Monday 14 December 2015

Pink Floyd "Dark Side Of The Moon" (1973)

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Pink Floyd "The Dark Side Of The Moon" (1973)

Speak To Me/Breathe/On The Run/Time/The Great Gig In The Sky//Money/Us and Them/Any Colour You Like/Brain Damage/Eclipse

(Dark Side of the Singing Dog):

....I work for the AAA, so you know I've been mad, of course I've been mad for years........

....It's very hard to explain why you have a top hat but I've had it for years.....

...Live for tomorrow, gone for today, that's me...............

...No I'm not frightened of writing, any review will do, I don't mind. I mean you've got to write sometime, as long as it's not Spice Girls - there's no reason for it...

...Absolutely I was right, David Cameron, Pig man, was cruising for a bruising...

....I don't know, our other AAA mascot Bingo was really drunk at the time.....

...Good manners don't cost nothing, unless you're a politician, eh?......

...There is no dark side of the top hat. Matter of fact it's all dark....and what makes it light is the lack of stuffing in my head

...And everything under the sun is in tune, as Pink Floyd become eclipsed by the 'Moon'...

One of the few things all the members of Pink Floyd have agreed on is that they were all caught by surprise by how big a success this monster-selling album became. However one of the few other things the band all agree on is that they thought this album was rather special when they were making it, so perhaps no one should have been all that surprised. After all, this is a band who thought even the masterpiece of psychedelia 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' wasn't all that much and rated their later albums 'Ummagumma' and 'Atom Heart Mother' as disgraceful rather than mixed albums possessing a certain period charm (sample Roger Waters quote: 'If someone offered me a million pounds and asked me to play 'Atom Heart' again I'd must be fucking joking!') The fact that  all four of the perfectionists involved in the making of it thought they had made their best album yet ought to have been another sign. Perhaps, though, the Floyd were simply confused over how easily this record came together, without any of the usual angst that had greeted the writing, recording and packaging of every album they'd made since Syd left the band - and which will, pretty much, sum up the making of all six of the album's sequels, none of which were ever quite as united or spirited again. Great art came from struggle, didn't it? From personality clashes, record company interference and diluting ideas for public consumption? This album was such an easy and peaceful album to make, with all four band members pulling together roughly in harmony, that it couldn't possibly be as god as they thought, could it? Surely an album that opens with a sound collage, includes three instrumentals (more than any non-soundtrack Floyd album - we'll give 'Several Species Of Small Furry Animals' a nod as an actual 'song' for now...), multiple sound effects and covers such subjects as death, madness and paranoia could never be a big seller - could it?

The answer of course was yes and in a big way. Apart from the Beatles compilation '1' this is the best selling AAA album of all time, with a still unbeaten unbroken run of 741 weeks in the UK top 200 albums chart - that's fifteen whole years (most records nowadays can't last a month!) EMI were always good at their marketing and promotion and the Floyd were keen to tour the album, both before and after it' release (a key and overlooked part of its success actually, giving the band the chance to drop and alter some half-hearted ideas while working steadily on what seemed to be having most resonance with their audiences). However for an album to sell that well for so long, there's clearly something bigger going on here. 'Dark Side', you see, might well be the ultimate 'word of mouth' album: fans leant copies to friends and families as the first Floyd record they didn't have to make allowances for (self-indulgences like singing dogs and psychedelic breakfasts, that sort of thing), big brothers passed it onto their siblings as a way of teaching them about 'life', stereo aficionados passed it onto others so they could wallow in the production and sound effects (many people only upgraded to CD when 'Dark Side' came out...) 'Dark Side' was lucky in that it caught the public mood of 1973 - the zenith of prog rock - perfectly, with its futuristic synth sound effects just far enough into the future to be exciting and album packaging that combined four of the most guaranteed sellers of the first half of the 1970s anyway: space, science, shapes (the prism) and ancient history (the Egyptian pyramids on the inner sleeve poster - the band could have played this aspect up a bit more in fact). However it's an album that did its homework too: unlike some big selling albums that appeal most to a particular generation at a particular point in time ('Sgt Peppers' 'Tommy', maybe even 'The Wall' come to that...), 'Dark Side' chooses it's subject matter with care: these aren't the worries and fears of a generation but the worries and fears of the human race, going back to time immemorial. Our ancestors and our future offspring a million years ago and in our future might have to use Googleyahooaskjeevesbing (there'll inevitably be a merger) to translate why 'the lunatic is on the grass' is so funny for a generation brought up on 1960s drug references, but they'll understand the lines about the pressures of time, mortality and money all right. And even if the bartering is with leaves or the immediate worry of death is solved by a genetic code that allows us to regenerate, 'Dark Side' will remain an important document as perhaps the most important album for future historians trying to understand what living in the 20th century was like. Ironically for an album that so heavily revolves around the concept of time (how soon do we get rich? When will it be taken away when we die? Will our race/creed/civilisation conquer the others in time?) the main reason 'Dark Side' sold so well compared to other albums (especially Floyd albums) is that it exists out of time to some extent, with even a production so 'new' it doesn't quite sound like anything else out there.

It is, though, the concept that makes 'Dark Side' such an important work. Legend had it that the band were fleshing out ideas for their new album at drummer Nick Mason's house, partly to see a new kitchen he'd just installed. Always one for a concept, Pink Floyd had made a career for themselves making grand concepts sound bigger, without being restricted by time. 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Echoes' between them had proved the band could do extended concept pieces and both had been well received at the time with their fanbase (though no one's quite sure why in the case of the first one...) However the 'other' half of the album always seemed to suffer, being a collection of un-connected tracks that either over-powered or were in turn over-powered by the side long suites. The step to making a full album of interlinked songs rather than a suite of parts is a small but significant one that was always going to appeal to a band who liked to think 'big'. The actual kernel of the piece came from Roger's suggestion that they write a series of songs about what happened to their founder leader Syd, who after rallying in 1970 had clearly left the music business - and society - for good by 1973. The band had been too busy to mourn properly and even helping their friend on his two solo albums hadn't really helped the guilt. They were also sick of the press asking them where Syd had gone and when he would be coming back, so decided to make 'Dark Side' a tribute album for someone they were only just realising had gone and by trying to come to terms themselves with what had happened to make the brightest spark of 1967 a shadow of his former glory. Dark Side changed along the way to a more varied account of the pressures of living in the modern world - Syd, for instance, cared very little for 'Money' and his songs were mainly involved with looking backwards to childhood than forward to death - but Syd still looms large on this record, the 'madness' that chief lyricist Roger feared might one day take him too (some might argue after listening to his opera 'Ca Ira' that it already has; the pair were more similar than people realise by the way, a lot of Roger's 'Syd' songs are about 'there but for the grace of what God wants go I', rather than 'this is what happened to my friend'). It's fascinating to me that both 'Wish You Were Here' and 'The Wall' will both end up with the same starting point, though taking the idea in different directions (the theme of absence and the barriers built up around the Syd-like rockstar Pink respectively), perhaps as a lucky talisman or out of giving the audience what they want - but also, perhaps, because it 'feels' like the story the Floyd were sent to tell us - opening up about the one event that scarred and shaped their band more than any other, which no other band of the 1960s really had (though Love could make a case for Arthur Lee I suppose).

We've forgotten about it slightly through familiarity, but the record's title and the closing two tracks of this record are both about madness - and about 'real' madness, not the comedy sort beloved by love-struck 50s and 60s teenagers. This is completely against the grain of anything else released in 1973 (when madness was music's cardinal taboo after writing about old age - which funnily enough is on here too) and yet also chimed with a public of 1973 who had slightly lost the arrogance of hippie hope and were beginning to think the world was mad anyway, with endless wars and capitalist crusading. If ever a record captured that feeling of being lost in a dead-end it was the Floyd, but unlike previous albums which tended to end in melancholy, scares or marmalade-enhanced breakfasts, the finale 'Eclipse' added to the album at the last minute is perhaps the most powerful Floyd song: on one layer it tells us that nothing we ever do can matter because we're only a small speck of insignificance, but on another level in context with that groundswell of music rising up like never before it's now a shared experience, a rare Floyd communal singalong where we're all in this together. After an album's worth of songs largely about division - class, status, age, 'us and them' - finally we get to feel part of something bigger than ourselves, united by our shared experiences even if they were from different ages, races and perspectives. 'Dark Side' really touches into something here which hadn't really been touched on before, shared sub-consciously by everyone with enough of a 'brain' and 'heart' to worry about their and their loved one's future (which ought to lead neatly on to a discussion of how well 'Dark Side' slots in with the film 'Wizard Of Oz' when both are played at the same time - although I haven't got the 'nerve', in both meanings of the word. And I still say this record works better when watched in tandem with the Monkees film 'Head').

The other songs about what lead up to this finale work so well because they both feel like they are leading up to this inevitable point (via the technicolour musical breakdown of 'Any Colour You Like') and work well in separation. 'Breathe' is the album overture that every concept album wants to have, a reminder to enjoy life while it's there and to live it, which might well be the most warm-blooded lyric that Waters ever wrote (usually he's at his best sarcastically flailing against the failing system, but this is a rare song that has him remembering why getting that system right means so much to him). 'On The Run' is the inevitable result of a band who loved playing with concepts and ideas let loose with a state of the art synthesiser (you can see that Roger is settling in for what looks like hours of experiment in the 'Dark Side' recording snippets seen in the 'Live At Pompeii' film), always said to be about fear of accidents whilst travelling, although it sounds more like good old fashioned Floyd paranoia to me. 'Time' is gorgeous, the sound of a man about to turn thirty whose been told the whole of his life to prepare for something across school and college that never actually came (it's a theme common to several other AAA bands and though being in a band makes most writers use their friends as subject matter, this song works because Roger makes it clear he's criticising himself as much as anyone). 'Is this is it?' is effectively the running theme of this whole album but particularly this one song. Rick's 'The Great Gig In The Sky' is the song that changed the most from first rehearsal to final recording, originally pencilled in as 'religion' before the gospel flavour Rick used reminded him more of death, even if guest singer Clare Torry probably had more to do with shaping the song than Wright did. 'Money' is the hit single every hit album needs to have, even if it took until as late as 1981 for it to be released as such (and then it was the inferior re-recording released on 'A Collection Of Great Dance Songs'!) Beginning life as a blues lament, turning into a tour de force rock song in the middle as money gets it's addictive hold on the narrator, it's a lecture posing as a rock masterclass. Best of all is 'Us and Them', the last of three collaborations between polar opposites Roger and Rick that unites Waters' bluntness and Wright's subtlety to great effect, especially when matched with Gilmour's greatest ever vocal, sighing over and yet slightly removed from a world of petty divisions caused by other people who can't see the bigger picture. Based around a piano piece rejected from the 'Zabriskie Point' soundtrack, it feels like the band's 'theme song' even though plenty more in their canon are better known: live and let live has always been the Floyd's philosophy from the beginning (underwear thief Arnold Layne would be the figure of fun or the villain in most band's songs, but to Syd he sounds like a fascinating character he quite admires), even to the extent of haranguing British and American foreign policy on 'Final Cut' and 'Amused To Death', not to mention 'The Division Bell' but it's never been better addressed than in this gorgeous song.

One other major factor in this album's popularity is that it manages to be both gloriously daring and ear-catchingly commercial. In the former camp, it's not just the theme or the songs that are so gloriously unique but the way this record is put together. The spoken words that dart in between the songs, which could have been handled so badly, instead add yet another layer on top of this album. Roger may be using his most poetic words yet, but he's only really saying what other human beings have been saying and using other voices to express those themes too. On earlier albums that needed a bit of something extra he would have simply asked Nick to oblige (that's him promising to cut us into little pieces on the last 'proper' Floyd album Meddle for instance - friendly chap). On later albums you suspect Roger would have shipped in special guest stars at vast expense to read out carefully prepared cue cards ('The Wall', another deeply personal album made universal, loses a little of its lustre and sounds more ordinary every-time we hear it sung by someone outside the band I think). Thankfully common sense prevails and instead he prepared a series of questions relating to each of the subjects heard on this album, which he held up silently to everyone in close approximation at Abbey Road  late on in the recording stage of the album, with every response recorded 'for real' without any scripts or aids (the voice everyone remembers is Abbey Road door man Jerry Driscoll' who answered the question if he was afraid of dying with 'no, you've got to go sometime...' and contributes the philosophical closing speech 'There's no dark side of the moon at all really, matter of fact it's all dark...' What he actually went on to say, scientifically accurately, was '...and what makes it light is the sun' but the band, sensing a great comment on how all life is mad chopped his speech in two. Elsewhere one Floyd roadie Roger 'The Hat' Manifold warns about a 'short sharp shock' and offers the profound 'live for today, gone for tomorrow, that's me'; roadie Chris Adamson is the one whose 'been mad for fucking years' - Roger's knowing laugh suggests that he's noticed!; band manager Peter Watts was interviewed but the only sample used was his heavy laugh near the beginning and end of the record; that's his wife Patricia who turned up with him that day talking about a fight she go into 'where this geezer was cruising for a bruising'; that's Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, busy at work on the album 'Red Rose Speedway' next door, who contributes 'I don't know but I was really drunk at the time' - the only place where fans can hear what his irish brogue actually sounds like as he wasn't with the band very long; Paul and Linda McCartney were both reportedly interviewed but were considered too 'cagey' and practised at dodging hard questions to be used - sadly neither Denny Laine nor drummer Denny Seiwell seem to have been asked). I'd love to know if these tapes still exist complete (the Floyd were one of the better bands for keeping everything, as the 'Dark Side' Immersion box set demonstrates) as they'd make the (atom heart) mother of all CD extras one day). The use of voices adds humanity - something so often missing from other Floyd albums more concerned with the abstract or themes of isolation - which gives a stronger human heartbeat behind the words, taking it out of the abstract and closer to the 'real world'.

The heartbeat is also, of course, what opens the album (and can be 'seen' pulsing in Dark Side's inner sleeve) and a throwback to the 'Zabriskie Point' instrumental 'Heartbeat Pigmeat' (David Cameron's new favourite song!) Along with all the other sound effects on the album it's brilliantly managed by engineer Alan Parsons, who really deserved a bigger album credit bit did at least launch his own successful music career of the back of this record. The production is one of the things that really stands out across this album, which sounds more 'adult' and polished than the rather un-discplined and messy Floyd ever really had before and yet doesn't sound in anyway slick or unauthentic. With the best engineered records, there's a place for everything and everything is in its place, but there's always the hint of the different compartments being juggled, that the music is always trying to spill out from its boxes and joins another. 'Us and Them' is a good example of engineering at its finest: Rick's organ pulses life at the heart of the mix echoing the heartbeat from earlier, the echo adds even more distance to what Gilmour's trying to say (though Parson's original rejected 1972 mix without this echo as heard on the 'Immersion' set is even better I think), the gospel female quartet warble away but in the background as colour rather than as the main show, the greatest saxophone part ever cools its heels at the start of the song waiting for the action to begin, the vocals drift in and out at precisely the right millisecond and everything seems still and pristine - until the agonising 'second section' destroys it all in an instant, Dave and Rick releasing the fury they've been keeping in check for the rest of the record. 
Every song on the record benefits from this extra attention to detail though, being busy but never cluttered, with the space-age synths of 'On The Run' strikingly less embarrassing than similar uses on similar albums of the period. Though the band, Roger especially, have always backtracked on just how much work Parsons did on the album (and it has to be said that none of his other early album mixes come close to the released versions' level) it also speaks volumes that no other Floyd record, even 'Wish You Were Here', comes close to matching the pure clarity and warmth of this album.
Floyd designers Hipgnosis, too, play their part on an album cover that has rightly become one of the most celebrated in rock and roll. On the one hand this is purely commercial: it's bold black background really made it stand out in a year of glam rock and colourful sleeves, while the way the inner and outer gatefold sleeves joined up as one continual whole was perfect for shop displays. On another it adds so much to the allure and mystery of the album, which melds scientific principle with heavy symbolism, a 'real' world from a slightly different perspective (which also happens to missing the colour 'Indigo', for the ease of design rather than any symbolic reason; it's a real shame that 'Pink' isn't a primal colour and it would have been perfect!) In a neat mirror of the record's contents (which everyone loved, but weren't sure would sell), Hipgnosis actually went along with a whole block of ideas, but found the band in another rare unified mood as they all simultaneously chose the same image before going back to work - even though all four admitted later they weren't sure if the public would 'get' the design. It's clearly one of Hipgnosis' best and now one of the most famous images in the world - and yet what's interesting in retrospect is how little it has to do with any of the album's themes (madness, paranoia, travel, mortality, money) or even the more obvious design of the 'heartbeat' incorporated into the inner gatefold sleeve. Like many a Hipgnosis sleeve though, it's hard now to imagine the record coming with any other picture - the two go together so well nowadays.
Not that the praise for 'Dark Side' belongs to any one individual. We've so far referred to Roger most across this album because he is, for the first time, the band's sole lyricist across the album and most of the ideas are his (only three tracks don't bear his name and he's said to have had more than a hand in both the collage style 'Speak To Me' - 'a gift' to Nick who was getting less credits than the others - and the instrumental 'Any Colour You Like'). However this is the one Floyd record where everyone shines more or less equally. By now Roger has grown to think of David Gilmour as less of a rival and more of an interpreter, handing all of 'his' songs except the album finale over to his colleague to sing. Gilmour is a variable singer, but when he understands and believes in the material, as here, he is a truly gifted vocalist adding a warmth that Roger's more acerbic vocals could never hope to add (it's interesting, actually, that he wasn't given the communal singalong 'Eclipse' to sing as well, though only Roger could have performed the slyer 'Brain Damage' I suspect; 'Money' too feels more like a 'Roger' song though Gilmour sings it with just the right shoulder shrug here). 'Breathe' 'Time' and 'Us and Them' all reflect David's best work and though he admitted later he helped shape rather than create the songs (adding the sudden switch to 4/4 that makes 'Money' work so well for instance) he still picks up four album credits. Rick gets his last real hurrahs with the band until 1994, adding some gorgeous harmonies across the album and, unusually, the harder heavier part on 'Time' and 'Us and Them' (as if to say when even the gentle Rick's been riled by something happening in the world then you know it's serious!) The most 'emotional' of the three Floyd composers, his two main songs for the album ('Great Gig' and 'Us and Them') are also the two most beautiful, sad and weary reflections on the cruelty of the world which makes for a great foil to Waters' intelligence and Gilmour's melody. Nick, credited with at least the idea of the opening sound collage, also raises his game for this album by adapting his style to so many different genres and playing with around 90% of the intensity of before (which is still pretty intense but not quite so central to the arrangements - a hard thing to pull off). You have to be a great drummer to pull off the switch in tempo in the middle of 'Money' convincingly, never mind the semi-improvised chaos of 'Any Colour You Like'.

In other words, this is the best Pink Floyd band album - because it's the only real Pink Floyd band recording (that isn't a film soundtrack album anyway). Rather than competing for the lead role spot after the loss of Syd Barrett things have calmed down in the Floyd universe so they can each get along with bringing their own particular style to the table: Roger's lyrics, Rick's melodies, Nick's drumming and Dave's singing make for a very powerful recipe which is never heard across such an extended run of songs again. Usually I have a real disliking for majorly successful albums: 'Pet Sounds' for instance is a let-down sandwiched between 'Beach Boys Today' and 'Smile', 'Imagine' and 'Band On The Run' are only two of many similarly great Lennon/McCartney records no better or worse than the rest and even this album's sequel 'Wish You Were Here' is only half a masterpiece, not the single greatest album ever released by mankind as so many people seem to think. It's also worth pointing out that even this album isn't perfect: more could have been made of the 'Speak To Me' opening which teases with so many bits to come but doesn't really excite, 'On The Run' feels out of place with the rest of the album and sounds like a weak digital copy of the gloriously 'real' paranoia instrumental 'Careful With That Axe Eugene', while three instrumentals compared to only six actual 'songs' doesn't feel like quite enough somehow. There are individual twenty minute 'sides' of other Pink Floyd albums I prefer more than either of these: the pastoral beauty of nature and breakfast that is side two of 'Atom Heart Mother', side three of 'The Wall' for instance (the one packed with all the 'humane' songs like 'Hey You' 'Is There Anybody Out There?' 'Nobody Home' and 'Comfortably Numb') and the entire side-long 'Echoes' from 1971's 'Meddle', which sounds like the entire theme of 'Dark Side' squashed into a single song and inflated again with one of the greatest instrumental workouts in the AAA lexicon ('Any Colour You Like', though still strong, just isn't quite as inspired by comparison). However 'Dark Side' isn't one of those records that simply gets lucky mirroring a time or place so well (I'm looking at you 'Graceland'!), which had a lucky hit single everyone had to buy before they realised the album wasn't much cop ('Thriller') or appealed to the single lowest common denominator as a means of fooling people into parting with their cash (every Spice Girls record ever!) It's also an album that's daring, that's inventive, that isn't afraid to make mistakes - but then for the most part doesn't make them anyway. Unlike some other million sellers, Dark Side feels most of all as if it still tells 'the truth' and all the pretty bits that go on in between merely help tell the story of what's left unsaid on the spaces between.

No other Floyd record feels quite as important as 'Dark Side', which is one of the few records around that ticks all the boxes: originality, commerciality, the songs, the recording, the production, the musicianship, the ideas and the cover, all in one neat little package. 'Dark Side' sounds like an album that a band went through hell to make - that it came together only after dark nights of the soul and un-negotiable schisms. Actually part of its brilliance is that 'Dark Side' is the only Floyd album to have all the band members - and designers and engineers - pointing the same way, prepared to find unity on an album that everyone, even Roger, can be agreed is bigger than all of them. 'Dark Side' may be named after a celestial body, but it's one of the  greatest albums ever made about what it really means to share a world together, suffused with just enough emotion, rock songs, ground-breaking effects and long-lasting images to prevent it from seeming like a dull school lesson. It's 99% of the way to making the perfect record about what it means to be human (which is The Beach Boys' 'Smile', by the way, in case you're asking) - which of course means that it's perfect, because of course the perfect record about humanity could never be perfect. There is no one factor for the success of 'Dark Side Of The Moon' really - as a matter of fact it's all dark (and serious), but what makes it light is one of the greatest productions and some of the greatest uplifting arrangements of the Floyd canon.

'Speak To Me' is a minute long collage of sound effects that will go on to play a future role on this album ('Money' cash registers, ticking clocks from 'Time', the screams from 'Great Gig In The Sky', the synths from 'On The Run' and Jerry Driscoll's 'dark side' comments) heard over a simple heartbeat thud, slower and closer to the natural human heartbeat tempo than the one from 'Heartbeat Pigmeat'. It's an ear-catching scene setter that's like one of those 'coming soon...' trailers they so love on TV nowadays though it would have been quite inventive at the time and sets up the album better than simply leaping headlong into the opening track would have been. Decided on more or less from the first when the album was discussed, the official credits credit this song to Nick Mason, though one of the first things Roger did after the 1980s Floyd fall-out was reclaiming this track as his own idea claiming it was 'a gift' he could afford to give away with so many other credits on the album and that he 'regretted it' later when Nick stuck by Dave in the Floyd wars. Some CDs index this as the 'same' track as 'Breathe'...

Fading in from the sudden climactic rush of Clare Torry at full pelt, 'Breathe' is one of Roger's sweetest songs beaten into shape melodically by Dave and Rick. It's one of two songs from this album that dates back years, back to the 1970 release 'Music From The Body' by Roger and collaborator Ron Geesin. There 'Breathe In The Air' was a sweet folky song about getting back to nature, in common with the pastoral Floyd of 'Ummagumma' and 'Atom Heart Mother'. Here it's bigger in size and nature while hinting at the loneliness and separation of 'The Wall' - 'Breathe in the air, don't be afraid to care', the only couplet that runs in both songs, is one of Roger's best and the main message of this album: to enjoy the simple fact of living without all the obstacles life has to throw at you along the way. Back on the original Roger quickly turned the concept into one of his 'list' songs ('brick upon brick, stone upon stone...') and clearly felt that he didn't quite nail what he wanted to say. However here too he stumbles after the opening lines, none of which quite live up to the opening, although who hasn't sympathised with the verse about digging holes instead of enjoying the sunshine ('don't sit down, it's time to build another one'). The music, though, is a major improvement, with Gilmour's lovely warm double-tracked vocals and double-tracked slide guitar the perfect bedding over which the song can relax and unwind, twinned with typical Floydian melancholy. Even Rick's gospel organ part which adds extra oomph to the second half of the song can't ruin the song's pure joy at being alive. Roger's warnings about heading towards an 'early grave' sound a world away though and, most brilliantly, the song lasts almost a full minute simply enjoying the gorgeous chord structure before the lyrics come in, revelling in simply existing.

Of course, it can't last. In one of the better segues on this album, the slow sleepy chords of 'Breathe' try to fall back on the relaxing final ponderous note but is instead rudely awakened by what must by 1973 standards have been the distinctly alien and futuristic sounding synthesiser of 'On The Run'. You can see Roger playing around with this on the 'Live At Pompeii' concert film where he's clearly close to creating the backing track but his main synthesiser bleeps are louder, 'carrying' the tune more conventionally than the final version, which is more of a cue for sound effects, spoken word, manic laughter and Gilmour's screeching guitar. Though the Floyd have used similar technology before  (the concept of machines playing music is already closely related enough to the band for them to be asked about in 'Pompeii', much to Roger's obvious disgust) and have done paranoid before, they'd never done it quite like this. 'Eugene' and it's variants are creepy precisely because they're so slow your head is always playing with what comes 'next', but on this far more modern song you just can't keep up - there's a manic Mason drumbeat that's relentless (there's a case to be made this track invents the whole 1980s-1990 style of digital drum backings, but I won't hold that against the song) and so much going on to catch the ear, like being stuck on a bucking bronco that just won't let go. Usually this song is said to refer to the fear of accidents while travelling - lots of rock bands, including some AAA ones, had accidents in the back of group vans travelling to and from gigs and back then travelling up and down the country and though nothing did ever happen to the Floyd they'd have worked with roadies and socialised with people from other bands who had. The opening tannoy dialogue in the distance, made deliberately hard to hear although the mode of transport does seem to be travelling from 'Los Angeles', sounds like some high and mighty voice compelling the hapless narrator onwards to his death, while his fast footsteps and heavy breathing suggest he's late for departure. I'm convinced, though, from the title alone that Roger (the song's chief creator, though Dave gets a credit too) also had the good old fashioned Floyd subject of paranoia in mind here, with the feeling not so much that you're about to miss something about to leave so much as that there's something behind you about to get you if you stop. In that sense 'On The Run' fits the album's theme of people trying to disrupt what your life should be with a list of rules and instructions, but otherwise it has to be said that this track doesn't really fit the rest of the album. Claustrophobic in the extreme, it's hard to know what to make of 'On The Run' because there's never been another track like it - 'Welcome To The Machine' on next album 'Wish You Were Here' uses much of the same technology but to create an actual 'song' - this is one of those filler Floyd instrumentals, but played on such ground breaking technology that it still sounds like a 'big' statement even now. Once a piece of music that people proudly showed off their new stereos too, by the 1990s it had become a song set to footage of a giant flying bed that crashed into flames on stage for 'real' by the end of the song. Here the whole song is genuinely scary rather than an advert for Ikea gone wrong, with the final crash into smoke and carnage rolling on into several fireballs if you turn the fade of the song up loudly enough (warning: the opening chimes of next song 'Time', recorded in a genuine shop selling genuine clocks by Alan Parsons as a stereo 'test' project long before working on the album, will blow your ears off if you're not quick enough to put the levels back to 'normal' again!)

'Time' is one of the truly great songs on the album, the closest thing to a full Floyd collaboration that's an actual 'song' rather than a piece of film soundtrack fodder. All the band excel here. Nick's opening roto-tom drum riff (already used on 'Childhood's End' from last LP 'Obscured By Clouds' but working even better here) is immediately compelling, as are his scattered improvised tom toms over the top, the sound of a man desperately trying to break loose his bonds and do things his way. The song spends a full 2:20 here, which is shockingly daring for an album considered as mainstream as 'Dark Side' and would have fallen apart badly had the five minute song that follows been disappointing. But it isn't: Roger's words are among his greatest of all, conveying his realisation at the fact that human beings only have a limited space to do everything they need to do and his frustration that he's wasted and been made to waste so much time doing such mundane things. Remembering life before the Floyd, Roger recalls years 'waiting for something or someone to show you the way' - a common thought for anyone whose ever been through the British schooling system, where you're told what to think and what to do for so long you've rather forgotten how to think for yourself. In 'Time' Roger sees a world of people like himself, stuck 'kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town', sure there's something worth reaching out for, but not sure where to find it. Later lines about how 'no one told you when to run - you missed the starting gun' suggest that he's learnt sadly and eventually that there is no one to tell him how to live his life or steer it in anyway, because there's no one else on this planet except fellow human beings, none of whom have a clue. The song is urgent and blistering, Gilmour excelling with a rough vocal just the right side of gritty, while his guitar solo is immense, fat and heavy with unspoken feelings and the equal even of his more celebrated solo on 'Comfortably Numb'. Rick, too, excels as the yin to David's yang, his gorgeous voice perfect for lines about 'lying supine in the sunshine' and trying to live out the advice given to us on 'Breathe', of ignoring pressures and simply enjoying life. Only this method doesn't work either: 'One day you find ten years have got behind you...', gone in the blink of an eye, never to return. 'Time' spends the whole song flitting between these two extremes but can't find a way out, the narrator realising that all he's got for his extra years is a body 'shorter of breath - and one day closer to death!' The last verse has rightly become celebrated as one of Roger's best: Rick sings of 'hanging on in quiet desperation being the English way', a line actually  modified from American poet Henry David Thoreau and 'Anglicised', is the perfect line for the Floyd (while the Kinks were the most English-orientated of AAA bands in terms of subject matter, the Floyd are closest to the basic English character which often bleeds into their songs). Roger also mocks himself with a line about how his great ideas 'either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines', before the song comes to a sad climax that life doesn't last forever: 'The time has gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say...'

Only the song isn't quite finished yet, slotting back cleverly into 'Breathe' for a track that's become known to fans as 'Breathe (Reprise)' although most releases list it as part of 'Time' still. A weary Gilmour finds himself home again, his responsibilities and duties out the way and preparing to finally crack on with what he should be doing with his life. Only, well, the fire's so cosy and he's so tired...The song's true end, though is peculiar and the one aspect of it that's never worked for me. Gilmour hears in the distance an 'iron bell' calling 'the faithful to their knees'...Originally Dark Side was meant to veer into a song about religion Rick was due to write but which ended up instead a song about death. Was the segue originally meant to lead on into the religious track? If so, then it still would have been the clunkiest segue on an otherwise perfectly crafted album - as it is the last four lines of this song appear to belong to a different song entirely.

Though we talked in our opening about how easily this album came together, the one exception is Rick's 'The Great Gig In The Sky'. Early concerts reveal a hammy gospel style track that's accompanied by a religious sermon by Malcolm Muggeridge - the sort of thing the old Floyd would have treated as a joke but played so 'straight' that you half wonder if they believed it (the idea may have inspired Roger's wicked sense of humour on 'Animals', where the 'Lord Prayer' is modified into a bleating synthesiser sheep praising the very beings about to send him to the slaughter). By the time Rick started recording the song for the album he'd mercifully dropped the talk and begun playing his beautifully expressive melody on the piano instead of the organ, with the vague idea that the song now reminded him of 'death' (he said later that he'd never have made the track so beautiful had he started with the idea first; the band's own tour booklet began calling this 'The Mortality Sequence' before someone - probably Rick himself - came up with the far better title, which in a very Floyd way heavily hints at death without actually saying it and turning it into a bit of a joke). There's no joke about the performance though: Rick's gently flowing keyboard chords and the sudden full-on heavy rocking of the second section sound like the most solemn and serious thing the band ever did, a million miles away from flying pugs and psychedelic breakfasts. The song still didn't sound complete though, especially compared to the others around it, so the band played around with a few ideas, including bringing in session singer Clare Torry. A friend of Alan Parsons, who'd worked on a few of his other projects, he recommended her to the band after hearing her cover The Doors' 'Light My Fire' - only they weren't entirely clear what to do with her. Telling her the song was about death and asking her to improvise whatever came into her head, the band simply handed her a pair of headphones and retreated to the control room. Unknown to them, Torry had recently lost a pet and decided to replay the sad scene in her mind, remembering the sudden awful moment of grief and turning it into cathartic wailing before sinking into the sad reflective afterglow of acceptance. Amazingly she only ever did two takes, giving up early on a third when she thought she was repeating herself: the finished product is a combination of the first two versions. Though some have accused her vocals of being overblown (when Rick needed the money in a hurry in the 1990s he okayed its use in the soundtrack of an advertisement for headache tablets - presumably Yoko had already said 'no'), it's actually one of the most striking moments of any Floyd album, slowly making its way to peak shriek rather than doing what lesser artists (ie the Spice Girls) would do, which is to fast-track right there. Torry's final wails as, energy spent, she somehow finds the strength to carry on, is perfect in context of both track and album and is so perfect it sounds as if it had been planned for years; many fans still refuse to accept that Torry heard the track no more than once for pre-planning and twice for recording; so well are her vocals tied in with Rick's peaks and troughs that it sounds like she's been singing it all her life. She's also perfect for the song - loud without being as shrill as lesser gospel singers would be (Floyd songs are all too easy to go OTT over: even P P Arnold's gorgeous voice struggles in Waters' band and she's one of the best out there). How very Floyd, to overwhelmingly suggest grief and death without actually coming out and saying it. The Floyd got very lucky here, although at first they weren't at all sure if they'd got what they wanted (Torry was convinced she'd blown it when she walked out the studio, with nothing more than a standard session fee wage of £30 - she didn't even get a credit on the original vinyl); although they got less lucky in the 1990s when Torry successfully sued for a co-credit and an undisclosed sum. Many would say she deserved more, though you have to wonder why it took thirty years for her to bring the case to court. The use of spoken word, dribbled so far across the album, also reach their peak here, especially Gerry Driscoll (the oldest person interviewed for the album) says 'anytime will do, I don't mind' but says it in such a way that you can't but help tell that he's afraid - very Floyd. The end result is a moving track that, unlike most instrumentals (certainly most Floyd instrumentals), perfectly expresses everything there is to say about a tricky subject.

Over on side two, there's the green-fingered sound of moolah, as money-bags Waters gives up the album's unusually high standard of revealing autobiography for a song far more keeping with his usual cynicism. 'Money' is generally heralded as the greatest moment on this album and it certainly would be on most other albums with a lot about it to love.  The inventive and pioneering use of sound effects, for instance, which appeared as far back as Roger's sketchy demo when this was a blues song (he made most of them himself, tearing up paper, throwing coins into a pot and using an old cash register). This took an age to set up in the studio, though, with each sound effect stuck on three second lengths of tape and painstakingly measured, put together by hand and re-checked in the days before computers to keep up the song's urgent rhythm. Gilmour, not for the first or last time, takes a half-finished Waters song and makes it shine, adding extra grunt and bullying weight to the sarcastic lyrics about living the high life and being ignorant to everyone else (you really feel like screaming 'you mean he hasn't been listening to the first side of this album?!' to lines like 'I'm alright Jack, keep your hands off of my stack'). The sudden switch from this song's slightly comical 7/8 time (the demo was in an even more unwieldy 7/4) into a full on rock swagger in 4/4 is also a majestic moment (suggested by Gilmour and inspiring another of his all-time great solos, this one double-tracked), turning a song about comedy into one of tragedy as the song goes from being one about avarice and greed into denial and desperation. However this is still perhaps the weakest of all the actual 'songs' that makes up this album (as opposed to instrumentals), again slightly out of place here as the one song on the album that's hiding things from face value by means of comedy rather than a 'stiff upper lip'. The lyrics lake Roger's usual depth, although they make more sense in the context of the original idea of this as an updated 'blues' song about the comparative ease of modern day living (what a modern day hashtag would call 'first world problems', which aren't actually problems compared to our neighbours but are still blooming irritating). Oddly Roger has always been proud of this lyric, even using it as the one the 'Pink' character is writing in class in 'The Wall' film, horrified when the teacher holds it up to ridicule. The song's waddled riff makes less sense in rock than it does as blues (where it's more menacing than funny) and the overall track outlasts its welcome long before the 6:23 running time is up (unusual for the Floyd, who despite their longer-than-average lengths generally knew when to quit and leave us waiting for more; putting the two longest tracks on the album together - next track 'Us and Them' lasts for nearly eight unbalances the album a little I feel too). Even if this is Roger's weakest song for a while, though, the Floyd are still enough of a band to make the most out of it and the arrangement, performance and production more than shine enough to make a so-so song sound great (well apart from a ropey sax solo, but then to be fair to Dick Parry it's meant to sound blooming awful). It's also the closest to this record possessing a 'hit' song, with this track receiving lots of airplay despite its length - lighter than most of the record, while still full of universal appeal, you can see why it did well, although frankly anyone who still thinks this is the album highlight over 'Breathe' 'Time' and 'Us and Them' isn't listening properly.

No such qualms about 'Us and Them', however, which is one of the most perfect songs ever written. The melody came first, Rick's mournful piano lick senselessly rejected from the 'Zabriskie Point' soundtrack (and thus the second 'recycled' song from this album) now finally restored to the world via the Dark Side 'Immersion' box set. It's one of his best, full of haunting chord progressions and melancholy, similar in feel to George Harrison's 'All Things Must Pass' era ballads, sad that they know they don't have the power to change the world but angry enough to give it a go anyway. Roger, never one to dish out praise and especially to his polar opposite bandmate, always loved the melody and it was probably his idea to revive the song. Thinking back to his socialist upbringing, Roger tries to put into words what his family drilled into him growing up but that nobody else around him seems to believe: that all lives are equal, that all people are sacred and that all wars are wrong. Realising in a bolt of inspiration that all wars and conflicts are because of 'with [versus] without' (who can deny that's what the fighting is all about?), Roger shames thousands of years of civilisation with a song that's so simple it's profound. As usual when Roger gets most inspired, he turns to his father as a code for living his life and again agonises over how cheaply his life was thrown away by people unworthy of him for all their class and stature: 'Forward they cried from the rear - and the front flank died!', while he also depicts the boundaries of the map 'moving forward and back' pointlessly, with more soldiers fallen along the way. His conclusion: 'In the end it's only round and round' 'Us and Them' is more than just an anti-war song though: it's about the divisions between all of us, of prejudice and fear. Even the narrator marches past declaring 'out of my way, it's a busy day' as he pushes a beggar away. The song's harrowing last words ring in our ears long after the song is over: the man passes away of starvation soon after, 'for the want of the price of tea and a slice' (which means 'cake' for those of you who don't get the British reference - though Roger probably had Marie Antoinette's famous 'let them eat cake' saying in mind too, summing up the pig ignorance of the ruling classes about the lives of their citizens). Words and music together make for a powerful combination, Rick's slowly unfolding subtlety bringing out the best in Roger's usual bluntness and bringing him to new poetic heights, while similarly Roger's new lyrics lead Rick to slightly modify his meandering style with a sudden surge of emotion in the closest thing this peculiarly structured song has to a chorus, the closest Wright ever came to bluntness. Sung for the main part by Gilmour, who had no part in writing the song, is the perfect singer for a song that calls for both detachment and sympathy, while the extra echo added to his voice by Parsons in the mix is a masterstroke, offering the sense of separation and distance. He's joined by Rick, again acting against type, in the shorter, emotional and downright angry chorus bursts which are truly heart-tugging - if even the laidback Floyd are getting mean and nasty then this is clearly a subject worth us getting worked up about. One of the best sax solos ever (and you'll know by now how much I usually hate sax solos!) again by Dick Parry is the icing on the cake, played for authentic emotion and hands-in-pockets ignorance rather than being flash or show-offy. A truly towering achievement, 'Us and Them' is one of the greatest combinations of words, music, arrangement, performance and production out there, hauntingly beautiful and powerfully involving. Roger, Rick and Dave all excel themselves here on one of the best examples of how much greater the Floyd were when they all worked together like this. Only the least successful use of spoken word in the middle (which is more about sudden violence than growing simmering hate as per the lyrics) mar an otherwise perfect song - and then not badly. Clearly the album highlight for me, even on a record packed with brilliance, never have the Floyd sounded less like 'ordinary men'. Sadly though and unbelievably, this is the last non-band credit Rick will get with the Floyd until as late as 1994 and his last part approaching 'lead vocal' status until then too, as Roger fails to heed his own lyric about respecting different ideas and temperaments and all but forces his fellow co-founder out of the band.

The old man's dying breath gives way to the urgent instrumental freak-out 'Any Colour You Like' - the last time any of the Floyd will get a credit without Roger's name attached to something until 1987. The song here closest in style to the 'old' Floyd, but played on the same up-to-date-and-more technology as the rest of the album, this is a curious piece that sounds as if started as a fierce improvised jamming session one day on normal instruments (that's how the band usually played it live before the album came out) before being carefully reconstructed into the more organised piece we have here. Usually that's an awful idea - the whole point of jamming sessions is the thrill of the unknown, something the Floyd knew better than most (the period 'Pompeii' film reveals just how great their telepathy had grown by 1973). However the excitement and energy is very much here as the band finally stop playing around with heavy constructs and simply have a bit of fun. The song starts as a Rick Wright masterclass as he shadows himself on a delightful duel before passing the baton over to Dave's howling guitar, accompanied as so often in the past by his wordless singing along. Suddenly Dave splits himself in two as well, the two Gilmours bouncing ideas off each other as they reach for a manic climax with Rick again coming in for the kill, as Roger and Nick try to race each other to the finish (Mason, given so comparatively little to do across the album, really comes into his own here). Heard outside the context of the album it's a nifty little track that would have fitted 'More' or especially 'Obscured By Clouds' well. However in context you have to ask what this song is doing here, as it's the only one not related to the album's theme of life pressures (although musically it is a little bit like a faster paced, more urgent 'Breathe' so if you were feeling generous you could make the link that this track is about having 'fun' and enjoying life while you can, without rules). Some people have taken the song's title - half of a Henry Ford quote describing his 'Model T' car design, which you could buy 'in any colour you like - so long as it's black' - as evidence that this track is here to represent the evils of advertising or the lack of choice in the world too, although those concepts sound a little underwhelming compared to 'money' 'time' and 'prejudice' to me. Roger also hinted later that he named the song after memories of friends selling stuff in vain out of the back of vans which always seemed to end with the line 'any colour you like - so long as it's blue' - an in-joke he thought worked well for an album where every stark choice faced by humanity seemed to be 'blue' ie depressing. Chances are the band were laughing inwardly at the stark black cover they'd picked out for the album, which so ran in the face of what record companies wanted in the era of glam rock.

'Colour' finally comes to a breathless full stop on the first pinging Rickenbacker notes of 'Brain Damage'. The song on the album most overtly about Syd, Roger comes up with a moving tribute to his old friends, 'remembering daisy chains and laughs' the same way his 21-year-old companion once mourned for childhood. Most of the lyrics of this song fear ending up in the same place ('The Wall' takes this concept even further, blurring the lines between Roger and Syd), but for now Roger is content to keep the 'lunatic' at arm's length, describing him in the third person, but with affection. The opening line 'the lunatic is on the grass' is often taken as a simple joke about drugs, but Roger probably also had in mind the idea of breaking rules and putting up with the consequences in a society based on law and order: it's a long standing joke that petty English bureaucrats try to curb childish games with signs reading 'keep off the grass' in public parks, though in my experience most people ignore them anyway (this isn't private property after all but meant to be there for the public to use!) There's a famous Beatles photo of 1966 where they makes the same comment, knowingly smoking next to a 'Keep Off The Grass' sign, which is such a 1960s versus society idea there's a glorious full university thesis on it out on the net somewhere, well worth reading (and no before you ask I didn't write it, though I surely would have done if I'd been clever enough to think of it - my university thesis was on The Monkees in relation to postmodernism!) Anyway, each progressive verse takes Roger further to the brink of madness. Many take the second verse, of 'loonies; landing on Roger's hall, as the pressure of bills but I think its newspapers full of conniving politicians and air-headed celebrities telling us what we should be doing with our lives, but always coming too thick and fast to keep up with ('And everyday the paperboy brings more'). Figuring that 'there is no room upon the hill' - ie with the elite - for all of us, Roger admits that his head is about to explode with frustration and by now ours probably is, promising to meet us on 'the dark side of the moon' - where madness is normal. By the last verse 'the lunatic is in my head', Roger imagining a Syd-style devolution where 'there's someone in my head - but it's not me'. While everyone assumed Syd was simply an acid casualty, Roger's always been more open than that, remembering that his friend was always slightly mad and paid the cost for being naturally outrageous, something he could no more change than he could his breathing. Here it's the pressures of modern conventional living that get to his friend and, like 'If', he admits to being a former bad friend afraid of what he was seeing but realising what his friend went through and wanting to empathise with him now he's understood what he went through. The closing line about ending up in madness 'when the band you're in starts playing different tunes' was clearly meant as an apology to Syd, but soon became a brickbat passed between the Floyd when the 1980s split comes. Another fine Waters song, which makes a lot more sense when you realise his back story as possibly Syd's biggest friend, this is another great song, though simpler and working at less levels than much of the album (Rick, for instance, was said to hate it and called it the album's 'weak link'), but wouldn't have worked the way the band intended as the album's final crowning glory.

Instead that's 'Eclipse', the last song to slot into place and acting as a more musical summary of the album than 'Speak To Me'. A two minute variation on 'Brain damage' but without the insistent beat and sense of melancholy, this is instead Roger trying to make sense of everything he's recently come to realise in his life about the way some lives turn out the way they do. Written at short notice when the band agreed their 'piece for assorted lunatics' needed a stronger ending (it wasn't in the first eight performances), it returns to his favourite default setting of writing lists rather than lyrics, but it's a good list that really builds to a climax at the end of the two minutes. It's effectively the bricks from 'The Wall' all built together, with everything we've ever seen, heard, read, tasted, felt or loved leading us up to the point when madness comes 'and the sun is eclipsed by the moon'. Syd's clearly uppermost in Roger's mind again, the 'sun' in 1967 shining brighter than anyone, 'eclipsed by the moon' of darkness. However instead of being a sad song, this is a dementedly happy one: Syd's become his 'true' state (at least in Roger's imagination - sadly this probably wasn't the case given the tales of a reclusive and lonely life that have come out since his death in 2006) and far from feeling 'wrong' suddenly everything is 'in tune'. Madness means no longer caring what anyone thinks of you and being 'free' from all the pressures of earning a living, risking death by travelling, worrying about your future or being open to prejudiced ideas. Building up to a swelling throbbing climax, gloriously captured by Rick's sun-gazing Hammond organ that peaks at just the right moment, this is the Floyd's most unified and most joyful singalong, even if in typically Floyd fashion it's actually a lot darker than everyone realises.

Overall, then, 'Dark Side' isn't perfect, but is more than worthy of the mantle of being in most top ten 'best albums' lists. Unlike most other AAA records that always make it ('Pet Sounds' 'Sgt Peppers' 'Abbey Road') this record offers up themes and ideas that no other record has ever attempted and manages to sound like a rewarding listening experience whether you've heard it a million times or once. While I don't quite buy the usual line that this was the first prog rock album for the heart as well as the brain (the Moody Blues got there first), this is certainly one of the more 'complete' records out there which mixes the traditional methods of storytelling (poetic lyrics, warm melodies), with contemporary sounds (this is Pink Floyd at their most traditional as a 'rock band' for such an extended period of time) and quite a bit that's daring and of the future - even now (the spoken words and the artificial faceless robots of 'On The Run'). It's an album where the band pull together to use each other's strengths and by and large the extra planning and knocking songs into shape excises the usual Floyd weakness of meandering and becoming self-indulgent. 'Dark Side' is streamlined and edited more than any other Floyd album thanks to months on the road and months more in the studio perfecting this record, but it's time well spent: there are other Floyd records that have moments the equal of this album and in the case of a few tracks are superior, but none keep it up for quite so long or with such a clever overall theme stringing the whole thing together. Though I still rate 'Piper' as a greater album (that one's all inventive, sparking with life and ideas with enough moments to last most bands a career- 'Moon' is that bit more serious and keen to tell us what to think when it wants us to think), 'Moon' is a lot of people's favourite for lots of very good reasons, the moment when the band's stars really were in alignment and everything came together seamlessly, by Floyd standards easily and quickly. If anyone had told the public the day before the album's release that this strong-selling but still kind of cult band were going to change the record market with an album about madness containing three instrumentals and a sound collage, without any hit singles, they might have considered you mad yourself. Hearing this record, though, is another matter entirely, with everything so carefully made and yet still fizzing with life and full of pearls of wisdom, this album couldn't be anything but a big seller. The real question the band should have been asking themselves isn't 'will this work?' but 'how the hell are we ever going to follow this up?' Which is, of course, another question for another day...

A Now Complete List Of Pink Floyd and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975)

‘Animals’ (1977)

'The Wall' (1980)

'The Final Cut' (1983)

'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' (1987)

'Amused To Death' (Waters) (1992)

The Best Unreleased Pink Floyd Recordings

Surviving TV Clips 1965-2014

Non-Album Songs 1966-2000

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1965-1978

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1980-1989

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1990-2015

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions

Essay: Why Absence Makes The Sales Grow Stronger

The Kinks Part Two: Ray and Dave Davies Solo/Live/Compilation Albums 1998-2014

You can buy 'Maximum Consumption - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Kinks' by clicking here

33) "The Definitive Collection"

(Polygram, '1993')

You Really Got Me/All Day And All Of The Night/Stop Your Sobbing/Tired Of Waiting For You/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/Set Me Free/See My Friends/Til' The End Of The Day/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/A Well Respected Man/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Sunny Afternoon/Dead End Street/Waterloo Sunset/Death Of A Clown/Autumn Almanac/Susannah's Still Alive/David Watts/Wonder Boy/Days/Plastic Man/Victoria/Lola/Apeman/Come Dancing/Don't Forget To Dance

"A day is as bright as your brightest dreams - the night is as bright as you feel it ought to be"

This is supposed to be 'definitive' is it? The same old hits stopping in 1970 apart from two rogue hit singles from 1983. Polygram would have been better off calling this cheap-o single disc set a 'highlights' or a 'most successful' but I guess that wouldn't have had quite the same ring to it. The good news is that if you want a handy single disc set just containing the songs you might know then this is about the best around at the moment alongside 'You Really Got Me' and does include a couple of intriguing misses like 'Susannah's Still Alive' and 'Wonderboy' which will hopefully intrigue newcomers into exploring the rest of The Kinks' klassik back katalogue. At long last, too, a CD has actually bothered to put all the hits in the right order - after coming to this review after writing most of the others I can't tel you what a relief that is to finally write that! However nothing in this set is really done with care or style, with a cheap tacky white cover (nice picture of the 1970 era Kinks though!) and no real notes or credits about where these songs come from or why. Not so much 'You Really Got Me' as 'So Tired Of Waiting For You And Slightly Disappointed When You Arrived'.

34) "You Really Got Me - The Best Of The Kinks"

(Polygram, '1994')

You Really Got Me/All Day And All Of The Night/Tired Of Waiting For You/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/Set Me Free/See My Friends/Til' The End Of The Day/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Sunny Afternoon/Dead End Street/Waterloo Sunset/Autumn Almanac/Wonder Boy/Days/Plastic Man/Victoria/Lola/Apeman/You Do Something To Me/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?

"You do something to me, my heart is so true and I live just for you, yes you do something to me that nobody else can do!"

Despite being over twenty years old now this Kinks Kompilation is still probably the most regularly spotted single-disc set around today - and for good reason. This set is cheap and affordable and is the only one out there to offer all the Pye hits in (more or less) the right order. It's still not perfect mind - things go wrong after 'Apeman' with the confusing addition of the flop second single and B-side 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' which seem very out of place here right at the end. It's a shame too that there isn't space for Dave's 'Death Of A Clown' or the American hit 'A Well Respected Man'. However in terms of actual 'hits' all the UK top 40 singles are here in order, which automatically puts this set head and shoulders above the rest out there. In short, if you have any interest in 60s music or don't already own this stuff You Got To Have You Really Got Me!

35) "To The Bone"

(Konk, October 1994/'1996')

1994 UK Version: All Day And All Of The Night/Apeman/Tired Of Waiting For You/See My Friends/Death Of A Clown/Waterloo Sunset/Muswell Hillbilly/Better Things/Don't Forget To Dance/Autumn Almanac/Sunny Afternoon/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/You Really Got Me

1996 US Version: All Day And All Of The Night/Apeman/Tired Of Waiting For You/See My Friends/Death Of A Clown/Muswell Hillbillies/Better Things/Don't Forget To Dance/Sunny Afternoon/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Do It Again (Acoustic)/Do It Again (Electric)///Celluloid Heroes/Picture Book/The Village Green Preservation Society/Do You Remember Walter?/Set Me Free/Lola/Come Dancing/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/Til' The End Of The Day/Give The People What They Want/State Of Confusion/Dead End Street/A Gallon Of Gas/Days/You Really Got Me/Animal/To The Bone

"She unwrapped her gift, played me a riff and said this old record was just made for you"

And so it ends, The Kinks' official discography, thirty-one years after the release of the first single and twenty-three studio albums and five live sets later, not with a bang but with a whimper. Typically, while The Kinks don't know yet that this will be their last release under that name (at least at the time of writing - a reunion's been on the cards for years now) they're in nostalgic mood. Several old friends are revived for the first time in years and given new clothes to wear - something which is a typically Kinks mix of the inspired and the tired. I'm not sure I ever listened to 'Do You Remember, Walter?', that gorgeous hymn to old friends and changing years, and gone 'gee I wish The Kinks would perform a Bavarian arrangement on traditional instruments and re-name him 'Valter' one day'. I'm not sure I ever really longed for two contrasting versions of 'Do It Again' on acoustic and electric either. The reggae-fied 'Apeman' is an evolution too far. 'See My Friends' sound like an old friend has just drowned trying to 'cross the river'. 'Celluloid Heroes' isa sequel too far. However at times this late live set does spark to life, especially during the acoustic 'unplugged' set which is a nice variation on The Kinks' sound (and a nice contrast to the electric crunch of last in-concert album 'The Road'). 'Don't Forget To Dance' is especially haunting and lovely, the band by now another ten years older with the sentiments about age being 'no excuse' more poignant than ever. A slowed down and punchier 'Set Me Free' sounds great - the band should have been playing it this way long before the 1990s. An angry snarling 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' is a revelation, with a whole new bluesy guitar part and Ray on vocals for a change, snarling 'I don't want to be destroyed like everybody else!' - this song about being unique in a world full of people all the same has never sounded more scared or more alone. The result is something of a 50:50 balance - had this been a single album rather than a double set it might have been the best Kinks live album of the lot; instead it's another 'nearly' live set.

That said, this album was originally a single disc set and was even released, as a limited edition, in that form in 1994 (the 1996 re-made version was issued when it became clear The Kinks were no more as a last farewell). Yet again it's a case of The Kinks coming up with a series of a great range of baked cakes - and picking all the burnt ones. 'Don't Forget To Dance' aside none of the better, braver moments make it through to the finale listings which means that this early version of 'To The Bone' is even more of a let-down than 'The Road' and represents possibly the worst Kinks release ever. If you happen to have bought the 'wrong' version by mistake go back and exchange it quick!

After all, the single disc version doesn't include The Kinks' real 'farewell' tracks, a pair of studio recordings that will end up being the last 'new' songs to be released under The Kinks' name. 'Animal' isn't that interesting sadly, one last snarling rock song about the primal instincts underlying English reserve,  although there are some lovely last harmonies between the Davies brothers. Final single 'To The Bone' is much more entertaining though: a very Kinksy song about the power of music and the part it plays in memory as Ray, in a 'melancholy mood', returns to some old songs which remind him of failed relationships. As the needles hit each groove it 'cuts him to the bone', building up to a ginormous middle eight that's full of some of the tightest tension in the Kinks Kanon. It will be the pattern for much of Ray's next 'proper' album 'Other People's Lives', although typically the single flopped badly on release. It's a powerful way to say goodbye though, a darker edgier re-write of 'Juke Box Music' that makes good use of Dave's slashing guitar and Ray's confessional lyrics. Thankfully both songs are included at the end of the set - it would have been awful if the band's discography had ended with the limp heavy metal re-make of 'You Really Got Me' instead!

36) Ray Davies "The Storyteller"

(EMI, March 1998)

Storyteller/Introduction*/Victoria/My Name Is Of No Importance*/20th Century Man/London Song (Acoustic)/My Big Sister*/That Old Black Magic/Tired Of Waiting/Set Me Free (Instrumental)/Dad and The Green Amp*/Set Me Free/The Front Room*/See My Friends/The Autumn Almanac/Hunchback*/X-Ray/Art School*/Art School Babe/Back In The Front Room*/Writing The Song*/Mick Avory's Audition (When Big Bill Speaks)/It's Alright! (Managers*/Havana Version*/On The Road*)/Julie Finkle*/The Ballad Of Julie Finkle/The Third Single*/You Really Got Me/London Song (Electric)

* = Speech

"I hated the name 'The Kinks' but what did I know?!... They say that mediocrity rises and being mediocre I rose - no, you're not supposed to laugh at that!"

Ray's first project after leaving The Kinks was to finish off his 'unauthorised autobiography' 'X-Ray', started as early as 1988 before being put on the back burner through two last Kinks albums. After the flop of 'Phobia', Ray returned to the book, little realizing that brother Dave was secretly writing his own, 'Kink'. The two approached tell you all you need to know about the differences between the brothers and are equally fantastic but in very different ways: Dave's is informative, direct, no-holds-barred, telling the truth with a smile even when that truth doesn't always put Dave in a good light; Ray's is a fascinating piece of work where a younger, fictional version of himself from the future interviews 'Ray Davies' as an aging, forgotten rock star, the last bastion of greatness who refused to sell out but whose rambling reminiscences aren't always accurate and don't always put himself in the best light (the only thing the two books have in common - apart from a bit of sniping at each other). Dave's is one of the best traditional rock and roll lifestyle almanacs that can be taken at face value and covers A to Z roughly in order; Ray's is a work of art full of hidden shadows, misnomers, red herrings and interruptions that barely gets past the 1960s but doesn't tell anything in the same order.

Equally typical was what the two brothers did next: Dave let his book sink or swim and moved on to the next project; Ray was unable to let his go and turned it into an even bigger work of art. Ray signed up early on to do a 'tour' of his book, reading extracts to fans in between playing the odd song. Typically, the tour turned into something bigger, growing in scale as the tour went on to the point where Ray barely got past extracts from the opening few chapters (mainly centred around 'the front room' where all the big events of the brothers' lives took place). Usually speech gets irritating when heard together with music but somehow this album works better than most, with Ray a natural and humble storyteller with a fine eye for detail in both words and song. In between Ray played all sorts of songs from his back catalogue, mainly in an intimate acoustic form with Carlisle acoustic guitar player Pete Mathison as his 'Dave' (Mick Avory guests near the end too, the first time he's rejoined a member of the band since quitting in 1984, though quite what he made of being introduced via Ray's memories of his audition - in his scouts uniform! - and Ray's bad attempts at Mick's accent is left unrecorded!) The result was a tremendous success that ran and ran (effectively putting the rest of Ray's career on hold for some considerable time) and thanks to the cosy intimate setting and story-telling ended up becoming the anti-thesis of the book, the most warm and open Ray Davies had ever been. Promoting an elusive, obtuse book with an open and honest concert tour - how very Kinks!

Old friends were given a makeover like never before, with 'Set Me Free' and 'See My Friends' sounding particularly mournful and moving (this last a sad reflection on the passing of the Davies' elder sister Rene, who died at 30 just after giving Ray his first guitar for his birthday). Comparatively rare songs were given either their first live airing or their first for many a decade -'You Really Got Me' B-side  'It's Alright!' and a very different, emotionally raw reading of '20th Century Man' from 'Muswell Hillbillies. Other, largely excellent new songs were added to the set, inspired by the events in the book - and thus becoming the most 'personal' song suite in Ray's back catalogue ('X-Ray' itself is one of Ray's best 1990 songs, based around the fear of becoming a 'cripple' like a hunchback he used to laugh at following a football accident and his gradual realisation that appearances are deceptive - it's what's on the inside that counts; the haunting 'Ballad Of Julie Finkle' about an early girlfriend/groupie he lost touch with (‘who, you never know, might be here tonight') is a rare Ray Davies love song without a nasty twist; 'Storyteller' is a wistful overture, a song about the concert being in the tradition of passing travellers offering their wisdom to be passed on to others that's very Kinks). There's even a traditional crooner cover of 'That Old Black Magic' in the set as a memory of Ray and Dave taunting his sisters on a date (Mrs Davies had banned the record from the house on the grounds that 'the lyrics were too sexy and subversive'!) Ray is in fine voice throughout, with the sparse backing putting more emphasis on his voice than ever before and his spoken word impressions of the more colourful characters in The Kinks' story (Robert, Granville, Mick, his dad- oddly not Dave or Pete) are spot-on. The show leads to a great finale with the recording of 'You Really Got Me' in 1964, Ray teasing the audience with the tale of the nod he gave to his brother to start the solo - only to be met with the swearing that can just about be heard on the original record if you know where to look for it (it's where Ray moans 'ohhhh nooooo!', partly in an attempt to drown it out!)

Of course this soundtrack CD can't match actually being there (frustratingly Ray never did film his show, despite the fact that the MTV series 'Storyteller' was based on the name and format). It's not made for repeat listening what with the jarring switches between book readings (often set to a backing) and music, with the short 'It's Alright' a particular casualty, split into three parts across six whole minutes. Some of the new songs don't work outside the context of the album - 'Art School Babe', about a girlfriend out of Ray's league, is one of those once heard, best forgotten kind of songs, whilst 'London Song' - heard in a studio format as well as the live original - is appalling, a clichéd song listing famous Londoners without Ray's famous wit and the misguided modern crunch of the studio version is an awful attempt to re-create the harshness of Dave's solo work without the skill. Ray's odd insults to the crowd ('You sound like a load of queens at a drag convention! Erm...but I like it, keep going!') seem out of character and forced. However every Kinks fan needs this revealing set, which is as close as we will ever get to the 'real' Ray in all his self-deprecating yet arrogant, jokey and jovial yet serious, detached yet emotional glory. There are some great stories in here alongside some gorgeous songs and the playing and readings are first-class, masterful work delivered by a masterful storyteller.

37) Dave and Russell Davies "Purusha and the Spiritual Planet"

(Meta Media, October 1998)

Kochan/Arrival/Mysterious Love/Feeling/Dance Of The Azuras/One Energy/Beautiful Night/Spiritual Planet/Return/Soothe Sayer (Mukti's Song)/Spiritual Planet (Reflection)

"Open up your eyes and see the world around you, it's not what we thought it was, it's not what we were told"

Before Dave's return as a rock and roll artist, he explored his spiritual side with his son Russell Davies, who was already making a name for himself as an 'ambient/new age' musician (some early copies credit the pair under the pseudonym 'The Crystal Radio', although as you can only download the album from Dave's own website, it's not much of a pseudonym!) Concocted in the pair's shared home studio, Dave revealed later that the Kinks-style concept album had been one he'd been thinking of writing since the mid 1980s (it might well have been the follow-up to 'Chosen People' had Dave sold enough copies to make another album). The storyline revolves around a thirteen year old boy who discovers an ancient pendant that suddenly allows him access to the discovery of why humans were created and their purpose in life - only, as a teenage boy, nobody believes him or takes any notice of him. However, good luck identifying that story from the album, which is by and large an instrumental album (apart from the balletic but brief 'Beautiful Night' and 'Soothesayer', a rather ugly and 80s sounding song with clunky lyrics about the 'coming millennium'). There are many moments across this record that work really well - and many others that don't. Personally I'd try out the 2013 sequel 'Two Worlds' first; if you love that album (a more realised version of what this record is trying to do) and come back to this album later then you may well find more of worth in here than if you come across this record cold. 

38) Dave Davies "Unfinished Business: The Dave Davies Kronikles 1963-1999"

The BBC Sessions (January 1999)

European Edition: CD One: You Really Got Me/All Day And All Of The Night/Beautiful Delilah/Come On Now/Milk Cow Blues/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/Death Of A Clown/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Susannah's Still Alive/Lincoln County/There Is No Life Without Love/Hold My Hand/Creeping Jean/Mindless Child Of Motherhood/This Man He Weeps Tonight/Mr Reporter*/Strangers/You Don't Know My Name/Trust Your Heart/Living On A Thin Line/Rock and Roll Cities/When You Were A Child/Perfect Strangers/Look Through Any Doorway/Close To The Wire

CD Two: Climb Your Wall*/Imagination's Real/Nothin' More To Lose/The World Is Changing Hands/Move Over/See The Beast/Wildman/Body/Is This The Only Way?/Eastern Eyes/Take One More Chance/Charity/Is Iyt Any Wonder?/Cold Winter/Fire Burning/Freedom Lies/Eternity*/Gallon Of Gas-You're Lookin' Fine (Live)*/Unfinished Business*

American Edition: CD One: I Believed You*/You Really Got Me/Beautiful Delilah/Long Tall Shorty/Come On Now/Milk Cow Blues/Wait Till The Summer Comes Along/Climb Your Wall/You Don't Know My Name/Trust Your Heart/All Day And All Of The Night/Living On A Thin Line/Perfect Strangers/Rock and Roll Cities/I've Got Your Number*

CD Two: Unfinished Business*/Imagination's Real/The World Is Changin' Hands/Nothin' More To Lose/Body/In You I Believe/World Of Our Own/Eastern Eyes/Love Gets You/This Man He Weeps Tonight/Susannah's Still Alive/Death Of A Clown/Hold My Hand/Strangers/Gallon Of Gas-You're Lookin' Fine (Live)*/Lincoln County

* = previously unreleased

"I've been travelling on this road, I get the feeling it's getting on, I keep moving on, I keep rolling on - but does anybody know my name?"

In any other band Dave Davies would have been the leader - indeed in the early Kinks days he pretty much was the leader, with stage charisma, a voice perfect for rock and roll and a guitar sound that was second to none. Only when brother Ray began to find his voice as a writer did the emphasis in the band change and even though Dave was far less prolific than his brother he too had his share of brilliant Kink songs. For the most part Dave stayed in the background during his time in The Kinks post 1964, but he had two marvellous bursts of creativity, as a psychedelic folk minstrel between 1967-70 and as a hard-edged heavy rocker between 1980-1983, even though the first period was hit by Dave never quite getting things together enough to make a full album and the second was hit by low sales and record company Warner Brothers writing off his last record as a 'tax loss'. You can sense the frustration, especially in the later Kinks days, as Dave's solo albums disappear from sight without fans even knowing they're out and finding his songs cut from Kink albums. However, the end of The Kinks and the coming of the CD age has seen a whole new life for Dave. While the younger brother's albums aren't exactly common sights in record shops, they're much easier to find than they were at the time and Kinks fans starved of product have really taken to Dave's new releases and concerts.

In 1999, some six years past the last Kinks album, the time was particularly ripe to revisit Dave's back catalogue and the personally compiled 'Unfinished Business' is a real treasure trove of delights. Or at least it is in Europe where the famous songs are kept to a minimum and the rarities are common - the set's one big negative point is that Dave re-designed the package for the American market and threw out most of the good when trying to cut the timings of both CDs down (it's just like the mid-60s days again when record labels were always changing stuff!) Do get the European version if you can though for a whole number of reasons, not least the fact that the set is divided between 'Kinks Songs' and 'Solo Songs', rather than chronological, which works well with this set with the lighter songs on disc one and the heavier on disc two. There's an excellent collection of Kinks songs in which Dave happens to either sing lead or plays some terrific guitar solos (with some interesting choices - 'Come On Now' and 'Milk Cow Blues' over 'Till The End Of The Day'. There's an excellent run of songs from Dave's aborted solo album in 1967 that won't be beaten for quantity for many years to come (the folk torment of 'Susannah's Still Alive' really is the hit single that got away, closely followed by the loose and funky 'Creepin' Jean'). There's a welcome chance to get the later rarer Kinks recordings from the London and Columbia years that are notoriously hard to find on CD and songs like 'When You Were A Child' and 'Perfect Strangers' are amongst the best songs on the set. There's an excellent selection of songs from Dave's three solos albums across 1980 and 1983 which almost gets everything right (although I'd have still liked more from 'Chosen People'). If don't own any Dave Davies or at least very little then this is an excellent purchase.

However, the rarities are a bit of a mixed bag. The Dave-sung version of 'Mr Reporter', one of Ray's most scathing songs, lacks the sarcasm of his brother's vocal even though it's clearly a more finished and more 'releasable' take than the other version later released on 'The Kinks Anthology'. The 'Climb Your Wall' demo from 1969 would have made a fine Kinks B-side in the 'Arthur' period even if it sails a bit too close to 'Mr Shoemaker's Daughter'. 'Eternity' is a nice bluesy demo from 1993 that's nice but not up to the songs that made it onto 'Phobia'. The live medley of 'A Gallon Of Gas' and 'You're Lookin' Fine' is fun but not quite as essential as other more radical Dave Davies live re-interpretations from the early post-Kinks era. Finally, 'Unfinished Business' itself, a new song written for the anthology, sounds a little too obvious by Dave's standards, too conveniently written given the statements about carrying on although Dave shows that he's mastered the Britpop sound of the day (this is superior Blur, rather than inferior Kinks). Great as the tracks we are get are - so I wouldn't want to choose what was missing - there are too many key tracks from the 1960s and 1970s albums missing ('I'm Free' 'Funny Face' 'Rats' 'Guilty' 'Dear Margaret' 'It's Alright') and a lot more where the 1967 'Album That Never Was' came from ('Groovy Movies' 'Mr Shoemaker's Daughter') even if the mix of tracks from the first three finished solo records is about right. The American version, meanwhile, is very disappointing with the addition of just the early Kinks outtake 'I Believed You' (which barely features Dave and can be found on the CD re-issue of the debut album anyway) and the noisy 1990s outtake 'I've Got Your Number', neither of which are really worth your while tracking down. However on the plus side the US version does have the charming 'Wait Till The Summer Comes Along', senselessly missed off the European edition.

Dave writes in the sleevenotes to the UK edition that 'the amount of times I'd thought about a Dave Davies anthology you would not believe!' He's clearly spent a lot of time thinking about this compilation and - until the record company get involved and change things for the States - he's generally spot on in what his best moments are and the compilers of this CD have done him proud, with some excellent Doug Hinman sleevenotes too. For all my grumbling about what isn't here, almost all of what is here is excellent and really allows Dave to shine from under his brother's shadow. It could be better still, but this is a very worthy release that's essential buying for fans who just want a taster and don't quite want to own everything.

39) Dave Davies "Fortis Green (The Meta Media Demo Series)"

(Meta Media, November 1999)

Let Me Be/True Phenomenon/Voices/Away From You/Fortis Green/Love In The World/Listen To The Spirit/Soothe Sayer

"It can only be a memory, a time that now has gone!"

Though the Davies family home's postal code area was 'Muswell Hill' their 'actual' address lay on 'Fortis Green', a place that will feature heavily in much of Dave's post-Kinks work as, in true Kinks fashion, he looks back to the past and his childhood. This set of unfinished demos, though, sounds weirdly modern again and unapologetically contemporary. Three of these songs will later end up on 'Bug' and sound rather unfinished here: 'Let Me Be' and 'True Phenomenon' were never my favourite songs from that forthcoming album anyway, while 'Fortis Green' itself seems lightweight with the oompah-ing brass played on a synthesiser and with Dave singing in his more 'normal' lower voice. However there is some good stuff here: 'Voices' is a lovely song that sounds as if it could easily have come out of the 1960s with a warm, rich melody and a spiritual lyric that like much of 'Chosen People' returns to the alien beings who tries to pass messages on to Dave and make him a 'better person'; 'Away From You' is a lovely Ray-like song about the day he fell in love (with Sue? Or somebody more recent?)  observing everything around him without noticing at the time and only recalling it later the day Dave fell in love. There's not quite enough of interest here for a full album, perhaps, and Dave will go on to re-record many of these songs in much better form, but there's a real sense of beauty in some of these songs and most of them are far too good than to have just ended up as unfinished demos.

40) Dave Davies "Live At Marian College"

(Meta Media, June 2000)

Michael Kraus Presents*/You Really Got Me/The Green Amp and Influences*/Long Tall Shorty/First Tour*/Intro*/Death  Of A Clown/Susannah's Still Alive/This Man He Weeps Tonight/Misery Tour*/Intro*/Strangers/Breakdown*/Love Gets You/Living On A Thin Line/Spiritual Planet*/Intro*/Young and Innocent Days/I'm Not Like Everybody Else
* = spoken word

"Does anybody knows what the two notes are in 'You Really Got Me'? Me neither - but it doesn't really matter..."

Once again it's fascinating to compare how differently the two Davies brothers promoted their books, despite effectively coming up with the same idea for their shows. Like 'Storyteller' Dave plays a modified 'greatest hits' set, with interestingly re-arranged versions of some of the most important songs from his career as solo performances. In between Dave makes a few readings from his book 'Kink'. But whereas 'Storyteller' was a theatrical affair, with Ray often speaking lyrics over a funky beat and getting cosy with the crowd in a well drilled show, Dave is far more straight ahead with a loose and raw show where anything can happen. Dave doesn't read so much as chat, without any of the special guests or drama of the 'Storyteller' shows. In total contrast to the acoustic sensitivity of Ray's set, everything is given an added boost of electric power and suddenly sound much louder and snarlier than before - even the ballads come with an extra oompah, as if years of being a back-up guitarist in a band not much based on guitar post-1964 has suddenly been unleashed on the world. Both performances are great in their own ways and deeply informative in very different ways (though Ray's moe concerned with people, Dave with songs interestingly), equally un-missable for fans. However, perhaps to avoid comparisons with Rat's show, Dave delayed his live recording for a couple years and effectively split it in two (though the shows were played on different days of the same tour) - this is the 'hits' element to 'The Bottom Line's 'surprises' and as such is perhaps slightly less interesting.

Even so, there are some great unexpected moments here. Opening with 'You Really Got Me' (the song Ray ended with!), who'd have guessed that the 'next' Kinks song performed by Dave on this tour would be the oddity 'Long Tall Shorty' last heard in 1964? 'Death Of A Clown' sounds a little odd stripped to the bare essentials and 'Living On A Thin Line' is just empty, but there's a great, sparse reading of the always-beautiful 'Susannah's Still Alive' and a beautiful slow reading of 'Young and Innocent Days' that's so in keeping with the mood of the show. Dave is in a fun mood with the spoken word segments too, even playing the old 'clap along' routine least heard on stage in 1966 ('quieter than that - no louder than that - now faster, faster! Ha, the old jokes are the best!') and discussing his annoyance with every 1950s/60s song coming with the same old tired guitar sound, before switching back to seriousness with his first-hand tale of the 1982 tour where he experienced his breakdown and was approached by ufos. Dave is a witty raconteur and while his show isn't as polished as his brother's or quite as interesting as the 'Bottom Line' concert to come, it's a worthy set that's an essential purchase for fans that makes for a fine contrast with 'Storyteller'.

41) Dave Davies "Rock Bottom - Live At The Bottom Line"

(Meta Media, Recorded 1997, Released June 2000)
I Need You/She's Got Everything/Beautiful Delilah/Creeping Jean/Good To See Yer!/Look Through Any Window/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Tired Of Waiting/The Kiss*/Milk Cow Blues/Imagination's Real/Dave's Got His Reading Glasses*/Wicked Annabella/Picture Book/Death Of A Clown/All Of The Kinks Songs...*/Too Much On My Mind/Strangers/Psycho Lounge/One Night With You/Living On A Thin Line/All Day And All Of The Night/Encore*/Money*/David Watts/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/You Really Got Me

"I got me reading glasses now so if you got a spare ten hours I'll read the book to 35 is really good!"

Effectively 'Marian College Part Two', this is the rest of Dave's live show with a similar mix of music and book readings. Dave is still on great form, with even more Kinks rarities given the thrash guitar makeover. A blistering version of opener 'I Need You' sets the tone for the set, which largely skips over the hits in favour of rarer material that Dave/The Kinks had never done live: 'Creepin' Jean' 'Wicked Annabella' 'Love Me Till The Sun Shines' 'Strangers' 'Imagination's Real' 'Living On A Thin Line'...If I'd put my dream Dave Davies selection together it would have looked much like this! Dave also tackles some of the songs usually sung by his brother -n and the expected ones either; 'Tired Of Waiting For You' 'Picture Book'  and even 'Too Much On My Mind' are all surprises, handled with the customary Dave Davies energy and thus entirely different to the originals. As Dave says 'Look Through Any Window' - his last song as a Kink - was very much an 'overlooked song' more than deserving a second hearing too and  that song is probably the highlight, tackled with a slightly slower and lighter feel than most of the songs heard here, with that shock cover of 'Too Much On My Mind' (heard in a 'country and western' format!) close behind. Less essential is the rendering of some of the bigger names in the set: 'David Watts' (which sounds like a badly sung version of 'The Jam's arrangement rather than the original) and 'You Really Got Me' (which is one of the few times on the set where you badly miss Ray). Like Ray, there are some surprise covers too - a version of  'Money (That's What I Want)' dripping with irony works well (it's prefaced by a Dave Davies rant about 'all the greed in the world'), which is more than I can say for a revved up 'One Night' (a #1 hit for Elvis in 1958) fulfilling the 'Old Black Magic' role in Dave's set. New song 'Psycho Lounge' is a bit weird too, a trancey song about 'mass abduction' that includes lines from all sorts of other things including a snatch of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' (it sounds like one of those 'you had to be there - did that really happen?' moments that doesn't work well on record).  Still by and large this is another entertaining and energetic set which breathes new life into some old friends and proves that age has not withered Dave's ability to rock. As before you may be pleading for it to stop before the end as one relentless rocker piles on top of another and you might not listen to this concert album for pleasure, but Dave has successfully stamped a series of songs that he had a major hand in shaping with his own unique brand and any fan who felt that The Kinks went down-hill when they started getting 'soft' in 1965 will find much to treasure here. 

42) Dave Davies Fragile (Meta Media Demo Collection)"
(Meta Media, July 2007)
Astral Nightmare/Violet Dreams/I'm Sorry/Give Something Else Back/Hope/Bright Lights/Open Up Your Heart/Wait!/No More Mysteries/Lost In Your Arms/Long Lonely Road

"Close my eyes, leave my body, flying high across the universe, I come down strange scenes evolving, can this be? I am free"

Dave's second collection of demos dates back in part as far as the early 1980s and contains even more songs that never quite made it to Kinks records or Dave's 1980s solo albums. In most cases you can see why - it's not that these songs are bad, it's just that they lack the originality and variety of Dave at his best and too often comes over like the weaker tracks from 'AFL1' and 'Glamour' with the same chunky, thick sound even in demo form. However there are some choice moments in the mix again, with highlights including the charming country-folk-rock of 'No Mysteries' (which would have been a lovely addition to 'Muswell Hillbillies'), the lovely 'Give Me Something Back' which comes across like a long lost cousin of the 'Album That Never Was' and the poignant, emotional 'Wait' which sounds like another song written for Sue, watching the stars and wondering if she is too. While pretty awful in this form, 'Astral Nightmare' is at least interesting, a brave attempt at something different based around jazz and hip hop with lyrics that return to the theme of Dave's first published song 'I Am Free'. Even in unfinished, demo form Dave is always giving his all and with a few tweaks these songs could have been true Kinks Klassiks, although Dave's wayward vocals often gives away the fact that these recordings weren't originally intended for release. Another mixed release that suffers a little from giving timeless songs such an 80s makeover, though if Dave ever reaches back to his unheard 1970s demos I'll be first in the queue!

43) "BBC Sessions 1964-1977"

(Sanctuary, March 2001)

(This is 'version one' of three alternate Kinks BBC sets)

CD One: Interview*/You Really Got Me/Interview*/Cadillac/All Day And All Of The Night/Tired Of Waiting For You/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/See My Friends/This Strange Effect/Milk Cow Blues/Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?/Til' The End Of The Day/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/Death Of A Clown/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Harry Rag/Good Luck Charm/Waterloo Sunset/Monica/Days/The Village Green Preservation Society

CD Two: Mindless Child Of Motherhood/Holiday/Demolition!/Victoria/Here Comes Yet Another Day/Money Talks #1/Mirror Of Love/Celluloid Heroes/Skin and Bone/Get Back In Liner/Did You See His Name?/When I Turn Off The Living Room Light/Skin and Bone/Money Talks #2

"Dave Davies and his brother Kinks there - a nice noise!"

We weren't to know in 2001 that this two-disc set was to be only the first collaboration between two giant British institutions. Thirty-three previously unpublished Kinks recordings seemed generous enough at the time - especially given that The Kinks were late to the AAA BBC party (most of our other British bands had their sets out in the 1990s). However now that we know exactly what else is in the Kinks' BBC discography (with practically all the surviving tapes released as a mammoth five CD box set in 2012) and with the knowledge that the band had a second, better go at releasing all the key tracks (as opposed to half a dozen similar version of 'You Really Got Me') this set suddenly doesn't seem quite as strong as it once did. You'd have thought, for instance, that all the 'exclusive' material never tackled anywhere else would be here - especially when it's as good as 'Hide and Seek' 'Little Queenie' or as fascinating as four separate renditions of 'Milk Cow Blues'. The fact that only two interview snippets were included - as opposed to over thirty in each of the two Beatles BBC sets - suggested that the Davies brothers' might have had a controlling hand in the selection too. The fact that we got two virtually identical versions of nobody's favourite Kinks song 'Money Talks' only makes things worse.

However, back in the day there were so many reasons to love this set - and so many of them still apply. The early Kinks of disc one are excitingly raw and yet somehow more polished than on many of their records, with a dazzling raucous version of 'Cadillac'  and a killer 'You Really Got Me' getting the album off to a flying start. The exclusives we did get are fascinating: 'This Strange Effect', the most successful of the songs Ray 'gave away' (to Dave Berry, who scored a #1 hit in Belgium with his more dramatic version, surprisingly) sounds great even in muted, near-demo form. 'Good Luck Charm', a Dave Davies cover of an old Elvis number, is simple but spirited with great accompaniment from Nicky Hopkins on a jangly tack piano. Two songs taken from Ray's songs for the soundtrack of BBC series  'Where Did Spring Go?' series (when are we going to get all five?!) are fascinating - 'Living Room Light' and 'Did You See His Name?' having been talked about by fans for so long it was great to hear that they were as good as people who heard them the first time round said they were. 'See My Friends' clearly can't match the original - that's perfection already - but it comes close, with a harder, punchier, weightier sound (and a surprise full ending!); ditto 'Waterloo Sunset' which sounds more gentlemanly and posh in this 'retro' session from 1968 (when the song was already a couple of years old). However a couple of the performances here do actually beat the records too: a playful 'Demolition' divided up between the Preservation 'cast' is far superior to the rather soggy, solemn version that closes 'Act One' and better yet 'Love Me Till The Sun Shines' (performed without Ray) explodes out of the box and is so much better than the timid version on 'Something Else' it's hard to believe it's the same song (it's another example of The Kinks inventing heavy metal decades early, with Dave's snarling guitar and demented tremendously affecting as he pleas for a love he knows he's never going to get and coaxing perhaps the single greatest drum part out of a brilliantly noisy Mick Avory). Actually the two of them together are the unsung heroes of the set (just as George is to the Beatles BBC shows) with Dave given more room for his spontaneous angry solos and Mick less deliberate about his playing - Dave's sessions (usually with Pete and Mick in tow) are easily the best of the set for me. Overall, then, 'At The BBC' is undeniably great and for the songs mentioned above alone would make for an essential purchase. However this still isn't quite as definitive as it could have been and the second take on the 'highlights' (which features all the above songs, plus more necessary songs) is better, even for fans who can't afford or can't manage the whole five disc box set. 

44) "The Ultimate Collection"

(Sanctuary, September 2004)

CD One: You Really Got Me/All Day And All Of The Night/Tired Of Waiting For You/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/Set Me Free/See My Friends/Til' The End Of The Day/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Sunny Afternoon/Dead End Street/Waterloo Sunset/Death Of A Clown/Autumn Almanac/Susannah's Still Alive/Wonder Boy/Days/Plastic Man/Victoria/Lola/Apeman/ Supersonic Rocket Ship/Better Things/Come Dancing/Don't Forget To Dance

CD Two: David Watts/Stop Your Sobbing/Dandy/Mr Pleasant/I Gotta Move!/Who'll Be The Next In Line?/I Need You/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/Sittin' On My Sofa/A Well Respected Man/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/She's Got Everything/Starstruck/Shangri-La/God's Children/Celluloid Heroes/(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman/Do It Again/Living On A Thin Line

"Lost between tomorrow and yesterday, between now and then"

A nice, sturdy way of getting all the hits with a few extra thrown in too, 'The Ultimate Collection' is at the time of writing probably the best introduction to The Kinks for beginners. All the hits are there on disc one, all in the right order for once, and the compilation stretches to include some tracks from the RCA and Arista years as well as Pye (though there's nothing from the London or Columbia years included). Near-full marks for including a fuller selection of the all the 'lesser' hits that compilations usually pick and choose from than normal (you get 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy' 'Wonderboy' 'Plastic Man' 'Victoria' and even Dave's classic second single 'Susannah's Still Alive', with 'Who'll Be The Next In Line' and 'Shangri-La' on disc two - only 'Drivin' is missing from the 60s run). With every charting hit on side one, the way is clear on side for some more unusual songs and by and large Sanctuary knows their stuff: there's every Kinks flop single here from 'God's Children' to 'Celluloid Heroes' through to 'Do It Again', choice B-sides like 'Come On Now' 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else' and 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' and still a little bit of space left over for songs turned into hits by other people such as 'Stop Your Sobbing' (a hit for The Pretenders) and 'David Watts' (a hit for The Jam). Personally I'd have improved this set still further by including more from the overlooked Kinks album range ('Milk Cow Blues' 'Young and Innocent Days' 'Life On The Road' 'Misfits' 'Working In The Factory'...the list is endless really), but for the price and the space this little compilation is lookin' fine to me - after all, what compilation could ever have a better starting point than 'You Really Got Me?' or a better finale than 'Living On A Thin Line'?

45) Dave Davies "Bug"

(Koch Records, May 2002)

Whose Foolin' Who?/It Ain't Over Til' It's Done/Lie!.../Let It Be Me/Displaced Person/Rock Me Rock You/Flowers In The Rain/Fortis Green/Why?!?/True Phenomenon/Bug.../De-Bug/Life After Life (Transformation)

"The truth is not what it used to be!"

After years of releasing live albums, demo sets and 'spiritual journey' soundtracks, this is the real Dave Davies at last, a return to rock and roll nearly ten years on from 'Phobia'. Taking the best of his previous solo albums (the passion, the fury, the guitar sound and the lyrics that balance social rebellion with spirituality) but with a much more palatable modern sound, 'Bug' was the best Kinks-related album in years with a more commercial sound and yet if anything even tougher and braver contents. 'Bug' continues where 'Chosen People' left off, a damning record that attacks all the institutions holding back our spiritual growth from churches to politicians and uses the metaphor of a 'bug' throughout - we're not just brainwashed sheep being spied on across this album, but we've been implanted with spiritual dampeners to keep our spirit down. Well Dave has had enough of towing the party line and without the other Kinks around is free to speak his mind with his most revolutionary set of lyrics yet. Dave is one of those musicians always at his best with a 'cause' and the state of the world at the time (phony politicians controlling us whilst being controlled from 'up above', starting illegal wars to save money) desperately needed a musician like Dave to come out and tell it like it is. He immediately sounds twenty years younger, rocking  with the same passion with which he first picked up a guitar and those famous slash-chords unleashed combined with these above-average snarling sets of lyrics taking on the establishment is a sound that should have put fear into the heart of every authority figure on the planet. This is Dave back to what he should have been doing all those years earlier, had Ray's softer songs and witty characters not got in the way.

Fans of 'AFl1' and 'Glamour' will find much to love about the sheer noise and power across this album; however 'Bug' is still more like 'Chosen People' - a subtle, gently powerful record that's as revealing about Dave himself as the world around him. 'Fortis Green' is a beautiful period piece which harks back to the house where the Davies family grew up in Muswell Hill, sung with the sort of post-war stark colliery band feel his elder sisters grew up on and some gorgeous memories. It's an oh so Kinks-like song about feeling nostalgic even for the nastier bits of your past sung with real feeling and emotion. 'Rock Me, Rock You' is a candidate for Dave's best ballad since 'Living On A Thin Line', a tremendous song that plays cat-and-mouse with our emotions all the way through until the power pop chorus finally arrives, beaten straight away by the even prettier 'Flowers In The Rain', which sounds like a close cousin of 'Death Of A Clown'. Those aren't even the best songs by the way - the witty yet bitter 'Whose Foolin' Who?!', the strident title track and the hilarious music-hall-mixed-with-grunge 'Why?!?' are the younger Davies' humour mixed with a genuinely profound series of statements are perhaps the best mix yet of Dave's serious-yet-playful personality. If the rest of the record isn't quite up to these five songs, then no matter - 'Bug' runs long and for the most part well and only the closing 'Life After Life (Transformation)' is a step too far with its modern sound and Cher-style vocoder remixes of Dave's voice (at nine minutes it's still quite a chunk of the album, however). By and large Dave refound his voice - sadly just before he lost it again, in circumstances beyond his control. His stroke while promoting the album (and which hit Dave when leaving a Radio Two interview chatting about 'Bug') came at the worst possible time: robbing Dave of the strength to promote this must-have album (which duly disappeared with no Kink around to publicise it) and taking away his strength just when he seemed to have found it again. In a way though Dave's last album before his stroke has plenty of ominous warnings about it - the title track, for instance, is about having something 'alien' inside you stopping your body from working properly. The fact that 'Bug' sank without trace really 'bugs' me - it's right up there with his brother's solo records and deserves a lot more credit than it currently received for putting Dave back on the track to musical recovery, whatever it sadly cost him in terms of health.

'Pounded, grounded, frowned upon, manipulated' - opening track 'Whose Foolin' Who?' roars like a re-make of 'I'm Not Like Everybody Else', with a few references to old Kinks favourite themes like 'reality versus fantasy' and 'beware crooked politicians' along the way. Dave sings about a 'chemical reaction' in his mind every time he gets brainwashed by media lies and adds the cryptic line 'is you're fooling yourself then whose fooling who?' before ending with a playful 'Hey you - I'm talking to you!' a message Ray last directed to hi during 'Destroyer' from 'Give The People What They Want' in 1981.

'It Ain't Over Till It's Done' sounds like a late 60s rocker as Dave rocks out while at the same time telling us about his 'spiritual transformation'. Debating his career he wonders 'was it divine inspiration or just some silly hopes?'

'The Lie' returns to the theme of manipulation and includes the eerie line 'they left me here to die' which will come back to haunt Dave the month of release. The world 'steals your brightest dreams, leaving them hollow soles' but Dave is fighting back. A shame the tune isn't up to the lyrics on this one, though.

'Let Me Be' is the song that sounds most like the albums Dave was making in the 80s, straightforward sounding rock and roll that comes with a spiritual lyric you don't even notice at first. Dave's vocal is at its most demented and off-key here, which is a shame because the song itself is another good one with a very 50s rock retro chorus and the vow 'they'll never take my soul - they'll never take me alive!'

'Displaced Person' may or may not be a return to 'The Tramp', the Ray Davies character from 'Preservation'. A funky blues riff is played overwhelmingly loud - what would the younger Dave of 'You Really Got Me' done with this amount of distortion one wonders? - while the song itself is low key and subtly played for the most part before tearing off into a funky punk rocker. The two halves don't go together very well but both are great separately - right up until the spoken word 'come on mama, swing!' anyway, which a touch too modern even for Dave to pull off.

'Rock You, Rock Me' is a gorgeous song about Dave only now learning to open up to his feelings and experience them rather than bottle them up. His voice is brilliant here, shaken but sturdy, as he urges his listeners to carry on, 'even when your world is falling down', taking strength from the knowledge that others out there are suffering like him

'Flowers In The Rain' is an even prettier ballad with a lovely melody Ray would be proud to have written. He's have liked the lyric too, which reprise 'Picture Book' and are surely about Sue again, Dave still missing his teenage sweetheart even after forty-odd years, reminiscing on their time together and how it might have been again. 'All the things I didn't sigh' Dave sighs, reminded of his lost love in the full bloom of their love every time he sees a flower damaged by the rain.

'Fortis Green' is the album highlight though a stately dance through Dave's childhood as he recalls his dad coming home drunk (from the pub seen on the cover of Muswell Hillbillies), going on Sunday morning drives, paddling in the sea and listening to 'Hancock's Half Hour' on the 'wireless' (good choice, Dave!) Note though that brother Ray isn't mentioned once (he's about the only family member not to be in Dave's 'Let 'Em In' style list!) and neither is Uncle Arthur - instead it's Uncle Frank whose the 'character' they just don't make anymore ('Oh what a bleeding shame!) Listen out too for a repeat of 'Come Dancing' (where Dave gets 'a shilling for a bribe' when he spies his sister kissing, presumably by the 'garden gate') and a mention, presumably of 'Sue' - here 'My little Katie Sue - there was nothing she wouldn't do!') Fortis Green was the district of Muswell Hill where the band grew up and had already been used as the title of a Dave Davies demo collection. A truly gorgeous song, performed with just the right shade of wistful nostalgia and teary goodbye, while the period brass band setting is deeply fitting and well handled.

'Why?!?' is a fourth great song in a row, a playful song where Dave asks a series of rhetorical questions, revealing how little we still understand about life even in our modern world, and then turns the song around to taunt the 'satisfied middle man' a la 'Shangri-La' ('Well you got a new house and you got a new car but you can't buy everything, and you cry cry 'cause you're not satisfied and you're wound up like a spring!') The song ends with a playful falsetto shriek which demands of Dave over and over 'Where you been? What you doing? Who ya been with? Where ya bin?' as the song marches out of shot with some Mick Avory style military drumming. There are some great lyrics in here ('What is this rhyme? What is this - Question Time?') and another cracking guitar riff, with Dave giving a delicious performance once again.

'True Phenomenon' is the start of a less successful phase to the album though. The trippy modern synths and hard-edged drums are irritating compared to the timeless recordings that have just come before and this song in particular sounds more like something that belongs on a TV soundtrack than a 'proper' song. Dave's rat pack crooning is rather hard to take too. The lyrics are good though - once you work out what they are - returning to the date of 'True Story' when ufos from the inner consciousness visited Dave in 1982 to tell him the 'truth' of the universe. The Government have, of course, denied all this.

Title track 'Bug' quickly blows away those cobwebs with one last sultry rocker, Dave strutting with his best rockstar swagger on a song a grunge band would have been pleased to have written. Dave sings of being brainwashed and bugged by the Government before losing control and replying in kind to those in power: 'I'll be the bug up yer ass!!!' The middle eight ('Before I die open my eyes...') is particularly strong, the song falling into a reflective middle eight mode before clawing its way out of its hole back into the main theme once again.

'De-Bug' is an unnecessary sequel, however, with very few lyrics and way too much guitar and synth slashing at triple speed. Dave might be trying to empty my mind of what the powers that be have out into it, but it feels like he's overloading my brain, not taking bits away.

'Life After Life (Transformation)'  then closes the album on a nine-minute long trance/dance track which has absolutely nothing to do with anything else Dave has ever written. This song and others like it are the main reason I never go to nightclubs (well, alongside not being young and trendy anymore - was I ever? Heck I'm a Kinks fan I'm cooler than cool!) and even Dave's electronically treated 'Believe' style lyrics (this was the 'in' sound of 2001/2001 wasn't it?!) can't lift this song up from being garbage.
A sad place to end, then, but 'Bug' still has plenty of fine moments - enough to make the album Dave's second-best after 'Chosen People', even if it is all a bit of a rollercoaster ride in terms of quality. Even on this album's worst moments, though, Dave wins points simply by trying so many new things including staying in touch with the music his grandchildren would have been listening to. Well, the past is not what it used to be is it? A highly impressive and for half the album deeply moving experience - Dave's last in full health finds him at the peak of his powers.

46) Dave Davies "Bugged...Live!"

(Meta Media, October 2002)

I Need You/Susannah's Still Alive/Creepin' Jean/You're Lookin' Fine/See My Friends/The Lie!/Dead End Street/Picture Book/Rock Me Rock You/True Phenomenon/Death Of A Clown/Sleepwalker/Bug/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/You Really Got Me

"Hey, does anyone here like the blues?"

Dave Davies live album number three and the formula is beginning to wear a bit thin. On the plus side Dave's catalogue is so full to bursting with songs we've been longing to hear played live that there are still plenty of highlights: 'Creepin' Jean' was born for the live stage and rocks nicely, with more of a bluesy feel than expected; 'Susannah's Still Alive' sounds fine slowed down a fraction and 'You're Lookin' Fine' played as a medley with 'A Gallon Of Gas' sounds terrific re-cast as a blues song.  However 'I Need You' has Dave's voice strained unbearably high, is a struggle to sit through and none of the songs from 'Bug' work quite as well as at other concerts or on the record. The end verdict? The earlier two shows were better, coming with Dave's autobiography readings in between (he's actually pretty quiet on stage tonight, which isn't like him at all) but this isn't a bad substitute if you can't get hold of them.

47) Dave Davies "Transformation - Live At The Alex Theatre"

(Meta Media, May 2003)

Transformation I/Whose Foolin' Who?/Til' The End Of The Day/I Need You/The Blues/See My Friends/Dead End Street/Rock You Rock Me/Flowers In The Rain/Death Of A Clown/Picture Book/It Ain't Over Till IT's Done/Bug!/Transformation II/Living On A Thin Lin/Father Christmas/You Really Got Me

"I get the feelin' it ain't over till it's done and my hart is beating like a drum"

Another live album but one that couldn't sound less like the first two, this album is well named with Dave Davies 'transformed' from rock guitar legend into cult other-worldly sci-fi guru. The set opens with an almost unrecognisable version of 'Transformation' from 'Bug' and features lots of intoning dramatic voices and alien noises. Even when the set moves on to more 'normal' songs they all sound slightly different - fatter and more 'peculiar' with a heavy guitar sound treated with lots of distortion. Sometimes this really works  - 'I Need You' sounds ever more desperate as Dave tries and turns it into a Guns and Roses style thrash that sounds great, 'See My Friends' sounds more intense and 'Livin' On A Thin Line' sounds much tougher than the ethereal version on 'Word Of Mouth'. However sometimes this is an experiment too far: a sloppy 'Death Of A Clown' doesn't quite come off, a bluesy 'Dead End Street' is too laidback and a surprise revival of 'Father Christmas' is even harsher than the original, however well the vocal suits Dave's voice. Teasing the audiences over and over with bursts of 'You Really Got Me' tacked onto other songs becomes a bit wearing by the end as well, even if the final 'full' performance is a good one. Most of the songs from 'Bug' meanwhile sound much the same, only not quite as good. Our advice: stick with 'Marian College' 'Rock Bottom' and the 'Bug' album itself, although kudos to Dave for trying something a little different on his third live CD.

48) Ray Davies "Thanksgiving Day (EP)"

(V2, November 2005)

Thanksgiving Day/Yours Truly, Confused, N10/London Song/Storyteller/Thanksgiving Day (Alternate Mix)

"What ever happened to the green and pleasant land we knew as England? That thrown of kings, that sceptered isle set in a silver sea, has turned into a laughing stock divided without harmony"

Some ten years after the last Kinks album - and twelve after this last album of all-new material - Ray is still procrastinating, perhaps still obstinately hanging on for a Kinks reunion. While 'Thanksgiving Day' officially marks his first release of new material, it's not the wham-bam-first-ever-solo! release with all the tie-in publicity you might have expected. Instead Ray goes right back to The Kinks' early years with an EP, one which contains just two new songs (alongside two songs - not the right ones I have to say - reprised from his 'Storyteller' album). Even the front cover is low key - a watercolour painting of Ray in the studio, his face turned away from the front - a highly unusual shot for a 'new launch' of his career. Perhaps for these reasons - and a lack of publicity - many fans missed this EP the first time it came out, although luckily both new songs were collected on the compilation 'Collected' (with 'Thanksgiving Day' additionally included on the end of 'Other People's Lives' as a 'hidden' bonus track). Luckily both songs are strong ones that get Ray's solo career proper off to a flying start. 'Thanksgiving Day' is a beautiful and oh so Ray Davies tale of a feuding family getting back together and putting their quarrels aside for one last reunion (was he keeping it in case of a Kinks reunion?) Ray, having recently moved to America, uses their local custom - one so alien to the lands of Village Greens of old - as a metaphor for the brotherly love and bonhomie he feels runs under the surface of his new brasher American friends. Typically, though, Ray sings the song with English reserve, the warm-hearted chorus only gradually thawing his heart across the song until the track finally ends with a singalong chorus. The lesser known 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' is even better and may well be the greatest gem in his solo career so far. A discussion of the reasons he's leaving the UK, expressed in the form of a bitter letter, the track reveals that age hasn't withered Ray's sarcasm and most of his pot-shots at decadent English culture are spot-on. Returning to the past one last time, Ray tells us that Muswell Hill and the people in it are 'quite depressed' but nobody cares because of misconceptions. The song argues that the 'yobbos' are really the politicians shouting in the House of Commons, whole the burglars and terrorists are left to wander round the streets helping themselves. Ray's witty vocal is a delight as he tries to out-shout the horns trying to blare him out throughout and ends with a nervy 'thankyou and goodnight!' like his old idol Max Wall. Best line, his depiction of modern-age English apathy: 'I'm much too terrified to go outside - but the televisions' boring!' As for the 'old' songs 'Storyteller' is a good one that deserves a new audience - but 'London Song' is a woeful clichéd song with a heavy metal beat that's not as convincing as Dave's similar sounding songs. Still, overall this EP boded very well indeed for a new album - which, after several delays (some of them for horrific reasons) finally appeared two years later.

49) "Classic Airwaves"

(Revicus, '2005')

You Really Got Me (Live 1976 'Supersonic')/All Day And All Of The Night (Live 1976 Supersonic')/Waterloo Sunset (Live 1977 'Kristmas Koncert')/Lola (Live 1977 'Kristmas Koncert')/Celluloid Heroes (Live 1977 'Mike Douglas Show'')/No More Looking Back (Live 1976 'Supersonic')/Life On The Road (Live 1977 'Kristmas Koncert')/Sleepwalker (Live 1977 'Mike Douglas Show' )/Misfits (????)/Live Life (Live 1978 'On Site')/Lost and Found (Live 'The Tube' 1987)

"We beat the fear, we came through the storm, now it all seems clear, we were lost - and found"

Borderline illegal, but legal enough to be sold in a proper shop (note: does Poundland count as a 'proper' shop?!) this CD of TV soundtracks mainly taken from ITV shows like 'What's On' and 'Supersonic' was almost worth me breaking the habit of a lifetime and going inside the shop despite their despicable exploitation of workfare (if you're not British it's the scheme where you get sacked from your job and six months later have to do it again for free or your benefits get cut; thus hurting the economy because the employers would much rather have workers for free). Despite being cheap and cheerful (without even a proper front cover, just a flimsy bit of paper) this is surprisingly good actually, with some delicious Kinks performances from yesteryear unavailable in any form anywhere else. It's great to hear some of the semi-obscure songs in a live setting - a rough and ready and rather breathless 'Live Life' has much more 'life' than the record, a trippy 'Sleepwalker' has Ray singing much deeper than the record and with a very different, more detached feel throughout, there's a gorgeous live version of 'Misfits' (which for the life of me I can't find anywhere else!), a live 'Lost and Found' sounds far more personal and revealing than the rather anonymous studio original and a slightly faster and more emotional 'No More Looking Back' proves once again why it might be the un=-sung hero of the band's 1970s catalogue. Better yet this set features, for me at least, the definitive 'Waterloo Sunset', a gorgeous acoustic version with just Ray and short-term keyboard player Gordon Edwards turning an over-heard song we take for granted into a new low-key beauty with Ray singing like he means it for the first time since 1966. To be honest you really don't need yet more weak-kneed 70s version of the other hits (the medley of 'You Really Got Me' and 'All Day And All Of The Night' does neither song any favours, while the acoustic version of 'Lola' lacks the firepower of the electric versions). At just 35 minutes this set also seems incredibly short (what a shame the compilers didn't hold out for the ITV drama of 'Starmaker' or have access to the BBC British or American TV shows which could have easily turned this mini-set into a definitive double-disc set of TV soundtracks). However for the price this set is exceptional and even at full price is worth getting if you're a Kinks addict with a soft spot for their mid-70s material, filling in the gaps nicely between the brilliantly khaotic Kinks of 'Everybody's In Show-Biz' in 1973 and the arena rock of 'One For The Road' in 1980.The set also includes 'enhanced videos' of all the songs apparently, although I never actually did get my copy to work - having seen them elsewhere, however, I can tell you that the 'Supersonic' is a particularly good show to watch,  with the band on energetic form on top of a moving podium for much of it, although the other performance clips are rather less essential in terms of visuals. 

50) Dave Davies "Kinked"

(**, February 2006)

Unfinished Business/Living On A Thin Line/Picture Book/Fortis Green/Love Gets You/This Man He Weeps Tonight/Death Of A Clown/Susannah's Still Alive/Hold My Hand/Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)/Strangers/Too Much On My Mind/When The Wind Blows (Emergency)/God In My Brain/Rock Me Rock You

"Don't say goodbye - there's a smile on my face!"

Another Dave Davies best-of, this time covering just the years from live albums to 'Bug', this one is perhaps a little premature after just three releases and the re-worked live classics and the new favourites aren't natural companions. The good news is that this set does offer a welcome means of getting most of the rarities from 'Unfinished Business' if you haven't got round to buying them yet and there are a handful of new oddities to enjoy: a Dave-sung live cover of one of George Harrison's lovelier solo songs 'Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)' - first released on the various artists tribute album 'Songs From The Material World' in 2003 - and the rather odd 'When The Wind Blows', a Roger Waters-style cold war protest first released in 1997 on the various artists protest record 'End Hunger Network' (which may well be the obscurest album with a Kinks connection out there - I've never even seen it or found out what else was on it!) There's also one new track, 'God In My Brain', the first recording to be released after Dave's stroke which both pointed the way forward to and boded well for 'Fractured Mindz with its angry snarling guitars and heavy rock stomp. You don't really need this compilation, but it's as good a way as any of keeping Dave's name alive during his recovery and is a useful mopping up job for some hard to find rarities.

51) Ray Davies "Other People's Lives"

(V2, February 2006)

Things Are Gonna Change (The Morning After)/After The Fall/Next Door Neighbour/All She Wrote/Creatures Of Little Faith/Run Away From Time/The Tourist/Is There Life After Breakfast?/The Getaway (Lonesome Train)/Other People's Lives/Stand-Up Comic/Over My Head/(Hidden Bonus Track): Thanksgiving Day

"Such a change from that cold and bitter scan of what I was and who I am"

At last, after a decade of some of the best procrastination in the business, Ray was back with his first 'proper' solo album (starting his new career at the age of 62!) - a record that had been promised since at least 1999 when the demos were first put together. There were many reasons for the delay of course - the burn-out from The Kinks years that had seen Ray write so often for so long, the success of his 'Storyteller' tours, writing an autobiography and of course being shot by a mugger whilst walking through New Orleans, an incident that left Ray bed-ridden in a dingy hospital for much of 2004, the year that was originally intended to be his comeback year (many fans and critics wrote their surprise that the most sensitive singer-songwriter on the planet hadn't written more about his near brush with death, but actually Ray had the songs for this record all written and recorded across 2002 and 2003 - all Ray was meant to be doing in 2003 was mixing and promoting!; Ray says in 'Americana' that he spent much of his time in hospital singing these songs to himself to keep them in his mind for when he returned to the project!) However could it also be that Ray spent so many years toying with his solo career (with live albums, EPs and the like) because he didn't want to face making his first recordings without his fellow Kinks? A reunion had seemed on the cards right up until Dave's stroke left him (thankfully temporarily) incapacitated and this batch of songs is particularly 'Kinky' - much so than the lesser sequel.

The release of Ray's first album in a decade was clearly big news and thankfully largely delivered. Like 'Phobia', 'Other People's Lives' is something of a sprawling epic that instead of limiting Ray's many 'personalities' tries to give them full reign in all their eclectic if bitty wonder. As a result there's quite a few numbers that don't really work - 'Life After Breakfast' and 'Run Away From Time' are two of the more generic Ray Davies songs around and Ray admitted that he'd pulled the oddball Max Wall-style comedy 'Stand-Up Comic' from the album several times because it didn't fit - only to find that the song had a life of its own and kept coming back to 'haunt' him every time he tried to remove it! Even with those lesser songs removed, however, there's so much material here in this hour-long album that there's still the single best 40 minute album Ray had written in a long time ('Give The People What They Want' in 1981?) Best of all, rather than rest on his laurels the rest of the material on the album really stretches Ray's palette (even though everything here still sounds like The Kinks): 'Things Are Gonna Change' and 'All She Wrote' are two of the toughest rockers of Ray's career, 'After The Fall' is a confessional ballad, the title track adds a sashaying Spanish salsa to a 'Word Of Mouth' style anti-gossip song, 'Creatures Of Little Faith' and 'Next Door Neighbour' take Ray's sharpened character portraits to a whole new level and best of all 'The Getaway' and 'Over My Head' tap into a whole new emotional reservoir the usually more reserved Ray has only ever given us before when he's angry or elated - not confused and overwhelmed as here.

If there's a theme to this record it's one of picking yourself up after a bad time and finding new reasons to struggle on (very Kinks - we've been discussing this theme of an unhappy present leading to hope for a better future and nostalgia for a near-perfect past for much of the book, but it's near its strongest on this CD). The opening track pleads that 'Things Are Gonna Change' the morning after a tragedy, but it's not till the later songs that you believe it: Ray's admittance on 'After The Fall' that he's no stranger to collapsing but 'this time it was harder to get up than before'; still pick himself up he does. 'All She Wrote' returns to the scene of betrayal of both 'Sweet Lady Genevieve and 'To The Bone', Ray's anger not that his partner has gone but that she should have 'dumped' him by letter after all those intimate times they shared. Still by the end he seems to have got it out of his system, thanks to a 'You Really Got Me' style scream that's gloriously intense. 'Run Away From Time' and 'The Tourist' yearn for escapism, the first from time and the second from space. 'Stand Up Comic' ignores the troubles by telling bad jokes and basically moaning (in truth it's more Al Murray than Max Wall). 'The Getaway' pities those who went under and ran away rather than face their problems, with 'Over My Head' ending the album on a sad note as Ray fears he may too go under. However even then the album has one last hope for redemption as the soothing tones of 'Thanksgiving Day', unlisted on the cover, suggest that it's never too late to patch things up and get together with those you love one last time(though it's a shame 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' isn't here too for an even more Kinks-style ending with Ray turning his anger on everybody!) Heard here right at the end of the album, it may be a peace offering of sorts to Dave.
Talking of Dave, what impresses most about this album are the musicians; against all odds you stop missing The Kinks as early as the first track. I saw Ray touring shortly before this album and the band he put together was 'orrible - well by Kinks standards anyway, I mean they could play; it wasn't as if they were The Spice Girls or anything - teenagers and twenty-somethings who were clearly there to inject some life into Ray's songs but smothered and swamped them with too much life instead. However in the studio it's a completely different story: all these songs are given room to breathe and allow Ray to reflect nostalgically as well as get fired up to the future. A song like 'Next Door Neighbour' for instance is now suddenly full of all the subtleties that the last phase of The Kinks were too road-hardened to manage and 'The Getaway' is eerie and spooky, whispered as if Ray is about to join the other side (even Wicked Annabella herself would be creeped out by this marvellous song). Unlike some solo singers out there, Ray also had a major hand in shaping this album with credits for the stinging electric guitar that starts the album, the mellotron on 'Creatures Of Little Faith', the Continental Vox Organ of 'The Tourist' and the gentle piano of 'Over My Head'. Together with a production shine that at long last sounded timeless rather than tied to the 1980s or 1990s, 'Lives' represents a real move forwards for Ray as a performer as well as a composer. Ray even sings with more passion and character than he has in an age, living each and every song and even throwing in a few new vocal ticks - his deeper growl is debuted on 'After The Fall' and sounds fab, while the purr on 'Creatures Of Little Faith' is exquisite. Old age really suits Ray Davies, a character who always seemed old before his time and the desire to still look over at his shoulder without the temptation to hide the passing of time like some of his contemporaries makes for a truly moving listening experience. Overall, while not perfect, there's an awful lot to get excited about here and fans are sure to fall over their head for at least something here whether they remember the lyrical 60s Kinks, the concept 70s Kinks or the arena rock 80s Kinks. What a shame, though, that rather than the beginnings of the great career we were hoping for, there has since been only one anti-climatic sequel and another ten years of silence. A third Ray Davies album is well overdue and much longed for amongst the Kinks Kommunity.

The snarling, turbulent 'Things Are Gonna Change' starts off with some blistering feedback which immediately removes the stand-by critic comment 'Ray wasn't like this when Dave was in the band!' It's a very Dave-like song in fact, based on an angular thrash riff and full of lots of noise even after the song settles down into something more 'normal'. Ray's lyrics suggest a philosophical hangover: he's just messed up, the 'morality' of what's just happened has kicked in and this is the 'morning after the song and laughter'. A second verse has Ray returning to his old theme of the harassed 9-5 worker-commuter, that it's 'my turn to get pushed in the queue' and goes on to spit out some very self-deprecating lyrics about every reason Ray has to give up here and now: 'your ear's deaf, your girls' left!' However Ray isn't defeated yet and he philosophically concludes that 'love will return' because it always has, no matter how low he falls and the track peaks with a triumphant 'I will, I bloody well will!' Whose to doubt Ray when he's written his most determined song in years.

'After The Fall' is a gentler take on the same subject matter, with an acoustic opening that recalls an Easternised version of 'Misfits' before the song is swept aside by another throbbing electric guitar part. Ray reaches out for help from above but in a possible jokey reprisal of Dave's meeting with other 'spirits' when Ray asks 'can you help?' 'they reply 'not at all''. Ray sings in a much deeper voice than usual with really suits this song's feeling of reaching new depths  Note that this is the second song in a row to mention the un-rhymeable word 'morality', a key theme of this record. Some of the lyrics are a bit OTT by Ray standards ('A prophet cries out in high platitudes') but the words are clearly heartfelt and include the classic Ray Davies moment where he imagines his death and his hopes for a better future in the world are dashed straight away with the line that 'even at the gates of Heaven I'm still waiting in a queue!'

The lovely 'Next Door Neighbour' seems such a Ray Davies song you wonder why he hadn't written it before. After years of using his house as a metaphor for being at home and safe, Ray reflects on all his neighbours down the years who weren't so lucky - there was the Arthur like downtrodden Mr Jones, the ambitious and material Mr Brown and Mr Smith, who went 'bezerk and jacked the whole world in'. Ray wonders about a group who had nothing in common except him as a neighbour  and sighs in a truly gorgeous middle eight that despite his best attempts at 'Preservation' that 'I know things are not the same and everything changes...' It's a truly gorgeous song with a delightful horn part featuring old friends Mike Cotton and John Beecham.

'All She Wrote' isn't quite up to the similar 'To The Bone' but the cruel goodbye note that brings back memories sports a truly great rock and roll riff and the song builds up to a tremendous peak of fury as Ray dementedly shrieks the middle eight 'Did you ever really love me, did you ever really care?' We don't know which of his wives inspired this song (or was it Chrissie Hynde? It sounds more her style!) but it's clearly a very 'real' experience for Ray and all too believable as the narrator struggles to accept that someone who once wrote him such romantic love letters can now condense him to a 'cold hard scan of what I was and who I am'. Ray's fixation with big Australian bar-maids seems out of place, however! According to the sleevenotes this was the first song recorded for the album back in March 2002.

'Creatures Of Little Faith'  is a fifth superb song in a row and perhaps the most impressive song here in terms of song construction. A gorgeous sighing melody and a sweet saxophone part really enhances a song about two lovers who no longer trust each other. Ray fools us by starting 'you caught me with my pants down' but reveals that he's in the shower, with his wife rummaging through his pockets. Ray is quizzed about where he's been and who he's seen to the point where his loved one sounds paranoid - but the twist is that the narrator really is an adulterer - he's just one whose got away with until now. Most of the song plays things cool and calm, refusing to get ruffled, but the desperate middle eight switches to the sadder, angrier minor key and really brings the song to life. Gorgeous - I'll even put aside my traditional life-long hatred of saxophone solos to say that this one is superb. According to the sleevenotes this is the last song recorded for the album and the only one made from scratch after the mugging - on April 9th 2004, a mere three months afterwards the event.

At last the album puts a foot wrong but 'Run Away From Time' isn't that bad - just a bit one-note in such distinguished company. A very Ray lyric on how you can hide from everybody and everything except time, which ticks on without your control, starts off well but ends up turning into an over-noisy version of Del Shannon's 'Runaway'. Ray sounds as if he's having fun though, something he admitted in the sleevenotes was true!

'The Tourist' sounds as if it's come straight out of the Kinks' RCA years - a sequence of sound effects gives way to a quietly grooving song about being an English outsider in another land (presumably America, Ray's new home in this period). Ray's great eye for observation works as well as ever, tackling both the visitors doing things they never would at home and the raised eyebrows of waiters who've seen everything. There's a terrifically loud instrumental burst where the band suddenly stop shuffling and go for the kill, the 9-5 worker let off the leash and going overboard, but there's somehow less purpose to this song than most on the album. The track is special though if only for the line I never thought I'd hear Ray proclaim: 'They dance and swing while Abba sing!'

'Is There Life After Breakfast?' is another from the Noel Coward-end of Ray's songbook, with a delightfully camp vocal. The title is a clever one (the narrator is comforting a loved one who can't see a way past a tragedy - even while everyday things go on and breakfast is made) and the lyric again returns to the album theme of picking yourself up and moving on, but by Ray's high standards this song doesn't move very far from the title and seems to mainly consist of saying 'there there' while pouring a cup of tea.

'The Getaway' is my highlight of the album, with the most gorgeous melody Ray has written in years and with a rare use of the minor key throughout which really tugs at the heart-strings. Ray refers to this as his 'American' song on the album and it does sound awfully like those 1950s blues songs upodated to a 21st century tone. However the theme is universal: it's about all those runaways 'making the great escape' when they couldn't take what their life had become but were too scared to commit suicide. Ray sees it as a 'warning that just comes over you' and sees a shadow in the sidewalk as he walks past where they should have been in their 'normal' life. The narrator is clearly troubled (see 'Over My Head') and half sympathises and half-envies them their new lives. Many of the lyrics will be familiar to Kinks fans: the thought of running away 'can hit without warning, on a sunny afternoon' (hinting at both a 'happy' day and perhaps the millionaire who had it all and lost it back in 1966) and the 'lonesome train' who sounds only a signal-change away from 'Last Of The Steam Powered Trains'. A quality Ray Davies vocal and some sublime guitar playing from Ray and Mark Johns makes for a superb production of a first-class song with the closing few minutes (a few ghostly oohs over some strummed guitar) before two deep-voiced Rays intone to the listener,  'Big Sky' style, to 'get out that door before it's too late' is magnificently goose-pimply.

I'm never quite sure what I think of title track 'Other People's Lives'. I like the melody which adds a new Spanish flavour to Ray's catalogue and which works really well on that score, with another excellent performance (even if the song curiously starts with an 'outtake' a la 'Massive Reductions'). Isobel Fructuso is an especially excellent backing vocalist. The lyrics however are just the same old Ray Davies moaning about the gutter press - admittedly he had a point with what the press had been saying the past few years but there's nothing new in this song to make it worth adding to the pile of similar songs like 'Mr Reporter' and 'Word Of Mouth'.

And it's over to the 'Stand Up Comic', christened 'Max' by Ray after his hero Max Wall (the album is dedicated to the imaginary Max in the sleevenotes: 'for Hovering over my shoulder - now please stay out of my life forever!') It's an odd song, with a near-rap song about 'the lowest common denominator' that brings mankind to the level of the gutter, sung over a Chuck Berry style riff and Ray swearing for the first time since 'Preservation Act Two'. The song really doesn't  suit the rest of the album and repeating everything three times straight is probably twice too many, but then that's kind of the whole point - The Kinks' sound is more of a square peg in the modern repetitive world than ever, even if Ray does offer a highly convincing imitation of crowd mentality. And that's that.

Or not quite: 'Over My Head' is a moving first finale, an open confession that returns to songs like 'A Face In The Crowd' and 'Sitting In My Hotel' that try hard to dispel any idea of Ray as a 'hero'. Ray has fallen, feels rough 'totally stressed' and living a life where 'everyone's questioning me'. A delightful change to the minor key unusually brings salvation as the production shifts from sparse to singalong in the blink of an eye and Ray simply imagines himself well away from it all. Ray's withdraw may not be the most honourable thing to do but it's the most human and believable as he pulls away from the anger and bitterness he feels  to 'find some peace of mind' 'a million miles away from it all'. It's a clever, moving song that sounds awfully close to Beach Boy Brian Wilson's similar song 'Gettin' In Over My Head', the title track of an album (released in June 2004, after Ray's song was recorded but before it was released). An unexpected sequel, 'Thaksgiving Day', has already been dealt with on the 'Thanksgiving Day' EP but suffice to say that here it makes for an even better finale, quietly optimistic in the best Kinks tradition!

'Other People's Lives' sadly didn't quite sell the amount that was hoped for, although it did outsell both the 'Storyteller' CD and last Kinks record 'Phobia' and with a UK chart peak of #36 actually became Ray's best at home since 'State Of The Confusion' in 1983. The low sales will cause a major re-think for how to promote the next album, not altogether successfully...As a record in its own right, however, 'Other People's Lives' is a classic with much for casual fans and longterm Kinks Konnoisseurs to enjoy alike. It is to date the best 'new' Kinks release of the 21st century so far.

52) Ray Davies "Workingman's Cafe"

(V2, October 2007)

Vietnam Cowboys/You're Asking Me/Workingman's Cafe/Morphine Song/In A Moment/Peace In Our Time/No One Listens/Imaginary Man/One More Time/The Voodoo Walk/Hymn For A New Age/The Real World

"If you're asking me, don't take my advice!"

Well I wasn't expecting that - after waiting eleven years to make his first 'proper' solo album, Ray's back with a second within 18 months. Admittedly there was a good reason for this - 'Other People's Lives' had been delayed by the shooting in New Orleans and the brush with death had inspired Ray with a new creative outpouring, with most of this album already written before the last album came out.  This is even more of an 'American' album for Ray, despite the title track's mention of the very English institution of class and cafes (in fact as it turns out America didn't get this album until a full four months after Europe). Slightly disappointed with the response to 'Lives', Ray also had a new trick up his sleeve - releasing this album (or at least ten tracks from it) free with a British newspaper, The Sunday Times (a very Kinks sort of newspaper, full of huffing and puffing and talk of how things were better in the old days, but made with more passion than 'The Guardian'!) Unfortunately this method too backfired - nobody bothered buying the 'official' album just to hear two extra tracks at the end and while more people got to hear this album (though how many people do actually listen to what they get free with newspaper?!) what actually counted as 'sales' were disappointing again. Ray hasn't released a full album of new material since.

Had this album come before 'Lives' it might have had a better reception, simply for the sheer moments of pure Kinks beauty lightly drizzled across this record - the fantasy v reality discussion 'Imaginary Man' and the fascinating 'Morphine Song' (a delicate fragile ballad about desperation, written while in hospital and pleading for that very drug). You have to say that this album's more 'consistent' tones make it a far more Kinks-like album than its predecessor too, much closer to what fans were expecting. However the thrill of the last album seems to have gone. Instead of the rollercoaster rides from passionate orchestral ballads to screaming rockers to silly music hall and the range of styles from deep confessional to character assassination, 'Workingman's Cafe' sounds much the same throughout. Though littered with references to The Kinks' past (Ray even walks past 'Preservation Hall' in 'Imaginary Man') this doesn't seem much of the actual Kinks spirit about it: even the half-theme of the old making way for the new (the title track, for instance, is about the last independent cafe Ray know of in London before it too makes way for a faceless conglomerate) , which should be so right up 'our' street as old-time fans is poorly handled, rushed and unfinished (even 'Sleepwalker' had more of a theme than this!)
While the shooting was inspired much of the album, there aren't that many mentions here though those that are seem easily the album highlights to me. Ray talks movingly of wanting to see England 'one last time', demons stalk the streets with a 'Voodoo Walk' , and best of all 'Morphine Song'   and 'IMaginary Man' make tearful last goodbyes', farewells that thankfully turned out to be false. All of this sounds more like what you'd expect from such a sensitive singer-songwriter caught in a life-or-death struggle (Ray came very very close to dying) and this was clearly a life-changing experience for him as you can tell if you read even a fraction of   Ray's 'Americana' book.However so much else in the album ignores this deep emotion and goes about making this record business as normal - only less inspired, as if the heart has gone out of the songs now. Perhaps Ray might have been better off waiting for a handful of extra classic songs before making this album? (Then again it's understandable if he wanted to get these songs off his chest and out of the way as quickly as possible). This should be a moment of celebration - one of those life-affirming albums where Ray recovered against the odds and fans can rejoice in how an old steam train is still fighting, still there as a wonderful anachronism in a modern world telling it like it is. However this feels like one of those Kinks albums from the mid-80s where Ray sounds fed-up and disillusioned. The end result is a slightly soggy album, one that won't live long in the memory after the album has finished playing, although the two album highlights are classics indeed. A later 'deluxe' version of the album added a DVD with two new tracks 'Angola (Wrong Side Of The Law)' and 'I, The Victim' (both taken from an in-the-works set 'The Victim') plus demos of 'Vietnam Cowboys' and 'Voodoo Walk'.

'Vietnam Cowboys' is more of the Americana aspect of Ray's recent writing. Had Ray moved there forty years earlier he'd no doubt have been singing about the Vietnam war, but this time the 'cowboys' at work in Vietnam are trying to shoot a film, without success. Once again Ray uses the 'sun' as a metaphor as his symbol for the good times starts burning at the beginning of the credit crunch (trust Ray to see it coming a year early!) and urging everyone to use more 'sun tan lotion'. The lyrics try hard to be another 'Catch Me Now I'm Falling', but the song is too wordy and the repetitive shuffle beat not that interesting sadly.

'You're Asking Me' is better, with a decent singalong melody and the old Kinks fire bursting into life in the chorus. However it's another of those postmodern tracks where Ray talks about the method of songwriting and spends the entire song saying 'why are you asking me? Don't take my advice - I haven't got a clue!' Ray's at his grumpiest here, all but arguing with his audience for asking him what will happen and if we'll be alright - he even tells us to 'get a life!' at one point. Huh, charming - we 'asked' Ray because he understands the past and how it worked and why it happened like nobody else, not because of his clairvoyancey with the future!

Title track 'Workingman's Cafe' isn't as forgettable or as rude, but it is a bit Ray-by-numbers. Ray wants a shop that 'fits' him but all he sees are endless faceless retailers until he spots one last cafe, an anachronism in a modern world just as Ray himself is. Alas the song has nowhere else to go from here and fans can probably fill in most of the lines without ever hearing the song.

'Morphine Song' is so much stronger than what came before it, it feels as if you've just been pumped full of drugs yourself. Ray's cracking, weary vocal really adds weight to this song written from his hospital bed as he simply sits back and reflects on all the hustle and bustle of the ward, filling in just enough story for all the passing characters for us to picture them. The doctor tells Ray he's 'got a slow heartbeat' and injects him with the drugs he craves while in his delirium a marching band plays on in his head. The song never mentions death once yet and we so know that's what this song is about - the narrator's sub-conscious working overtime to protect him from the inevitable truth as those around the narrator disappear mysteriously into the night. The 'killer' line that cuts through his brainfog: 'It can happen to anyone, sure makes me think, and the bed beside me is full of cables and leaves, nobody visits - nobody grieves!' A final verse finally has someone come to visit in tears 'afraid that I'm gonna die', breaking Ray's spell of trying to keep the truth away - instead it only causes the imaginary band to play louder until Ray realised the band were there all along, 'playing for charity' down the hall. Pleading for morphine one last time, Ray shuts his eyes, even saying he'll risk going to prison for stealing it when he gets out he so badly needs this drug. A phenomenal song that's oh so moving - this is Ray's subtly and dry wit at its best and the song makes a fine companion to The Rolling Stones' similar 'Sister Morphine'.

'In A Moment' tries to carry on the same theme, the speed at which a happy day can turn sad, but it's more generic and full of clichés this song ('Live every moment and hold me so tight!') and the tune too is forgettably bland. Compared to the last track it just comes across as false emotion without the intensity of 'Morphine Song'.

'Peace In Our Time' is one of those 'nearly' songs The Kinks did so often. It's 90-95% of the way there: a strong message (that peace will always arrive after every war, no matter how long it takes) and a mournful chorus melody. But this is another song that just tries too hard, with too many words again and underserved by a rather ropey performance that leaves Ray yelling his head off by the end.

The angry 'No One Listen' is a damning portrait of the 21st century 'escalating out of control' that's handled with the same ranting tones of the mid-80s Kinks albums. The song doesn't rock that convincingly though and turns from a promising opening into a long list of names 'who ain't gonna listen to me!' 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' is a much better take on the same idea.

Thankfully 'Imaginary Man' is another instant classic, with the loveliest melody Ray's written in years attached to a sensitive lyric that takes a look around Ray's past and concludes again that he's merely an 'imaginary man', a character Ray created for the public eye. It sounds as if the song was inspired by work on the 'Picture Book' retrospective, as Ray turns the bootlegs and outtakes that only he has heard for all those years over to us and then turns to the audience once again to offer up his companionship. 'I offered my very best to you, gave you dreams to aspire to' he sighs, 'involved you in all my crazy schemes and took you to places you'd never been'. Now, though, the journey seems to be growing short and Ray fears he won't be around much longer (this is surely another written from his hospital bed) telling us 'Is this the final station? It's really been quite a trip' in a way that's guaranteed to have lots of Kinks fans sobbing. Ray proudly tells us not to worry though - he's been imaginary all along anyway and can't really die. Sob - you old devil, Ray Davies, just when I'd given up hope of any emotional connection to this album at all!

'One More Time' tries to lean on our emotions too, with a similar lyric to the last two combined (another rant about modern life in the voice of a message of a man who knows it may be his last chance to do this and keep us 'safe' in the years to come). However, it's all slightly more generic and spends too long ranting to be as moving as it might have been. There's a hint, too, that this return to High Gate Hill Cemetery is also partly a repeat of 'London Song', written for the Kinks Publicist whose buried there. 'Let's part with no hard feeling and a positive embrace' Ray sighs, but after the last track it's emotional impact is somewhat lessened.

'The Voodoo Walk' comes on like a 'Phobia' outtake as a slinky blues riff stalks a Ray Davies lyric about a 'curse' hanging round the New Orleans streets. Most writers would have responded to nearly being murdered by blaming the killer to hell, but as with 'Killer's Eyes' Ray's clever enough to realise the deeper problems at issue which draw people on to become muggers and murderers. Instead he blames the 'vibe' of 'New Orleans' where everyone he sees ends up doing the 'voodoo walk' (one which sounds remarkably like the 'Sleepwalker' one) where everyone is a zombie 'caught in a living hell'. The performance lacks the sparkle of the song, however.

'Hymn For A New Age' is an oddly noisy song about Heaven - Ray doesn't believe in 'a man sitting in a big chair' but realises that deep down he believes in...something. 'I need something to look up to!' he pleads, 'I don't know what - but I need somebody to pray to!' In a modern world where 'Satan' stalks the world (terrorists?) and life is 'cheap' (his own) Ray decides the believing in something 'better' is necessary to human evolution and purpose, whether it's true or not. However this thoughtful lyric is rather undone by the messy melody which comes on like one of Dave's demented rockers.

'The Real World' is a pretty song to finish on, but once again it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. Reflecting perhaps on the 'woman friend' whose handbag was robbed in New Orleans, Ray talks about the jolt from being with her for the 'Mardi Gras' and the false bonhomie of the parades to his struggle for survival watching game shows all day. However once again Ray sounds less than connected to his song here and delivers a very wobbly performance.

Overall, then, you can't help but feel that 'Workingman's Cafe' should be a lot more moving than it is. When things work, as with the two album highlights, the result is stunning - but so many of these songs come over as overwritten and underperformed. Ray sounds stunning on 'Morphine Song' but on every other vocal sounds distracted and less than his best. Coming so soon after 'Other People's Lives' - when Ray was on the money with every song which tested him to every extreme - this is a surprise. However there's much to admire, if not quite love, about this album and this last defiant statement from the last great steam train in a digital world has plenty of moving lyrics, if not the moving melodies or performances to match. 

53) Dave Davies "Fractured Mindz"

(Eone Music, July 31st 2007)

This Is The Time/Free Me/All About Me/Come To River/Giving/Remember Who You Are/The Waiting Hours/Rock Siva/The Blessing/Fractured Mindz/God In My Brain

"Stay awake, be aware, don't give in to despair, don't be afraid or feel alone - this is a time to care"

Dave's life changed forever when he suffered a stroke while walking into a BBC lift on June 30th 2004 having just done an interview for his album 'Bug'. Dave had had a busy morning - he'd recorded several different interviews with lots of different DJs that day and he'd only just finished a hectic European tour of the album. Dave had admitted to feeling under the weather that morning, but or that he was (well, past the 1960s!) he carried on. Suddenly, without warning, the right side of his body stopped working and Dave was left unable to talk - although he stayed conscious throughout. Dave was with his publicist and his son Christian who both noticed their dad was acting strangely and managed to carry him out of the lift and outside where they waited for an ambulance. Dave would end up staying at Euston's College Hospital until August 27th - a very long stay for someone who'd never really been physically poorly before. He ended up, briefly, staying with brother Ray to recuperate (himself recovering from being shot by a mugger - 2004 was a very dark year for The Kinks) in a neat repeat of 1973 when Ray stayed on Dave's sofa post-Rasa while inwardly Dave was chasing demons of his own - but the two brothers bickered even more terribly than before and Dave quickly moved out to rent a house in Dorset. It sounded like a Ray Davies parable, something off 'Face To Face' - the singer with a fiery album accompanied by lots of noise and chaos, desperate to sound young again, felled by his own ability to keep up the pace.

We feared that Dave might never be able to record again, but thankfully he proved us wrong and much quicker than we ever expected. Rather than steer away from the issue and pretend that nothing happened, Dave cleverly used 'Fractured Mindz' as therapy in a way, coming to terms with the feeling of being trapped inside a body that didn't work anymore. Dave's voice has clearly been affected by the stroke, losing its piercing quality and precision, but he can still sing well and sing loud and what impresses most about 'Fractured Mindz' is how committed Dave is to singing as hard and strong as he ever did, just with a different vocal tone. Dave has commented in interviews how learning to talk and sing again, with more thought about enunciation, has taken away the ';cockney' twang in his vocal chords (he jokingly calls this new sound his 'Country English Gentleman's Voice'!) Remarkably though Dave still sounds recognisably like Dave and despite having to re-learn how to play the guitar too his musical 'voice' still sounds much the same too. In an understandably angry mood, Dave re-creates the noisier, angstier feel of 'Bug' as he rocks his demons out and several tracks work well with this noisier feel, but taken as a whole it is perhaps a step down from 'Bug', lacking the variety and wistfulness of the brace of songs from that album's middle (the 'You Really Got Me' style 'Free Me' stands out most). As a listening experience this is perhaps the weakest of Dave's six 'proper' solo albums to date with a series of songs that sound much like each other - although it's never less than interesting and always powerful and brave.

The sound is oddly dated by 2007 standards, sounding more like an early 0s record, but even that has a reason behind it - Dave struggled to re-learn how to play the guitar and keyboard and found his older instruments dating back to this era were easier to use. The spiritual message, so central to all of Dave's solo work, is rather more hidden here too on a more personal album which lacks the depth of 'Chosen People' or 'Bug' - but then so it should be; Dave's had a shock he needs to work through, he needs to be concentrating on himself not the planet for now. To be honest though, that's understandable: at times it seems like Dave has forgotten about us altogether and concentrated on what sort of music would help him - at times it feels as if we're over-hearing something we shouldn't be hearing as Dave screams in rage at the universe for robbing him of the power to communicate 'the truth' just when the planet really needs him. Once again it's interesting to contrast how the two brothers coped with their respective tragedies of 2004: Dave is open, honest, in-yer-face about the changes to his life while Ray's muse ends up spilling over into half a concept album three years down the road (the better half of 'Workingman's Cafe') and another semi-fictional autobiography 'Americana' a full ten years late. The result, then, is in pure black and white terms a 'failure' compared to the other Dave Davies records - but 'Fractured Mindz' has the best excuses going for why it's not the greatest album in the world. Given the struggles Dave had making it, painstakingly finding out how to make music again, I'm still deeply impressed that it's as good as it was, with Dave characteristically never ever taking the 'easy' way out, playing softer or shorter or with less effort. This is a hard-fought for victory that will mean a lot to anyone whose ever considered Dave one of the greats and frankly at this stage fans were worried enough to have accepted anything as a sign that Dave was still fighting, still rocking and still had a way of saying it.

'This Is The Time' is a throbbing, hypnotic round of guitar and keyboard slashing which sounds like a slightly more epic version of 'The Opening' from 'Phobia'.

'Free Me' is an album highlight, with Dave's 'new' voice revealed in all its glory. Coming on like a broken version of 'Gotta Be Free', Dave says that we can all learn to let go from our darker, nastier habits if only we try - the 'politician's lies', the 'drug habits', the 'filthy habits', the human brain can be trained to reject everything. Dave's latest re-write of the obsessive 'You Really Got Me' riff is nicely handled and Dave turns in a great performance.

'All About Me' is the biggest shock on the album, Dave sounding most unwell as he scare-sings about 'drawing you into my confusion, joiun my madness...' Given some of the comments made around this period about brother Ray's ability to 'suck' life essences out of other people without meaning to, could this be another rant about brotherly hate/love? (note the line 'Please help me brother, don't run for cover!')

'Come To The River' is an oddly Stephen Stills-like song with blues overtones and a more muscly guitar sound than Dave's usual speed and slashing style and returns to 'Sunny Afternoon' in its sighing lyrics over living too well for too long and having to pay some of the good times back.

'Giving' sounds like a T Rex pop song, with Dave trying out a rather wobbly falsetto on another song that might be about Ray - the narrator has been turned away and thrown out of someone's house and the next minute they're apologising and inviting them back in again. The narrator is more than a little confused!

'Remember Who You Are' is another of the album's better songs as Dave contemplates his new life with his characteristic hope and optimism. Trust Dave to offer hope out to other people in similar situations and the song is nicely uplifting, made all the more powerful for Dave's wobbly vocals.

'The Waiting Hours' sounds to me like Dave waiting in the hospital between visits, worried about what the future will bring, yet vowing to fight on. It's a short and simple song, with a scratchy unusual melody, but the sentiments behind it are profound and admirable.

'Rock Siva' is a love song to rock and roll and its ability to heal, as Dave re-discovers the excitement of learning how to play that he once had. Telling his listeners that Earth is the 'garden' (of Eden, presumably) and that we can yet make this world work as our paradise, Dave yearns for the 'heavenly laughter' that makes life worth living. Nice sentiment, but the tune is a little odd and Dave's voice is more of a discordant growl.

'The Blessing' is a rather unusual instrumental, no doubt inspired by the music Dave's son Russell was making in this period - it's more about the atmosphere than any melody and isn't as natural or as interesting as the 'Aschere' project father and son will go on to make.

Title track 'Fractured Mindz' is a noisy and rather odd song with a very modern production and a few Indian sounds thrown into the mix. Dave's decision to intone the song rather than sing it in his best 'Big Sky' type voice works well however and the lyric is excellent, a 'Bug' style take on how everyone's minds have been 'fractured' in a broken, modern society based on lies and deceit.

The album 'officially' ends there, but the record also contains a 'hidden' track in the instrumental 'Goin' In My Brain', another noisy guitar workout that sounds like Dave learning how to play again. It's the most Kinks-like moment on the record and recalls those early R and B thrashes of the early days with Dave already well on the road to recovery.

In fact, that's the message of 'Fractured Mindz' as a whole: Dave is most definitely on the road to recovery. The album doesn't have the finesse or variety of Dave's best work, but it's an important learning experience for a post-stroke Dave and has plenty of flashes of his usual wit and brilliance throughout. I wonder what fans who didn't know about the stroke might have thought - there must have been a handful who bought this album on the strength of The Kinks' name without really knowing Dave - for it's not an easy listen and the clever title and cover aside (a mask coming away from a face, with an alien mask hovering above) there's no direct messages ever made about it. However, if you do know what dramas went into making it and understand what Dave went through to get this album out then 'Fractured Mindz' is a highly impressive artistic statement where, rather than moping, Dave simply gets on with his work, aware more than ever how precious and fragile life really is. 

54) "Picture Book" (Box Set)

(Universal/Sanctuary, December 2008)

CD One: Brian Matthew Introduction/You Really Got Me/I'm A Hog For You Baby/I Believed You/Long Tall Sally/I Don't Need You Anymore/Stop Your Sobbing/I Gotta Move/Don't Ever Let Me Go/All Day And All Of The Night/Tired Of Waiting For You/Come On Now (Sessions)/There's A New World Opening For Me (Demo)/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/Who'll Be The Next In Line?/Time Will Tell/Set Me Free/I Need You/See My Friends/Wait Until The Summer Comes Along/I Go To Sleep/A Little Bit Of Sunlight (Demo)/This I Know (Demo)/A Well Respected Man/This Strange Effect/Milk Cow Blues/Ring The Bells/I'm On An Island/Til' The End Of The Day/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/All Night Stand (Demo)/And I Will Love You/Sittin' On My Sofa

CD Two: A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion (Alternate Take)/She's Got Everything/Mr Reporter (Second Version)/Sunny Afternoon/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/This Is Where I Belong/Rosie Won't You Please Come Home?/Too Much On My Mind/Session Man/End Of The Season/Dead End Street (Alternate Take)/Village Green/Two Sisters/David Watts/Mr Pleasant/Waterloo Sunset/Death Of A Clown/Lavender Hill/Good Luck Charm/Autumn Almanac/Susannah's Still Alive/Animal Farm/Rosemary Rose/Berkley Mews/Lincoln County/Picture Book/Days/Misty Water

CD Three: Love Me Till The Sun Shines (BBC)/The Village Green Preservation Society/Big Sky/King Kong/Drivin'/Some Mother's Son/Victoria/Shangri-La/Arthur/Gotta Be Free/Lola/Get Back In Line/The Money-Go-Round/Strangers/Apeman (Demo)/God's Children/The Way Love Used To Be/Moments/Muswell Hillbilly/Oklahoma USA/20th Century Man/Here Come The People In Grey

CD Four: Skin and Bone/Alcohol (Live)/Celluloid Heroes/Sitting In My Hotel/Supersonic Rocket Ship/You Don't Know My Name/One Of The Survivors/Sitting In The Mid-Day Sun/Sweet Lady Genevieve/Daylight/Mirror Of Love/Artificial Man/Preservation/Slum Kids/Holiday Romance/A Face In The Crowd/No More Looking Back/Sleepwalker/The Poseur

CD Five: Sleepless Night/Father Christmas/Misfits/A Rock and Roll Fantasy/A Little Bit Of Emotion/Attitude/Hidden Quality/A Gallon Of Gas/Catch Me Now I'm Falling/Nuclear Love (Demo)/Duke (Demo)/Maybe I Love You (Demo)/Stole Your Heart Away (Demo)/Low Budget (Live)/Better Things/Destroyer/Yo-Yo/Art Lover/Long Distance

CD Six: Heart Of Gold/Come Dancing (Demo)/State Of Confusion/Do It Again/Living On A Thin Line/Summer's Gone/How Are You?/The Road/The Million Pound Semi-Detached/Down All The Days (Till 1992)/The Informer/Phobia/Only A Dream/Drift Away/Scattered/Do You Remember, Walter? (Live)/To The Bone (Demo)

"Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago"

How very Kinks to release their first box set some twenty years after everyone else did - and after the peak market for it had already been saturated with their endless re-issues of albums in various degrees of 'deluxe' form. After such a long wait - with several calls to release a box set down the years - it seemed like a bit of anti-climax when the perfectly-named 'Picture Book' came out and, like another English institution - busses - unfortunate that so many other box sets came along so soon after which rather stole it's thunder. 'Picture Book' is pricier and less comprehensive than 'The Kinks Anthology 1964-71' or 'The Kinks In Mono' (although it covers by far a larger period) and isn't the set it might have been had it come out in, say, 1990 with all those 'CD bonus tracks'# heard together for the first time. Still, 'Picture Book' is not without its plus points. The track selection is more or less spot on, with two discs for the 1960s, two-and-a-bit for the 1970s, one-and-three-quarters for the 80s and a bit left over for 'Phobia' and 'To The Bone' about right. The main sticking point behind a career overview set - the fact that The Kinks were on five different record labels in their thirty years as a band - is nicely overcome with a sensible track listing that doesn't make any era feel poorly done (it's a particularly joy to hear the rarer 'London' recordings from the 1980s in CD sound for the first time - unless you were lucky enough to own a copy from thirty-odd years before). However there are some curious songs here chosen to represent individual albums: 'Artificial Man' seems an odd choice from 'Preservation Act Two' (it makes no sense out of context and is far from the most interesting musical moment of the album) while the album spends a little too much time repeating songs that every fan willing to fork out the money for this box will own a hundred times over. Full marks, though, for leaving these oft-heard tracks alone instead of offering up new mixes or ever-so-marginally-different edits; instead the only messing round really comes from the inclusion of a few rarer single mixes (appearing on CD for the first time) and the session tapes for 'Come On Now' where an increasingly frustrated band get nearer and nearer to nailing the song's tricky riff back in 1964.

Like most box sets, though, 'Picture Box' rather falls apart on the rarities. There are some great things in the Kinks' vaults - most of which came out in the 1990s but there's a good two hours' worth of classics unheard to this day (we made a whole article on the subject a few weeks back/elsewhere in this book; suffice to say tracks like the self-hating ballad 'Nobody's Fool' and Ray's first go at 'Scrapheap City' deserve release more than anything here, never mind the amount of live recordings that exist from the 'Preservation' 'Starmaker' and 'Schoollboys' live shows. Most of the 'new' material here are demos: a whole load of much-bootlegged recordings from the 1960s which all have potential but sound a bit flat in this form (the raga-is 'There's A New World Opening For Me' is quite interesting, though, and 'All Night Stand' - a hit for Chris Farlowe - sounds like it could have been a great Kinks number the way Ray sings it here). An even more outrageously unhinged 'A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' probably deserved to stay in the vaults, however. A brace of demos from the 'Give The People' period are pretty awful and a bit one-note; period piece 'Nuclear Love' sounds like it ought to be interesting with a rare Ray Davies comment on the cold war but is not as good as it sounds; the other three aren't even that good. Elsewhere there's a welcome chance to hear 'Million Pound Semi-Detached' again and a demo for 'Come Dancing' that's impressively close to the arrangement the Kinks will end up using, if a little lighter on its toes. However the only two truly essential 'new' recordings for this set are a gloriously unhinged 'Mr Reporter' (with Ray not Dave on vocals this time), dripping with irony and venom and clearly the sound of Ray getting a few things off his chest rather than a 'proper' take of the song and the fabulous first arrangement of 'Dead End Street' as produced by Shel Talmy (right before he dislocated his shoulder walking out the studio when a disgruntled band were pleasing for an intervention from on high to make the song they wanted) and much discussed ever since; it's tidier and more timid than the Ray Davies produced-version, though nothing like as insipid as the band's comments down the years have made it sound. This version would surely have been a hit too, though it lacks the mocking tones and desperation of the single that made it one of the band's peak moments of the 1960s.

Those two outtakes are truly great and deserve to have been released much sooner; whether the rest is worth forking out quite so much money on depends how much of this stuff you already own already (especially the 'bonus tracks' from the 1990s CDs). Too varied in quality for a greatest hits set, too niche for the casual fan without the piles of rarities desired by the collector, 'Picture Box' rather falls between two stools like many a box set and after waiting so many years seemed a bit ho-hum. However it's a lot better than many of the sets out there and is at least made with taste and care, with some lovely packaging and a pretty cover of The Kinks that's deliberately faded and chocolate-boxy, full of pictures of each other, to prove we loved each other, such a long time ago. I doubt newcomers will fall in love with the band merely from making this purchase, but rich old timers who haven't played anything by the band in a long term may find this a good way of getting acquainted with their Kinky past all over again. With sic disc covering over thirty years, there's a lot in here and the fact that nearly all of it is so good - despite the fact that it might have been even better with some tweaking - is a testament to how great The Kinks' run was.
55) Ray Davies "The Kinks Choral Collection"

(**,  *** 2008)

Days/Waterloo Sunset/You Really Got Me/Victoria/See My Friends/Celluloid Heroes/Shangri-La/Workingman's Cafe/Village Green/Picture Book/Big Sky/Do You Remember, Walter?/Johnny Thunder/The Village Green Preservation Society/All Day and All Of The Night

"I bet if we talked about the old times you'd get bored and you'd have nothing left to say, people often change - but memories of people can remain"

To date, the biggest complaint that I've had writing Kinks reviews on Alan's Album Archives is that I'm too 'kind' to the band. Strange as it may sound I actually like the so-called flops that everyone else abhors: I perfectly understand where Ray Davies was going with 'A Soap Opera' and 'Preservation ' (even if those ideas don't always come off) and I have a soft spot for the ignored 1980s Kinks katalogue which tend to have something fascinating no other band would dare approach. Hang on to your seats though because at last, several hundred pages into this book, I have an album I really hate. 'The Kinks Khoral Kollection' (my spelling) is simply dreadful: a rock-choir hybrid that will date faster than any single other release in the Kinks Kanon, being so 2008 it's not funny (Gareth Malone has a lot to answer for!) While I quite understand why Ray might have wanted to do some new songs using his 'local' choir (The Crouch End Chorus), re-recording a collection of 14 Klassiks (and one semi-new song) is pointless. None of these songs approaches anywhere the magic and power of the old recordings. None of the new arrangements is either bold and new enough to be worth re-inventing or similar enough to the record to make for neat comparison. Ray, singing live for the first time since the early 1960s, sound awful with the pitch-perfect (but horribly stilted) choir making him sound worse.

This album could have worked. Ray undoubtedly has the knowledge and talent to write a whole album for choir and voices that would sound rather good. Had he worked from scratch with the choir we might be here talking about the most beautiful Ray Davies record yet. But for once in his life perfectionist Ray has taken the short cut, cashed in on his old band brand name and released an album designed to appeal to an aging Kinks audience rather than truly  making the most of the tools available. Not once with any Kinks song did I ever think 'gee, that would sound so much nicer with a choir'. 

The song choices - even the big chunk of the album taken up with songs from 'Village Green Preservation Society' - are predictable; in fact the only predictable song not here is 'Predictable' (and 'Come Dancing'. And 'Lola'. Everything else is here though). A cursory glance through my Kinks Kollection reveals just how different this album could have been: imagine a full choir version of 'A Face In The Crowd', with Ray lost in a sea of voices all trying to drown him out; or how about the already pretty major harmony fest 'Young and Innocent Days' (a song highly apt for Ray's passing years). Or the delicate 'Fancy', unfurling like a flower into a chanting sea of voices. By contrast 'Days' is twee, 'Waterloo Sunset' tired, 'Victoria' wonky, 'You Really Got Me' odd ('Oh yes!' the received pronunciation choir sing, 'You have really got me so I do not know what I am doing!' It's not the same at all...) The one unexpected arrival to this choir-party is the unsung hero of the Kinks back katalogue 'Shangri-La' - and that's the most disappointing track of all, a powerhouse of subtlety and conflicting emotions turned into a heavy-handed lump of hate - everything the supportive, under-dog fighting original wasn't.  I wouldn't mind so much if Ray had done the 'proper' thing and simply sung against the choir, making this at least a very different listening experience (if not a particularly inspired one). But no: every track features overdubs from a weedy rock band that so pale against The Kinks, all thrashing and play-acting instead of really living the songs, with the two worlds nestling beside each other in an uneasy truce that should never have been called. Had Ray started from scratch he could have overcome these problems; had he sung straight with the choir he'd have solved a lot of them, but somehow 'The Kinks Choral Collection' (and what happened to the 'K's in the title for goodness sake? This name is crying out for them!) is a rare example of Ray Davies getting something utterly, completely, devastatingly wrong.

There's one moment on the album that works though. 'See My Friends' is perhaps Ray's most adaptable song. It's happy, sad, angry or wistful depending how you play it and with it's Eastern raga tint was always a song 'about' a different culture from the first (unlike most of the others, which were songs about a specific place at a specific time - if only an imaginative place circa 1968  in the case of 'Village Green'). Ray sings straight, without the affectations of the rest of the CD, the backing band have been sent packing and the song has been slowed down to its bare essentials. I wouldn't say the result was 'essential' or 'first-class' or anything - and nothing beats Ray's sublime performance on the original - but this one song does show just how good the rest of this album might have been. Unfortunately that version segues into a terrible fake and plodding version of 'Celluloid Heroes' (where the choir sit out until the choruses) which features all the worst elements of this album. A sleepy 'Village Green Preservation Society' is the worst, however, losing all of Ray's subtlety and tongue-in-cheekness and sounding less about preservation and more about why old things can rust away without proper care (that's the album, not creator, I mean by the way!) What a pity: Ray's first out and out flop.
56) Ray Davies "Collected"

(**, October 2009)

After The Fall/Vietnam Cowboys/Next Door Neighbour/Workingman's Cafe/You're Asking Me/The Tourist/Things Are Gonna Change (The Morning After)/One More Time/No One Listens/Thanksgiving Day/In A Moment/Imaginary Man/Morphine Song/London Song/The Getaway (Lonesome Train)/Storyteller/Yours Truly, Confused, N10

"Yours truly., confused, AAA!"

I don't get it - releasing a best-of after just two 'proper' albums (neither of which sold all that well) makes even less sense than releasing 'The Kinks Greatest Hits' in 1966 (after they'd done three!) At least the band released singles alongside the album material - up to this point all Ray has to offer collectors that they can't get from 'Other People's Lives' or 'Workingman's Cafe' are two tracks from 'Storyteller' (and not the right two: where's 'Julie Finkle' and 'X-Ray'?) and the rather good moan to the papers 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' from the 'Thanksgiving Day' EP. Admittedly Ray was on a different label back then, but did nobody try to get hold of the songs from 'Return To Waterloo' or 'Absolute Beginners' to beef this set up a bit? Given that the album comes so hot on the heels of the two main albums every newcomer interested enough could simply purchase both albums (probably at the same cost) - and any passionate fan already owned everything here anyway. I'm not even sure that this set represents the best of the two albums either - 'Imaginary Man' and 'Morphine Song' are the two most substantial moments from 'Cafe' it's true, but the even split between the two main features means that gems like 'Creatures Of Little Faith' 'All She Wrote' and 'Over My Head' are all absent, with only 'The Getaway' amongst my very favourite songs from 'Other People's Lives' included here. Even the best material here isn't quite how you might remember it either - several tracks have been 'edited' for no apparent good reason (there are another couple of songs that could have been squeezed on here) - on most you can't hear much difference anyway but on some (as with 'Things Are Gonna Change') most of what made the songs interesting (ie that opening growl) have been taken out. What a waste - although on the plus side at least they didn't wait another couple of years by which time they'd have to have included the next two horrific Ray Davies releases in here too...

57) Ray Davies "See My Friends"


Better Things (with Bruce Springsteen)/Celluloid Heroes (with Jon Bon Jovi)/Days-This Time Tomorrow (With Mumford and Sons)/Long Way From Home (with Lucinda Williams)/You Really Got Me (with Metallica)/Lola (with Paloma Faith)/Waterloo Sunset (with Jackson Browne)/Til' The End Of The Day (with Alex Chilton)/Dead End Street (with Amy McDonald)/See My Friends (with Spoon)/This Is Where I Belong (with Black Francis)/David Watts (with the 88)/Tired Of Waiting For You (with Gary Lightbody)/All Day and All Of The Night (with Billy Corgan)/Victoria (with Mando Diao)

"And just when I wanted no one to be there, all of my friends were there - not just my friends but their best friends too, say what they may all of these friends need not stay! Those who laughed were not friends anyway. All of my friends were there, now I don't care..."

Dear God, this is worse. A Karaoke Kinks record with people who can't sing backed by a band that can't play as Ray Davies cashes in on the celebrity card he's never ever had to use before in 45 years in show business to devastating effect. It's like taking a bull-dozer to the Village Green  we've all known and loved for so long and 'reconstructing it' using modern materials: what's the point? If these artists want to sing with Ray so badly, they can do so in their own time and not ruin a collection of classics in the process.  If you are a Kinks fan stay away from this album: only The Kinks can sing these songs properly and only The Kinks should be allowed to. Even having Ray Davies on hand to give his blessing and co-vocals only shows up how wrong most of the vocalists are: how hard-edged and noisy, gritty and one-noted, weak and soppy they are by comparison. And it's not as if Ray is singing well: this is his worst singing on record so far, with the elder Davies sounding old and weary (was he forced into making this record against his will? There's no other reason it exists). Cover versions of AAA songs tend to be a mixed blessing: very few ever beat the originals though you can rely on an occasional few to match it. But every single song on this sorry travesty misses the point: yes 'You Really Got Me' kick-started the heavy metal genre, but that was because it sounded unlike nothing the world had ever heard before and still sounds fresh with that excitement now 50-plus years on. The Metallica version of it just sounds like every other horrid mess that's been clogging up the heavy metal charts since about 1970. Even usually sturdy acts like Paloma Faith, Jackson Browne and Amy McDonald seem to lose all taste on this album. The most disappointing version, however, has to be Ray's old buddy Alex Chilton, coaxed out of retirement to sing on this record after stints with The Box Tops and Big Star whose just completely mis-cast on 'Til' The End Of The Day' (he deserves to be the biggest name here in terms of star potential, but not on this evidence I must admit). Even 'See My Friends' - the saving grace of Ray's last extra-curricular project - sounds deeply odd and unconvincing with Spoon a band I'd never heard of and never want to hear of again (and yet still manages to be one of the better 'covers' on the album, if only because the song's so good you can do anything to it and it'll still live). And why did so many of these artists pick songs that aren't just quite well known but ridiculously well known. Of the entire album only Black Francis' version of Kinks EP track 'This Is Where I Belong' (the highlight of the album and then merely OK rather than good) uses a song the average casual fan might not know ('How's it go?' a nervy Ray jokes near the end). The other highlight, by the way, is Ray's decision to add the beginning of 'Destroyer' onto the start of 'All Day and All Of The Night' where it sounds rather good (the rest of the song is, of course, utter drivel, the Smashing Pumpkins singer having none of the nuances of Ray). The Kinks usually stand for subtlety and depth and casual greatness. This record is about as subtle as a steamroller and the production sound helps make everything sounds flat.

If this review sounds harsh then, well, you haven't heard the album yet. When will pop and rock stars get it into their heads that duet CDs don't work? Unless you have two highly sympathetic singers you're always going to have one dilute the other: there's way way waaaay too much Mumford and Sons here, for instance, for my tastes closing up the wonderful 'Days' with their awful mock sincerity, while most Mumford and Sons fans moaned at the time that there was too much Ray Davies (these  are the same fans who seriously though their group had invented folk-rock: bet they felt really silly the next time the Byrds came on the radio!) The most I can hope for from this album was that it inspired some of the fans of the guest artists who sang on it to try out the originals - and that after discovering how great music can be they abandoned the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and Metallica forever and became forever Kinky. Somehow I doubt that though: very few of these bands even vaguely appeal to fans of The Kinks who traditionally are a less mainstream-hugging, sell-out crowd than this. Ah well, at least Ray is having fun (sometimes - he sounds utterly bemused by Metallica and only really sounds like his old self with Black Francis and Paloma Faith) and the title is very clever, re-using a song title from 1965 that couldn't be more apt. Frankly, though, this is a party I don't ever remember wanting to join and on which everyone seemed to be having fun except me. I'll be going home now in time for a 'proper' party down the Village Green with a pair of headphones and a copy of 'Face To Face'. You can all come if you want - just don't tell Metallica!...

59) Dave and Russell Davies "The  Aschere Project - Two Worlds"

(Modus Records, '2010' with expanded re-issue January 2013)

Blessed Of All Nights/Two Worlds/Love Will Change/Remember Me/I'll Get By/We Can Do This Together/Echo/We Are Your Ancestors/Mirrors/Valley Of The Shadows/The Kakshisa Cipher

"Why do we do this to ourselves day after day? Get up, black coffee. Every day the same, shit, shave, go to work, but I can't seem to get these strange thoughts of my mind..."

Dave's son Russell was born in the late 1970s and quickly proved to have the family songwriting gene. However his preferred music was quite different to his dad's - he discovered synthesisers early and once he became a musician himself in the late 1990s turned to the ambience and electronica market to make his mark (usually as part of a group: The Cinnamon Chasers, Abakus and Nada). You can just imagine the conversations going on in the Davies household circa 'UK Jive' - 'turn that amplifier down dad, I'm trying to work!' Many fans wondered if father and son would ever work together and so it proved in 2003 on a sadly forgotten project that's a fascinating one for Dave's fans and finds him straying closer to his son's usual territory. If you liked the weirder, more modern songs at the end of 'Bug' then you'll like this record, which mixes a more modern, cold and detached sound than The Kinks with Dave's usual lyrics about spirituality and the world heading down the wrong path. The album was described on release by Dave as a 'science fiction love story about the spirituality of two souls discovering a deeper understanding of mankind', so there. The music is well out of my usual comfort range, but then that's kind of the point - this is a fascinating attempt to break the usual templates for something completely new on a concept album about the brainwashing of mankind into doing the same thing day after day (the album sounds like Bjork making a whole album out of 'Cliches Of The World (B Movie)' - now there's an image for you. Dave doesn't often sing and when he does his stroke is clearly affecting his voice, but that matters less here than on his period albums with his voice electronically treated to the point where he sounds like a singing android. It's all highly impressive, with father and son keeping all the bits that 'matter' (the ideas, the strong tunes and very occasionally the insightful lyrics) without getting lost in the endless infinity of most ambient music. Though a song suite parts of this record work better than others - 'Two Worlds' itself is a great song damning the mundanity of modern living in true Kinks style; the pretty 'Echo' has a marvellously wide sense of scope and space that's hypnotic after a while (in contrast the cod-opera-with-drums 'I'll Get By' with Dave muttering something inaudible underneath is awful). Of course this album won't be for everyone and those after some heavy metal riffing would be advised to stay away - but then I spent years thinking this album wouldn't be for me after reading about it and it soon changed my mind (although I still rarely sit through it from beginning to end). Dave should get together with Paul McCartney and record a 'Fireman' album together, perhaps with Pink Floyd helping (this album sounds a lot like Roger Waters' trippier moments from 'Amused To Death') - now that lot working together would be something!

60) "The Kinks In Mono"

(Sanctuary, '2011')

Contains the albums 'Kinks' 'Kinda Kinks' 'The Kinks Kontroversy' 'Face To Face' 'Something Else' 'The Village Green Preservation Society' and 'Arthur'. Also contains the EPs 'Kinksize Session' 'Kinksize Hits' 'Kwyet Kinks' and 'A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion'. PLus two CDs titled 'Kinks Kollektibles':

CD One: Long Tall Sally/You Still Want Me/You Do Something To Me/It's Alright!/Beautiful Delilah (Alternate Mix)/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter (Alternate Mix)/Bald Headed Woman (American Mix)/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/Who'll Be The Next In Line?/I Need You/Never Met A Girl Like You Before/Sittin' On My Sofa/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/Dead End Street/Big Black Smoke/Act Nice and Gentle/This Is Where I Belong

CD Two: Afternoon Tea (Canadian Mix)/Susannah's Still Alive/Wonderboy/Polly/Lincoln County/There Is No Life Without Love/Days/She's Got Everything/Hold My Hand/Creepin' Jean/Plastic Man/King Kong/Mindless Child Of Motherhood/This Man He Weeps Tonight/Australia (Australian Mix)/Lola/Berkley Mews/Apeman/Rats/Apeman (European Mix)

"You get what you went for!"

Now here's a box set that separates (God's) Children from the (Ape)men: a pricey ten disc set that's positively epic, covering (ever so nearly) everything from the first five years of Kinks releases (their releases stopped being released in mono from 'Lola Versus Powerman' on, although the two hit singles from that album are here). That's an impressive haul - seven full albums, one disc containing four short-playing EPs and two discs of odds and ends like A sides, B sides, EP tracks and various slightly-different-but-not-that-different mixes from around the world. If you're a real technophile who believes in hearing The Kinks as nature intended (though the modern world only really 'thinks' in stereo, mono was seen as the 'proper' mix by many sixties bands including The Kinks) then this is a delight. If you're new to The Kinks and find this set cheap then this too is a delight, offering away to buy absolutely everything (except 'Mr Pleasant', weirdly enough - a pretty major oversight all things considered). However if you're a more casual collector or simply don't have all that much interest in mono then this all comes across as odd. Unlike, say, The Beatles or The Hollies (who quite often sounded very different between the mono and stereo mixes) the only Kinks album with a colossal gap between the two is 'Something Else' (and then mainly thanks to longer edits of songs - 'Situation Vacant' for instance, has a false ending, whilst 'Lazy Old Sun' has a very different vocal track). As for the foreign mixes, only the cut-down 'Australia' is that different (with the entire ending cut and the song looped round to go back to the beginning) and only then because so much is missing (it takes away the whole 'sting in the tale' and instead turns this song into a happy travelogue!)  There isn't really enough of a difference here to warrant the price and until a similar 'Kinks In Stereo' set comes out for the 'other' collectors this seems like an odd way of slanting the band's back catalogue for future collectors. Much better than this might have been a series of mono/stereo albums like The Beach Boys ones so fans can contrast and compare and if need be choose between the two (like the 'deluxe editions spread across two discs even though they only have three new tracks' sets started off being before giving up). This set is just a step too far for most, although it is packaged with care (ex Record Collector Peter Doggett remains the world authority on The Kinks and his informative booklet is one of the best on the group) and made with a lot of love.

61) "The Kinks Kollekted"

(Universal, August 2011)

CD One: You Really Got Me/All Day and All Of The Night/Tired Of Waiting For You/Set Me Free/See My Friends/Til' The End Of The Day/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/A Well Respected Man/Sunny Afternoon/Dandy/Dead End Street/Mr Pleasant/Waterloo Sunset/Death Of A Clown/Autumn Almanac/Susannah's Still Alive/Lincoln County/Wonderboy/ Days/Starstruck/Plastic Man/Drivin'/Victoria/Apeman/Lola

CD Two: Shangri-La/Supersonic Rocket Ship/Celluloid Heroes/Sitting In The Mid-Day Sun/Sweet Lady Genevieve/Mirror Of Love/No More Looking Back/Sleepwalker/Juke Box Music/Rock and Roll Fantasy/Father Christmas/(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman/Better Things/Come Dancing/Don't Forget To Dance/Do It Again/How Are You?/How Do I Get Close?

CD Three: Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/This Strange Effect/I Go To Sleep/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/Don't Ever Change/Sittin' On My Sofa/This Is Where I Belong/David Watts/Picture Book/The Village Green Preservation Society/Muswell Hillbilly/20th Century Man/Alcohol (Live)/Sitting In My Hotel/Underneath The Neon Sign/Brother/Misfits/Art Lover/Living On A Thin Line/To The Bone

"I will love you till the day I die - you alone, you alone and no one else, you were meant for me!"

Less well known than many Kinks Kompilations but potentially much more interesting, 'The Kinks Kollekted' is a sprawling, jam-packed three disc set that represents perhaps the best way to get lots of Klassik Kinks in one go if you're getting bored of the single disc hit sets with the same tired track listings over and over. Effectively the first disc features the usual suspects (with 'Susannah's Still Alive' and 'Wonderboy' this set's choice of 'filler-to-get-to-CD-length, along with Dave's flop single 'Lincoln County', weirdly enough). However the other two are much more exciting: the second disc is basically all the singles released post-Lola which turned out to be flops (well, with the exception of 'Come Dancing') and as we've been saying for most of this book now The Kinks deserved to have at least doubled their hit tally. Many of their very greatest songs are here on this second disc: 'Shangri-La'  'Celluloid Heroes' 'No More Looking Back' 'Rock and Roll Fantasy'  'Superman' the hell did all of these Kinks korkers miss the charts completely? What was wrong with you record buying public of the 1970s?!?!? (especially given the songs that were in the charts back then!) Disc three is somewhere between the two, an odd rummage round the Kinks discography for some lesser known songs never released as a singles which has its fair share of successes ('Sitting In My Hotel' 'Misfits' 'Living On A Thin Line' and 'To The Bone') and failures (seriously compilers, you could have had any Kinks or Dave Davies song from across thirty-one years and twenty-four albums and you chose 'Sittin' On My Sofa'?!?) I'm predictably cross at the lack of songs from my special favourites 'Face To Face' and 'Arthur' in favour of 'Kinda Kinks' and 'Village Green' too, though full marks for including a handful for caring enough to license the rarer tracks from the London and Columbia years in here too. Still, if you live in Europe (this appears to be a Dutch set, although I have seen it in the UK), don't own many of the albums already and can't afford 'Picture Book' then this may well be the best purchase you ever made. Well, after this book of course (still cheap at this price folks - why not buy two in case you wear this one out?!)

62) "Waterloo Sunset: The Best Of The Kinks and Ray Davies"

(UMTV, August 2012)

CD One: Waterloo Sunset/You Really Got Me/Tired Of Waiting For You/Sunny Afternoon/All Day and All Of The Night/Til' The End Of The Day/Autumn Almanac/Days/Lola/Set Me Free/See My Friends (The Horrid 'Khoral Kollection' Version)/Death Of A Clown/Apeman/Dead End Street/This Time Tomorrow/Strangers/You Don't Know My Name/Wonderboy/Plastic Man/Supersonic Rocket Ship/Better Things/Don't Forget To Dance/David Watts

CD Two: A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Come Dancing/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/Victoria/Big Black Smoke/Yours Truly, Confused, N10/Workingman's Cafe/London Song/Fortis Green/Postcard From London/Muswell Hillbilly/Denmark Street/Berkley Mews/Holloway Jail/Lavender Hill/Willesden Green/Life On The Road/End Of The Season/Next Door Neighbour/Did Ya?/Most Exclusive Residence For Sale/Waterloo Sunset (Kinks Khoral Version)

"If you're ever up on Highgate Hill on a clear day, I will be there..."

Another decade another best-of, this time with the key difference that a bundle of Ray Davies songs are here too (this is, presumably, an attempt to cash in on the appearance by Ray at the 2012 London Olympic Games; by his own high standards though Ray's performance of 'Waterloo Sunset' after walking out of a giant London taxi wasn't one of his best). I'd have got rather cross if I was Dave - despite the co-billing there's actually very little Ray Davies here (while Dave gets his own solo song 'Fortis Green') and what there is is pretty awful and not what I'd have chosen at all - two horrendous Kinks Khoral recordings of Kink Klassiks (which is a real slap in the face for new fans who want to own the 'proper' versions of 'See My Friends' and 'Waterloo Sunset'), 'London Song' is the weakest track from 'Storyteller', the bland Chrissie Hynde collaboration 'Postcard From London' (not even considered good enough for release on Ray's best-of 'Collected') and 'Next Door Neighbour' from 'Other People's Lives', which while nice is hardly in the top league of Ray Davies compositions. Thank goodness for 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' to restore his reputation, although even that seems an odd choice given that it was EP filler and probably the most obscure Ray Davies song to date. As for the rest, CD one is almost what you'd expect (although 'This Time Tomorrow' is a surprise and quite why the Khoral version of 'See My Friends' is here rather than disc two is anybody's guess) but CD two is the weirdest lot of choices yet for a best-of.

Allegedly disc two is a set of songs about the borough of London - but it's a half-concept at best that disappears after 'Muswell Hillbilly' 'Big Black Smoke' 'London Song' and 'Lavender Hill and a handful more'. How for instance does Victoria fit in? (The Queen spent more time in Scotland than she did in London!) And isn't putting 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' a touch rude? The sarcasm of 'Denmark Street', the solemnity of 'Holloway Jail' and the daftness of 'Berkley Mews' seem deeply out of touch with the rest of the album, three of the most extreme Kinks songs out there. And who on earth looked at The Kinks' entire Pye collection and went 'yeah - 'Willesden Green' from the 'Percy' soundtrack, that's a shoe-in that is': an out and out country spoof with John Dalton's only lead vocal it has nothing in common with The Kinks' sound! Thank goodness for  'Big Black Smoke' and 'Did Ya?', two of the Kinks oddities most deserving of re-appraisal or disc two might have been a disaster, although the last of these has no link with Britain's capital city at all! There are two exclusive tracks here for collectors - live versions from 1979  of 'David Watts' 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?'  and 'Victoria'' but all are similar-enough-to-make-no-difference to the 'One For The Road' album from 1980 and are far less worthy of inclusion than the studio versions would have been. Oh and what genius decided to name the compilation after a track which isn't even featured in its original form but that ghastly choir business?! This isn't the 'Waterloo Sunset' we remember with two charming love-birds dreaming of a bright brave new future; it's a soul-less record company con to make us fork out our money yet again based on a big event even though the ultimate one and two disc Kinks best-ofs have already been released (re-promote those for new fans if you really have to!). The few hits that aren't messed around with are of course great and essential for anyone with a musical brain in their body that hasn't bought them yet - but the trouble of course is that everyone already has and those that haven't deserve a full proper selection of the original classics, not a mis-mash of re-recordings thrown into the mix and everything in the 'wrong' order. Like the Olympics itself, it managed to be good despite so much around it going wrong (the curious referring decisions, the missiles pointing at the houses around the olympic venues 'just in case', the workfare volunteers who were kept waiting unfed and unpaid for hours) because of the brilliance of the performers at the heart of the show, not the political machinations going on behind the scenes. Our advice then: buy one of the other best-ofs out there, any other Kinks set than this - even 'Percy' will give you more insight into why The Kinks were one of the world's greatest bands than this best-of will. Waterloo Bridge is falling down...
63) "At The BBC"

(Sanctuary, August 2012)

(This is 'version two' of three alternate Kinks BBC sets)

CD One: You Really Got Me/Cadillac/Little Queenie/All Day And All Of The Night/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter/I've Got That Feeling/You Shouldn't Be Sad/Tired Of Waiting For You/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/This Strange Effect/See My Friends/Hide and Seek/Milk Cow Blues/Never Met A Girl Like You Before/Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?/Til' The End Of The Day/A Well Respected Man/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/Death Of A Clown/Good Luck Charm/Sunny Afternoon/Harry Rag/Mr Pleasant/Susannah's Still Alive/David Watts/Waterloo Sunset/Days/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Monica/The Village Green Preservation Society/Where Did My Spring Go?/When I Turn Off The Living Room Light/Mindless Child Of Motherthood

CD Two: Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues/Holiday/Skin and Bone/Supersonic Rocket Ship/Demolition!/Mirror Of Love/Money Talks/Victoria/Here Comes Yet Another Day/A Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Celluloid Heroes/Daylight/Here Comes Flash/He's Evil/Lola/Sleepwalker/Life On The Road/Slum Kids/Get Back In The Line/The Hard Way/Alcohol

"It's good to be here tonight at The Rainbow...I guess"

Twelve years on from 'At The BBC', The Kinks tried again with a newly packaged double-disc set of highlights to go alongside the massive five-disc box set with a slightly tweaked track listing. To be honest there are so few changes you wonder why they bothered, but if you have a choice of the two sets for the same price (and you don't fancy mortgaging your Million Pound Semi-Detached just to get hold of the full box set, which now goes for quite a price) then this is the one to get. You get a lot more 'exclusive' stuff this time around (the rocking Chuck Berry cover 'Little Queenie', the slight yet charming 'Hide and Seek', a rather rough and ready 'I'm A Lover Not A Fighter', a lot more from the Kinks Kristmas Koncert at the Rainbow in 1977) with almost all the same highlights we listed last time (the rollicking 'Love Me Till The Sun Shines', the Ray Davies giveaway 'This Strange Effect', Dave Davies acoustic cover 'Good Luck Charm', plus the two tracks from 'Where Did Spring Go?') With this set running fractionally longer (both discs are closer to the full 80 minutes rather than an hour) all that's really missing is the repetition: there's just one 'Money Talks' this time around for instance (though frustratingly 'Did You See His Name?' has been dropped in favour of 'Where Did My Spring Go?') Furthermore the track listing is now 'properly' chronological instead of just 'nearly' chronological, which helps ease the unnecessary strain on old fuddy-duddy collectors like me. As a result a near-perfect set has now become even nearer to perfect, although you really don't need to bother upgrading if you already own the first 'At The BBC' set.

64) "The Kinks At The BBC"

(Sanctuary, **2012)

(This is 'version three' of three alternate Kinks BBC sets)
Disc One: Interview/Cadillac/Interview/You Really Got Me/Little Queenie/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter/Interview/You Really Got Me/All Day And All Of The Night/I'm A Lover Not A Fighter/Interview/I've Got That Feeling/All Day And All Of The Night/You Shouldn't Be Sad/Interview/Tired Of Waiting For You/Everybody's Gonna Be Happy/This Strange Effrect/Interview/See My Friends/Hide and Seek/Milk Cow Blues/Interview/Never Met A Girl Like You Before/Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?/Interview/Til' The End Of The Day/A Well Respected Man/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Interview/Death Of A Clown/Good Luck Charm/Sunny Afternoon/Autumn Almanac/Harry Rag/Mr Pleasant

Disc Two: Susannah's Still Alive/David Watts/Waterloo Sunset/Chat/Days/Chat/Love Me Till The Sun Shines/Monica/Chat/The Village Green Preservation Society/Animal Farm/Where Did My Spring Go?/When I Turn Off The Living Room Light/Plastic Man/King Kong/Do You Remember, Walter?/Chat/Victoria/Mr Churchill Says/Arthur/Chat/Lola/Mindless Child Of Motherhood/Days/Apeman/Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues/Holiday/Skin and Bone
Disc Three: Supersonic Rocket Ship/Here Comes Yet Another Day/Demolition!/Mirror Of Love/Money Talks/Concert Intro/Victoria/Here Comes Yet Another Day/Mr Wonderful/Money Talks/Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/Mirror Of Love/Celluloid Heroes/You Really Got Me-All Day And All Of The Night/Chat/Daylight/Here Comes Flash/Demolition!/He's Evil/Lola/Outro/Skin and Bone

Disc Four: Chat/Juke Box Music/Chat/Sleepwalker/Life On The Road/A Well Respected Man/Death Of A Clown/Sunny Afternoon/Waterloo Sunset/All Day And All Of The Night/Slum Kids/Celluloid Heroes/Get Back In The Line/The Hard Way/Lola/Alcohol/Skin and Bone/Father Christmas/You Really Got Me/Chat/Phobia/Chat/Over The Edge/Wall Of Fire/Till The End Of The Day

Disc Five: All Day And All Of The Night/Waterloo Sunset/I'm Not Like Everybody Else/Till The End Of The Day/You Really Got Me/Louie Louie/Stop Your Sobbing/Milk Cow Blues x 2/I Am Free/Susannah's Still Alive/Days/A Dedicated Follow Of Fashion-Well Respected Man/Sunny Afternoon/Two Sisters/Sitting By The Riverside/Lincoln County/Picture Book/Days

"Days I'll remember all my life..."

Once again how very Kinks - pretty much the last of the sixties giants to cash in on the 'BBC Session' craze of the 1990s (despite having more surviving in the vaults than most) The Kinks were then the first to set a trend by releasing everything! Yes - everything that exists of The Kinks at the other venerable British institution at the BBC is included here across five fascinating CDs and a bonus DVD disc is here and there's an impressively large amount surviving given the detailed listings in the fat and heavy booklet. Now, admittedly, you have to be a pretty passionate fan to want to get to know everything - there are for instance so many similar versions of 'You Really Got Me' throughout this set that you feel at times you're stuck in a Kinks version of 'Groundhog Day'. I said a Kinks version of 'Groundhog Day'. I said I'll move on now I promise! The two double disc 'At The BBC' sets - especially the second - are about all you really need. However if you have the collecting instinct like me then it's still a welcome opportunity to own everything, warts and repeats and all. Even the rather dodgy sound on disc five, most of which are taken from low-quality tape recordings made by fans at home (see how passionate Kinks kollektors were even in the early days? How many other band fans did this eh? Not that many I can tell you!) is at least interesting, if a bit of a slog for casual listening.

The first two discs are the most interesting, capturing The Kinks' quickly evolving status from 'more members of the shaggy set' playing hard edged rock and roll to a quiet and humble pastoral group celebrating the old ways. An unfortunate loss in the late 1960s (the band weren't booked as often when their singles stopped selling) aside, most every corner of The Kinks' story is turned here and it makes for a fascinating 'parallel universe' Kinks history, one where 'Waterloo Sunset' is over-enunciated, 'Milk Cow Blues' is slightly diluted for mainstream radio tastes and occasionally - as with 'Little Queenie' and 'Love Me Till The Sun Shines' - the raw edges of the as-live performances does The Kinks the world of good, with some terrific raw and heartfelt performances. The interview snippets too are interesting - The Kinks were never as erudite as The Beatles or as anarchically fun as The Who but you learn a lot from Ray's shy speeches and the generally jovial banter and you can tell that regular presenter Brian Matthew has a 'soft spot' for this lyrical, quiet band. Though the 70s 80s and 90s recordings (which feature oodles of 'Muswell Hillbillies' songs for some reason, long after that record came out) are less interesting they too have their moments: an excellent 'Demolition' where a whole cast of people sing not just Ray, a couple of cracking performances from 'Phobia' and the entire 'Rainbow Christmas Concert' of 1977, which is perhaps the best live Kinks recording around - just beating 'One For The Road' into second place for sheer character and good time rock and roll. The DVD, far from being the 'filler' I expected it to be, is also very welcome and contains several excellent clips from all sorts of Kink eras (though particularly the 1970s) - until the day when we have a 'proper' legal set of Kinks TV appearances and music videos it's perhaps the best official source of Kinks footage around, with TOTP, Old Grey Whistle Test and a couple of complete shows included.

Not every fan will love this set - sometimes less really is more unless you're a massive fan - and the blighters at Sanctuary seem to have turned this set into a 'limited edition' set without telling us (already a little over-priced to begin with, you need to take on a second mortgage on your Shangri-La to afford it all even second-hand these days - it looks like it was available for just two months, which is just too bad for fans on a 'low budget' at the time of release). However this is undeniably an important and highly welcome set, full of not just the good bits but absolutely everything, with fans able to pick their way through the set to their hearts content. Let's hope that the set gets re-issued soon (preferably at a much lower price!) and that several AAA acts follow with what seems like an excellent way of keeping an artist's reputation alive for collectors long after the act itself has passed.

65) Dave Davies "I Will Be Me"

(**,  *** 2013)

Little Green Amp/Livin' In The Past/The Healing Boy/Midnight In L.A./In The Mainframe/Energy Fields/When I First You/The Actress/Erotic Neurotic/You Can Break My Heart/Walker Through The Worlds/Remember The Future/Cote Du Rhone (I Will Be Me)

"I  slashed and I slashed and I made it roar!"

I ought to be getting to used to the sheer shriek and power behind Dave Davies’ solo albums by now (this is number six), but even by previous standards this is noisy. Kinks fans who love the band loud and grungy (the way the band would sound today had they never deviated from the 'You Really Got Me' formula) will love it for its sheer power and refusal to grow old gracefully. The good news is that, compared to many of his contemporaries, Dave still rocks - in every sense of the word. The problem (as with the first two albums ‘AFL’ and ‘Glamour’) is that Kinks fans tend to be lovers of subtlety and layers; there's none of that going on here (although Dave's love of mysticism still powers about half the album) and there’s no dynamics here: no let-down in steam and speed as there was with albums three and four (‘Chosen People’ and ‘Bug’, the best two out of Dave’s half dozen solo releases).

In fact, if you come to this album straight from one of the Kinks’ more lyrical moments such as ‘Waterloo Sunset’ (or any of Ray’s mid-70s concept albums) then you might struggle to recognise the playing at all (this is a noisy, thrashing sound the Kinks stopped playing at all between 1965 and about 1977). Some of the songs are wonderful, such as Dave’s typically quirky opener ‘The Little Green Amp’ where he tells us the old story of slashing his amplifier with a razor blade to get his trademark sound, only for the neighbours to complain. It could easily have got silly, but a poignant middle eight still yearning for girlfriend Sue 50 years on now (who became pregnant by him, aged 15, in 1963 shortly before the Kinks broke big and their respective families ‘split them up’) adds just the right touch of heart to this autobiographical tale. Title track ‘I Will Be Me’ is great too, Dave spitting out his defiance in an update on ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ from 1965. At long last an AAA member tackles the Coalition, too, in the track ‘Living In The Past’ in which ‘The blind lead the blind leading towards death’ and in which the credit crunch came suddenly when ‘everyone was still laughing’ from the era before.

 Unfortunately, the other 10 songs on the album don’t make much of an impact and seem to pass by in a sea of noise. Worse yet, Dave’s voice is still hesitant and occasionally awkward after fighting back from the stroke that hit him ten years ago and is at times painful to listen to. Still, that’s not his fault – it’s wonderful to have Dave back at all and we fans will take him any way we find him (as the album title implies we have to). Also, our worst fears have been dismissed: far from mellowing Dave that stroke only seems to have made him stronger and more determined to go back to making music ‘his’ way, without thought to commerciality or – at times – listenability, making it as loud as he likes without record companies, band mates or big brother asking him to turn it down just a little. ‘I Will Be Me’ is far from Dave’s best work but it has much to recommend it if you like your Kinks loud, proud and unbowed.

'Little Green Amp' finds Dave, like Ray on 'Storyteller', retreating to his parent's front room where all their early recordings were made. The guitarist's most autobiographical record yet, this is like a four minute compact version of his autobiography 'Kink' and we follow Dave as he not only takes his shaving razor to his amplifier speakers but tells why he was lonely and mad and sad enough to do such a thing in such a respectable house, invoking the wrath of his neighbours; his parents have separated him from Sue (the love of his life) when she got pregnant ('I was gonna have a baby but my parents got crazy!' Dave jokes before the song turns from comedy to tragedy with a powerful middle eight as the younger Davies brother pours out his guilt and remorse and the emptiness within him one more time: 'I missed you! I needed you! I loved you Sue!') This remains one of Dave's most compelling songs, with a cute recycling of the 'You Really Got Me' riff for old time's sake and lots of power and noise that hint at how Dave is still the lonely, mad, sad teenager he started off.

'Livin' In The Past' is another good song about the sheer change of the credit crunch and what it means for everyone: 'We have no future - we live in the past'. The album song most like 'Bug', this is Dave in full-blown 'Rats' mode spikily attacking the world leaders and their 'totalitarian plan heading our way'. It's no 'Preservation', but it's a brave statement and one that not many rockers from the 60s and 70s are still prepared to make.

'The Healing Boy' begins with what sounds like a children's wind-up toy and a choir that, whether intended or not, seems like a direct competition with Ray's 'Choral Collection'. This is the third strong song on the album in a row, a moving song about  Dave feeling that no good things will ever happen to him anymore until unexpectedly getting the news he's about to be a grand-dad. 'He gives you back life's dreams' is the moving chorus of what in other hands might have been a very treacly song. Dave, of course, is tougher than that and even this lightest recording on the album comes with flexed muscles. Sadly it also comes with Dave's worst vocal on the album - this is a complex song involving more notes than normal and stretches his post-stroke vocals beyond their limits. Somehow, though, that only adds to the pathos of a highly commendable song.

'Midnight In L.A.' is similarly rough, with Dave's voice cracking throughout, but the song isn't as strong as the others and doesn't survive the assault quite so well. A curious song about the sights that can be sign after-hours in Los Angeles, it's more travelogue than the usual involving Dave Davies song. The backing beat - a police car siren - is a nice touch however.

'In The Mainframe' is a take-no-prisoners stomper about computers, Dave demanding 'a  product from the future today'. Dave mimics a salesman trying to sell himself the latest gadget - and this one can 'see into their heads'. Dave might be referring to his 'visitation from aliens' here (detailed in 'Kink') who had the ability to monitor every human being's thoughts (which, of course, you'll know already if you're one of them because you'd have 'felt' me writing this review. And no that doesn't mean you can get out of paying!)

'Energy Fields' is a Ray Davies song about mankind 'living in a dream, a fantasy'. Dave, typically, goes further than his brother: rather than being just an abstract concept, Dave urges us to throw our false idea of the world around us out to a sci-fi chorus of 'dimensional shifts, energy rifts'. However this isn't so much 'energetic' as 'lethargic' and at times sounds like its playing at the wrong speed.

'When I First Saw You' is a lighter song than normal for this album, a romantic song heavy on percussion that features one of Dave's most moving vocals. A duet with **, it's a sweet but slightly clichéd song about true lovers meeting across a crowded room (her in a 'floppy hat'!)

The Actress' is about a wannabe star whose career is just beginning to take off. 'Do you ever think of me and the good times we had?' Dave's spurned lover sobs on a song about being left behind. The chorus 'wherever you go you're a part of me' and the lines 'I always believed in you, knew that you'd succeed' has understandably made many fans wonder whether Dave is really singing this song about his brother. If so then it's rather affectionate, Dave raising a toast and promising to 'still be here waiting' when the career is over and things go back to how they were.

'Erotic Neurotic' is noisy even for this album, a heavy metal song about the madness of the world and a relationship in particular, with the narrator 'spitting, snarling at the world like a dog'. The title is quite clever but the rest of the lyrics truly aren't.

'You Can Break My Heart' is an atmospheric ballad set to feedback and backwards guitar that's terribly unsettling. 'I see through you' Dave sings, before vowing to 'change the world from the inside out' so that no hearts ever have to get broken again.

'Walker Through The Worlds' contains a sound familiar to anyone whose ever tried any of Dave's 'new age' CDs. Lots of empty space filled by that snarling guitar and synthesised choirs, this spoken word/instrumental hybrid certainly makes a change to whale music and is a long long loooong way from home.

'Remember The Future' is clearly about Dave's near-brush with death (possibly about his alien visit too) and while the tune sounds naggingly familiar ('It's A Long Way To Tipperary'?) the sentiments are original enough. 'It came without warning' runs the chorus, Dave still reeling from the effects of a life-changing event.

The title track 'I Will Be Me' rounds out the album with one last rocking protest song. 'Petty surveillance gives me the creeps!' sings Dave on a song about world leaders covering their tracks with set messages of 'everything's going to be fine' while taking our money and our morals. 'The television sucks and the broadband's out!' is Dave's 21st century wail of protest, before comparing the London riots of 2013 to the world in 1968: a fuse of violence and unfairness waiting to be lit.

Overall, 'I Will Be Me' isn't as consistent an album as close cousin 'Bug' and lacks the beauty of Dave's better works, but it very much lives up to its title. Far from selling out in his old age, as so many other people have, this is Dave raging against the system and the dying of the light, refusing to 'be what they want anymore'. We wouldn't want him any other way. 

That's all for now but don't worry - we've got one last Kinky article on the band's non-album songs ready for next week!


‘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