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THE KINKS “EVERYBODY’S IN SHOWBIZ” (1972)
Studio set: Here Comes Yet Another Day/Maximum Consumption/Unreal Reality/Hot Potatoes/Sitting In My Hotel//Motorway/You Don’t Know My Name/Supersonic Rocket Ship/Look A Little On The Sunny Side/Celluloid Heroes//Live set: Top Of The Pops/Brainwashed/Mr Wonderful/Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues/Holiday//Muswell Hillbillies/Alcohol/The Banana Boat Song/Skin and Bone/Baby Face/Lola
Last week we covered AAA DVDs and all the many ways our different bands chose to be seen by their fans on camera. This week we’ve decided to look at a film that sadly never was and the music that it inspired. It’s a great shame the film was never made, not only because it spoils our chance to see the Kinks in their 70s heyday (the 1980 tour is our earliest chance to see a full blown Kinks statement with visuals on tape and frankly that’s the least visual decade for them anyway) but because this album doesn’t make anything like as much sense without it, a soundtrack without a film (Ray wrote the ‘studio’ side of this double album while working for hours in the editing suite, clearly with the struggles and questions of touring on his mind). Had it been screened the band’s no-holds-barred document of life on the road in 1972 would have been a real milestone in music documentaries (if a slog to sit through) with an attempt to show what its ‘really’ like being out on the road for weeks at a time, with an endless stream of hotels, motorways, soundchecks, small bursts of musical energy on stage and hours and hours of boredom (amazingly Oasis have probably come closest to capturing this ‘theme’ with their ‘Lord Don’t Slow Me Down’ documentary we covered in last issue’s DVD special, although they go and ruin it by shooting it in black and white and trying to look ‘clever’).
The theme of being ‘on the road’ will follow Ray for years to come (the 1986 live album ‘The Road’ resurrects the whole idea of this album), but for me it’s never better expressed than here: ‘My headache is better but my back really hurts, I never thought I’d travel so far to work!’ is one of the best couplets Ray ever wrote, describing a life where the music is the pay-off for the endless hours of travel (many musicians claim ‘they pay me to travel – I sing for free!’; surprisingly Ray isn’t one of them, perhaps because he’d already made that claim with this album in song). In the end record label RCA Victor nixed the idea (after several hours’ work had been spent on the film by Ray) because back in the pre-MTV days they didn’t see why music should have images attached to it. Ray’s comments later in the decade about the artist and record label never seeing eye to eye (‘RCA, you’re gonna have to shoot us!’ he memorably quipped at a concert) have never seemed more valid – although to be fair Ray doesn’t seem to have pitched the idea terribly well (‘So... we see you guys backstage doing nothing and then we cut to a song that fans already know from the albums and this’ll cost us how many millions?’) and there was no precedent back then when rock films were ‘fun’ and ‘novel’ and a million miles from this often frustrated, aggravated, confused record. All that said, this project is still thought to exist and would make a fine DVD one day (Hint! Hint!)
Ray Davies has made a career out of trying to work out who he is in music and the quest was never greater in the three album trilogy ‘Lola Versus Powerman’ ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ and ‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’. The first album found him struggling with betrayal, music business shenanigans and things that seemed certain in life turning out to have hidden nasty surprises – from the title tracks down; the second found him looking at these problems in a wider world, one where loved ones are whisked off to jail, life is there to trip us up and in which modern life is – when compared to more poetic and romantic ages - rubbish (Blur owe a lot to the lyrics of ‘20th Century Man’ in particular). In many ways this album is the ‘Part Two’ follow up to the ‘Part One’ promised on the cover of ‘Lola vs Powerman’ – but then ever 1970s Kinks album up to ‘Sleepwalker’ is arguably ‘Lola Part Two’, scary places where the artists has to learn not to reveal himself and where the dream of making music isn’t all songs and dancing. This last album in the trilogy is all about failure, of the fear of not realising your potential and wondering why on earth artists ever bother making anything at all if their audience isn’t going to understand it. Of course, this being The Kinks, the band manages to turn Ray Davies’ long solemn dark night of the soul into at least two of the greatest achievements the band ever made, turning failure into success.
That said, this album isn’t that far removed from the next batch of Kinks albums either. We’ve looked at a few of Ray Davies’ weird and wacky concept albums already on this site, all of them actually more about the inner turmoil of Ray himself than the characters inside (the ‘tramp’ character in Preservation Acts I and II sounds more like ‘Ray’ than ‘Ray’ does; the mundane businessman trying to be a star in ‘A Soap Opera’ and – though we haven’t yet donned our shorts and school ties on this site – the rebelling ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’, realising that all bad education is a joke and all good education won’t make sense until late on in life). ‘Showbiz’ isn’t quite a rock opera like these three works but it is a concept album of a sort and does the same job of letting Ray distance himself from his audience under the pretext of looking at something else (even though, ultimately, it’s as revealing as ‘Lola’ and ‘Hillbillies’). Sadly, though, without the film documentary as accompaniment much of this album doesn’t quite come off. There are no less than two songs about food (‘Maximum Consumption’ and ‘Motorway’), one of which is simply a long list of the food the band could be eating if they had a normal office job and could pop out for lunch every now and again (however see ‘A Soap Opera’ for what Ray really thinks of these kind of jobs!) and the other of which is a whole four minute song about how bad motorway service stations are. A third song ‘Hot Potatoes’ is really about emotional blackmail and I’m actually quite fond of these songs in the context of the album, but considering that the Kinks were releasing majestic world-beating songs about the decline and fall of the British empire just three years before this the horizon of the album seems awfully, well, low. Add in a few surprisingly grouchy songs about frustration, ennui and critical attacks (‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’ ‘Look A Little On The Sunny Side’ and even Dave Davies’ ‘You Don’t Know My Name’) and you can see why fans don’t always take to this album, which is even more severe in its own narrow way than either the music business mickey take ‘Lola Vs Powerman’ and the monochrome world view of ‘Muswell Hillbillies’.
However there are two magical moments that make the whole uneven journey of the studio set worthwhile. ‘Sitting In My Hotel’ is the real Ray Davies peeping out from behind his grumpy moaning and rumbling stomach and it’s devastatingly beautiful, an inward cry for help that asks ‘how the hell did I get here?’ It’s only when Ray is stuck inside his hotel, ‘seven stories high’ and isolated from the ‘real world’ that he comes to realise who he really is, even though the song is open-ended about whether he’ll do anything about the revelations or not (Ray added when the album came out that he should have called the song ‘Who am I trying to kid?’) Not content with writing one of his best songs in ages, Ray follows it up with career peak ‘Celluloid Heroes’, a real tear-jerking song about success living ‘hand in hand with failure’ and like the rest of the album it strips the glamour and glitzy lighting from the romance of touring and stardom. My candidate for the most moving song about failure ever written, with a killer coda that never fails to make me cry, it somehow makes perfect sense that this gorgeous high-point was actually a failure itself when first released as a single, even if many Kinks fans the world over now quote it as a favourite.
Even some of the lesser songs are successful at conveying confusion and questioning what it means to be an ‘artist’. Never has a rock writer offered up a more unhappy song than ‘Look A Little On The Sunnyside’, whatever the title tries to tell us. The critics don’t care anymore, the writer has lost his commercial touch and he’s driven all his fans away and for all his talk about looking forward to a time when he regains them all again Ray Davies doesn’t sound too sure that they’ll ever be back, no matter how many times he sings the title line. The fact that these lines about the fickleness of the music market are accompanied by perhaps the single most unusual sound in the Kinks canon (in which the horn parts oompah their way sadly round the song’s un-resolving minor key) simply reveal what a ‘joke’ the whole thing is – Ray might as well go all the way out into strangeness if nobody cares anymore. ‘Unreal Reality’ is another attempt at the same trick, although at least this time the horns rock out and Ray half-seriously, half-jokingly reinvents himself as a soul singer and uses perhaps the most oft-used Kinks theme (of imagination versus reality) in the lyrics. ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ too is great fun, a sweet commercial interlude that proves Ray really hasn’t lost his magic touch and which should have been as big a hit as ‘Lola’ and ‘Apeman’ – even if unforgivably the version on this album is a re-recording and is slowed down from the catchy little single the band had put out a few weeks before (frankly I’m amazed the two are this way round – an engineer mistakenly cut out the opening few seconds of the song, hence the fact that the band re-recorded it – although I’d have said the faux pas was more forgivable on album than as a stand-alone 45; this shows how low things were between band and record label at this point!) However perhaps this single shouldn’t be here at all: catchy songs about fantasy aren’t what this discussion about the realities behind success and celebrity are all about, even if it is one of The Kinks’ most unfairly forgotten songs.
As ever with The Kinks the cover-art for this album says it all: in contrast to the ‘scientific’ depiction of the ‘artist’ Kinks as per ‘Lola’ it features two deliberately tacky scenes, especially the back cover with its images of the band with heavy make-up and blusher on their cheeks surrounded by cheesy ‘stars’. I rather like the front cover though, which fully ‘gets’ the message of Celluloid Heroes’ by mixing up caricatures of famous film stars with ones that, even in 1972, you’d struggle to recognise – fame really does sit hand in hand with failure on this album, just like it does on the Hollywood Boulevard. Notice too the line that’s chosen from ‘Celluloid Heroes’ as the title: we’re all in showbiz (just as we’re all available for celebrity status after a meeting with the ‘starmaker’ on ‘A Soap Opera’) and we, too, walk hand in hand as successes and failures and everything in between (note the whole string of pictures on the left-hand side that feature Marilyn Monroe, a film star also mentioned in the song’s lyrics, who arguably sum up the dichotomy of happiness and misery of fame).
Talking of things going hand in hand despite being opposites, The Kinks’ wicked sense of humour is mainly saved for the live concert just as their solemnity was saved for the studio album, although both share a common goal of stripping all the glamour from the live show and gives us a seemingly deliberate low-key show. To be fair there are 11 hitherto unreleased live performances from the band’s shows at Carnegie Hall in March 1972: however no less than five songs are from last album ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ (which, at the time, fans had only bought a few months previously), two songs are ‘minor’ unheralded songs from the two previous-to-that albums ‘Arthur’ and ‘Lola’ (‘Brainwashed’ and ‘Top Of The Pops’ – for me the highlight of the live album but hardly the most obvious or best known songs from either album) and no less than three covers that are – well – to say unexpected is an understatement (‘The Banana Boat Song’ ‘Baby Face’ and ‘Mr Wonderful’ – did we mention that this was Ray Davies’ most ‘camp’ period?) It looks like the live set has just one song that casual fans might recognise, but all we get of ‘Lola’ is 90 seconds of the audience singing the chorus and clapping. The Kinks won’t release a ‘proper’ live record until ‘One For The Road’ in the 1980s (I’ll ignore for now the poorly recorded but fun ‘Kelvin Hall’ set of 1967 that the band had never intended to release at all) so many fans felt ‘cheated’ by the live set when it came out (hits like ‘You Really Got Me’ ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ ‘Til The End Of The Day’ ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘A Well Respected Man’ were all in the setlist back then). However, taken with the studio album they make a kind of perverted sense: this isn’t an album about giving the people what they want (to quote another Kinks album all together), it’s an album about working out what drives bands to tour at all and what the ‘real’ experience is like for them. (It could be, too, that after weeks in a little room viewing multiple versions of ‘You Really Got Me’ et al Ray simply didn’t have the stomach to sit through any more for the record).
One important addition to this album, something which is going to have a major effect in a couple of albums’ time, is the addition of a horn section. The Mike Cotton Sound were a pretty nifty and overlooked band from the 1960s whose paths crossed the Kinks a few times over the years (their semi-hit single ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ is the best ‘stomp’ song the Animals never did). To some extent their hiring makes perfect sense: Ray had been after a bigger sound than the one a typical rock and roll band could give him for some time. The timing, however, is interesting: none of the songs on this record particularly cry out for horn parts (only ‘Sunny Side’ and we’ll talk about that unusual oddity later) and if you’d seen the Kinks on tour in 1970 or 1971 then you’d be hard pressed to think that songs like ‘Brainwashed’ and ‘Skin and Bone’ were about to be re-arranged for them in just a year’s time however good they sound.
By and large it seems that they were hired simply to annoy the hell out of Dave Davies, who was going through something of a crisis in this period. Spiritually adrift and artistically frustrated (with the ‘solo singles’ of 1967-68 now a distant memory) this is perhaps the lowest out of all the low periods the youngest Davies brother experienced according to his autobiography ‘Konk’ (Ray even introduced his brother in the live set as ‘Mr Dave Death Of A Clown Davies’, as if to mischievously remind him of how far he’s fallen since 1967 when Dave was competing with Ray for the best Kinks material). Dave wanted a return to a rocky and raw Kinks sound, but wasn’t sure enough of himself or writing enough material to push it – meanwhile his brother gets into concept albums and horn parts and all but stops leaving parts for guitar parts in this period. Simply listen to the CD ‘bonus track’ version of ‘Til The End Of The Day’ in which Dave finally gets the chance to musically channel his frustration – only to have the horns drown him out! On the studio set there’s only one Dave Davies guitar solo – on ‘Maximum Consumption – and it sounds like such a rarity that Ray, with a twinkle in his voice, even announces that this bit ‘features Dave Davies on guitar’. To give him due, however, Dave updates his spiritually lost song ‘Strangers’ for this album, writing the folky ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ which chimes perfectly with the topics of frustration, pressure and failure that brother Ray has been writing across the rest of the record – and pointedly has the solo played not on guitar but on a flute (a sound never heard on a Kinks song again) as if to say ‘well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em...’) Still, even with a new song on the album (which is one more that he got on ‘Hillbillies’) you can’t help but feel that Dave is being sidelined here while his brother’s role as singer, producer, writer and arranger gets bigger than ever. No wonder, perhaps, that Dave finds himself on this tour growing a beard (as if to hide behind) and distancing himself yet further from his brother’s on-stage shenanigans. As it happens, the brothers are about to need each other more than ever (Ray’s first wife Rasa is already preparing to leave him on his 31st birthday the following year and a devastated Ray spends most of the next few months a nervous wreck sleeping on Dave’s couch) but for now their enmity is more powerfully felt that even the band’s mid-60s power struggles.
(Unusually, and for this album only, Ray seems to be quite happy at home. Or at least there’s none of the ‘Holloway Jail’ threats or ‘Here Comes The People In Grey’ defence-work going on as per ‘Muswell’ or the guilt-ridden complexities of both ‘Preservation’ and ‘A Soap Opera’ – perhaps Ray is too busy out on the road to notice or perhaps he’s just using these comparatively ‘empty’ songs as escapism for a change. The slight threat of ‘Hot Potatoes’, where an angry wife so sick at her husband for losing her job promises ‘no more fancy cooking’ until he gets a job, is the only song close to the songs Ray had been writing and even this has a sunny chorus that re-writes ‘Eight Days A Week’ with its cheeky swagger of ‘Want your loving 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week’. Certainly I nominate the severe upheaval of Rasa walking out on Ray for the ‘characters’ Ray hides behind for the next five years or so, perhaps because the pain of writing as ‘himself’ was too much for Ray to bear).
So, in the end, is ‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ a great record? Well, sadly no – there’s simply too many ‘filler’ songs here, with ‘Maximum Consumption’ lyrically just a list of foods guaranteed to make you hungry and the lyrically interesting ‘Unreal Reality’ and ‘Look A Little On The Sunny Side’ too concerned musically with pushing you to the limit of your patience. The live album, too, is a funny joke (Ray has never been funnier than when channelling Harry Belafonte or Noel Coward in close proximity and then announcing himself on stage as ‘Johnny Cash’) but ultimately the joke is rather on us, as the tug of the ‘Lola’ fools us yet again into thinking that The Kinks are going to sing it any minute or do one of their other ‘hits’...However this is nonetheless an important album in we fans’ understanding of the mechanics of one of our favourite bands and the two un-missable moments in ‘Hotel’ and ‘Celluloid’ are worth sitting through any amount of uninspired tosh for. ‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ is unlikely to anybody’s favourite Kinks album, but even this band’s lesser moments take us on a journey –and, thankfully, a journey that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the motorway travel of many of the songs within!
‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’ is one of those songs that changed mood every time The Kinks played it live. Here on the record it’s a bouncy, energetic ball of fun that can’t wait to get out of bed – but read the lyric sheet or listen to the live version included on the ‘Celluloid Heroes’ compilation ( something of a rarity on CD nowadays, sadly) and its a howl of desperation, with the narrator forced to repeat every move he makes. There’s only one release for this song that turns the whole thing around: ‘No time for affection, moving in a new direction!’ Following five or so Kinks albums that couldn’t be more different from each other in theme and mood it’s a key insight into Ray Davies’ head, spurred on to new ideas and themes, unable to stop himself ‘falling’ into new projects. That said, the bottom line is that this is a grumpy song: the narrator reels off quick-spitting lines that don’t even leave him time and space to sing them fully (much of this song is double-tracked) and there’s a sense of being rushed throughout this song, with a lopsided riff that sounds like its limping by the time of the last repeat. It’s hard not to hear something of desperation in Ray’s last lines too ‘See that morning break, Lord, here comes yet another day!’ In seven years’ time Ray will write a more up-to-date take on this song called ‘Pressure’ (from ‘Low Budget’), delivered with new wave angst and real anger and in another 10 will hurt his throat screaming ‘Aggravation’ on ‘UK Jive’. This song sounds like the start of Ray feeling hemmed in and stressed, frustrated at low album sales and having to re-boot the band in America where they now lay bottom of the bill (a three year ban for misdemeanours on an aeroplane – or, as the Davies brothers feared, possibly something darker caused by their unusual management and publicity skills - had prevented them from touring there, much to the band’s chagrin). This studio version, with its slightly slowed down tempo and crazily scattered horns (building up a real sense of panic and confusion) isn’t anything like as good as the bare-bones rollercoaster the song was live and tries perhaps a little too hard, but still has its moments.
I really hope you’re hungry for next song ‘Maximum Consumption’ because you soon will be when you've heard it - a track that lists more foodstuffs per line than even ‘Food Glorious Food’ (I checked!) However rather than being merely a tribute to food for its taste its more a tribute to food for helping us humans survive – there’s no ‘love’ in Ray’s list of foodstuffs here, simply his amazement at how he’s eaten all those things and his body still needs more fuel. Throughout the song Ray makes two unusual references: one is that he ‘needs food to survive’ (as if he’s only just realised the fact) and the other is that he ‘keeps burning calories as soon as I keep putting them down’ (Ray must have an amazing metabolism , then, and I’m jealous – although ‘his’ response as the starmaker to Norman’s love of hot chocolate in the stage/TV version of ‘A Soap Opera’ hints that actually he was pretty obsessed about his weight at the time). There’s also a brief middle eight where Ray imagines himself as a car filled with fuel (‘Go easy on the clutch, go easy on the hills and you’ll make a lot of mileage out of me’). Like the last song there’s a real sense of building panic by the end of the song, when the song modulates up a key and becomes more primal and less human (‘Gotta stay fit, stay alive, keep fit, energise, need food to survive!’) At least Dave Davies finally gets something to do, however, turning in a fine harmony vocal and even being credited on-record for his brief guitar solo which by his standards is more of a casual shrug than an emotional outburst. Kind of sums up the song, really, which has an interesting melody line but isn’t really substantial enough to be a full song.
‘Unreal Reality’ is pure Ray Davies and in many ways is the Kinks’ theme song. Throughout the track the narrator wonders what’s real and what’s imagination and whether if one is real enough there’s any difference anyway. Separated from the working classes that used to give him his inspiration here Ray imagines a house ‘so big that it reaches up to the clouds’ with everyone inside thinking they know life because they can see it passing by outside their windows. However this separation doesn’t give any hint of the wind, the rain, the suffering or the real human drama happening on the ground floor – and for the writer this puts him in the position of ‘imagining’ rather than ‘feeling’ their suffering. After all, which senses do we trust? Our sight is always being fooled by camera trickery in films and TV programmes and there are so many things like electricity and gravity that we can measure with instruments but can’t ‘touch’ or ‘taste’, so we have to take on trust that they are there. For all we know our world might be surrounded by hundreds of thousands more forces which we haven’t discovered yet because our senses won’t tell us that they are there. The song then turns to discussing a woman with lots of make-up (‘Is she a human being or a creature from outer space?’) and a ‘spick and span’ businessman who could be a ‘tailor’s dummy’ – the fact is nobody really knows (and for all the narrator knows he might have fallen into the Twilight Zone in his sleep; a very Kinks show if ever there was one!) Musically, too, we don’t know if this is ‘real’ or an ‘unreal reality’ – the horns are dominating the music now and Ray is crooning his vocal in a truly unique cross between Noel Coward and Louis Armstrong, which has to be heard to be believed. For many fans, ‘Reality’ is a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended) and certainly the main song itself isn’t quite as wonderful as the wobbly horn-and-vocals opening suggests it’s going to be. Still, this is a pretty nifty attempt to re-write the usual Kinks theme of imagination in a bigger, bolder and more unusual way than ever before and you have to admire the experimentation, while at the same time being grateful that this really is just a one-off in the Kinks Kanon and not a whole new direction for them!
‘Hot Potatoes’ is probably the weakest song here and seems unusually out of step with the rest of the album. The poor narrator has just lost his job and far from being sympathetic his wife tells him he has to get a job now or she won’t make him any more ‘fancy cooking’. The Kinks had already written perhaps the greatest song about unemployment and jobs equalling self-worth on the glorious ‘Get Back In The Line’ on ‘Lola Versus Powerman’ and when I first bought this record hopes were high this was going to be a sequel. Unfortunately Ray gets side-tracked by yet another chorus extolling the virtues of food (never has the un-rhymeable word ‘potatoes’ been mentioned so many times in one song!) and a rare case of Kinks plagiarism when the middle eight re-writes The Beatles’ ‘Eight Days A Week’ almost to the note (‘I want your loving 60 minutes an hour, I want your loving 24 hours a day, I want your loving seven days a week!’ – even the word ‘weeeeek’ is sung in the same way!) There’s a brief fight back from the narrator who in true Ray Davies style asks what’s so great about a mundane job anyway and looks forward to ‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’ with his admission that he doesn’t need any fancy cooking anyway (‘I like the simple things in life’). It’s nice to hear Dave singing lead on a line or two and it has to be said this track sounds more of a ‘group’ effort with its fine fully harmonised chorus and less emphasis on the horns, but sadly its a shame the band’s talents weren’t saved for a better song. The tempo of this track is best described as ‘plodding’ and even though Ray turns in a fine, enthusiastic performance there’s something hollow at the heart of this track that even hot potatoes can’t fill.
‘Sitting In My Hotel’, however, is close to perfection. Picking up from where we left off with ‘Unreal Reality’ Ray finds himself now in a hotel ‘seven stories high’, practising his stage act and feeling more cut-off from the real world than ever. There’s a song on ‘Preservation Society’ where Ray sings frustratedly about how ‘all of my friends were there’ the one night in his career he slipped up and haven’t stopped laughing about it since – this song is the upshot to that; the narrator knows his ‘real’ friends would see through the stage facade and ask ‘what on Earth I’m trying to do?!’ Even by the grandmaster Ray’s standards, this song’s sense of isolation and confusion is tremendous, with every step towards stardom seemingly cutting the narrator off from his real self, imagining his friends laughing at him driving round ‘in a chauffeur driven jam jar’, smiling at his stage suit of ‘satin strides and two-tonne daisy roots’ and shocked at him ‘dancing round the room like some outrageous poof’. Seeing himself through their eyes, Ray’s narrator suddenly realises that he’s ‘hiding’, escaping from the horrors of the world in the safety of his hotel room and telling him that he’s ‘being used’. Ray is too afraid to do anything about it, however, watching ‘late shows till the morning’ on a hotel TV and in a very postmodern twist ‘writing songs for old-time Vaudeville reviews’ (which is exactly what this song sounds like!) Ray won’t take their advice either – from hereon in for the next five years all of his songs will sound like pre-war musicals! For now, at least, that’s no bad thing – this song’s gradual build up is superbly crafted and the slight echo on Ray’s vocal really does make him sound isolated and alone, infused with a lethargy that he can’t quite shake off. This is, quite simply, one of the greatest Kinks songs of them all, with Ray letting his guard down to question what drives him so and pushes him to create so much ‘art’ that won’t sell to his casual fans (if The Kinks had been just about the money they’d have simply re-worked ‘You Really Got Me’ for a few more years – but equally, is there any point in writing if you have no audience?) The answers to these questions are never easy and Ray’s narrator is too tired and confused to try so instead the song ends wistfully, imagining his friends asking him ‘what’s it all leading to?’ Ray doesn’t yet know – and the fact that he’s brave enough to admit that to us is one of the real-spine tingling moments of the AAA catalogue, a true gem of the highest order.
Side two begins with ‘Motorway’, which probably has the catchiest tune of any of these songs with its unusual but effective country and western lilt – and the strangest lyrics. Kinks protest songs are amazing, damning the ego-mad, the greedy, the sinful and those who show disdain to others with more passion and emotion than anyone barring perhaps CSNY. Kinks protest songs can help destroy careers, correct sweeping injustices and help free battered under-dogs. On this song, however, Ray has lowered his sights to condemn low quality motorway food. Ah well, at least this song is worth a laugh, juxtaposing the ‘thrill to be so free’ of the rockstar life as they travel to a mysterious new destination and the realities (poor food, bad loos, aches and pains and boredom). I can also forgive him for feeling grumpy – ray wrote the song on a tour bus on his way to a gig in Lancaster, not that far removed from my own town and somehow that makes perfect sense about why this song is as grumpy as it is! This song has a chorus that’s frustratingly banal (‘So tired, tired of living, tired of living this motorway living’) but just as the unstoppable drunk who kept asking for ‘justanotherdrinkhic!’ on ‘A Soap Opera’ got across the true horrors of mundane office jobs so this song successfully gets across how low and despondent another day on the road can be. The lyrics are quite funny, too, with the millions of people passing through the same motorway loo ‘enough to put you off of that motorway food!’ The chorus is sweet also, with a catchy bright riff and Ray and Dave doing a good job of sounding like cowboys (this song should have been ‘Muswell Hillbillies’, an album where almost every song is an anglicised low budget B movie version of some romantic American dream depicted by Hollywood). However it’s the depressing coda that sticks in the ears: Ray writes a letter to his mother, telling her his ‘headaches’ improved, but my backache is worse’ and coming up with the clever analogy for road-worthy bands that ‘I never thought I’d travel so far to work!’ A minor song in the Kinks kanon, then, but a clever minor song nonetheless.
‘You Don’t Know My Name’ is Dave’s first song on a Kinks album since ‘Lola Vs Powerman’ in 1970 – and is his last until 1978’s ‘Misfits’. That’s a shame because never before had he so successfully managed to carve out his own niche away from his brother whilst writing about the same subjects. Clearly inspired by the band’s first American tour for some time, when the band had to start again at the bottom of the bill, this song finds Dave out of sorts and questioning (like his brother on ‘Hotel’) whether he really exists if no one in America knows his ‘name’. The road for Dave seems as long and unrelenting as it did for Ray and the band don’t seem to be getting anywhere, playing ramshackle gigs to audiences who don’t care (yet anyway – by 1979 the Kinks will be one of the biggest bands in the States and all but ignore their home country for a decade or so). The riff to this song is as angular as the subject matter, the musical equivalent of a square peg being forced through a round hole and Dave, too, is removed from the world he sees around him (seeing life from a ‘moving train’ – a clever metaphor where real life becomes ‘blurred’ when you’re on tour). I’m not sure what the verse about being ‘arrested in ‘69’ is all about (Dave was arrested many times years before this but never in 1969 as far as I know) and why a clearly suffering, despondent Dave merely turns around and says ‘I’m oh so glad to be alive’ (perhaps a reader out there can fill me in? A clever song about identity, this track isn’t quite up to the standards of Dave’s superb ‘Strangers’ from ‘Lola Versus Powerman’ but is still a memorable piece, brightened up by an energetic vocal that belies much of the lethargy and frustration in the lyrics and a clever unexpected flute solo (un-credited on the sleeve but possibly by clarinet player Alan Holmes) that shows off how wide a range of styles Dave could pull off.
‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ is a classy Kinks song, their last top 20 hit until ‘Come Dancing’ in 1983, although it surprisingly struggled by comparison with the previous run of Kinks singles (‘Lola’ ‘Apeman’ and ‘20th Century Man’). Singing to a gentle calypso backing, this is ther Kinks version of Jefferson Starship’s ‘Blows Against The Empire’ where instead of stealing a spaceship meant for colonialisation and spreading hippie ethos throughout the universe The Kinks set their sights a little lower and simply abolish class rules. The song was inspired by Concords – big news back in 1972 – and the idea that big expensive aircraft was the ‘future’. Humanitarianist as always, Ray simply asks that in the future we don’t forget about the people who can’t afford to pay such excessive fares and pleads that ‘nobody has to be hip’ on his own utopian rocket: we’re all allowed for the ride, oblivious of race, gender, colour, creed or class. So far this is a novelty song, but Ray adds a real sighing middle eight (‘Too many people, side by side, got no place to hide’) and suddenly the stakes are higher: if mankind really is set out for the next great chapter into space then he needs to get a few things straight first - like over-population, inequality and injustice (otherwise he won’t be expanding, he’ll simply be swapping Earthly problems for more in space). A clever song, with a cute little guitar riff, an affected vocal from Ray that seems to be a Muswell Hill variation on Jamaican (!) and a clever arrangement (with oompah-ing horns that fit this track better than most on the record and Mick Avory whacking his cymbals in reverse to simulate supersonic speed) make for a very under-valued track. Unfortunately this version is arguably the lesser of the two that were produced – the one released as a single is slightly faster, features a more ‘normal’ vocal from Ray and has a much snappier, tighter, bouncier feel. Unfortunately the song also famously ‘lost’ its opening guitar strum after an engineer in the band’s new Konk studio accidentally deleted it and so it was ‘re-recorded’ to lesser results, with the ‘magic’ not quite so strong in the room (goodness knows why they didn’t simply re-record the opening and ‘edit’ this back on –that’s what The Who did when an engineer wiped the first 20 seconds of ‘Rael’ from ‘Who Sell Out’, even if it did make the song go a bit funny). It’s a shame, too, that Velvel didn’t add this version as a bonus track in their otherwise superb CD re-issues so we could compare the two (to date this version of the song is only available on CD on the rare ‘Celluloid Heroes’ compilation).
Has there ever been a sadder song than ‘Look A Little On The Sunny Side’. Ray Davies admits defeat on this song, accepts all the criticism people have been giving him for his new material and figures that, sooner or later, his career is over (he doesn’t know it here but The Kinks will run till 1995 and that’s without counting solo successes). The song repeats the hopeful chorus in ad finitum and there are plenty of lyrics talking about ‘sticking it to the critics’, but that’s not the message you take from the song: instead all the listener hears i hurt, pure and simple. Of course, this being Ray Davies, the whole song is accompanied not by the rock and roll, riff-filled catchy commercial number the critics are asking him to make but by a song that sounds like a Dixieland Jazz piece, with just horns and a tinkling piano. This sort of thing sounds terribly wrong now, but back in 1972 particularly (when music was all empty glam rock and tinsel) this sort of deep out-of-times track would have sounded especially wrong. In many ways this song is Ray Davies vow to go wherever the muse takes him and that at heart he is ‘convinced that he’s not wrong’ – but admitting at the same time that it’s a journey not all of his fans will want to follow. The fact that this song has a marvellously sighing minor key melody simply adds to the heartbreak of it all. Now all that is very clever, especially in the context of an album about looking for the ‘real’ Ray Davies and doing what your heart tells you, not your head. But the sad fact is that this song is just a tad too far removed from what the average Kinks will want. You can see why – in Ray’s head he’s lost this battle already and knows that no one will buy his records anyway so he might as well go all out and be self-indulgent. But at the end of the day its us who have to sit through this roaring twenties leftover and although this song is easy to admire, it’s hard to like or even sit through. One interesting thing that’s just occurred to me by the way: this album sold very poorly even by Kinks standards, but Ray won’t have known that when he wrote this song. Comparatively speaking The Kinks had quite a good time of it between 1970 and 71 thanks to the hit single ‘Lola’ – however it is true to say that sales had dropped off a little (‘20th Century Man’, for instance, was a minor hit rather than the smash single it really ought to have been). Is this Ray Davies’ response to the fear that The Kinks are going to have to endure a dry patch for the second time in their career?
The best of the album is saved to last with another song that should have been a giant hit, ‘Celluloid Heroes’. However its somehow fitting that this gorgeous, subtle song about failure should have been a poor seller on first release – and its somehow very Kinks that most fans consider it a classic nowadays that rivals their best. Ray wrote the song after a period living in Hollywood, just around the corner from the famous Hollywood Boulevard mentioned in the song and said later that the track more or less wrote itself based on the feelings and thoughts he had walking over the famous names and faces – and a few he didn’t recognise. Fascinated by the discovery that so many people in Hollywood were wannabe film stars who were working far more mundane jobs than they would have been at home in search of their dream inspired this poetic song. At first the song is a joke – we get every cliché we can find from the early film days, from Mickey Rooney smiling even though people stamp their feet across his face and George Sanders stylish to the end, even covered with rubbish strewn by passing tourists. However even here the song has depth, recognising that all the fame in the world couldn’t make Marilyn Monroe’s life a happy one and recognising that although on-screen she played characters of ‘steel’, she suffered in real life for being ‘flesh and blood’. Lyrically torn between tears and laughter, the song manages the clever trick of doing the same with the music, switching keys with the same regular beat which gives the image of hopping from one foot to another. Ray can’t separate the two because, for him, all life is a duality made up of dreams and nightmares, hope and disappointment, success and failure.
‘Celluloid Heroes’ starts by inviting the listener into the song, recognising that every street every in the world has ‘stars’ whether they glow brightly or their light is dimmed by pain difficulties and bad luck; however its only when this same verse is repeated in the middle that we get the full effect. Everybody is in show biz, everybody wants to make a difference, everybody wants to matter in their life – and some of us will make it and some of us won’t in exactly the same way stars come and go. By this time the song has built up quite a head of steam and it still has further to go, easing tension with a Hey Jude like singalong of shared fears and regrets before kicking into the chorus for one last time and then ending with the most beautiful and perfect coda. ‘I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood film show, a fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes, because celluloid heroes never feel any pain, and celluloid heroes never really die’. Real life is messy and nothing like as perfect as it is in the movies – imagination is so much better because no one gets hurt and everything is always put right at the end, with the right couples with each other and the villains dead in some pain-free sacrificial way. How very Kinks, juxtaposing the noble sacrifice in life without reward and the imaginary world where everything is always better and everything always makes sense (its not for nothing the BBC documentary about Ray Davies in 2010 was called ‘Imaginary Man’). Frankly, if you can get to the final verse without a tear in your eye then, well, either you have no imagination or you’re simply not human. Music at its powerful best, empathising with the listener over what a cruel world we sometimes live in and wanting to make it better.
The band themselves excel themselves with this number, which perfectly places every single note. Amazingly the band weren’t even expecting to record it the day this final take was put into place – they were meeting up with former Animals keyboardist Dave Rowberry to talk about some more long-term projects before Ray suddenly got the overwhelming urge that the time was right to record the song (Rowberry tagged along – that’s his basic but sensitive organ note you can hear right at the bottom of the mix). However its Ray’s dreamlike hazy vocal, so in the moment he’s audibly holding the tears back on mike, that just makes the song, living and breathing every note and pouring every ounce of sympathy and torment into it. Shamefully after all that work and magic the radio networks of the day turned round and refused to play the song, quoting its long length (6:21 – it’s a minute shorter than ‘Hey Jude’ incidentally and that still gets played endlessly today). Ray, probably correctly, refused to cut a note. However the song was a regular of the band’s setlist and there’s a particularly strong live version released on ‘One For The Road’ where the song is played slightly faster , starts with a fantastic guitar outburst from Dave (who names this song as one of his favourites in his autobiography) and a haunting swirling organ part that makes this song tough and brittle, without sacrificing its beauty. The studio original is hard to beat, however, and remains one of the most important Kinks songs of them all, however ignored it was at the time. When The Kinks got it right and brought all of their unique points together (fragility, rawness, subtlety and spirit) they got things very very right indeed.
Onto the live show now and its worth pointing out that we’ve already covered a handful of these songs already on our reviews for ‘Arthur’ and ‘Lola Versus Powerman’ (see the list of links below). We haven’t covered the five ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ songs yet, but we hope to properly in the future so what you’ll get for now is brief run-throughs of these songs rather than full analysis of them all. However all these live versions are different (some more than others thanks to the addition of horn parts) so it seemed a shame to skip them entirely.
‘Top Of The Pops’ (from ‘Lola’) is one of my favourites from that album, a damning attack not on the famous BBC music programme especially but the whole ‘starmaker’ concept. Perhaps remembering the change in people’s opinions when the band’s third single ‘You Really Got Me’ was released (everyone involved assumed it would be a failure and refused to record with the unknown band any more, before hastily changing their tune when it was a surprise hit), this song is as damning as they come. By the end of the song the narrator rock star is talking ‘theories about politics and religion’ with the music papers of the day and has been ‘invited to dinner by a prominent queen’ (either Royalty or a cross-dresser we’re not sure; after all that’s what ‘David Watts’ was secretly all about and ‘Lola’ rather more openly). This feisty live version of the song builds well on the slightly sloppy original studio take and shows off what a great band the Kinks were in this period, switching neatly between the song’s angular riff and the ‘new’ sweeping middle eight that instead of being a short instrumental becomes an elongated section comes with new words (‘I’m so high! Ten feet high! I’m in the clouds and I feel alright! Ready to fly! I don’t mind! I’m in the clouds and I feel alright!’) Dave’s guitar solo is particularly tough and swinging here, adding a toughness not heard in any of his performances on the studio half of the album. Indeed, the band here sound more like Who gigs of the period than most Kinks ones and I can’t give a higher compliment than that; undeniably the highlight of the live half of the record.
‘Brainwashed’ (from ‘Arthur’) is a surprise: I’ve always regarded it fondly but I’m in the minority (stuck on the album between the minor hit single ‘Drivin’ and the prog rock ‘Australia’ few fans even notice it’s there). I can’t say I’m that fond of this live version, though, which doubles the pace and adds the horn section at their most shrill and irritating. There’s a nasty twinkly Hammond organ part too which is simply terrible – this is a hard-hitting song about class warfare, not a quiz show! All that said, Ray Davies is on great form on what sounds like a terribly difficult song to sing and his vocals here are much easier to hear than those on ‘Arthur’. By the end of the song ‘the dirty rats and bureaucrats who make you what you are’ have won and the band (and the audience perhaps) are on their knees. Nice to hear this song getting it’s due after three years in the wilderness, but an odd choice for such a short running live album.
The Kinks certainly hadn’t released their cover of ‘Mr Wonderful’ before – in fact they probably never played it again after this night. Ray only manages to get a few lines in anyway, after pianist John Gosling and drummer Mick Avory seem to instinctively launch into the song (Dave doesn’t play – presumably he’s too busy watching open-mouthed at his brother doing his impression of Sammy Davis Jnr). The title song from a popular musical of 1955, it’s the last song you’d expect the Kinks to be doing on a live album, especially if you’ve come to this album straight from ‘You Really Got Me’ or the band’s noisy late 70s recordings.
‘Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues’ (from ‘Muswell Hillbillies’) is introduced here as a ‘really heavy number...so if you just can’t take it you can leave the building’; ray’s only half joking – this is at times a painfully accurate song about mental illness sung at varying times in the Kinks set lists as a comedy, a tragedy and a horror story. This frenetic, loose version is a little of all three, removed from the bleak austerity of the studio cut, while the horns really come into their own on a song they fit superbly. However there’s still something unsettling and slightly uncomfortable about this song, as Ray delves rather too well into the character of the paranoid obsessive who ‘can’t trust nobody – but is much too scared to be on his own’ and ultimately this live version of this song is too ragged compared to the ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ cut.
Actually what we wrote earlier about a ‘rare case of Kinks plagiarism’ might not be entirely true: have a listen to ‘Holiday’ (originally from ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ in 1971) back to back with Bob Dylan’s ‘Peggy Day’ (from Nashville Morning’ in 1970). The two could be twins! That nagging sense of familiarity is all that gets in the way of one of Ray’s funnier songs which finds the poor protagonist saving up his pennies every week for a year before splashing out for a disastrous holiday filled with bad weather, nasty smells, sunburn and polluted seas. The original studio version is bleak indeed, with the band never getting above a whisper and like much of the album the feel is one of mocking humour, with the joke on the poor narrator who really was ‘fooled’ by the common idea that a holiday would cure all his ailments, not add to them. This live version is much better, with Ray singing tongue-in-cheek and the band getting gradually more out-of-tune and drunk behind him (again the horns are a good fit for this sort of thing and really bring out the comedy in the song). Indeed ‘Holiday’ is rescued from being one of the worst studio recordings to one of the best live performances of the period and the song stayed in the setlist for years. I dread to think what the tourist boards of France and America thought of this song, though, what with Ray’s introduction telling us to ‘imagine ourselves on a beach in the South of France or Statten Island - with a beautiful person’!
Side four of the album starts with the title track of ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ which is another jokey song. While I love the idea of the Kinks re-branding themselves as a very low budget London equivalent of the romantic American West, the song doesn’t really have anywhere else to go and isn’t really one of my favourites. By and large this is another of that occasional lists of AAA country spoofs by bands who really don’t understand the genre (The Stones in particular were always bad at doing that) and isn’t as funny as it might have been, with a generic country melody that sounds like every other song on country radio stations. Ray Davies has too much talent for second-hand material like this and yet this rocking live version of the song does rescue it somewhat, with a bounce and energy the original version never had (like all the ‘MH’ tracks its somewhat sombre and austere on record). The one saving grace of the song is Ray’s demands that ‘they’ll never make me someone that I’m not’, admitting that even whilst the Kinks are re-branding themselves for the American market they vow never to lose their English values, with memories of his memorable demands in 1964 that he wouldn’t get his teeth fixed for television (because he was more concerned with being himself – a radical statement back then when everybody had the same perfect teeth and grins!)
‘Alcohol’ is perhaps the most radically re-worked song on the live half of this album. On the record this is a sad and angry morality tale whereby a businessman who had it all throws it all away under the clutches of the ‘ole demon alcohol’. Had the prohibitionist era had a theme song it couldn’t have been bleaker or more poignant than this. Realising, perhaps, that the song wouldn’t work on stage near the end of a set that featured Ray Davies at the peak of his drinking years (balancing beer cans on his head), the band go for all-out comedy. Ray gets more and more sloshed as the song goes on, even deliberately tripping up over some of the words (‘He beat up his life and messed up his wife’) and the backing band get more and more out of tune (again the horn parts really make this song, even mimicking the ‘tequila’ riff after Ray mentions the word). The star of the record though is John Gosling whose organ playing manages to give a gospel lament to the song whilst joining in the comedy, speeding up and slowing down with great skill. The highlight, though is Ray’s false ending, punctuated by a demented horn solo (‘Hmm, easy with the trombone there!’) The song certainly loses much of its emotional angst in this version but it’s much more enjoyable to listen to, even for a committed tee-totaller like myself.
Next up is ‘The Banana Boat Song’ – amazingly not even close to the strangest cover The Kinks do on this album, unexpected as it undeniably is. I read a statistic somewhere that said that this song was the most performed song of any Kinks concert after ‘You Really Got Me’ – although in truth Ray never usually gets further than this trademark ‘deh-oh!’ call (which gives the audience a great excuse to answer back). The trick works so well at Carnegie Hall – and the trademark is so well ensconced by this time amongst fans – that the audience simply keeps going, forcing Ray to kick back into the full song. Ray’s impression of Harry Belafonte hasn’t aged well down the years (and goodness only knows what he was trying to sing with the last line, which sounds like Brian Blessed being run over with a tractor) but it’s a fun interlude and a nice bit of Kinks history, given that we almost never heard the full song back then!
‘Skin and Bone’ is the last and weakest song taken from ‘Muswell Hillbillies’. Again the original studio version of this song is quite different, a morality tale whereby a slightly portly woman named Annie whose the life and soul of the party is urged to take an extreme diet. By the end of it she’s so thin her friends can’t see her, she loses her confidence and all her friends desert her (‘She used to be so cuddly, she used to be so fat, but oh what a sin, she’s oh so thin, and she lost all the friends that she had!’ in one of Ray’s cleverest and most succinct story-telling choruses). Unfortunately the power of the original version is rather lost on stage where the whole thing is turned into another ‘joke’. Curiously ‘Alcohol’ was even sadder and yet somehow that worked being re-made into a comedy number, perhaps because the narrator was nameless and only really sketched in. ‘Fat flab Annie’ sounds like a real person with feeling and it’s something of a shame to hear her story be reeled off in such a light manner, with the song even veering into the traditional number ‘Dem Bones’ by the end. It is fun to hear Ray trying to get the whole audience to join him in doing ‘their daily exercises’ though – I wonder how many of them did!
‘Baby Face’, a famous song from 1926, seems to have been something of a magnet for rock and roll covers (the other AAA version is Paul McCartney’s, as featured in the originally unreleased ‘One Hand Clapping’ film now officially released as part of the ‘band On The Run Deluxe Edition’ box set). Ray’s at his campest here, squealing his vocal out and competing with the brass section for who can be the loudest. Sadly the song breaks down before it gets too far, although there is time to hear Ray’s tongue-in-cheek impression of the opening monologue (‘I never knew why I loved you so much, maybe it’s the way you look at me when you get up in the mornings...’) and a good time is had by all by the sound of it. Eccentric, to say the least, filling up another precious two minutes where a fully fledged Kinks Klassik could have gone - but then that’s The Kinks for you, we really wouldn’t want them any other way. Erm, honest.
‘Lola’ is probably a joke too far however: back in 1972 this was The Kinks’ most famous song, a mere two years old and the song in the setlist that everyone who wasn’t a raving passionate fan wanted to hear. Chances are a lot of copies of this album were sold merely because the album sleeve lists this song in the running order. However, all fans get is the chance to hear the audience singing along to the finale, before the band cut back into the song and end it properly. That’s it: there’s no lyrics other than ‘Lola...Lo-Lo-=Lo-Lo-Lola’ and if things were being done fairly then really everyone singing along should have received a writing credit (although that’s one heck of a lot of names to fit on the record sleeve!) because frankly they have a lot more to do with this paltry version than The Kinks do. What’s wrong with putting the whole song on the album? Is this a statement? Another reference to the true tribulations of touring? It surely can’t be for space reasons can it? (This is a very short-running double album at 69 minutes, the second shortest in AAA history as far as I can tell - The Kinks’ ‘Preservation 2’ is the shortest at 66 minutes by the way - and the three ‘filler’ trad songs take up five minutes between them). A real shame that there isn’t at least one well known song here!
Overall, then, what we have here is another patchy Kinks concept album where the gap between the highs (‘Celluloid Heroes’ ‘Sitting In My Hotel’ ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ and the live version of ‘Top Of The Pops) and lows (‘Maximum Consumption’ ‘Baby Face’ ‘Mr Wonderful’ and the live ‘Lola’) are even bigger than usual. To be fair, the concept is only half-baked not because the band stopped trying but because their big vision of a multimedia project was cut down to smithereens – sadly none of the footage of the 1972 tour has leaked yet but if its anything like the TV adaptation of ‘A Soap Opera’ or the stage-show versions of ‘Preservation’ and ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ are anything to go by then we need the visuals to fully understand and appreciate the music. I really do hope that one day there’ll be a deluxe re-issue of this album with the programme intact and then a lot of the material we have here will make more sense. Inevitably, though, a soundtrack album to a film you’ve never seen is never going to be as great as a ‘normal’ record – but then what is a normal record for The Kinks in this period? I love this band’s adventurous, pioneering, no-holds-barred side even if it does mean that we have to sit through lots of silly ‘plot’ songs for the sake of a handful of gorgeous classics. ‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ is perhaps the ultimate Kinks LP because that gap is so wide and has so many songs and segues that no other band would thinking of putting on a mainstream rock LP –and yet at the same time few other bands would have the talent, the subtlety and the magic to sculpt a song like ‘Celluloid Heroes’. It’s a real fan record, this one, an under-rated record that couldn’t have been less like the other records of the day it competed with and yet the best of it ends up being as timeless as any music ever made. Like celluloid heroes, musical heroes never really die either.