Monday 15 January 2018

CSNY Essay: The Superest of Super Groups? Plus Updates

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' by clicking here!

It used to be easy didn’t it? A ‘band’ was a group of musicians who grew up on the same corner of the same street, went to the same schools, hung out in the same clubs and ended up playing in the same groups. The only difference between you and your bandmates was the instrument you played – otherwise you had the same interests and passions, had the same kind of vision and dated the same kind of girls (or boys). CSN though represented a change. If you were a kid growing up in the 1950s and playing at being in a band yourself then you picked your ‘leader’ – usually the frontman, occasionally the guitarist – whose name would go up on the posters and who would go up on all the posters and be seen in big on TV to make all the girls (maybe some of the boys) swoon while their mates got on with actually making music behind them. Think Cliff and the Shadows, Marty Wilde and the Wilde Three or Rory Storm and The Hurricanes. The Beatles changed all that – as they changed most everything – even though ironically they too started life as ‘Johnny and the Moondogs’ and ‘Long John Lennon and The Silver Beatles’ before McCartney’s talent overtook the gap in age between him and his musical partner. Even so, for most of the 1960s the idea was that as equals you had to think the same thoughts, in Graham Nash’s words on The Hollies to ‘make love to the same woman in the same room night after night’. You couldn’t have any individual identity – your group was your identity and you shared it between you. This is the era when bands all had the same haircuts, the same uniforms, the same pose and the same, well, everything.

CSN were the first to change all that (with perhaps the special exception of Cream, though only Eric Clapton was truly a household name at the time of their first single)  – and they did so deliberately. They were, after all, three such strong personalities that they’d outgrown the idea of being in a band singing to the same hymn-sheet a long time ago. Indeed, CSN were writing very different hymn-sheets to anything anyone else had ever written before. They also looked completely different, each with their recognisable silhouettes: there was Crosby all fringed jackets and droopy moustaches, Stills with tight-lipped blondeness and Nash with his thin goatee Manuncian look. If you had been beamed down from outer space (you won’t have met Catalunia the Third yet but she’s coming in these pages – it’s probably her planet!) you’d have wondered how these guys met and how they became friends – never mind have their surnames linked together for all eternity as one of the world’s grooviest sounding rock and roll law firms. That was the point though really: this was a firm of opposites who came together because that’s what the music demanded – not a brethren brotherhood who all shared the same sound and who always thought alike.

This was CSN’s greatest strength – and their greatest weakness. At their best it enabled them to sound like no other band out there with some of the widest range of influences out there and a sense that this trio could go anywhere and do anything. At their best they did do anything and broke more ground than they’re ever given credit for, especially in terms of political protest which was a genre they more or less created (in rock and roll terms, if not folk). At their worst it meant they couldn’t see eye to eye on anything – and all three were used to getting their own way. While CSN have many great qualities, none of them are what you might call ‘team players’. They weren’t very good at biting their lip and getting through the music business machines the way that you have to in order to have a successful career. But then CSN wasn’t a career – the biggest difference between this band and any that came before it was that music was a vocation, a calling. The pop stuff in their respective bands had just been the warm-up act for the ‘real’ job of making politicians afraid and making hippies of all ages, races and generations feel loved and hopeful. CSN were the hippie town criers, spreading hope around the globe – and throwing in a few stinging barbs when the people in charge of our world let us down. They didn’t merely want to be in a ‘band’ – which was what every other musician of their generation and taste longed for – they had all outgrown the need.

It’s worth having a quick recap for anyone whose missed our earlier books on The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and who hasn’t read our forthcoming book on The Hollies. David Crosby had been kicked out of The Byrds for seeing life differently to his band-members. While few people can compete with Crosby in the most liberal of bands, The Byrds were hardly the natural bedfellows for his way mind worked: he wanted to shake things up and they wanted to preserve it; The Byrds had a very eclectic sound but they veered towards establishment country when Crosby wanting to go places that were very new; they had to schmooze people in front of and behind the camera to stay in the top forty – something that Crosby hated with a passion. When the other Byrds kicked him out their famous line was that ‘we’ll do better without you’ – commercially they probably had a point without David around to mess up the pop-star bandwagon anymore, even if critically they clearly got it very wrong. The result was that by 1968 Crosby hated the idea of being in a band and vowed to never be in one again.

For Stills the idea of being in a band was a little bit different. He’d enjoyed the camaraderie that went with being in a band, especially one like Buffalo Springfield who were shaped and moulded in his image and largely consisting of his friends. But the powers-that-be decided that Richie Furay was a more marketable frontman and got him to sing lead or co-lead on many of Stephen’s songs. Then that pesky Neil Young began writing his own material and singing it too, not to mention getting more guitar solos and close-ups and much of the girls. Then Neil went and quit his band – his band! – six times in three years, leaving them in disarray and killing off their big shot at fame. Stills didn’t need the hassle – he wanted to be on his own.

Graham had the most interesting journey to CSN. The Hollies weren’t just a few musical mates he’d bumped in his twenties but his best friends from Primary School, at least in the case of singer Allan Clarke. They were successful, hitting the charts far more regularly than The Byrds or Springfield has ever been and they had weathered many storms: changing fashions, the end of Merseybeat, critical backlashes from own label-mates The Beatles and being pigeon-holed as a ‘singles band’ in the era of the long-playing record. But Nash seemed to have it all: he was the lead writer by 1968, was frequently referred to in the press as the band’s ‘leader’ and unlike Crosby his band looked to him to make trouble, while unlike Stills he didn’t really have the competition for creative control. But Nash found himself at odds with his bandmates. His other famous line was that the difference between his hit bands was that ‘David and Stephen never go to bed – and The Hollies go to bed at 8.30!’ In practical terms that meant that Nash was always high and thinking up mystical thoughts that turned into songs, while his pals were down the pub drinking. A rift grew between them – and Nash realised that being in a band could be a right drag.

CSN agreed, then, that their next band would be different – and maybe not be a ‘band’ at all in the Beatles ‘all in it together four musketeers’ sense. What all three had in common was that each of their respective bands had tried to dictate their identity – and they were desperate to grow and explore the idea of who they were. They wouldn’t necessarily agree with each other in interviews (indeed most fans read them to see how badly they’d disagree with each other!) They certainly wouldn’t wear the same clothes (could you see Nash in Crosby’s fringes? Or Croz in Stills’ American football T-shirts?!) They didn’t always share the same politics (as time went on Stills got more conservative, Nash got more liberal and Crosby broke all the rules – until settling down with a family late in life and renouncing or at least excusing most of his past). The only thing they really shared, alongside the music, was a similar kind of goofy humour that allowed them to soften the blows when they violently disagreed with each other (CSN’s stage patter is, John Lennon aside perhaps, the best).

From the start then, when CSN first sang together at that party (be it in Joni Mitchell’s living room as Stills claims, Mama Cass’ kitchen as Crosby and Nash say or – through some quirk of time – both, CSN were adamant that if they were going to spend the rest of their lives singing together, then it had to be on their own terms. And under their own name. Crosby and Stills had been playing around with the druggy name ‘The Frozen Noses’, given to them by a radio disc jockey who agreed to play their demos over the air for feedback without revealing who the duo were. When Nash joined in and things got more serious they discussed having a band name, but quickly opted out. What band name could possibly sum up three such different people?  Their sound was ‘real’ – it wasn’t contrived, it wasn’t an act and they didn’t want to be known as a ‘Byrd’ or a ‘Hollie’ forever. Instead they would just be themselves, sticking to their real names (although even there it took a lot of arguments: Crosby somehow expected to be at the front, while with only one syllable to his name Nash found himself out-argued that his name sounded better after ‘and’). Before this the only band that had come close was ‘Simon and Garfunkel’  and they weren’t really a ‘band’ in the same sense (not least because they were two guys and a guitar; Stills alone was an entire orchestra!)

Many people find it odd that CSN keep splitting and getting back together. I’m not sure even they expected to break up quite as many times as they have across fifty odd years, but some kind of flexibilty was always part of the plan – and for me part of what made them great. Instead of some big reunion or split the trio would just keep getting back together or departing for new musical avenues when they wanted to, going where the music took them. Sometimes their songs were too personal for mass consumption and epic harmonies; sometimes they wanted to prove to themselves that they could sell records on their own; often-times they hated each other’s guts and didn’t want to spent weeks locked in a studio with two (sometimes three) other loonies. But even at their most bitter, it wasn’t until 2016 that a split seemed final, that the trio (indeed quartet) were talking about never being able to work again with each other, ever. This wasn’t that kind of a band: however cross they got with each other, no matter how much hostility, no matter how many girlfriends had been chased off, CSN always knew that one day the time would be right and they would ‘return to the mothership’. There weren’t many things bigger than the egos of Crosby, Stills and Nash separately and yet somehow those initials CSN were. All of them saved their best music for when they were back together. All of them guested on each other’s solo albums to make them better. And all of them could offer anything they wanted on stage, no matter when they had written ir ot who with – after a lifetime spent in 1960s bands where everything had to be agreed on, CSN meant ‘freedom’ – suddenly everything was ‘allowed’. Though CSN frequently trampled on each other’s feelings, the one thing they never lost was their respect for each other – whatever they wanted to do was fine by the others, because they trusted them not to mess up (and even if they did, at least they messed up by being too ambitious, as opposed to not being ambitious enough!)

No wonder everyone else was left scratching their heads - no other band did that, getting back together again when they felt like it rather than when their bank balance dictated it. Even Cream took forty years (and a lot of money) to get back together again for one last hurrah. In fact nowadays, when CSN have been missing for what seems like decades (but is actually only six years) is when arguably they need the money most with back taxes, drug habits, aliony and new teeth to pay for – but it’s now they choose not to get back together again. That seems strange to believe now – despite the many changes CSN brought onto an unsuspecting public, ever since the mid-1970s it’s been taken for granted that any member splitting for a group will go solo (before rejoining the band again – it’s only a matter of time before Robbie Williams gets sucked back into Take That). But CSN wasn’t an ordinary group, from the very beginning, given that they were born from the giant furnace of pop stardom and they refused to ever get anywhere close to its brightness again, preferring to lurk in the shadows where the real music was. CSN were special for many reasons – for always telling the truth as they saw it for one thing, for keeping the crooked and the greedy on a leash and for having harmonies that couldn’t have been designed to fit any better together. But it was the template of their design that also made them special. CSN worked differently, not being prepared to play the pop game even when it meant we had lean years with only obscure solo albums on private labels, while all the time the trio would save their best music until they were all together and people would take note of what they had to say.

Neil Young’s chemistry changed everything, the way Neil always does. Added to the band as a touring extra, he slowly grew to the point where he eclipsed the trio’s fame – unfairly so in my eyes (this is a band of equals; having one of them as a superstar defeats the idea somehow, but then Neil doesn’t seem to have played by the same unspoken ‘rules’ as the other three). His dark and edgy edge gave CSNY a whole different sound to their original one as a trio, sucking the happiness and hope out of the room (which is odd because even though Neil tends to err towards the darker side of life solo, that’s hardly true of most of his CSNY work like ‘Helpless’ and ‘American Dream’). It also destabilised the dynamic: CSN always sensed that were meant to belong together and would return together eventually, but Young was a mystery who always worked to his own timetable and set his rules. There have only ever been three CSNY albums in fifty odd years, which is strange to think but not half as strange as how the last two turned out, with ‘American Dream’ and ‘Lookin’ Forward’ easily CSN/Y’s cosiest of albums, as if the quartet were too afraid to address their history or the darker edge Neil brought them. Even in a band who didn’t want to be a band, Neil was the least likely band member you could have.

You see, what’s wonderful about CSN – as opposed to CSNY these days - is that everyone is (roughly) equal. In other bands that might not have mattered, but CSN were meant to be equal – it’s what they sang about in their songs all the time and the need to respect other people’s opinions when they were so different to your own. They even had an African-American bass player at a time when bands didn’t tend to mix race much and more Spanish-speaking players than you could shake a conga at. The fact that the trio were walking the walk as well as talking the talk made it oh so real. I mean, if three nutcases who were so extremely different could get it together – some of the time – then why not the world? CSN were in many ways as different as you could get, with very different characters all jostling for position (Crosby by being a natural counter-culture rebel leader, Stills by being a forceful workaholic and Nash via friendly persuasion). The trio also had very different backgrounds (Crosby’s was a rich Californian lifestyle; Stills was a middling Texan one where his family moved a lot; Nash came from bitter Manchester poverty). Nobody who worked with one would ever have guessed that they could be in a band together through work-rate either: Crosby wrote six songs a year and was happy to let the others change them around, Stills wrote six before breakfast and they were all fully formed and Nash wrote six before each deadline to make sure the band had something to sing when they got the studio. Compared to getting CSN in the same room together, solving the cold war was a doddle. But each of them was roughly equal and – nearly always – respected, with one track by one of them treated much the same as one by the other two (or in the early days three).

There were always similarities too, something that’s all too often dismissed when discussing the trio. Crosby felt abandoned and dismissed during his childhood, overlooked in his posh Hollywood family house by an elder brother Ethan who seemed to have everything while a young David was a fat bullied kid and not a particularly determined scholar. Stills was a swot and eager to please his military parents, but his family kept moving every few terms that left him finding it difficult to make friends and with all the love in the world Stills was never going to agree to a life of service for an institution he didn’t believe in (even if the discipline paid off in his musical career). Nash had responsibility young after his dad died after a spell in prison he should never have been inside for (not grassing up a friend who sold him stolen goods if you haven’t read the review for ‘Wild Tales’ yet!), close to his family but somehow ignored by then simultaneously. All three men wanted to make their mark, were hungry for success and for all three of them the only thing worth living through their pretty brutal teenage years for was music and the chance of escape. Music mattered, it wasn’t just a chance to make money or pull girls but a chance to save the world and make it a better place. That vision was bigger than any difference between them all – at least until Nash ran off with Stills’ girlfriend, or Stills started dictating how the music went, or Crosby ended up high as a kite and Stills wiped the Crosby-Nash harmonies off his and Neil’s record and and and….anyway, usually the pull of taking on the world as town criers and making it a better place, brick by brick, was usually enough to keep CSN on the straight and narrow.

Of course being so different and with such different working practices didn’t always make for plain sailing. No wonder it led to so many fights over the years – three leaders into one band doesn’t often mix. But with CSN it kind of worked because even though the three of them were saying things very differently, they were essentially saying the same thing: that life is better with love and humanity is better with peace. If even CSN could come together because of that and despite all their differences then the world might – just might – have a chance of working together too. Life really is better multiplied, well most of the time. One tacit agreement of CSN was that the trio would never be censored or ridiculed the way they sometimes had been in their earlier bands. All three were free to express themselves and their individual thoughts and feelings without being afraid of how these songs would look when sat next to their colleagues’ work. Therefore a song like Crosby’s ‘Deja Vu’ – with it’s weird time signatures and talk about past lives informing our present selves – sits easily against Nash’s ‘Teach Your Children’ with it’s more straight- forward country tale of learning from past mistakes and guiding the next generation to help them best make their own decisions and Stills’ ‘Carry On’ (with it’s rock moral about how, if only we can hold on through the bad times, ‘love is coming to us all’). They’re all coming from roughly the same place and heading to roughly the same direction – they just take three very different routes to their destination sometimes. 

This is what makes the first (and second) CSN/CSNY albums such a landmark in music history – here we have four very individual writers all working towards the same message but approaching it from different angles. Later albums too, though the formula was never quite as astonishing on returns as it was the first time (even if many individual songs on those albums are better). The closest you get to a previous partnership like this is the Beatles, with Lennon’s droll sarcasm and scattered brainstorms balanced by McCartney’s thoroughness and natural melodic sense. But CSN take this idea to its logical conclusion, adding in a third (and when Neil agrees to join them a fourth) voice to the mix and stressing their differences, rather than have George Martin’s production values smother both Beatles for the sake of ‘album unity’. Almost every track on every CSN album sounds like a completely different beast to its predecessor and successor (even if all three writers do, from to time, rehash old ideas of their own) and that’s exciting to listeners then and now. You don’t know where each of these albums are going next, from one track to another. Have there ever been three more different songs from a debut album than ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ ‘Marrakesh Express’ or ‘Guinnevere’? CSN records can go anywhere and do anything – they can be small and humble, epic and huge, as poppy as the poppiest band, as weird as the most out-there jazzy combo. Whatever the music dictated they could usually provide it between themselves, Stills especially being a dab hand at altering his style depending on which of the  trio’s many roots were showing: pop, rock, folk, blues, psychedelia, jazz, R and B, Latin American influences. The trio all ‘got’ what the other brought to the table too. They didn’t merely tolerate it the way other bands do, they actively supported one another. Though the trio were pigeon-holed as early as their opening three trio songs as the ‘weird’ one, the ‘epic’ one and the ‘pop’ one, they could all do anything – including what the others did so well. All three men were good mimics at each other’s style and were often at their best when writing like each other: when Stills wrote a great hook-laden pop song like [  ] ‘Carry On’, when Nash wrote an epic like [  ]  ‘Cathedral’ or when Crosby combined the two on a song like [  ] ‘Yours and Mine’. The result was a band with a wider scope and a bigger musical playground of ideas and backgrounds and influences to play around in than perhaps any other before or since. Add in a coating of three voices that sounds so perfect together and which was so instantly recognisable whatever the backing was and an interest in politics that meant they told the truth as honestly and fiercely as they could and you have several very good reasons why CSN may well be the most important band that ever lived. At least for a year, until those very differences that made them so interesting blew them so wide apart.

Perhaps modern sanitised bands should take a leaf out of CSN’s book: differences are what cause the artistic tensions within a band but they’re going to show up one day anyway and should be at best encouraged at worst exploited, not extinguished outright as everyone puts on false grins and pretends they haven’t happen. You believe every word CSN say to the world – and to each other with a quite amazing long list of songs directed at each other through the ages ( [  ] ‘King Of The Mountain’ [  ] ‘Do For The Others’ [  ] ‘Frozen Smiles’ and [  ] ‘Hippie Dream’ to name just one each by CSNY). Other songs looked at CSNY as a collective: [  ] ‘Cowboy Movie’ told the tale of the 1970 split via Western spaghetti B-film plots, [  ] ‘Beneath The Waves’ had Nash refusing to prop the goof ship CSNY up anymore and [  ] ‘The Old Homestead’ and ‘Walk Like A Giant’ are contradicting Young views of CSNY as a millstone or a milestone around his neck. At least the band are honest though and respectful, letting us know how they feel about each other – and accepting what the others write as fair game for musical inspiration (I’ve never read any of CSNY criticse another for what they said in a song, though they complain bitterly about what was said in interviews all the time).

Would that this would happen more often: just think how more fun The Spice Girls break-up might have been with songs about what the others were ‘really’ like or Justin Bieber using his failed relationships as a chance to pour out his heart instead of acting like a big headed twonk. Just look at the awful situation we have with today’s girl and boy bands, where the only differences seem to be people’s hair colour. CSN are a prime example of why life is better multiplied and shared. All three men could and did have a good chance at a solo career, but heard together they do so much more and go in so many more directions and together they made some of the greatest music that was ever made, adding harmony to each other’s music even as they add discord to their lives. They belong together, not in the same way that a horse and carriage or fish and chips are made for each other, but in the same way that a sandwich is: you can enjoy the parts separately, but only together do you get the true blend of flavourings that your taste-buds deserve, with so much happening at once your ears strain to keep up. Suddenly everything feels bigger, bolder, better. And who can deny the power when CSN finally put their differences together and combine, as they do stunningly so many times throughout this book (though the best may well be that final surge on [  ] ‘Country Girl’).  Whatever the future of ‘supergroups’ (and let’s face it, there haven’t been many recently have there?!), the birth of CSN is an often overlooked milestone for music – the time when being in a band and making important music was the most sacred thing in the world and when it all seemed so special and plausible it really did feel like love was one day coming to us all. Three very different voices saying one thing will always be more special than one saying the same thing three times and CSN are surely the holy trinity of music, with the power of three. There will surely never be a band like CSN/Y – a band that wasn’t a band but a gathering of like-minded individuals - and no, we hadn’t really been here before.

Plus Updates: 

Stephen Stills in ‘The Rides’ "Can’t Get Enough"
(429 Records, August 2013)
Roadhouse/That’s A Pretty Good Love/Don’t Want Lies/Honey Bee/Rockin’ In The Free World/Search and Destroy/Can’t Get Enough/Only Teardrops Fall/Talk To Me Baby/Word Game
CD Bonus Tracks: High Voltage/Honey Bee (Radio Edit)/Don’t Want Lies (Acoustic Version)
"I’m lost in the shadows, close to the end”
Having recently dusted off his past, here’s Stills back concentrating on the present with a new power trio made up of Barry Goldberg from Paul Butterfield Blues Band spin-off Electric Flag (who were on stage at Monterey shortly after The Buffalo Springfield and who also played with Stills on the ‘Super Session’ LP back in 1968) and guitarist Kenny Shepherd. With CSN broken up, his old session muso buddies mostly retired and/or in rehab and struggling with his new slurred older voice Stills responds in the best way possible by using all this as a strength and doing something he’d never tried before. After decades of sounding old before his time, here Stills really is a gnarled blues veteran and is surrounded by players who have a similar passion for a heavy rock form of the blues, with a band sound that’s big on authenticity over the sort of aural perfection Stills used to stand for. To some extent it works: Goldberg is a fine foil, his tighter vocals bouncing off Stills’ own without diminishing the blues flourishes, whilst the sound is just enough like the spirit of Manassas’ bluesier moments to come off (although you miss that band’s eclecticism across a whole LP). What this debut record doesn’t have is the material to go with it. There are a grand total of four original songs on this album, only one of which is up to the glory days of old, alongside three covers and a messy revival of old war horse ‘Word Game’. It’s all a little loud, lacking the dynamics and harmonies we’re used to from Stills, but at least it’s powerful and there’s a sense that Stephen is enjoying his music again – certainly a lot more than he seemed to on ‘Man Alive’. This time he really sounds alive again.
‘Roadhouse’ is a new song credited to the whole band that has Stills roaring his head off as if he’s been gargling with sandpaper. The chord changes are very Stills even if the setting isn’t, while Stills laments being back on the road again ‘no closer to home’ than he was when he set off as a twenty-something half a century again, bemoaning ‘playing my music’ for a bunch of people who don’t get it.
Little Feat song ‘That’s  Pretty Good Love’ hands things over to Goldberg and it’s a sprightly romantic number with a funky catchy descending riff and a lot of noisy percussion. Not the sort of thing you’d want to listen to often, but OK.
‘Don’t Want Lies’ is the clear album highlight as Stills pours his heart out about feeling depressed and watching his career going nowhere, ‘wondering what it is I see’ when he looks in the mirror at the person who was once going to do so much and sighing that ‘I wonder how I make it through the week’. The blues backing is delicious, with a three-guitar attack rocking from side to side in sympathy while Stills’ vocal is delicious, dripping with a vulnerability that really suits his hardened lived-in voice. A choir of gospel singers chant along in sympathy for a track that’s really moving if you’ve followed any of Stills’ self-destructive story up until this point.
‘Search and Destroy’ is a noisy Iggy Pop cover handled by Goldberg that seems a bit over-the-top with its talk of napalm bombs and desperation not really suited to a band of this age, though Stills does fit in a fiery guitar part.
‘Honey Bee’ has Goldberg singing lead again on a slow boring blues number by Muddy Waters. Stills is having fun playing like he’s been reincarnated as a 1920s blues guitarist, but the backing sound more like Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings than The Rolling Stones, a group of friends playing for fun rather than musicians who mean it.
The days when Stills used to do a Young song on every album to help his partner out during his ‘doom trilogy’ fall from grace seem a long time ago, so a noisy unfocussed take on ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ is a big surprise though, Stephen, of course, had played it many times in CSNY by this stage. Stills shouts rather than sings and doesn’t quite get Neil’s dripping sarcasm, but it’s entertaining in a noisy way. Interestingly Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro gets a co-credit even though he didn’t on Neil’s original, released on ‘Freedom’ in 1989, one of his better LPs.
‘Talk To Me Baby’ is an Elmore James slow blues revved up to sound like any number of rockabilly moments. Stills provides some convincing muscle, but this song isn’t really in his style and Goldberg sounds a bit over-stretched on the histrionic vocal too.
‘Only Teardrops Fall’ is the final original, another soggy ballad played with a heavy guitar attack as Stills laments once being on top of the world and wondering ‘why did I let it go?’ Just like the old days he uses the act of writing a song as his inspiration in a postmodern sense, claiming that back then he was about to write a masterpiece, ‘the pen was in my hand’, but he got distracted. The song isn’t quite as sharp or as ‘real’ as ‘Don’t Want Lies’, though.
The album then closes with Stills’ most poetic and complex song ‘Word Game’ reduced to a shouter, like a champagne evening has been turned into a pub brawl. It works better than it has any right too, though, thanks to a committed Stills vocal that’s still outraged over prejudice and intolerance all these years on.
The result is an album that veers from being the best thing Stills has done since ‘After The Storm’ in 1994 (to be fair there hasn’t been much competition!) and a pale facsimile of ‘The Shocking Pinks’ without the laughter. This is a bumpy ride in truth and Stills might have been better off waiting for inspiration to flow and coming up with a second bunch of original songs to go alongside his own promising work here. The band are fine, though, it’s just the material that they need and it’s good to hear Stills confronting his heavy rocking side after a decade or so of mainly acoustic work. More enjoyable than expected, if ultimately a collection filler rather than a changer, this set is still worth checking out for its best moments.

Non-Album Recordings #23 2016
Most of ‘This Path Tonight’ does a pretty good trick of sounding like vintage CSN, but the bonus tracks – leftover tracks from the ‘dozens’ Nash and Fontayne wrote together on their tour bus – sound musically like discarded Hollies. That’s odd because after a full album of personal; songwriting, all three songs are political protest – more something that CSN would do.  [458] ‘Mississippi Burning’ sounds the perfect direction for Nash to travel in musically, with its dark folk and sense of foreboding, like the fourth Hollies album ‘Would You Believe?’ where the pop acts as a light to a brooding sense of darkness (think ‘breakthrough’ Nash song ‘Fifi The Flea’, perhaps the first he wrote on his own). Thematically too this is Nash still outraged at the racial lynchings in South America half a century before his birth in a different land and his outrage at the cover-ups that are still perpetrated in the supposedly enlightened modern era. And yet the words are awful, without his usual ability to empathise: ‘Kill me quick or kill me slow, my friends they are still with me’ is the unrealistic last cry of the hanged African American, while the song’s oddly nursery rhyme feel is at odds with the names of his two colleagues Nash reads out as his friends die alongside him. ‘Black and white, white and black, our world will keep on turning’ Nash urges though, determined that the racists won’t win. This feels like it should be a more substantial song than it is though, a big subject dealt with in an oddly small way. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘This Path Tonight’ (2017)
[459] ‘Watch Out For The Wind’ is more moving, Nash’s response to the senseless killing of a black student by police in Missouri and the cover-ups and protests that then happened in response. Nash preceded this song in concert with a warning about how ‘military madness’ was taking over America and how the police had more and more control of people. Nash, though, has been here before and sees a backlash beginning, a wind that can’t be seen but is fanned by the flames of the burning fires he sees in the protests. This slow sombre ballad tries hard – a bit too hard perhaps, with some over-written lyrics that are more about poetry than pain. ‘Don’t you forget’ he growls though, determined that this one lost life won’t be in vain and in turn that it’s not too late to ‘save the souls’ of the perpetrators. Again, though, for what should be a really moving song about modern politics sounds oddly unconvincing compared to the personal songs that made the album. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘This Path Tonight’ (2017)
[460] ‘The Last Fall’ could be both, as the personal and the political intertwine on a song about lost opportunities and missed chances. Nash has sounded vulnerable most of the album through but usually with a sense of destiny that what he is doing changing his life around is meant to be. This song, though worries. This is his last chance at finding happiness and purpose, just as its probably the world’s last chance to turn left instead of right. Has he made the right choice? Can he trust this wonderful girl who rushed into his life to do the right thing by him? Why does he still feel the ‘heartbeat’ of someone he was close to – be it ex Susan, Crosby or the world leaders like Obama then departing the international scene? For all this song’s inner turbulence, though, there’s a lovely quiet calm at the centre that makes the best of the three extra songs on the album if not up to 9/10ths of the actual record. It’s only human to question the big changes in your life and Nash would be more worried if he wasn’t worried. Somehow in the end this ‘fall’ he worries about is just an easier first small step than he was anticipating and his instincts tell him he’s in the right place. A sweet son that’s bristling with typical Nash chord changes and a folky flavour that suits his new lived-in voice. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘This Path Tonight’ (2017)

Stephen Stills in ‘The Rides’ "Pierced Arrow"
(429 Records, May 2016)
Kick Out Of It/Riva Diva/Virtual World/By My Side/Mr Policeman/I’ve Got To Use My Imagination/Game On/I Need Your Lovin’/There Was A Place/My Babe
CD Bonus Tracks: Same Old Dog/Born In Chicago/Take Out Some Insurance On Me Baby
"I don’t know what to call all of this, it seems like a runaway tram”
Stills, meanwhile, was having The Rides of his life, as the power trio returned for a second album that’s more consistent than the first if missing the high points of Stills pouring his heart out. Instead he’s having fun on an album that thankfully throws out most of the cover songs and has much more original material instead (eight songs to two this time, not five and five). By now the band have been on the road a few times and their telepathy is much sharper, especially the guitar-work which recalls the Buffalo Springfield: Shepherd comes into his own as the ‘Neil’ of the group, pouring out intense passionate blues stylings and Goldberg plays the more straightforward Richie Furay rhythm work, while Stills does everything else, adding a range to the band that make them more than just another bad blues band. The result still isn’t quite as major or important as it should be, but it’s worth a ride or three.
Listening to the blues of the original songs on the first LP you might wonder why these three elder statesmen of rock still do what they do for a living. ‘Kick Out Of It’ is the answer, the closest Stills has got to heavy metal yet with a heavy metal stomp about how the world dismisses him as ‘insane’ but Stills adores his ‘oldest profession’ and wouldn’t change it for the world.
‘Riva Diva’ has Goldberg taking the lead on a simple bluesy song about a distant woman who causes the narrator to get the ‘rock and roll blues’. A nicely gutsy guitar part and a blistering solo from Stills elevate it past the ordinary.
‘Virtual World’ is perhaps the best song on the album, Stills and Goldberg in wobbly unison as they consider the problems of pollution and the madness of being on Planet Earth. ‘Someone started a fire’ they sigh, but no one seems to know how to put it out, with everyone bucking the problem of what to do and living in a ‘virtual world’ where its everybody else’s problem to sort out.
Goldberg and Shepherd came up with the moody ballad ‘By My Side’ which sounds more like Humble Pie than CSN. It’s quite hypnotic as the pair conclude that life doesn’t get any easier with age but just ‘goes on – to the bitter end!’
Stills returns for the witty bitter ‘Mr Policeman’ which could have easily been a CSN song in a different setting with a pleasant pop tune and protest lyrics that seem to be inspired by the same Missouri protests (when police killed an innocent black kid for being in the wrong place at the wrong time) as Nash. Stills, who was trained to be so subservient to authority figures in his youth by his military father, has by now lost all respect for men in uniform only taking ‘orders’, even when they’re clearly wrong. A shame the music errs towards another noisy blues thrash, though, compared to some excellent words.
Legendary songwriter Gerry Goffin wrote the words for Goldberg’s ‘My Imagination’ but neither lyric nor tune quite get going on a slow-burning song about making the best out of your life and not worrying about the future. The organ part is very much in the feel of Al Kooper’s on the ‘Super Session’ LP though and it sounds very 1960s all round, which can only be a good thing.
‘Game On’ finds Stills fully grasping the blues feel by the horns on a shouty song about how ‘people just wanna be left alone’ without interference from the politicians and priests who think our lives should be better. There’s a great harmonica part in there, while Stills’ raw vocal is better performed than anything on ‘Man Alive’ that tried a similar sense of straightforward outrage.
‘I Need Your Lovin’ is another Goldberg-Shepherd song that’s an over-simple rockabilly love song made better than average thanks to a brutal Stills guitar part that ought to sound out of place but instead gets the song moving. It’s unusual to hear Stills as the support act rather than the ‘star’ but he does a good job here.
‘There Was A Place’ is a moody ballad that has Stills really struggling with his vocal on what is another album highlight. He once used to be somebody but ‘it’s been a long time’ and he barely remembers what it was like when the world once knew his name. This moving song is easily the second best The Rides have done so far and they really suit this naked emotional honesty as Stills wonders why his fall from grace was so hard and fast, bringing out his insecure and bluesy side most magnificently. Stills has still got it though, at least for songs like these that come from the heart.
The album closes with ‘My Babe’, a Willie Dixon cover that sounds a bit out of place here with its tale of pure unconditional love and how his girl ‘can’t stand no cheatin’. The Rides sound ever more like a pub tribute act here rather than the real thing, which can’t hold a candle to their own songs.
Overall, though, ‘Pierced Arrow’ is a fine album with some interesting tracks that for the most part dig a little deeper than most noisy generic blues songs. It’s interesting that all of CSN should be stepping outside themselves with their 2016 releases, re-defining who they are although still becoming more ‘true’ to the stereotype of what each one had to offer back in 1969 (when Crosby was ‘the weird one’ Stills was ‘the bluesy one’ and Nash was sort of the ‘folky one’ after The Hollies had a bash at that genre). Stills sounds the most comfortable of all though on an album fans expected him to make decades ago, although its perhaps only now that his fading voice and lowered expectations allows him to really fig into the soul of the ‘bluesman’ he once claimed to be. The result is an excellent if flawed second ride that promises even better things to come with album number three (which, scarily, would put the band equal with Buffalo Springfield in terms of discography and one more than CSN/Y the first time round).

Stephen Stills and Judy Collins “Everybody Knows”
(Cleopatra, September 2017)
Handle With Care/So Begins The Task/River Of Gold/Judy/Everybody Knows/Houses/Reason To Believe/Girl From The North Country/Who Knows Where The Time Goes?/Questions
"Come on lover, talk to me!”
Released the week before ‘Sky Trails’, this is the big development in Stills’ life story and career over the past decade – his reuniting with old flame Judy Collins that finally puts to a close some unfinished business dating back to 1968. The pair had become good friends ever since they stopped trying to be lovers somewhere around 1972 and stayed in touch – far longer than Stills did with any of his other exes. Friends often asked them when they were going to make an album together and there were plenty of hints down the years that it might happen – the pair guesting on Nash’s short-lived talk show in the late 1990s or the sweet comments that Judy Blue Eyes made about the ‘love of her life’ in her autobiography. But only here in 2017, after a well received acoustic tour, did the pair finally tie the recording knot. And the result is…rushed, frankly, for an album that fans had been waiting for across forty-eight years. Most of these songs sound like first takes, recorded so quickly Stills didn’t even have time to get his teeth in (the slurred vocals that suited the blues songs by The Rides don’t work as well on folk, with its precision and bareness). On this album there is just one new song – one of Judy’s, the less than flattering ‘River Of Gold’ about how seasons and partners come and go. There is no less than half an album of cover songs, from the sublime (Tim Hardin’s ‘Reason To Believe’ is a sweet song that’s perfect for the Stills-Collins relationship, where they struggle to live both with and without each other) to the ridiculous (The Travelling Wilburys’ ‘Handle With Care’ is a clumsy clod-hopping arrangement if ever I heard one and Stills’ ‘baby you’re adorable’ is enough to have Judy running for the hills again).
That still leaves half a remarkable album though made up of old songs from both he and she that were written for each other down the years. We never did get to hear a full band recording of the remarkable ‘Judy’, written by Stills and recorded as a quick demo for the ‘Just Roll tape’ that then got forgotten for nearly forty years. It sounds great, with Stills longing to keep his ex ‘company’ and hoping ‘you have need of me’ as he asks to ‘tell you about my life’. ‘Questions’, a playful song early on in their relationship from the Buffalo Springfield days when Stills’ ‘head is reeling now’ wondering where their relationship might go is now answered not with the aching fade-out of first the Springfield then CSNY remakes (as heard on ‘Last Time Around’ and then as part of the ‘Carry On’ single) but with a lovely harmony-fest where Judy now sings alongside her one-time boyfriend with confidence and passion, this half-century chase of cat-and-mouse fulfilled at last. Stills’ lovely ballad ‘So Begins The Task’, about the time he realises he will leave his lifve, had been hanging around since 1968 but really came into its own when the relationship was over on the first Manassas record. Stills’ version here can’t come close to that stunning piece of work, but its healing somehow to hear him start singing  the song with his usual pain and suffering only to be joined by Judy’s still pure vocal as she gives him hope for the future at last. Judy’s own ‘Houses’, the B-side of her song ‘Send In The Clowns’, is also a welcome addition to the album as a woman with a different house for every big change in her life is now accompanied by her ex playing some truly fabulous bluesy guitar.
Even if the suddenly happy couple couldn’t write any new songs together, this is the way they should have gone, re-tracing old life paths they could have taken and exploring their relationship through old songs. There’s a bucket load more we could have had – including, most obviously, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ which seems an odd absentee here not to mention ‘49 Bye Byes’ and ‘Bluebird’, all three of which could have sounded stunning with Collins’ still-youthful vocals. Judy too has more than enough songs from her time with Stills to sing. Filling up half of a short running CD with songs we’ve heard before and better (how many times has Stephen sung ‘Girl From The North Country’ now?!) seems a waste of a reunion fans have longed for in such a long time. Sadly the price, the short length, the antiseptic production values (far worse than the Crosby or Nash albums between it) and Stills’ audible struggles with his vocals will mean that this is a record for fans only, for the faithful few who realise what a big deal it is for these two to be in the same room together never mind making sweet music at last. For that reason alone this album should be treasured, but this album feels less like the sweet Leonard Cohen title track (which is far too syrupy here) than Neil’s confused and lost ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ – it feels like this album is marking time for both halves rather than the career high it could and should have been. Released the week before Crosby’s ‘Sky Trails’ the album feels like it kind of got lost too - and that one wasn’t exactly a best seller…

A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

AAA Extra: Kinks abandoned projects and outside productions

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

As well as the albums listed in this book, there were a whole load of Kinks projects that ‘got away’, with Ray Davies second only to Pete Townshend for thinking up grand concepts on which he eventually changed his mind. Some of them only ever got as far as one song that was intended to be the start of a whole great rock opera musical/film/multimedia project – others were entire abandoned albums. So here’s a guide to a sort of parallel Kinks universe full of scattered projects that never quite reached fruition.
Abandoned Kinks Projects:
1)   ‘Occupations’ (EP, 1966)
During early sessions for ‘Face To Face’ in 1966 the music paper ‘Disc Weekly’ visited Ray in the studio and asked about his plans for the next Kinks projected. He mentioned to them that his initial thoughts were to release an EP and that he had four songs that seemed to fit the theme of ‘jobs’. Given that, like many a Kinks project to come, this one was never heard of again fans have wondered what might have been on it. The infamously unreleased song [94] ‘Mr Reporter’ seems likely, while the reporter goes on to mention certain songs by name such as ‘Girl Who Goes To Discotheques’ (which is almost certainly [82] ‘Little Miss Queen Of Darkness’) and, oddly, [72] ‘Party Line’ (although goodness knows what the ‘occupation’ is there!) Three unreleased songs are often named in relation to this project too, which have yet to be heard even on bootleg: ‘Sir Jasper’ (apparently a Kinksian tale of a school teacher who uses his life story as a message to kids of what not to do with their lives), ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Personality’ (a similarly Kinks tale about the dream of becoming a celebrity, which sounds a lot like the plot of ‘A Soap Opera’ nine years early!) and a song about actor Charlton Heston which didn’t have a title at the time of the report. Shortly after the Disc Weekly report The Kinks were said to be working on a song titled ‘Yes Man’ which may well have been connected to this project too (before that song morphed years later into [152] ‘Plastic Man’. The project was never officially abandoned, unlike most of the other entries on this list, but seems to have morphed into ‘Face To Face’ somewhere along the way.
2)   ‘Face To Face’ (Original version of LP, 1966)
Instead Ray Davies turned to his next idea – the standalone collection of his most emotional and intelligent songs yet ‘Face To Face’. However the original idea for The Kinks’ fourth album wasn’t initially meant to be ‘that’ standalone, as Ray intended his latest batch of songs to be linked by sound effects, all the tracks running into one other via segues so that they would feel like a ‘whole’ (in his mind and some fans’, it’s the world’s first rock and roll concept album – well, unless you count The Beach Boys singing twelve songs about cars). Ray was persuaded to drop the idea as fans would have trouble finding the individual tracks to play in the days of vinyl and ‘song banding’, but some made the final project: the ringing telephone of [72] ‘Party Line’ and the thunderstorm of [77] ‘Rainy Day In June’ among them. I’m often wondered: what would the sound effects on tracks like [84] ‘Sunny Afternoon’ have sounded like? (A millionaire licking an ice lolly?) While the Ray Davies choice of cue that started his most revealing songs like [73] ‘Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home’ (about his sister emigrating to Australia) and [75] ‘Too Much On My Mind’ (about his nervous breakdown) would have been highly revealing. I hope one day a ‘deluxe’ edition of this album (there have been lots down the years after all) will put us out of our misery and put the sound effects back in again!
3)   Dave Davies LP (1967)
The most famous unreleased album of all wasn’t a Kinks project but Dave’s. We’ve already covered what this album might have looked like in the main book: fabulous, mostly, with the archives of Dave’s abandoned first project sounding equally fabulous whether on bootleg (usually as ‘The Album That Never Was’) or on CD (as the diluted ‘Hidden Treasures’ in 2011). Kinks fans know most of the songs of course as they ended up either as Dave’s trio of A and B sides across 1967-1968 or – after the project was officially abandoned – as a series of Kinks B-sides across 1969, not to mention the songs that ended up on The Kinks’ ‘Something Else’ album in 1967. What an LP: ‘Death Of A Clown’ ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’ ‘Creeping Jean’ ‘Love Me Till The Sunshines’ ‘Mindless Child Of Motherhood’ ‘Groovy Movies’ ‘Mr Shoemaker’s Daughter’ ‘Lincoln County’ ‘There Is No Life Without Love’ ‘This Man He Weeps Tonight’ ‘Hold My Hand’ …Even with a couple of lesser songs only revealed for the first time in 2011 (‘Crying’ and ‘Do You Wish To Be A Man?’) this would have been an incredible effort that matches any Kinks album of the 1960s. Dave and Pye alike, though, got cold feet as his solo singles started slipping down the charts and in the end the project ran out of time, money and songs, with Dave abandoning his solo career for another twelve years. How different fate might have been though, as the release of this album might have given him the respect that always greeted his brother as a creative powerhouse.
4)   ‘Four More Respected Gentlemen’ (US LP, 1968)
This is where things started getting complicated. The Kinks recording enough songs across 1968 for either a long-running double album or a short-running triple, but kept changing their minds about what to do with it. For a long time Ray  was worried that his original very English version of ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ (still twelve tracks at this point) was maybe a little too ‘English’ (i.e. eccentric and localised) to appeal to international fans and wanted to provide an alternate ’American’ release made up of all the other Kinks recordings that didn’t make the LP, with ‘Days’ the only song in common between the two (typically it won’t feature on any Kinks album in the 1960s!) This is, as it happens, a very odd idea: would American really have understood tracks like [132] ‘Berkley Mews’ (an area of Marleybone, London) or the very English charms of [123] ‘Phenomenal Cat’ (initially meant for this album before being switched to ‘Village Green’) any better than [127] ‘People Take Pictures  Of Each Other’ or [117] ‘Last Of The Steam Powered Trains’? Ray apparently baulked at Pye’s intended title (a reference back to an earlier Kinks LP that sounded nothing like this one!) and their very dated cover art of the band in hunting jackets and pulled the whole thing (when asked in later years about this album he told a reporter, quite innocently, that it was an entire abandoned concept album about ‘table manners’, which might well be a dig at his American audience or just a joke!) Much of this album was resurrected by Pye after The Kinks left the label as ‘The Great Lost Kinks Album’ – Ray will have it pulled after a threat of legal action in 1973 (see below!) There was a running order suggested back in 1968 as briefly advertised to the public in Pye’s advertisements for late 1968 that’s similar but not identical: [96] ‘She’s Got Everything [126] ‘Monica’ [131] ‘Mr Songbird’ [116] ‘Johnny Thunder’ [129] ‘Polly’ [130] ‘Days’/ [120] ‘Animal Farm’ [132] ‘Berkley Mews’ [115] ‘Picture Book’ [121] ‘Phenomenal Cat’ [135] ‘Misty Waters’
5)   Village Green Preservation Society (20-track Version, 1968)
His original plan abandoned, Ray decided to make ‘Village Green’ a twelve song album – which was sent to reviewers and released very briefly, before being pulled and revised again. Before it was the fifteen-track version fans know today this was a budget double-LP that sold at the price of a single, with an impressive twenty songs on it (not unlike The Beatles’ White Album, except of course for price). This would have contained everything released on the eventual fifteen track version, plus [130] ‘Days’ [131] ‘Mr Songbird’ and some unknown others – possibly [96] ‘She’s Got Everything’ [129] ‘Polly’ [132] ‘Berkley Mews’ or [135] ‘Misty Waters’ again. Pye reject this on the grounds that it was expensive and a waste of money for a band with falling sales, before coming up with the compromise of the fifteen-track version that did finally make it to the shops.
6)   Arthur (TV drama 1969)
From the beginning the concept album ‘Arthur’, about Ray’s uncle who emigrated to Australia in search of a ‘better life’, was intended as a joint TV project, to be screened on BBC Two following Ray’s ties with the ‘Eleventh Hour’ series for whom he wrote a song a week. We don’t much about it and it would have been hard to put into visuals (with much of the album reportedly playing in place of the actors ‘saying’ anything) but it sounds a fascinating idea. The play would take place on the day that ‘Ray’ and ‘Arthur’ are saying goodbye to each other, with so much to say about the past, present and future but with very English reserve meaning never quite says it to each other (Ray was very close to his uncle and sister Rose and his nephew Terry, with whom he lived for much of his childhood when his own childhood house got too ‘full’). [150] ‘Nothin’ To Say’ is set at this point in the story and would have worked well as an overture, with all the WW2 footage perhaps told in flashback and showing how Arthur came to be scarred by the country for whom he risked his life and got nothing except a mortgage and a Shangri-La house that looked like all his neighbours’. The title track seems designed with an ‘end credits’ montage in mind too, though quite what this TV script would have turned out like nobody seems to know. Let’s hope the first draft of the script still exists so somebody can make it one day…
7)   ‘The Kinks Part Two’ (Lola v Powerman sequel LP 1970)
‘Lola v Powerman and Money-Go-Round’ was ambitiously titled ‘The Kinks – Part One’. What would have been on ‘Part Two’? We don’t know, but Ray clearly felt enough venom in him against modern-day living for a second part to put that wording on the album cover(which was a Kinks ideas, not a ‘Pye’ one). In the end, a surprise switch of record companies to RCA Victor meant that it was null and void anyway and The Kinks ended their contract with the soundtrack to the film ‘Percy’, but I’ve often wondered – could the first draft of the songs for first RCA album ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ be intended for this project? The two albums are very different in tone ([158] ‘Lola’ is warm and feisty, ‘Hillbillies’ cold and troubled) but the songs themselves are actually quite similar: characters like Lola who struggle to be their individual selves sound at one with the angry narrator of [167] ‘20th Century Man’ and the quirky [177] ‘Uncle Son’, while [178] ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ title track is all about belonging to a collection of similar misfits, whilst songs like [173] ‘Here Come The People In Grey (To Take Me Away)’ sound very much like [165] ‘Powerman’ and [160] ‘The Money-Go-Round’ to me.
8)   The Songs I Sang For Auntie (Ray Davies solo project 1971)
Ray had been trying for three years to release a compilation of the songs he recorded for two separate BBC projects (the ‘Aunty’ of the title) – ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and ‘Where Did My Spring Go?’, which would have been the first release under his own name rather than the band’s. Work was meant to start on ‘sweetening’ the recordings and replacing them with Ray’s own vocals rather than the actor’s in some cases before The Kinks started work on ‘Arthur’ in late 1968 and the project was abandoned, but came close to release in 1971 when The Kinks re-signed to RCA Victor. The label was encouraging, but a combination of the speed the band needed to work at their deadlines and the relatively poor sales for band projects meant this album was quietly abandoned afterwards too. A couple of songs were later tucked away at the end of The Kinks’ ‘The BBC Sessions’ but that aside have never been heard of again. A possible track listing: You Can’t Give More Than What You Have/If Christmas Day Could Last Forever/We’re Backing Britain/Poor Old Intellectual Sadie/Could Be A Poor Country Girl/The Man Who Conned Dinner From The Ritz/That Is What The World Is All About//When I Turn Off The Living Room Light/We Take Off All Our Clothes/We Are Two Of A Kind/Darling I Respect You/Where Did Our Spring Go?
9)   Everybody’s In Showbiz (TV Version 1972)
Another Kinks album also intended to be a tie-in TV show, this would have been a more ‘normal’ release than the TV play of ‘Arthur’. This concept double LP was split between two sides – one a studio set based around the problems and difficulties of being a touring band and the second the joyous release of the live set. This behind-the-scenes documentary about what being in a band was really like would have balanced the two, with deep reflective backscene shots of angst soundtracked by the first album and a joyous performance by the band akin to the second. RCA Victor, at first so promising about the idea, took one look at the poor sales for ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ and decided not to finance this TV special after all. Instead the band will re-use many of the elements for little-seen Kinks documentary ‘The Road’ from 1986.
10)               The Great Lost Kinks Album (Pulled from release 1973)
This is the odd-one-out in the list, given that it was indeed release, just not for very long: Pye had access to a lot of rare unreleased recordings by the band, particularly the ‘Village Green’ rejects in 1968 outlined above, so when compilation ‘Kinks Kronikles’ did quite well they decided to make this their sequel and ‘pretended’ it was a whole unreleased Kinks LP and released it into the record shops in America around the time of ‘Preservation Act One’. The Kinks weren’t consulted and Ray only discovered the album was out by chance when an American fan wrote to him about it and later sent on his copy when Ray claimed never to have heard of it. Davies was furious, not so much with the contents (which mixed 1968 and 1969 outtakes with common B-sides, ‘Percy’ soundtrack fodder,  rare Dave Davies singles and Ray Davies BBC productions) but the nasty snarling comments about the then-current ‘Kinks’ (and his reference to the ‘Showbiz’ album where ‘bitchy egocentric Ray…whose primary interest is making it clear to the listener the agony he must endure for staying on the road to entertain us’) that were on the sleeve that reckoned the band had gone badly downhill since 1968. He threatened legal action and the album was withdrawn very quickly, making this set a real Kinks Kollektible. The track listing was: Til’ Death Us Do Part/There Is No Life Without Love/[133] Lavender Hill/Groovy Movies/[134] Rosemary Rose/[135] Misty Waters/[131] Mr Songbird//When I Turn Off The Living Room Light/The Way Love Used To Be/[88] I’m Not Like Everybody Else/[152] Plastic Man/This Man He Weeps Tonight/ [136] Pictures In The Sand/Where Did My Spring Go?
11)               Untitled (Alternate ‘Sleepwalker’ 1977)
Every Kinks album (except perhaps the rushed ‘Kinda Kinks’) went through all sorts of changes from the band’s original intention when they set out to record it, but none more so than ‘Sleepwalker’ in 1977, which was started again almost from scratch after a series of recordings at the start of the year. The album was an important one as the band’s first release on new label Arista and they went to great lengths (arguably a few too many) to get the album just right. Many of the abandoned songs turned up on later albums (songs like [262] ‘Hay Fever’ [267] ‘Black Messiah’ and [273] ‘Live Life’ turning up on 1978’s ‘Misfits’), some came out as B-sides ([272] ‘Prince Of The Punks’), some only came out twenty years later in the age of the CD player ([258] ‘The Poseur’ [259] ‘Artificial Light’ and [260] ‘On The Outside’) while many songs were never returned to again: tracks with such appealing titles as ‘Lazy Day’ ‘Back In ‘64’ ‘Child Bride’ ‘Everything Is Alright’ and ‘A One Woman Man’. What’s unusual is that for a long time ‘Sleepwalker’ consisted of just three tracks that made the final record: [249] ‘Life On The Road’ [252] ‘Brother’ and [253] ‘Jukebox Music’, all of which will be re-recorded for use on the album and all sounded very different. All in all, ‘Sleepwalker’ probably had more unused material recorded for it than any other Kinks set.
12)               Untitled (LP 1979)
‘Low Budget’ was another Kinks album that originally looked a bit different, even if there weren’t quite as many differences. Ray commented to a reporter during early sessions for the album that he wanted the songs to be punchy and modern and that would be reflected in the song titles. The ones he quoted to the reporter include ‘oil’ (surely [281] ‘A Gallon Of Gas’), ‘radio’ (possibly a working title for [289] ‘Around The Dial’) and ‘television’ (possibly ditto for the title track of [290] ‘Give The People What They Want’ or possibly [333] ‘Entertainment’). Once again it’s interesting to see that only one song that later made the album seems to have survived from the earliest sessions, while the outtakes will be re-recorded on albums scattered across the rest of the decade.
13)               Double Life (Original version of ‘One For The Road’ 1981)
The Kinks always had real problems with their live albums and spent months on them, unlike most bands who released them as ‘filler’ between making ‘proper’ records. Though planned from the outset as a double live album, there are almost no similarities between the original plan under the working title ‘Double Life’ and the final released album ‘One For The Road’. The initial plan was to release the best from four Kinks gigs played between August 16-19th 1979 at California’s Universal Amphitheatre, including various differences in the running order (which includes such songs as [249] ‘Life On The Road’ [266] ‘Permanent Waves’ [171] ‘Alcohol’, a cover of ‘Twist and Shout’ and an unusual medley combining [43] ‘A Well Respected Man [98] ‘Death Of A Clown’ and [84] ‘Sunny Afternoon’, a trio of songs that continue the grand tradition of the ‘Milk Cow Blues/Batman/Tired Of Waiting For You’ medley of ‘Kelvin Hall’ in 1968 by shoving together three songs that have nothing in common whatsoever. The band are disappointed in the tapes and re-record a further set of gigs the following Spring.
14)               Entertainment (Original version of ‘Give The People What They Want’ LP 1981)
‘Entertainment’ was revived again in 1981 and very nearly became the title of the band’s eighteenth LP. Ray’s initial idea was to play the album songs off this central one, the idea that the mess of modern-day living turned out the way it was because it was ‘entertaining’. This song did make the same point as several others on the album, though, which might be why it was later demoted to an album track on 1989’s ‘UK Jive’ instead. At this early stage the track listing also included [301] ‘Bernadette’, abandoned until the sequel album ‘State Of Confusion’ in 1983.
15)               Chorus Girls (Musical 1978-1981)
More obscure even than Ray’s ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ musical from the end of the decade, this collaboration with playwright Barry Keefe was surely inspired by Ray’s new ballerina wife Patricia. While Ray’s songs play the audience saw a ‘Spitting Image’ style mute rant as various people in Thatcher and Prince Charles masks fall down trapdoors to their doom, the ‘musical within a musical’ before Ray tells the more human story of what it’s ‘like’ to be a chorus dancer at everyone’s beck and call (how I wish he’d revived The Kinks’ [157] ‘Get Back In The Line’!) Alas we don’t know any more about the plotline than this and no songs have ever leaked on bootleg, never mind been given an official release, so a description from Melody Maker who see one of the very performances at Stratford’s ‘Theatre Royal is all we have to go on. They also add that the musical covers ‘unemployment, patriotism and royalty!’ The only song title we know are the ones people talked about the most: feminist rant ‘All Men Are Fools’ and Ray’s only reggae song, which mockingly ‘Celebrates England’. A project ripe for a revival in our modern times, perhaps?
16)               See My Friends: A History Of Britain 1900-? (1982)
This project seems to have been abandoned as soon as Ray thought about it, which is a shame; suffering from rare writer’s block, Ray wanted to write about somebody, anybody but himself for a change and proposed a Kinks-eye view of Britain in book form. The work would probably have ended up much like ‘Arthur’ did, with Ray taking a working class man’s eyes of the improvements and problems with being an ‘ordinary’ person across a turbulent decade. In the event Ray will write books, but not about Britain – usually they’re about America (when they’re not being ‘unauthorised autobiographies’!)
17)               Medication Abuse In America (1988)
This and the next two projects were single-line ideas given by Ray when effectively ‘talking out loud’ about his next planned projects to the papers, all of them ‘film projects’ to come after his work on the films ‘Absolute Beginners’ and ‘Return To Waterloo’. This one sounds particularly interesting – would it have been scored with music similar to [275] ‘Pressure’ one wonders, the one previous Ray Davies song on this theme?
18)               Man Of Aran (1988)
This one was a slightly more complex film project, about Ray’s newfound love for Ireland after moving there with his fourth wife. This tale centred around the IRA and a terrorist who had sympathies with Ireland but actually spent all his life in England. Fleeing from the law, he makes a new home in the country he’s come to see as a utopia in his mind and the clashes between this and everyday reality there. Chances are the ‘Phobia’ song [355] ‘The Informer’ started life here again, but otherwise this project was never heard of again.
19)               Playing The Crowd (1988)
Finally, all we know about this film is that it was about the ‘music business’. Given the amount of previous Kinks projects on this theme (‘Lola v Powerman’ ‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ and ‘The Road’) it seems likely that Ray would have had a thing or two to say about it!
20)               Million-Pound Semi-Detached (Early Version of ‘UK Jive’ 1989)
The last two Kinks albums ‘UK Jive’ and ‘Phobia’ were much altered and could have been released months if not years before they actually were. As it turns out the final version of ‘Phobia’ just keeps having songs added to it (with [349] ‘Only A Dream’ and [347] ‘Still Searching’ added towards the end to add ‘humanity’ to an often brittle and harsh album and [359] ‘Scattered’ and [342] ‘Did Ya?’ older songs added at the request of the record label). ‘UK Jive’ is a more interesting alternate prospect though: for a time it was the last great Kinks concept album and centred around the idea of a businessman who made his fortune and then pondered what to do with it and whether he’d sold out to get it. The album at first seems to have been inspired by Ray’s script for another abandoned film project ‘Breakfast In Berlin’, with [340] ‘Million Pound Semi-Detached’ given as the title track. Not many of the finished album songs fit this theme though, suggesting that Ray had second thoughts and quickly went back to re-using songs (the only one that does, [336] ‘Loony Balloon’, is a much older song from the ’80 Days’ musical). So far Kinks scholars have yet to trace what the rest of this concept would have consisted of, but it sounds fun!

Davies Songs Given Away and Outside Productions:

There are additionally a dozen outside productions worked on by Ray or Dave Davies, mostly during their early time in the band or when they were producing artists for their ‘Konk’ record label. Many of these early items feature unreleased Ray Davies recordings, who seemed to have worked his fingers to the bone in 1966 – I still keep waiting to hear about another leaked batch of demo tapes on bootleg as he must have recorded some of these himself, though most sound quite different to Kinks songs and seem to have been written with the other artists in mind. Please note that we’ve skipped songs already done by The Kinks that were covered by different artists but have included songs where The Kinks’ version only came out long after the cover versions. Update: Well, wouldn’t you know it? No sooner had we published this article and tracked down most of these hard-to-find records then Ace Records decided to compile all of them into a handy single disc set! Most of the following songs given away can now be found on ‘Kinked! Kinks Songs and Sessions 1964-1971’ but rather than moving them to our ‘CD’ page we’ve left it here complete as there are a handful of songs that weren’t available for that set due to copyright issues.

1)   Shel Naylor ‘One Fine Day’ (1964)
We start, for instance, with this ‘odd one out’, a song not by Ray but by Dave in the days before he’d even had his first full solo credit on a Kinks album. Then-producer Shel Talmy was in charge and gives this song the same short sharp shock of electricity common to all his 1964-1965 charges by all his bands. A noisy, brash, Merseybeatish song, this one sounds nothing like The Kinks, even back in 1964 (it’s closest in style to [5] ‘You Do Something To Me’ but if it had been played by The Rolling Stones!) The lyric is oddly upbeat too and evidence sadly of what a happy-go-lucky chap Dave was before the starin of being in The Kinks got to him: ‘One fine day we’ll be as happy as happy can be!’ cries the chorus which may well be an early sign of wish fulfilment with girlfriend Sue as Dave sings about being out on the road for now but promises to back if his un-named other ‘waits’ for him, with a very Un-Kinks like yell of ‘woah yeah!’ in the chorus too. Ray, never immune to recycling ideas from his brother, may have ‘borrowed’ the idea and developed it to become [34] ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’. The Kinks don’t play on the song which might account for it’s rather odd sound, but as is often the case with Shel Talmy future Led Zeppelin bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones both play.

2)   The Cascades ‘I Bet You Won’t Stay’ (1965)
Technically this isn’t a Ray Davies production, but the Kink is thought to have been there to see how the song he gave away to a Californian  beat group (with the gimmick that they were all made up of navy vets – or at least that’#s what they told the press!) turned out. Sounding not unlike a first draft of [73] ‘Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home?’ twinned with a re-make of the sighing chords of [34] ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’, this song is an early exercise in fun with harpsichords that will be so much a part of The Kinks’ sound, though this band sound more like ‘The Four Seasons’. The narrator is a typically edgy Ray Davies character too, with his neuroses driving him to expect the worst: his lover comes to visit, he’s sure she’ll leave; she asks to spend some time with him, he expects her to go soon. Nowhere in this anxious, troubled little song can he truly relax and enjoy himself even though everything seems to be working out for him. An early sign of Rays’ worry about his first marriage to Rasa, given away to another band to sound less obvious? 

3)   The Majority [63] ‘A Little Bit Of Sunlight’ (1965)
The majority of Kinks fans won’t know this song by The Majority but as a low-key demo where a suitably embarrassed Ray finds himself singing a chorus ‘of ‘ooooooh’ and a lyric about life being better in the future that sounds almost happy. This very Beatley song reveals Ray’s natural gift for melody and the idea that in another era he’d have made a fine tin pan alley writer, but this song about only needing a little bit of hope to stay happy feels false and unbelievable in both his mouth and that of his chosen band, who seem to have only made this one single before disappearing. A little dated by 1965 standards, you can see why Ray might have wanted to give this one away, but the tune is a good one and it’s great to hear Ray happy in the ‘mid-day sun’ for a change. 

4)   Dave Berry [68] ‘This Strange Effect’ (1965)
Controversial I know, but Dave Berry’s cover of this unusual haunting song is perhaps the only one in this list I would take over Ray’s (or Dave’s). Ray’s sleepy voice takes the song into a particular place as if he’s sleep-walking, but under-rated hitmaker Berry sounds much happier as if he’s a willing participant in the hypnotism. You can tell that Ray wasn’t writing this song for himself, but it seems unlikely this was a specific commission – Berry’s managers were probably just the first people who bit when Larry Page began offering the song around. There’s a great rise of ascending chords in the middle of the song that’s only sketched in on Ray’s demo that’s followed by a melancholy brass section that’s very 1970s Kinks, the sound of a man whose so unused to being onto a good thing that he’s already waiting for the day when it’s going to go wrong. A klassy Kinks kover.  

5)   Peggy Lee [69] ‘I Go To Sleep’ (1965)
While everybody thinks of this nowadays as a Pretenders song (with Ray’s girlfriend Chrissie Hynde looking through his song collection for a track that would be a hit!) Ray said that he always intended this song for 1950s star Peggy Lee. She did sing it first too based on the creaky demo that Ray made for her (and in which he sounds not unlike her in retrospect). The problem is Peggy’s character was based so squarely on doe-eyed energy that she never really got both the lethargy and lurking paranoia in this song and never really makes the most of it, turning it into a breathless waltz. A much better period performance was released barely days afterwards by Midlands band The Applejacks with the best non-Pretenders version by Lesley Duncan that’s well worth seeking out.

6)   The Honeycombs ‘Emptiness’ (on LP ‘All Systems Go!’ 1965)
Fellow 1960s Londoners The Honeycombs had scored one of their biggest kits with a kover of [40] ‘Something Better Beginning’, a song that’s basically a ‘tidier’ bigger budget version of The Kinks’ own.  Figuring that lightning might strike twice their manager asked Ray for a song of their own but whether through tiredness or threat of competition Ray seems to have given them a very flimsy song indeed. Though not released till 1965 ‘Emptiness’ sounds more like a 1963 vintage song to me – it’s full of Beatley good-time pop and forced smiles through tears imagery that had been milked to death by 1965. ‘I wonder whose world you’re stepping into now? I wonder if you really love him?’ croons Dennis De’ll before complaining about the emptiness at home without their loved one around. This song could indeed have been written by almost any decent hack writer, but the su-den unexpec-ted pauses and the breathless rush through a line-filling ‘oh but I know’ give it away as a Ray song. Uniquely for this list rather than release it as a fingers-crossed single The Honeycombs hid it away on the middle of their two records instead. 

7)   Barry Fontoni ‘Little Man In A Little Box’ (1966)
This track does sound like a Kinks song though, with the world-weary feel of a song like [66] ‘The World Keeps Going Round’ and the angry sobs of a song from ‘Face To Face’. The mood is turbulent and feisty, the song’s riff is deeply unsettling and the lyrics are a more philosophical take on [88] ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ as the song’s narrator pleads not to be pigeon-holed or restricted to the life people want for him, a very Kinks kry for individuality. ‘You can’t turn me on, you can’t switch me off, you can do anything with me, anything you please! Carry me around, pick me up put me down, anytime of day, anywhere anyway’ runs the lyric, which sounds suspiciously like a dig at The Who’s similar ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ then setting the charts alight. Barry Fontoni copes well considering that his career really was as a TV presenter on such programmes as ‘A Whole Scene Goin’ On’ and his voice is just Kinkish enough to get the ‘feel’ of Ray’s work (nobody seems to know why he suddenly started this one-off singing career or how he got this song, but The Kinks did appear on that show - their performance of [84] ‘Sunny Afternoon’ now sadly lost - so maybe it was a ‘favour’?!) Musically what’s interesting here is how much the guitarwork sounds like Dave’s snarly sound, but for perhaps the first time on a Ray Davies production it plays a sighing duet with the much more stately harpsichord, the ‘new’ modern sound of rock and roll every bit as much of a ‘trap’ as old archaic Victoriana ways. It’s a sound that will set up much of ‘Village Green’ and ‘Arthur’ but is being used for the first time here on an ‘experiment’ Ray could afford to let flop. Sadly the song did exactly that, although it’s something of a cult classic now, with Barry Fontoni now better known as the spoof obituary columnist ‘E J Thribb’ in Britain’s satirical Private Eye magazine. A glorious lost gem, kolleckted on Kinks Kompilation ‘Kontroversial Kovers’.

8)   Leapy Lee ‘King Of The Whole Wide World’ (1966)
Leapy Lee is one of those characters who was on the fringes of stardom many a time across the 1960s but somehow couldn’t get a break despite a very 1960s name (his birth name was the very un-rock and-roll Graham Pulleyblank) and an impressive contact book, of whom Ray was only one of many. Davies offered to record a whole album with the singer over at Decca, but when this first trial single came out and missed the charts the whole plan was scrapped. It’s a fun song, that marries a very Ray Daviesian melody (all arch quotation marks and rises and falls) with a very un-Kinky lyric (this is a man apparently out for power, wanting people who once laughed at him to bow to him; in Kinkland even the ‘super-heroes’ have doubts about their special gifts). ‘Don’t know why I feel this way, hoping that I’ll feel good’ sounds like a very Ray line though, while the narrator concludes happily that he really wants to be ‘King of the whole world’ because then his girl could be his Queen. Awwww.

9)   The Thoughts [67] ‘All Night Stand’ (1966)
Ray’s demo for this song came out as an extra on the ‘Kinks Kontroversy’ deluxe CD and was for decades a bootleg favourite, perhaps because of all the tracks from this period it feels like a Kinks song that got away. The narrator is desperate for a real emotional connection, not the brief dates he enjoys (possibly with groupies), and spends the whole song worrying over an angular variation of the age-old [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ riff. Ray sounds tired of life on the road’ years before he turns that idea into a full song, playing to a ‘million faces’ but always feeling alone and disconnected from humanity. Oddly The Thoughts make this song even more of a Kinks song with their harmonised arrangement, speeding up the tempo so that this sounds less like a nagging worry and more like a panic attack, the band struggling to spit keep up with the tune and spit the words out in time. The suitably psychedelic, spacey production (so very 1966) made this track a standout song for many and the track can be heard on the superlative various artists box set ‘Nuggets II’ (i.e. the ‘world’ edition, rather than the American one). 

10)       Mo and Steve ‘Oh What A Day It’s Gonna Be!’ (1966)
This one’s unusual. Mo and Steve aren’t rock and rollers but big balladeers (think a less righteous Righteous Brothers) and this song is very much in their usual line of work.  ‘It seems the very air I’m breathing is bringing you to me!’ sings the loved up narrator, as he imagined a happy future in old age ‘remembering the things we’re now doing’. It’s not very Ray at all, especially the song’s plucked strings and big horn arrangement (much more schmaltzy than any Kinks recording) and the glowing hope as the narrators long for a better future. In a way though the lyric about the weather bringing hope is a first draft for [105] ‘Lazy Old Sun’ without the drama.  

11)       The Uglys [108] ‘End Of The Season’ (1966)
In 1964-1965 Pye was doing spectacularly well for a relatively low budget label, lucky picks in The Searchers and The Kinks keeping them close to the sales of the big boys EMI and Decca. By 1966 though The Kinks were slipping and The Searchers had fallen in terms of sales figures. So they pinned their hopes on their next big band: The Uglys (a band I’ve often thought might have been named in reference to ‘The Pretty Things’). Just to make extra sure the band were the big splash Pye wanted them to be, Ray Davies was coaxed to lend both a hand and a new song, although the lazy ballad about cricketers going home ‘End Of The Season’ maybe wasn’t quite what the label were looking for. The song has become a cult mod classic now but flopped badly at the time, perhaps because the band’s performance falls flat compared to The Kinks’ re-recording from the following year and maybe because the arrangement (a tad quicker and, well, sillier than the band’s re-recording for ‘Something Else’) doesn’t quite make it. You can hear the words rather better than Ray’s Noel Coward crooning though: is the line ‘I get my chicks’ as sung here the ‘real’ line (which sounds mightily like ‘kicks’ on The Kinks’ recording to my ears?) 

12)       The Turtles ‘Turtle Soup’ (whole LP 1969)
Jumping forward three years, another band in trouble were America’s once high selling Turtles, who by 1969 had experienced a dry spell and had somewhat retreated into their shell. Ironically for a band that provided so many famous producers (Chip Douglas quit to work with The Monkees, while Flo and Eddie worked with everyone), they decided what they needed to turn their fortunes around was a big name producer and Ray seems to have been the first guy to say yes. He produced the whole of what turned out to be the last Turtle LP, but didn’t contribute any compositions and the LP doesn’t sound much like Ray’s style at all with its manic fuzz guitars and basic boogie woogie beat – or indeed much like The Turtles’, who split for good after this record’s release. The opening lines of the opening song are ‘I once had a drink but I drank it, once had some money but I spent it’ which doesn’t sound much like Ray at all! ‘She’s Always Laughing’ is a particularly beautiful song though, the last great Turtle classic!

13)       ‘This Is Leon Bibb’ (‘The Ballad Of The Virgin Soldier’ 1970)
No, I don’t know who Leon Bibb is either, so it’s nice of him to introduce himself to us. Thibb seems to have added his own anti-war lyrics to a tune that Ray submitted to feature film ‘The Virgin Soldier’ and which is another bootleg feature – a sweet little tune, unsteady on its legs, it grows in size and stature as more and more orchestra get added to the point where it becomes quite epic by the end (even pompous). It’s a measure of how low Ray’s stock was in the pre-[158] ‘Lola’ Kinks renaissance, though, that the film company asked if Ray could provide some lyrics to go with the tune and he passed, allowing an outside writing team to come up with what we have here. This song is more direct than any Kinks song would ever be, though there are similarities with recent ‘Arthur’ songs such as [142] ‘Some Mother’s Son’. ‘Got no name for my epitaph because I died before I had a chance to live, never tasted love never tasted love never felt the joy a girl can live, no sad songs when you bury me – let my music be the thunder of the hills, shouting loud my dreams of so many things I thought I’d have but know I never will’ the lyric runs, the narrator ‘leaving only footprints on the sands of time’. Despite Ray’s low involvement with the song, it’s one of the very best in this list. 

14)       Cold Turkey [182] ‘Nobody’s Fool’ (1972)
The Kinks song that got away like no other, you can tell that this little-known band had access to Ray’s original demo and the unknown singer does such a close Ray impression that more than one fan has been fooled into thinking this is a Kinks recording. The backing though is very un-Kinks like: there’s a guitar that doesn’t snarl musically the way Dave does so much as slide and sigh in a Clapton-type way, the catchy riff has been slowed down to a crawl and the tinkling chord bash piano is as different to John Gosling’s style as any two players on the same instrument can be. Though the lyrics are all the same the sheer oomph of this production means that it sounds less like a depressive introspective piece and more like a piece of moody teenage blues. The demo is clearly far far better, but it’s a song that deserved to do better in any version – especially when it was picked as the signature theme to the short-lived UK TV series ‘Budgie’ (no, not the Sarah Ferguson helicopter monstrosity but a serious fore-runner to ‘Only Fools and Horses’ with Adam faith as a conman on the make, produced by Dr Who heroine Verity Lambert).   

15)       Claire Hammil ‘Stage Door Johnnies’ (whole LP 1974)
The Kinks’ original vision of record label Konk was grand: a state of the art studio that many bands would use and an entry to the music world for all sorts of unsigned talent! In the end only three acts were ever signed to the label outside The Kinks, two by Ray and one by Dave. This is Ray’s great belief of 1974, as he proudly told the music papers that this was the year of Claire Hammil and that ‘I’m gonna make her a star!’ Ray had first tapped her deep smooth voice and her services for the stage version of the ‘Preservation’ musical, but was worried that her first two albums had been ignored and she needed ‘help’ with her third. Ray produced the whole of the album, which sounds much like the first two and not like The Kinks at all, though The Kinks’ horn section of the time appears a lot and Ray himself can be heard in the throng of backing singers occasionally. It’s an interesting but inconsistent little album with Claire’s ability as a writer for half the record (she’s a deeper Kate Bush crossed with Joni Mitchell!) much more exciting than her abilities as a cover artists of such 1960s classics as ‘We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place’ and ‘Go Now’ (but sadly no Kinks songs). The cheeky title is most unlike the ‘feel’ of this record, by the way, which promises to be a Stones-style nudge-wink affair but if anything sounds posher and sweeter than period Kinks Koncept recordings. The heartfelt song ‘All The Cakes She Baked Him’, with its sultry string quartet, is our pick of the record’s best moment and very wonderful it is too, though the rest of the LP is not quite as strong.

16)       Andy Desmond ‘Living On A Shoestring’ (Most of LP 1974)
This, meanwhile, is Dave’s big chance at breaking a new artist on Konk and he tapped the services of Kinks pianist John Gosling to help him. The pair play most of the backing tracks themselves and offer up a much quirkier, Kinksier production than brother Ray. The songs feature sound effects, sudden variations of sound and frequent singer-songwriter style guitar from Dave that’s much softer and playful than his Kinks recordings. The songs are rather good too, Andy having a much softer, more emotional writing voice than even The Kinks, more in the style of Gordon Lightfoot or Ralph McTell. ‘Can’t Bear To Live Without You’ is particularly interesting and features pretty much a full Kinks performance, Ray aside, complete with The Kinks’ current selection of girl backing singers, though the quiet acoustic strum of the title track is our pick as the best of the LP. Dave, always fascinated by the technical aspects of making a record, really went to town on this album and it deserved to do better – it’s a real shame he didn’t do any other productions after this either, his own records aside, as he (and Gosling) have a really clever touch at keeping a song interesting all the way through (those years of practice on Kinks records clearly working well!)

17)       Café Society ‘Whitby Two-Step’ (1975)
This, though, is the most famous Kinks outside production. Café Society were at the time an unknown band with an unknown singer-songwriter named Tom Robinson who was eager to move music on from prog rock to punk. Goodness knows why Ray Davies thought he’d be a good signee, but he may well have recognised something of himself circa 1964 in the brash, talented yet insecure singer who wanted to change the world but was clueless about where to start. The pair struck up a strong friendship and Ray ‘produced’ this album for Konk, more as a way of keeping any other record label man away and let the band do what they wanted without interference than anything else. At least for the most part – the title track of this LP sounds incredibly like a Kinks song, full of oompah-ing jazz, a sarcastic lyric about class and ‘becoming one of us’ and a tune not unlike a faster version of [192] ‘Look A Little On The Sunny Side’. Alas the two had a major falling out, with Ray accidentally/on purpose (depending who you believe) keeping Tom waiting for the last sessions of this album as The Kinks’ Kontract with RCA got ‘heavy’. When Ray turned up late, Tom performed a sarcastic version of [34] ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ at the piano and a scorned Ray walked home, mad with fury, writing Kinks B-side [252] ‘Prince Of The Punks’ as his riposte. The move from Konk was inevitable after that but didn’t seem to do the young singer any harm as he formed a new ‘Tom Robinson Band’, became a hero of the punk counter-culture and can now be heard as a DJ on BBC’s Radio Six Music where he is very popular. I’ve never heard him play any Kinks songs though.

18)       Trevor Rabin (‘Wolf’ LP 1981)
Bored of his time in prog rock band ‘Yes’, former session musician Trevor Rabin set off to make a solo record that was much more ‘new wave’ ish. Trevor asked around for help and Ray got in touch, agreeing to be ‘associate producer on his whole LP ‘Wolf’ in 1981 during downtime from ‘Give The People What They Want’. Ray produced the whole LP, which interestingly sounds much more like the contemporary work his brother Dave was making (the guitar is upfront, the sound is brittle and the songs are almost all about the modern world going mad). However the most interesting track for fans is the last one, ‘Long Island’, a co-write between Trevor and Ray (and Ray never collaborates with anyone – he only did it with his brother once!) The angry guitar riff sounds very much at one with ‘Give The People’ but the mood is much happier: this is an escapism sort of a song, not unlike [67] ‘I’m On An Island’ without the calypso. Simpler than anything Ray had helped write in years, it feels like the sort of Kinks song that’s going to end up with a sting in the tail, but no – it gets to the end without incident, a happy go lucky song to the finish.

19)       The Moondogs ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ (LP 1981)
Somehow Ray also got to hear about this Northern Irish new wave trio and helped encourage their signing to oldies wanting to be new wavies label Sire in 1981. He also produced their debut album for them, which sounds like it uses many of the production tricks of period Kinks album (the ‘dry’ wall of sound heard on ‘Low Budget’ ‘Give The People’ and ‘State Of Confusion’) but not the actual songs, which tend to be more like the younger Kinks, a looser and more daring variation of the same tight angular guitar riffs. It’s an interesting record, more adventurous than most new wave acts and with his own fondness for Ireland you can see why this band would have appealed to Ray. Sadly the elder Kink never seemed to want to make another record outside his own after this!

‘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