Monday 5 March 2018

The Kinks Essay: Why This Band Aren't Like Everybody Else/Updates

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

This is, dear readers, one of the most English views ever. I am writing an essay about The Kinks after queuing for some afternoon tea, during which time I discussed the weather. I might have as pastry crust later or some scones or some spiffing crumpets just to add to the ambience. While there are a lot of English bands in the AAA canon, there are no others where this scenario works as well: which leads to the question why. What is it about The Kinks that makes them so much more intrinsically English than, say, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Who? In effect, it’s that this band weren’t like everybody else or did the things that other bands do.
While everyone else was busy pretending to be American (because that’s where the money was), The Kinks were busy being English. This was, partly, because of circumstances. For a time, mainly 1964, The Kinks were a band with international appeal snapping at the heels of their peers and becoming the biggest breakthrough British act of the great year of the British Invasion. But drunken hi-jinks on an aeroplane and rumoured disagreements over the terms of an American contract resulted in a five-year ban on the band in the United States: a bit harsh back in the days when most bands didn’t last half that time. The Kinks could have gone under. They could have written stiff letters to the NME and Melody Maker. They could have turned this into a publicity stunt and air-dropped multiple copies of ‘Kinda Kinks’ from a hot air balloon over American soil. Instead they used it to their advantage: while every other band was busy perfecting their Texan or Californian drawl The Kinks stayed cocky cockneys and set the vast majority of their songs in places their English audience would relate to (again songs about [106] ‘Afternoon Tea’ [174] ‘Have A Cuppa Tea’ and [201] ‘There’s A Change In The Weather’ ,while [157] ‘Get Back In The Line’ is in many ways a song about queuing). Until The Kinks start slowly building up their American audience with the well-timed success of their first post-ban single [158] ‘Lola’, most of their songs are set in a sleepy England most of their English fans can identify with: a land filled with the quirky British eccentrics of ‘Village Green Preservation Society’, public schoolboys like [97] ‘David Watts’ and a whole concept album about the fall and decline of the British Empire (‘Arthur’ in 1969, the big British farewell before The Kinks go back to touring Stateside again). Not to mention a whole strong of songs set down that other English institution: the pub ([171] ‘Alcohol’ [231] ‘When Work Is Over’ [232] ‘Have Another Drink’). There’s even a song about the strange English predilection for hanging bad pictures of ducks on walls (seriously – see [236]). Many songs and even whole albums (‘Muswell Hillbillies’) are set even close to home nearby to where The Kinks grew up in London, such as the morality tale [90] ‘Big Black Smoke’, [109] ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and Ray’s ‘London Song’ itself. There is no secret that The Kinks are English through and through, as central to the national ideal as a teabag in a [140] (Queen) ‘Victoria’ mug. Everybody else, pretty much, in the 1960s were writing songs with international appeal, but The Kinks stayed local.
That’s not all, though. While everyone else was being heroic, The Kinks were championing the under-dog. There are a run of loveable losers on Kinks albums that were so different to the way everyone else was making music. Study the back catalogue of The Rolling Stones and you’ll see a group of brash cocky and confident characters. Study The Beatles and you’ll see some less brash characters but still generally a world where people know what they want and how to get it. Even The Who, confused as their characters are, seem to know how to shout for attention pretty darn well. But The Kinks hardly ever do: this is a collection of characters who are almost all suffering some form of neuroses and where the world seems to be laughing at them as it trips them up. This is very much a part of their English character (British bulldog spirit doesn’t leave much room for superheroes), but The Kinks take it to extremes, often mocking the perfect world other characters from songs seem to live in. [358] ‘Only A Dream’ for instance is a song about a passing attraction in a lift that makes the narrator’s day; most writers would have left it there but this narrator gets the sinking feeling of his heart plunging several floors as he sees the object of his compliment doing the same to someone else. A song like [193] ‘Celluloid Heroes’ celebrates not the famous movie stars but the forgotten names who never quite caught the public’s attention. [97] ‘David Watts’ looks on shocked as other people know exactly what to do with the world and the narrator is utterly clueless. Song  [277] Has a nine-stone-weakling narrator struggling to live in a world where super-heroes are cool and he can barely tie his shoes. Other bands like to sing about success and brilliance, but The Kinks make ‘failure’ a big thing their whole career long and are still singing about being hopelessly naïve and out of touch from pretty much their first note to their last.
Which leads to another point. While everyone else was being either The Beatles or the Stones or variations thereof, The Kinks weren’t really like any other band before or since. The Stones were cutely subversive, The Beatles subversively cute and pretty much every band in the 1960s falls somewhere into either camp – bands that parents secretly liked and admired or were terrified of their daughters running away with. Parents though never quite knew what to think of The Kinks. On the one hand they were smartly dressed in their red hunting jackets and made sweet singalong ballads where you could hear all the words. On the other they often beat each other up on stage and for the standards of the day the barely controlled passion of songs like [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ was a shock to the system. The Kinks were always polite and well spoken in interviews, but this was clearly just a veneer hiding a much darker, passionate inner core. Ray is considered such an institution that nobody batted an eyelid when he received a knighthood for service to English music (unlike Mick Jagger, whom The Queen refused to meet with) and yet Ray was still a terrifying enough figure for his own mother-in-law to do everything in her power to stop her daughter marrying him. The Kinks were the perennial outsiders, on the fringes of several groups but never a central part of any of them: too rock and roll and raw for the pretty balladeers; too poetic and intellectual for the primal rock bands; too cute to be cult, too weird to be mainstream. To be a Kinks fan is to worship the individual, to be lost in a crowd and to go your own way.
Not to mention that while everyone else was acting like rockstars The Kinks were being vulnerable. Rockstars aren’t meant to show weaknesses, but you learn a lot about both Ray and Dave’s neuroses in their songs. Ray offers us up so many songs about the differences between the way he feels and the way he acts. Songs like [124] ‘All Of My Friends Were There’ have him blowing a gig by playing a series of wrong notes back when his friends turn up and put extra pressure on him, while [188] ‘Sitting In My Hotel’ has him analysing the difference between how talented he feels and his confused friends watching him agog and wondering what happened to the ‘real’ him. Most moving of all, though, perhaps are [237] ‘Face In The Crowd’ where Ray sadly figures that he’s nobody special and doesn’t attention and is going to slip away quietly along with outtake [182] ‘Nobody’s Fool’ where Ray has been abandoned and forgotten, a ghost walking around London’s Soho district alone and where nobody knows or cares who he is. Dave, too, sings about the difference between the reputation and reality of being a star starting with his very first song [98] ‘Death Of A Clown’ and on through his ‘but you don’t know the real me!’ songs like [155] ‘Strangers’ and [190] ‘You Don’t Know My Name’. Being in a Rolling Stones mean that you have the world at your feet (at least if you’re male) and most 1960s songwriters have a pretty good chance at changing the world and making it better – but living inside a Kinks song is hard and only the tough survive, the contradiction being how fragile they feel. It’s hard to imagine Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney or anyone from CSNY penning these lines but with The Kinks it fits: we get to see behind the façade of being a rockstar and see that some of the people in it are as messed up as we are. No wonder so many fans love this band oh so very much.
Also, while everyone else was playing it cool, The Kinks were singing tales of obsession. The fashion before The Kinks came along and for a long time after was to pretend you didn’t care about something, even if you really really did. If you’ve seen any of the depressingly few surviving clips of [159] Top Of The Pops from the 1960s you might have noticed that the audience look bored out of their skulls. This wasn’t because they were (though they might have been when Cliff Richard was on) but because that was how you did ‘cool’ back then (maybe now too, I wouldn’t know). The Kinks, though, were never dispassionate or detached but deeply emotional. The reason [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ made such a splash was because it sounded like nothing else that had ever been recorded up to that time: it’s obsessive, paranoid, desperate. It cycles through the keys at top speed, full of so much emotion it’s about to burst and while it’s the youngest and in many ways the hungriest of Kinks singles it’s just one of many that can’t hide what they’re really thinking: the world weariness of [34] ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’, the nostalgia of [130] ‘Days’, the anger of [89] ‘Dead End Street’, the sheer joy of [303] ‘Come Dancing’. [360] ‘Babies’ even has the human race paranoid from birth. Was there ever an emotion The Kinks didn’t do somewhere in their thirty year run? This was a band that wore their hearts on their sleeves in a decade (or maybe even four) when being cool and unemotional was the in thing.
That’s true of the stage too because while everyone else was pretending everything was fine, The Kinks were self-destructing in public all the time. I would have hated to have been this band’s manager or publicist because The Kinks were as uncontrollable as any four or five musicians could be. Read any of the diary-style books on the band around and something quickly becomes obvious: this was a group who were the very definition of ‘unreliable’. Concerts were cancelled or delayed as often as they were played and many never got to the end, interrupted by some angry rant from Ray making up a song about the record company/local distractions/his brother, a Ray v Dave row, various drunken antics and Mick Avory throwing his drum pedal at Dave and nearly decapitating him. When The Rolling Stones or The Beatles had an argument or felt a disagreement inside the band they kept it hidden, expressed through sulky looks or barbed comments in the papers. When The Kinks had an argument everybody ducked – band, staff and fans alike – as they were hopeless at hiding how they felt (except the deadpan Pete Quaife maybe) and they were a band where fans knew anything could happen, good or bad.
Which leads on to the fact that…While everyone else played the music business game, The Kinks overturned the board, stomped on the pieces and set their own set of rules for how to be a working band. While everyone else became pretty, Ray Davies never got the gap in his teeth fixed, backing out of the operation Pye had organised for him to stay ‘true’ to himself. While other bands sucked up to posh people, The Kinks lampooned them. When other people did what their managers told them like good little boys, The Kinks did their own thing anyway. When someone in The Kinks’ management came up with a plan of how to break America, get a run of hits or simply sustain their public image, one or more of The Kinks would usually destroy it. There is no gameplan with any of The Kinks’ kareer as they veer from one extreme to another, usually trying something new and unafraid of biting, scarring and chopping off the hand that feeds them if it means they can write from the heart. No writer ever lambasted the music business they were in as often or with as much glee as Ray Davies and songs like [75] ‘Too Much On My Mind’ (a nervous breakdown caused by mean evil people), [156] ‘Denmark Street’ (mean evil music publishers!), [159] ‘Top Of The Pops’ (mean evil marketing business!), [218] ‘Nobody Gives’ (Mean evil Government!) and [324] ‘Working At The Factory’ (mean evil music business!) are amongst the most damning in rock and roll. You don’t do this if you want to reach the big time or be a star, but then did The Kinks ever want stardom? Songs like [122] ‘Starstruck’ suggests that The Kinks have seen through the ‘game’ that everyone else plays and have refused to take part on anything but their own terms, getting by on being occasionally lucky and their sheer brilliance rather than following the usual game plan for a band with talent.
And yet The Kinks are also unlike everyone else because they don’t just care about the world around them. Many Kinks songs are set in a fantasy land of their own making and the band love playing around with the blurring line between reality as experienced through each individual’s pair of eyes and imagination. This is a theme that crops up again and again: Who doesn’t want to escape to the happier world of [120] ‘Animal Farm’? What’s really true and what’s just in the head of the narrator of [158] ‘Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues’? Who hasn’t been fooled by the glare of an [259] ‘Artificial Light’ or found themselves living [233] ‘Underneath The Neon Sky’ where nothing is what we think it is? Then there’s [303] ‘Clichés Of The World’ in which a man is abducted by aliens and figures, hey, it’s better than the boring life he was living, even if it’s all in his head. The whole of ‘Starmaker’ meanwhile is an album that takes place in the head of a man who thinks he’s a rockstar leading the life of an ordinary man (and so we do for two-thirds of the album), only to find out that he’s suffered from some trauma that’s led him to make the whole thing up, so horrified is he at his nothing life.
However the big reason that The Kinks aren’t like everyone else is that they weren’t afraid to be out of step with their times. The 1960s was a time of youth and vibrancy, where anything was possible (including, hopefully, world peace one day) and where bands like the Jefferson Airplane could sing ‘It’s a wild thyme, I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet!’ and mean it. The Kinks arrived right slap bang in the middle of an era when everyone was out to destroy everything that had come before in the name of making things better – and quietly reminded people that there might be some things worth preserving. It speaks volumes that when The Kinks released ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ with some free grass, everyone assumed it was something illegal and tried to smoke it, but The Kinks had never given that a thought – they were genuinely more into preserving something most of their fans had never even noticed might go missing. The Kinks always seemed to be working at a different angle to their peers: as the rest of the 1960s bands celebrated the new The Kinks moaned [53] ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’; when everyone moved on to the next big craze The Kinks worried about the people left behind from the craze before on [202] ‘Where Are They Now?’; when music moved on and older bands pretended to be young and hip they proudly claimed themselves [203] ‘One Of The Survivors’; when everyone else was forgetting The Kinks were proudly boasting [85] ‘I’ll Remember’; when everyone else went modern and diesel-driven they declared themselves [117] ‘The Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains’. The Kinks worked to their own internal clock, not fussed by the outer world around them, content to look backwards as the rest of the world looked forwards as they spoke with nostalgia about early motor cars ([143] ‘Drivin’), schooldays (take your pick including [246] ‘The Last Assembly’) and songs that remembered sisters, uncles and cousins at a time when other artists were writing about mistresses and offspring. This has harmed the band’s reputation often, making them look old-fashioned and outclassed at a time when music happens to be going somewhere terribly new (1968-1969, most of the first half of the 1970s, etc). But it’s also helped, as The Kinks do their own thing, their records dated only occasionally by their production and remain timeless and likely to pop up in the mainstream just when you’ve counted them out: with unexpected comebacks like [158] ‘Lola’, [303] ‘Come Dancing’ and the recent Waterloo Sunset musical proof that The Kinks can intersect with what is happening in modern music when they choose – but only when they choose.
In the end, the only part of The Kinks discography that really sounds like everybody else is, ironically, [88] ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’. For the one thing The Kinks shared with their peers was a desire to stand out from the crowd, to be different, to be notorious. However they did so in a very unique and Kinky way, always being true to themselves rather than being clichéd bad boys or doing daring things simply because they were told to. The Kinks weren’t like everybody else not because the record company suggested it or the fans insisted on it or because it worked out the last time The Kinks were in disrepute: they did it because they couldn’t ever possibly be like anyone else. Because there never was or will be again a band quite like The Kinks.

Dave Davies and John Carpenter
"The Village Of The Damned (Original Soundtrack)”
(Darabande, May 1995)
March Of The Children/Children’s Carol/Angel Of Death/Daybreak/The Fair/Children’s Theme/Ben’s Death/The Funeral/Midwich Shuffle/Baptism/Burning Desire/Welcome Home Ben/The Brick Wall
"We can’t leave you behind David…It’s time we resolved this!”
‘Here come the children with grins – who keep doing me in!’ Dave’s first move post-Kinks was unexpected to say the least as he recorded the first Kinks-related soundtrack album since ‘Percy’ a full quarter-century before. John Wyndham’s superb book ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ feels like a Kinks project: the juxtaposition of innocence and paranoia, the fixed grins and blank stares of the offspring of a certain generation who all look the same and the suspicion that someone out there is up to something they haven’t let you in on yet. As a sci-fi buff Dave is a natural to be asked to do this film score. Unfortunately Dave isn’t a) involved with the superior 1960 original but John Carpenter’s trying-too-hard remake and b) isn’t involved with the soundtrack muc anywayh, most of the score being taken up with the director’s own creepy synthesiser film score with just the odd bit of Dave’s guitar at it’s most lyrical. Oddly enough Carpenter revealed years later that he was effectively ordered to make this film which the people in grey thought would ‘sell’ in order to make the movies he really wanted to make and he had no passion for this creepy children fest, but Dave clearly does playing some lovely acoustic guitar on tracks like ‘The Funeral’ and ‘Welcome Home Ben’ and some storming noisy electric on ‘Midwich Shuffle’, which sounds like his first two solo LPs. It’s a shame the soundtrack doesn’t use him more though and Kinks fans are likely to be disappointed that Dave plays even less of a role than he did on ‘Percy’, though this soundtrack  is at least a well-made piece of collection filler. Now how about a Ray Davies score about brainwashing and prejudice for a film version of John Wyndham’s under-rated classic ‘Chocky’ – that’s something we sci-fi fans really want to see?!
Dave Davies “Rippin’ Up Time”
(Red River, November 2014)
Rippin’ Up Time/Semblence Of Sanity/King Of Karaoke/Front Room/Johnny Adams/Nosey Neighbours/Mindwash/Between The Towers/In The Old Days/Through My Window
"When life is fading fast and night is upon us, there is no escape – only madness here!”
Ray and Dave seem different in just about every way there is: introvert v extrovert, vulnerable v tough, homebody v party animal, quiet v loud. But there is one thing that has always united them – apart from being born into the same family and as a result the same band - nostalgia. Both Ray and Dave love looking back to their past and as old age beckons both brothers have been living there lately, rather than merely signing the visitor’s book as in the past. ‘Rippin’ Up Time’ is Dave’s equivalent of his brother’s ‘Storyteller’ tour, big on memories of the Kinks’ early days and what it felt like to be in the middle of everything happening in the mid-1960s.Typically, though, there are differences even there: Ray’s memories were often tainted with misery or bitterness, spoken about with alternating affection and neuroticness in an acoustic format that made him seem like an old man before his time. Twenty years later going back to the past has rejuvenated Dave, who sounds as loud and as heavy as he did in his teens and rather than returning to the folly of youth with older eyes seems to be embracing how energetic and enthusiastic everything was afresh. This is really good to hear post-stroke and though Dave still struggles occasionally with his vocal he’s absolutely back where he belongs, free to fly again without the restrictions of his last couple of solo albums and the strain of his older, poorlier vocals struggling to glide across the world he used to know so well is very moving indeed.
Unfortunately the songs aren’t quite up to scratch: like the backing there is nothing subtle here and none of the poetry of Dave at his best as on past Kinks Klassiks as this album returns more to the one-dimensional sound of his first two albums. There’s none of the bravery of ‘Bug’ or ‘Fractured Mindz’ here as Dave moves between writing a very rocky rock song, a very ballady ballad and a very prog rock prog rock number that don’t always fit together that well. Together with the slurred vocals that doesn’t always make for an album you want to spend much time with. However there’s always something to admire and there are some very good and powerful songs here, particularly Dave’s own ‘Julie Finkle’ style groupie remembered on ‘King Of Karaoke’ and closer ‘Through My Window’ where Dave turns to the future with far more worry than he ever lived his past. In short, this is one of those works that gets full marks for effort, but not always sadly attainment.
‘Ripping Up Time’ isn’t the heavy rock title track I was expecting from Dave’s last few albums but a noisy slow-motion blues that sounds more like time is stopping than being torn up. Dave’s blistering guitarwork is impressive, though, as are his most together vocals on the album, perfect for a song about life never quite turning out the way you thought it would.
‘Semblence Of Sanity’ is that heavy rock song we were waiting for, as Dave struggles to keep up on a song where he ticks off his younger self for being ‘irresponsible’. Dave can see a world full of little Daves all making the same mistakes in a world that’s suddenly gone crazy and tries to offer up his warnings, although the fierceness of the angular guitar riff suggests that he already knows his words of warning are doomed.
‘King Of Karaoke’ is the album highlight, a classy acoustic rocker that concerns a tale from the past about a boy (almost certainly Dave) plucking up the courage to sing at the disco and impress the girl he has his eye on (surely childhood sweetheart Sue). It’s a wonderful tale of innocence and first love, neither teen aware of what life has in store for them, recounted by an obviouslty frailer, sadder Dave. Highly moving.
Kinks fans know how central the front room was to the Davies’ work: it’s where the piano was, where family sing-songs took place and where many of the band’s first songs started. For Ray the front room had ‘magic’ – which might be the spell cast here. ‘Front Room’ is a word of advice from an unknown passing relative to a young Dave (is it, perhaps, his elder self appearing like a fairy godfather?) ‘Keep your eyes on the road ahead’ he tells himself, ‘Be mindful what you say and you’ll be on your way’. Sadly the melody to this intriguing song never quite comes together and sounds like its lots of Rickenbacker-heavy Byrds songs stapled together.
‘Johnny Adams’ is the album’s noisy demented rocker and the odd song out in the sense that it has nothing to do with Dave (we hope!) Johnny Adams was a UK doctor who may well have killed more people than any other person on British soil before his retirement from general practice in the 1960s. Over 160 of his patients died, many of them directly as a result of his prescriptions and MacMillan’s government was so ashamed of not having stopped him that they tried to hush the trial up. Perfect ground for underdog heroes The Kinks, then, with Dave appalled at how ordinary people from working class backgrounds who’d lost loved ones were ignored because the GP happened to be ‘posh’ and ‘one of them’. Dave sounds suitably angry even though the events took place a long time ago, back in his 1950s childhood. 
‘Nosey Neighbours’ sounds like ‘Bug’ (yay!) but lacks Dave’s previously strong lyrics as instead of a tirade against modern society and spying we get a whole comedy song about curtain-twitchers, desperate to find something bad to say about Dave’s narrator. Perhaps they’re just fed up of being kept awake by the crunch of this second overtly noisy song?
‘Mindwash’ is the album’s most interesting track, a snappy acoustic blues that recalls [144] ‘Brainwashed’ as Dave again speaks out about the propaganda and hidden agendas of modern day living. The song’s sudden explosion into fury is well handled, while the shorter simpler sentences allows Dave to sing with more precision than the rest of the album.
The slow keyboard ballad ‘Between The Towers’ would have been the chilling highlight on albums from years past, a prog rock epic about a ‘vision from a dark and ancient time’ that lures mankind on to his deeper destiny like ‘2001: A Space Oddysey’ crossed with [164] ‘Apeman’.  Unfortunately Dave’s melody is full of so many notes his modern voice can’t navigate them and he’s never sounded iller or older than here. It’s a brave decision to put this song out which I can only applaud and suits the idea of mankind’s fate being decided centuries ago, but even his biggest fans will find it heavy going.
‘In The Old Days’ is the most Kinks-like song here, a spirited rocker based around a catchy riff that remembers the recklessness of yesteryear with shock. Dave spent his twenties partying all night every night, his eldest children staying up late just to catch a glimpse of him as he staggered home drunk. Dave now clearly regrets his old way of living but this is not tearjerker guilt-ridden song but a memory of a different time he secretly wishes might come again, without the responsibilities of the modern day now dave realises how stupid and reckless he was.
Finally ‘Through My Window’ is a fine closer, Dave realising that he’s now growing closer to the end of his life and wishing to pass on the stories of what he’s learnt to the world he sees outside, oblivious of the ‘true’ meaning of life the way he once was. Like a slowed-down version of The Hollies’ ‘Look Through Any Window’ this song says more about the person indoors singing than it really does about events outside.
Overall, then, ‘Rippin’ Up Time’ is perhaps the weakest of Dave’s records so far: there are fewer shorter songs and each one has some flaw – many of them sadly unavaoidable given Dave’s recent health which sounds more obvious than ever here but others suffering from more basic song templates than usual. Rushed for release a year after ‘I Will Be Me’, you can’t help wishing that Dave had spent longer on this record and yet the idea of pressing time and urgency inspires the best moments on this album too: the need to get down every memory, the need to understand every twist and turn of life and the need to embrace the uncertain future in song before the chance disappears. If you can put up with this album’s occasional mistakes and the most difficult sounding vocals of Dave’s career then there is much to admire in this record which doesn’t try to hide illness or age or past mistakes but holds everything up to the light. An admirable record, then, impressively brave and Dave was always never anything less than lovable. But admirable records don’t always make for the best hearing and so it is with this CD. I would try the others in Dave’s discography first if I were you.

"Sunny Afternoon: The Very Best Of The Kinks”
(Sanctuary, October 2015)
CD One: You Still Want Me/I Gotta Move/Just Can’t Go To Sleep/Denmark Street/A Well Respected Man/Dead End Street/Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/You Really Got Me/Set Me Free/Til’ The End Of The Day/This Strange Effect/Stop Your Sobbing/This Is Where I Belong/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/All Day And All Of The Night/This Time Tomorrow/Maximum Consumption/Sitting In My Hotel/I Go To Sleep/I’m Not Like Everybody Else/Too Much On My Mind/Tired Of Waiting For You/The Money-Go-Round
CD Two: Sunny Afternoon/Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy/Days/A Long Way From Home/Waterloo Sunset/Lola/Look A Little On The Sunny Side/Party Line/Who’ll Be The Next In Line?/Tell Me Now So I’ll Know/Starstruck/Victoria/Brainwashed/Powerman/Gotta Be Free/The Way Love Used To Be/Meet The Kinks (BBC)/You Really Got Me (BBC)/Interview (BBC)/Tired Of Waiting For You (BBC)/Death Of A Clown (BBC)
“In a while they’re going to be showering you with praises, then they’ll give you mediocre reviews and put you in the underground for a while”
I'll admit it, I still haven't seen the 'story of the Kinks' musical Waterloo Sunset on stage yet, but there's a good reason for that: it looks awful. I've caught a good half hour's worth of the material thanks to appearances on TV (Including Children In Need last year,which was an odd link-up in itself given the extract was the penniless Kinks becoming near-millionaires overnight and could have afforded the whole charity night themselves back in 1964) and it seemed even worse than I imagined: lots of shoe-horned references to period events (even though The Kinks were the group of the 1960s who paid least attention to what was going on in the outside world), tacky exposition ('How are you feeling after hurting your leg in that car crash, Pete?'), decidedly Ray-centric lines (‘My brother Dave has an EP in him maybe, but never a whole LP!’) and acting so bad I can't even work out which Davies brother is meant to be which. Lots of people seemed to love it and became Kinks fans through it, just as they did after the surge of  interest from [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ [158] ‘Lola’ and [295] ‘Come Dancing’ which is of course a good thing (it doesn’t matter who invited you to the party,it only matters that you came). But this is a musical for ‘insiders’, for the outside world to ‘understand’ what being a Kinks fan is like and it can’t compete to, well, actually being a Kinks fan (which means that you are an outsider, through and through and wouldn’t be seen dead at a popular musical).
With the thud of inevitability the band did well to suppress for so long, here is not quite a soundtrack CD, but yet another best-of released with fans of the musical in mind. Most of the songs featured in it are in the project somewhere and at two discs there's a bit more room for colour than just the bare outlines. But good grief: yet again this compilation seems to have been compiled at random. Most of the hits are here, though heard in a very odd order and very much centred on the 1960s Pye years with big hits like [164] ‘Apeman’ [191] ‘Supersonic Rocketship’ and [303] ‘Come Dancing’ missing. What’s scattered amongst them too is downright peculiar: who back in 1972 would have guessed that Ray’s anti-commercial oompah-ing [192] ‘Look A Little On The Sunny Side’ would ever have ended up on a Kinks kompilation? The fact that it was so unpopular and left-field was the whole point of it! The deeply sarcastic [156] ‘Denmark Street’ seems like a slap in the face placed so early on in the selection too. Is there any reason to include the lumpy forgettable [185] ‘Maximum Consumption’ apart from helping us plug this book? (Thanks guys!) And since when did any Kinks fan rate [72] ‘Party Line’ as a highlight?!
The set seems to have been made partly through songs other bands made famous, even if The Kinks themselves pretty much ignored them: hence the demos of [48] ‘This Strange Effect’ (a hit for Dave Berry) and [53] ‘I Go To Sleep’ (a hit for The Pretenders), though in that case why not go the whole way and include [97] ‘David Watts’ (a hit for The Jam and far more popular with most fans than either of these songs?) There is, for fans, one extra rarity in the shape of [70] ‘Tell Me Now So I’ll Know’(a bluesy Ray Davies demo full of slide guitar that no outside band ever picked up on – frankly because it isn’t actually very good, unless you like Ray Davies acting the part of an insincere crooner). And why end the set with a string of not very good BBC sessions (recordings passed over for the first BBC sessions set remember and clearly here as an extra ‘plug’ for the pricey box set just out – the one The Kinks and their management really care about because it makes the most money, not this hook and bait set). This isn't the real best of The Kinks - there's none of their most daring work or difficult work here, just an attempt to reduce the band to a lot of soundbites and singalongs, a bit like the musical worst luck. The Kinks were a hugely important band as most of you surely know by now this many pages in with more than enough classic songs to release a box set without breaking the quality at all, but good luck trying to work that out if all you know about the band comes from the musical and this bright yellow plastic horror which makes The Kinks look anaemic (and since when was yellow a Kinks kolour anyway? Give us some ‘Village Green’ browns or ‘Word Of Mouth’ pinks!) Not so much [207] sitting in the mid-day sun as struggling under the glare of a spotlight that never suited this band, this is perhaps the worst release in this book, lazy is this [84] ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (already a title for another Kinks best-of remember) and it’s a bummer, this time.

Dave Davies “Rippin’ Up NYC Winery”
(Red River, November 2015)
Intro/Rippin’ Up Time/I’m Not Like Everybody Else/I Need You/Creepin’ Jean/Susannah’s Still Alive/See My Friends/Strangers/Flowers In The Rain/Front Room/King Of Karaoke/Death Of A Clown/Livin’ On A Thin Line/Where Have All The Good Times Gone?/All Day And All Of The Night/You Really Got Me
"I see change, but inside we’re the same as we ever were”
How very Kinks – fifty years after being kicked out of America for drunken hi-jinks on a plane, here Dave Davies is in New York City, not at some prestigious musical venue but the local ‘winery’! This is a fun boozy informal set, full of old Kinks favourites and new songs that sound much better here than they did on ‘Rippin’ Up Time’. Particularly interesting are the songs we’ve never heard Dave sing lead on before including a nicely bluesy [61] ‘See My Friends’ and the 1980 ‘One For The Road’era arerangement of [53] ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ Dave still struggles with his vocals post-stroke, which suits the noisy thrashy songs (such as the messiest versions of [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ and [21] ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ on record) but is more of a problem on the tender ballds like the beautiful ‘Flowers In The Rain’, a very weary [155] ‘Strangers’ and Kinks klassik [316] ‘Living On A Thin Line’. Dave’s heart – and more importantly his amplifier – are almost always in the right place, though, and if you see this gig as the latest round of a hard-fought battle against life by a fighter who remains unbowed rather than a jolly collection of singalong tunes then you will find much to love and admire here. A shame Dave doesn’t do the obvious and sing [171] ‘Alcohol’ or [232] ‘Have Another Drink’ inside NYC’s Winery though, that would have been fun!

Ray Davies "Americana”
(Sony, April 2017)
Americana/The Deal/Poetry/Message From The Road/A Place In Your Heart/The Mystery Room/Silent Movie/Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboys/Change For Change/The Man Upstairs/I’ve Heard That Beat Before/A Long Drive Home To Tarzana/The Great Highway/The Invaders/Wings Of Fantasy
"Change for change’s sake, change the Government, change the story, change for the world’s sake…Hey buddy, can you spare some change for me?” or “Hey what’s the deal, Ray?”
At last, after a decade of messing around with weird friends and even weirder choirs, the real Ray Davies is back. Or is he? While this is a ‘proper’ solo album at last (only the third of Ray’s solo career) in many ways it’s as experimental as anything that came before it and clearly shaped by the events outlined in the ‘Americana’ book (very Ray, to make this album ‘tie in’ with a project most fans never bought and which came out several years earlier!) Ray’s Englishness has always been an intrinsic part of him, even though he’s been living in America off and on for nearly forty years now. Finally he gives in to the lure of the American sounds that first inspired him to make music with a surprisingly Country-and-Western sounding album rather than the blues or rockabilly record I was expecting. That’s not the only change: instead of odes to cups of tea and Davies family Uncles from the past, here we get a whole album of odes to Hollywood, highways and cowboys. It’s a very strange feeling as Ray embraces his ‘new’ homeland and tries out a whole new persona, offering us up The Kinks as they might have become had they ‘grown up near the OK corale’.
But some things never change. This isn’t the OK corale but a devastating landscape of the typial Kinks melancholy and missed opportunities, where Ray and his latest missus row and throw cockery at each other and stomp the floor to the beat of the sound of the neighbour upstairs doing the same, or saying goodbye to old friend and neighbour Alex Chilton, making a pact to keep writing songs to make sense of a crazy world that needs them for as long as he can. Ray has become someone else because it sounds as if he can’t bear who he used to be and that for all the new coats of colours he tries to wear across this album and go all-American he’s the same unhappy outsider he always was. The result is a fascinating, quirky little album – one that tries to throw us off the scent by giving us so many different images and sounds to play around with (just listen to the amount of pedal steel and organ across this album, neither familiar Kinks sounds, or the lyrical references to coyotes and Hollywood icons rather than the familiar [131] Mr songbirds and local British eccentrics), but which is very much in the Kinks tradition underneath everything. Every song contains some nugget that’s oh so Ray Davies: a lyric here, a melodic phrase there, a riff almost everywhere and suddenly all sounds right with the world. Much as Ray tries to pretend that this is his new home (and as much as it has been, physically, for many years now) you can’t take the Muswell Hill out of the songwriter completely.
The album title and its links to the ‘Americana’ autobiography of Ray’s are a red herring by the way. There are moments of similarities between the two – the two spoken word passages aren’t directly taken from the book but summarise passages: the moving goodbye to friend Alex Chilton of the band Big Star and the very Ray tale of hearing a beat in his head that happens to be matched by the neighbour upstairs he’s never seen, as if both are ‘working’ on the song at the same time. But there’s less here about the events in the book than there was on ‘Workingman’s Café’ – nothing about the mugger who shot Ray in New Orleans, nothing about nearly dying in a hospital and only the bare minimum about the fallout between him and the lady he was trying to protect that day. There is, though, the same sense of self-ridicule and helplessness that came over from the book (so different to the creative and aggressive ‘X-Ray’) as after a career of writing songs about life on the road Ray finally comes up with the perfect metaphor for why rockstar marriages never work: ‘Real life is not like a hotel – there is no room service and laundry slowly piles up!’
Overall, ‘Americana’ is an intriguing attempt to do something new that somehow gets by with its country-rock feel with some awkward humour (such as the woman who asks on second track ‘The Deal’ ‘Hey what’s new Ray? What’s the deal?’ and Ray quoting some lines from his Kinks song [330] ‘How Are You?’ that ‘I haven’t seen you for at least a year – or more’, perhaps in deference to the ten years it took to make this album. However, while the album is an improvement at least in terms of consistency of ‘Workingman’s Café’ it lacks the top-class truly beautiful songs of old, with only ‘Long Drive Home To Tarzana’ approaching the very best of what Ray Davies can do.Nothing here is bad either though, impressive for an album that’s so insistent on breaking new ground.
 Title track ‘Americana’ for instance has Ray pledging to make a new life ‘where the buffalo roam…in the great big panorama’, ermbracing the anonymity a world away from the united claustrophobia of Muswell Hillbillies. This sequel song, though, is more concerned with fantasy than reality, Ray admitting that ‘me and my little brother’ always had the dream of moving to the United States since their childhood and even when it fails to compare to what they dreamed of, they still thrill to the beat of a different world based on optimism and pessimism, where ‘each new world is gonna take me somewhere’.
‘The Deal’ is the American truth hitting the American Dream full on, sung with the sarcasm of old. The track starts with a soundbite from the news about some random stranger violence (‘These people need to be locked up!’) and contrasts this to Ray’s ideas of partying and dating girls. Ray dreams of being ‘emotionally refreshed’ to a bouncy beat and imagines how it will be ‘marvellous, utterly surreal, totally fabulous…’ before throwing in the lines ‘fraudulent, bogus and unreal’. It’s not as catchy as the similar [79] ‘A Holiday In Waikiki’ but this Holiday In L.A. at least has the presence of mind to compare this land of sun and fakery to his old life, ‘real but disillusioned, travelling on the tube or riding on a bus’.
What’s the deal? Why does Ray live somewhere so fake? The deal is ‘Poetry’ apparently, with Ray excited by a simple walk ‘to the local Kentucky’ (KFC) and enjoying ‘the comforts that life bestows on me’ before adding the usual Kinks worry that undermines everything where ‘the big neon signs telling us what to eat’ and ‘the big corporations looking over me’. This song’s melody sounds remarkably like Steve Harley’s ‘Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)’ but injected with a more Kinks-like sense of sarcasm and bitterness. The deal is that Ray can exist here more easily than he can at home – but still he misses the ‘poetry’ of life back in old blighty.
‘Message From The Road’ is a sweet but rather sickly ballad that sounds a little like [177] ‘Uncle Son’. Instead of being surrounded by his quirky eccentric family with whom he belongs with, though, Ray is out on the road, passing through timezones and messing up the hour he was meant to phone his daughter. All these years and homes on, Ray only really feels at home out on the road. The song was a good one until the album’s pianist Karen Grotberg takes a verse which Ray could have sung better himself (and giving us memories of the ‘Preservation’ days). Even so, there’s a riff that runs ‘still in your reality…’ that’s just so Ray Davies there’s no mistaking the writer of this song.
The uptempo country-rocker ‘A Place In Your Heart’ sounds very much like the country songs of Ray’s youth and is perhaps the weakest song on the album as Karen takes over half the vocals again. It’s odd to hear Ray so dementedly happy as he realises that he belongs to someone even when he’s lonely and out on the road and the yee-ha backing is distracting on this [178] ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ remake.
‘Mystery Room’ is more like one of Dave’s songs: angry, turbulent and noisy as Ray uses every word he can rhyme for ‘room’, a special place where he hides when the world gets crazy. It’s only a mystery room to other people though: to him it’s the rest of the world that’s a ‘mystery’, full of scary people who taunt him outside the door ‘Come and join us!’ Another reading of the song is that it’s the schizophrenia of old, as Ray is called over to the ‘dark side’ in his head by some demon voices. A scary track.
‘Silent Movie’ is a spoken-word-with-guitars passage about the last conversation Ray had with Alex Chilton that ‘playing songs is ageless…they cheat time and make you feel safe, but the reality is that things keep changing in the world’. This leads to an even hokier country song ‘Rock and Roll Cowboys’, a typical Ray Davies song that returns to the refrain of [202] ‘Where Are They Now?’ about where old rock and roll stars go when they retire (One last shoot-out? Or uneasy old age?) The metaphor of a rockstar being a cowboy is a slightly strained one, but the song has just enough Kinksian moments to keep it interesting, not least the melody’s similarity to [260] ‘On The Outside’.
‘Change For Change’ is a groovy but little song, an acapella-with-shakers song where multi-tracked Rays speak out about the good and badness of change. Sometimes good wins, sometimes evil – sometimes the world changes for the better, sometimes humanity is saved for a little bit and sometimes heroes are left begging for change instead. ‘I don’t live life, life lives me’ snarls Ray, as he tries to break the world out of its stupor ‘fighting for the exact same dollar – that’s life in the free world!’
The moving spoken word of ‘The Man Upstairs’ dodging the Davies’ family corkery soon changes into the jazzy upbeat world of ‘Heard That Beat Before’, the most Kinksy song on the album. All relationships seem to come in cycles: passion, drama, resentment, drunken-ness and ‘then she starts to pack’, every single time. Fittingly this tale of music being the only real escapefor any of us recalls almost exactly a previous Ray Davies composition [360] ‘To The Bone’. This song is wryer though and less emotional, too old to care now that the pattern has happened so many times and looking forward to the ‘new love going on in the bed, before the same old habits raise the same old head’. 
‘Long Drive Home To Tarzana’ is a gorgeous slow ballad about a long journey to California where Ray, a boxed-in English lad, revels in the wide open spaces of the United States. ‘It’s a long way to paradise’ Ray sighs, both about the journey and his life, talking to his fans about the ‘eternity’ it seems ‘since we first pressed the ignition’ and how all roads led here and this moment in time, some good, some bad. The harmonies on this otherwise sparse and muted album sound amazing, while the country overtones work better on this sad little lament than the overpowering use on other songs on this album.
‘The Great Highway’ is a tribute song to American outlaws, a poppy upbeat tune that I’m surprised wasn’t an album single (There wasn’t one, that I heard). Ray knows that the fantasy in his brain doesn’t match the reality of living in America, but he doesn’t care – everyone here is involved with fantasy, unlike the realists of back home and Ray adores it all, even the ‘college girls with perfect teeth’.
‘The Invaders’ is alas a more hokey country song played with acoustic guitars and accordions. Ray’s clearly been watching the news and takes the view of a ‘refugee’ as seen on the news, risking their lives for sanctuary on American soil. However the twist is that this is the ‘British Invasion’ and he’s part of The Kinks in 1964 putting up with the jibes of American who don’t want them there and don’t understand them, ‘like space invaders from the moon’. People laugh at Ray’s long hair and call him an ‘enemy of the state’ but he still feels at home in this exotic new world and wants to see more of it.
The album closes on an upbeat song ‘Wings Of Fantasy’ that unites many Ray Davies lyrical and melodic favourites. He imagines himself, his girl and maybe his entire fanbase flying away from everything that restricts them in the real world. This energetic song nicely recalls [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ but the paranoia is down low and the joy is up high on this simple but effective singalong where Ray wonders if his songs have ever been of any help or if he’s just ‘a man in a machine…running out of steam’.
I’d say they’ve been one hell of a lot of help – they always have been and always will be, as Ray puts his experiences into a language that all of us can understand, even if the closest we ever came to America is a day-trip to see a beautiful long distance girlfriend and the limit of our ambition is escaping Muswell Hill for a different London Borough. Though flecked with the usual twinges of Daviesian melancholia, this is largely an upbeat album that suggests that Ray has left the tough times of a decade past behind him and is genuinely embracing the new with eagerness. And that might well be the biggest change of them all, across this whole book. Trust Ray to give us the unexpected – while dressing up this album with just enough sounds of yesteryear to prove that it’s really ‘him’ underneath the new Americana vibe. Not the best Ray Davies album by any means, then, but with enough surprises to be worth your while as a ‘postcard’ back home from a man who still remembers what he was but is still enjoying everything that he still can be.

Dave and Russ Davies "Open Road”
(Red River, June 2017)
Path Is Long/Open Road/Don’t Wanna Grow Up/King Of Diamonds/Forgiveness/Sleep On It/Slow Down/Love Has Rules Of It’s Own/Chemtrails
"Just a boy in worn out shoes playing the blues on my Harmony guitar”
At last Dave has come to terms with his older, more fragile voice and at last someone has put it to good work on a series of recordings that emphasises its fragile quality on a number of subtler songs without as much of the heavy metallic sound as normal. That person is Russell Davies, Dave’s son, who has been slowly making a name for himself in the music business and who has contributed with his father before but never on such a mainstream release. The result is a true revelation: Dave’s not raging against the dying of the light the way he did on his last run of records so much as sighing about it, adjusting to the new way of living as a perennial Kinks outsider, a noisy man who wants to scream trapped in a quiet man’s reflective body. The modern production touches, usually so damaging on albums by 1960s musicians, makes a lot of sense here and makes Dave sound ever more like an outsider, struggling to make his wise old voice heard in a modern world where everything is disposable and nobody learns from anything anymore. This fits the long-held Kinks concept of ‘preservation’ and Dave has rarely sounded braver or sweeter than here. The downside to all this is that in this brave new world we get less of the old Dave Davies sounds than normal and there is only one obviously Dave guitar solo (though thankfully it’s a good one, heard on album highlight ‘Slow Down’, which in typical Kinks style is the fastest song here!) Still, the songs are good, the production – once you get used to it – makes a lot of sense and Dave’s more vulnerable voice makes a lot more sense here than on ‘Rippin’ Up Time’. A real return to form.
‘Path Is Long’ takes us back to the beginning like many of Dave’s recent songs, but it’s a more subtle song than anything on the previous album with the guitarist looking at his younger self with older eyes like he’s an entirely different person.
‘Open Road’ is a fun little song that sounds more contemporary than any Kinks-related song for years. Normally that would be a bad thing, but the production flourishes manage to make Dave sound simultaneously young and vibrant and old and fragile, which suits this song about cycles and how even the oldest of musicians still have something important left to say. There’s a fun riff in this song too.
‘Don’t Wanna Grow Up’ is a sweet wistful ballad of dreaming of the future told from the other extreme – the younger Dave doesn’t want to grow up but the older Dave wishes he had a bit quicker. Both are still clearly the same soul, though.
‘King Of Diamonds’ is one of the album’s lesser songs though, a boring love song where nothing much happens, aside from multi-musician Russ Davies doing a good impression of Mick Avory’s quirky drum patterns.
‘Forgiveness’ is a sweet mournful ballad where Dave’s weakened voice really tears at our heart strings as he begs our forgiveness for all his mistakes from his younger days. It’s a bit too weepy maybe, with some synth strings over-exaggerating the point, but this is a highly impressive vocal.
‘Sleep On It’ is more uptempo, as  Dave sees another broken relationship as a ‘tragedy’ and pleads with his loved one to give it a bit longer and see how they feel when the immediate pangs of anger have cooled. One wonders if this song was partly written for Ray.
‘Slow Down’ is a clever, classy rock song wsith some blistering guitarwork from Dave and a return of the swagger to his voice. ‘It’s a match made in heaven and a deal made in hell’ he sings about what seems to have been his weakened health in old age. He keeps being told to slow down and knows he has to, but he has so much to say on this terrific return to his ‘old’ style, full of wailing guitars and soaring vocals.
‘Love Has Rules Of It’s Own’ is an intimate acoustic guitar ballad that sounds vaguely like [98] ‘Death Of A Clown’ with the same vaguely Dylanesque influence. Dave puts together a complex lyric to reflect his feelings that he still hasn’t quite worked out what love is all about just yet.
The album ends with it’s most ambitious moment ‘Chemtrails’, a spooky harmony-drenched tale of what the Government may or may not be up to in the name of population control. Dave isn’t too sure either way, but he’s convinced that the powers that be are hiding something from us on this spooky atmospheric song.
Overall, then, ‘Open Road’ is a fine return to form where the family firm gives Dave a new confidence to go somewhere slightly different whilst digging out more of his ‘real’ personality. This is an album that still has things to say, places to go and memories to recall and taking the amplifier out of Dave’s hands and passing the production over to synths and acoustic guitars is a brave move that brings out the best in Dave. As good as the backing by Davies junior is, though, it’s the songs and vocals of Davies senior that really pull at the heartstrings and warm the heart. Not strangers on this road they are on with you, they not one they are two.


‘The Kinks’ (1964)

‘Kinda Kinks’ (1964)

'The Kink Kontroversy' (1965)

'Face To Face' (1966)

‘Something Else’ (1967)

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

'Arthur' (1969)

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

'Muswell Hillbillies' (1971)

‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ (1972)

'Schoolboys In Disgrace' (1975)

'Sleepwalker' (1977)

‘Misfits’ (1978)

'Low Budget' (1979)

'Give The People What They Want' (1981)

'State Of Confusion' (1983)

'Word Of Mouth' (1985)

'Think Visual' (1986)

'UK Jive' (1989)

'Phobia' (1993)

Pete Quaife: Obituary and Tribute

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

Non-Album Recordings 1963-1991

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

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

Abandoned Albums and Outside Productions

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

Landmark concerts and key cover versions

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