Friday, 22 May 2009
♫ Well another week has been and gone, without an AAA artist at number one (where is all this bad music coming from?!) – but fear not, dear readers, for your weekly escape-pod from modern life is here again with yet another issue packed full of pithy, practical and pulsating reviews to sink your reading glasses into. First up, it’s Eurovision week and I shall shock all of you by saying that I enjoyed this year. The less said about that awful Lloyd Webber ballad muck the better, but in Iceland and Estonia we had no less than two deserving songs to take the title (typically Eurovision, though, the title ended up going to some fairytale nonsense from Norway that only a grandmother could love). What else to tell you? Oh yes, sorry if you’re getting this issue and the next couple a bit late but the library is still closed and our resident IT expert Mike is unavailable for the next couple of weeks (and, unusually, it’s not because the ewok ninjas have got him). So this will all be belated news by the time you get it but no bother – it was current when I wrote it!
♫ Beatles News: The only real news to tell you this week is that a previously unknown fan letter written by George Harrison has come to light (George has been having a busy month, what with last week’s unheard song and all). Alas the letter, which is due to be auctioned sometime soon, is not as revealing as most of the music press will have you know – the main theme of the letter is ‘we don’t like jelly babies when they’re being thrown at you en masse’ – something that every Beatle fan since 1964 surely knows already (not to mention anybody who has actually had jelly babies thrown at them while trying to sing Beatles songs – what a party that was!)
♫ So, with nothing else to tell you, it’s on to our anniversaries column. Happy Birthday To You if your name is Paul Weller (mod god 1979-present), who turns 51 on May 25th, Ray Ennis (singer with the Swinging Blue Jeans) who turns 67 on May 26th, Pete Sears (bassist/keyboardist with the Jefferson Starship/Starship 1973-86) who turns 61 on May 27th, Cilla Black (cloakroom singer turned blind date presenter) who was born on the very same day in the very same year and finally Ray Laidlaw (drummer with Lindisfarne 1970-72, 1978-2004 and with Jack The Lad 1973-76) who turns 61 on May 28th. Anniversaries of events include: amazingly, it’s 40 years since the release of the Who’s seminal album ‘Tommy’ on May 23rd 1969; just as amazingly it’s 45 years since the Beach Boys released their seminal single ‘I Get Around’ on May 23rd 1964; the Grateful Dead play their first ever British concert at Newcastle’s Hollywood Music Festival on May 23rd 1970; the Jefferson Starship are barred from playing a free concert at their homebase of Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on May 23rd 1977 after a ban on electric instruments in the park (the band go on to write their best-seller ‘We Built This City’ about the incident nine years later); The Rolling Stones release ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ – a single generally referred to as their ‘comeback’ (comeback from what exactly?!) on May 24th 1968; Simon and Garfunkel replace themselves at the top of the album charts by releasing ‘Bookends’ straight after their soundtrack for the ‘Graduate’ – the first artists since the Beatles and the Monkees to secure this feat (May 25th 1968) and finally Ronnie Lane surprises everybody (including the group) by quitting The Faces to record with his own band Slim Chance (May 28th 1973).
You can buy 'Maximum Consumption - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Kinks' by clicking here!
♫ And so to the final stop on our weekly world tour of AAA-ism. Yes, it’s the top five – this week, a handy computer screen-sized guide to the very best B-sides, Kinks-style (and where to find them!)
5) ‘I Need You’ (B-side to ‘Set Me Free’ 1965, available on CD as a bonus track on the album ‘Kinda Kinks’). This song is always forgotten when talking about the ‘classic’ Kinks riffs that run through ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ ‘Til’ The End Of the day’ et al. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the very best, with Dave Davies’ fierce guitar licks right up there with the best of them. These early Kinks songs – in fact almost all of the 1964/65 output of British bands – is centred around addiction and desire (see ‘I Can’t Explain’ and ‘Satisfaction’ for more obvious examples) and this simple riff is perfectly suited to the simple lyrics. Even at his most basic and simple, big brother ray still excels himself in the lyrics department – this isn’t ‘I need you because moons need June’ but ‘I need you more than birds need the sky’. By early 1965 standards this is pioneering stuff! And when dave finally gets to let rip with his guitar solo, after containing his fury for most of the song, it might just be one of the most exhilarating things you’ve ever heard in your life, zipping through more chord changes than most guitarists manage in a whole career.
4) ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ (B-side to ‘Til’ The End Of The Day’ 1965; available on CD as part of the album ‘The Kinks Kontroversy’). No wonder Ray Davies’ songs became terribly grumpy in the 80s and 90s – he was even moaning in the 60s when everything was perfect! (Well, so we’re always lead to believe by documentary makers anyway!) ‘…Good Times Gone’ is an extraordinary track for 1965 – most, in fact virtually all songs will still about fun sun surf and teenage girls, so to hear a 21-year-old Ray Davies spouting off about times gone by and how life will never be enjoyable again comes as quite a jolt, even within the Kinks canon which had already come the closest to touching on this sort of thing. Is it just me or is there a hint of autobiography in this song too – ‘daddy didn’t have no toys’ (it’s well known that the Davies family were far from rich), ‘Mommy didn’t need no boys’ (the two Davies brothers came after six – yes, six – elder sisters). Certainly, Ray gets heavily into confessional songwriting by the time of the next LP ‘Face To Face’ in 1966 (see review no 8), so it’s possible this is an early template. Either way, marry this song’s uniqueness with a pulsating chorus and one of the Kinks’ best group performances of the period and you come up with a B-side so well known everyone assumes it must have been an A-side (but wasn’t).
3) ‘Big Black Smoke’ (B-side to ‘Dead End Street’ 1966; available on CD as a bonus track on the ‘Face To face’ album). More classic storytelling mixed with a strong energetic riff and one of Ray’s best sympathetic vocals on this song about a teenage runaway that pre-empts The Beatles’ ‘She’s Leaving Home’ by a year (and Cat Stevens’ Father and Son’ by four years). A middle class girl from the country who to her parents seems to have everything up sticks out of boredom, desire for new things in the big city and love for her boy named Joe, only to find herself penniless, outcast and in misery by the end of it. A typically hard-hitting song from the Kinks in this period (just look at the stern-faced A-side with its spoof of a funeral march) and underlined here by the pioneering use of sound effects (which Ray wanted to use on everything in this period – see review no 8 again for more on this). ‘Big Black Smoke’ is dirty, smoggy and nasty in equal degrees, but it’s as mesmerising and captivating as it’s namesake city is painted to sound too. The icing on the cake is Dave Davies’ portrayal of a town crier on the fade.
2) ‘She’s Got Everything’ (B-side to ‘Days’ 1968; shockingly this track isn’t yet available on CD officially! – surely they could have found space on the 3CD ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ set for goodness sake!). This B-side always gets forgotten, both because it’s a throwback to an earlier Kinks age and because it was on the back of a relatively flop single and failed to be included on the relatively flop album that’s somehow become a landmark in 60s music during the 40 years since release. But ‘Everything’ is one of the happiest and energetic Kinks recordings of them all, with Ray celebrating everything he loves about his girl to the accompaniment of a great blues riff and some wonderful jazzy piano licks from Nicky Hopkins. If the song sounds ridiculously out of place in the midst of the Kinks’ gloomy and nostalgia-ridden material of the period, then that’s because it was actually recorded in Spring 1966 (during ‘Face To Face’) and only exhumed when the band needed a B-side at short notice. Even the band, then, don’t seem to like this one much (perhaps explaining why it’s not readily available on CD) but they should – the way the track slows down at the end for Ray to add some reflective verses about how he can never live if his love goes away and Dave simply swoops into the empty spaces of the record with a sizzling guitar part is Klassik kinks. This track has got everything, in fact.
1) ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ (B-side to ‘Sunny Afternoon’ 1966; available on CD as a bonus track on the ‘Face To Face’ CD). The ultimate outsider anthem, distancing the narrator from every single scene and group in existence, this menacing, bluesy song is another one so well known that everybody assumes it must have been a single (in fact it never even made it onto an album!) Interestingly, Ray gives the song to Dave to sing, despite the fact that he sentiments sum up his feelings about the world just as well ad they do his brother’s, but the younger Kink delivers one of his best ever vocals here, growling rather than using the falsetto he’s better known for. His guitar part is even better, rising and falling with anger and pride as the Kinks burst forth for the killer chorus shouting about their individuality. Ray’s backing vocals are equally spot-on, showing off how different the two brothers are in their approach.
A suitable end to a five-part guide about a band quite unlike anybody else. Tune in next week for some more AAA-watching and, if I can persuade him to send it in, the first in a new part ‘Nelson’s Column’ feature about music past, present and future. See you next time!