia' (1993)

Pete Quaife: Obituary and Tribute

The Best Unreleased Kinks Songs 1963-1992 (Ish!)

Non-Album Recordings 1963-1991

The Kinks Part One: Solo/Live/Compilation/US Albums 1964-1996

The Kinks Part Two: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums 1998-2014

Abandoned Albums and Outside Productions

Essay: The Kinks - Why This Band Aren’t Like Everybody Else

Landmark concerts and key cover versions

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