Monday 23 April 2018

Oasis Essay: Living Forever - Where Did It All Go Wrong?

You can now buy 'Little By Little - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Oasis' in e-book form by clicking here!

One of the reasons Oasis were so big in 1994 is that they were happy. That’s a broad statement obviously and in many ways they weren’t – growing up on council estates, living with drunken relatives who would beat them up, stuck permanently on the dole in Manchester because Margaret Thatcher took all the jobs away: the life of Oasis up until 1994 when things began to happen for them fast reads more like a misery memoir than a source of contentment. And yet if you were to ask the average Oasis fan in the street in those early days whey they liked this band, after answering ‘the danger’ the guitars’ or ‘the guitarist’s monobrow’, many people would tell you that being Oasis fan meant being happy to be alive. It’s an intrinsic part of their sound, particularly on their ‘breakthrough’ third single [  ] ‘Live Forever’. Tired of people in his neighbourhood listening to grunge and watching Kurt Cobain make suicide briefly fashionable, Noel was determined to give his fans something different (‘Here was a man who had everything – and was miserable about it. We had guck all – and yet I still felt that waking up every morning was the best thing ever’ (it speaks volumes that while every other band was covering Nirvana, Noel covers the Neil Young original that inspired him and was quoted in his suicide letter, ‘Hey Hey My My’). Rather than commit suicide because he has nothing left to live for, the narrator of ‘Live Forever’ wants life to continue on always because there is so much more to live for.
Many early Oasis songs concur with this world view. Written by Noel whilst on the dole, on tour as the roadie for the Inspiral Carpets or whilst working in the not often visited basement of a clothes shop, the elder Gallagher dreamed of a better future for him and his potential audience. Though some of his audience latched onto [  ] ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ as Oasis’ early anthem, (‘Is it worth the aggravation to get yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?’) most Oasis songs from albums one and two tend to be upbeat. [  ] ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ is an obvious opening track for their debut album and is the real Oasis anthem: who cares what is going wrong with your life and how little money you’ve got because you have the potential to be a star, for one night maybe but one night is all you need. There’s a way out of this madness and poverty for all of us, those early Oasis songs claim, there’s got to be. All we need to do is believe, work hard, be true to ourselves and fame and fortune are surely ours. Other songs too share this spirit: [  ] ‘Supersonic’ only needs an alcoholic high to feel amazing. [  ] ‘Round Are Way’ celebrates the most awful grotty grim-einfested graffiti-covered street full o0f layabouts and makes it sounds like an American sitcom, the most wonderful place on the planet. [  ] ‘Morning Glory’ greets every new day with a smile, as the narrator looks at himself shaving and wondering what heights he can scale today. [  ] ‘Wonderwall’ doesn’t even question whether the right girl is there to save the narrator. That’s why early oasis are still regarded so fondly by the fans that were there: they made us feel about our own frequently shit lives, blew away the cobwebs of the late 1980s and early 1990s credit crunch and led us to the idea that life can only get better. Oasis weren’t the soundtrack to what was happening in our lives at the time, necessarily, but better tomorrows.
Perhaps the key track of Oasis’ early optimism, though, is [  ] ‘Going Nowhere’. The title doesn’t scream happiness and the setting of a row with the missus doesn’t bode well, but even though Noel’s narrator is in the cul-de-sac of life, having not achieved of anything, he has the time to dream. Without his girl he can be anything he likes without the pressure to conform. Maybe he’ll even be famous. One of Noel’s earliest songs, it dreams of everything he might achieve one day and how great its going to be – he’s going to buy a jaguar, ‘maybe a plane’ and even if fame only lasts a day that’s plenty enough, he just wants to have achieved something. Oasis then recorded this song, several years old by this point, for the back of 1997 single [  ] ‘Stand By Me’, the long awaited Oasis single the whole world (minus America) was holding its breath for – you can even hear the smug grin on Noel’s face that he doesn’t have to dream anymore, he arrived to sing this vocal in a Jag and has a private plane waiting for him. This isn’t a dream, it’s a reality.
It’s worth noting here that while Oasis didn’t take all that long to make the big time from first note to last and were rather fast-tracked to fame, they’d still waited a long time. Noel was twenty-seven when Oasis released their first single – a short stint in that clothes shop and a few months of being a roadie aside, he’d achieved nothing he could realistically go to the job centre and say ‘have a look, aren’t you proud of me?’ Noel was one of the brainier kids in his school and his teachers had big plans for him to some extent, but he’d spent his youth writing songs that until his brother formed a band for him he’d largely kept to himself. But what Noel always had in those early days was hope: ‘Going Nowhere’ is about the truest song he ever wrote, full of his longing and desperation to be rich and famous. The rest of the band too weren’t in much better shape: though Liam was all of twenty-two he’d been unemployed for six years by the time of Oasis’ first single and hadn’t exactly turned up much during that final year at school. Having been in the position of having a jobcentre breathing down your neck, even whilst poorly and unable to work, I know how hard it is: everyone assumes the worst, they dismiss you and you’re not allowed to have any dreams or any hope if you can’t even get on the bottom rung of the ladder. Despite all this Oasis dreamed and dreamed big.
When that dream is answered with success (what a satisfying trip down to the dole queue that must have been, ‘do you remember that band I told you about? Here’s the demo tape and we’ve been signed for thousands of pounds, so screw you shoe shop job!’), something interesting happens. Noel had around forty of the early Oasis songs written already by the time of that first contract (something surely unique in rock and roll – flipping Ray Davies had only written one song when he got his and the Stones were ‘just’ a covers band!) Without needing to write anymore, Noel is free to sprinkle them like confetti across not only the first two albums but many of the B-sides of the singles too which, generously, often contained three ‘extra’ songs per single alongside the lead track. Noel has been waiting for so long for the world to hear his music that he can’t wait to release them all, right here, right now, and the world is agog at not just the quantity but the quality. Band members often talk about Noel having a masterplan back then, which was ambitious to say the least. Famously he even told the rest of the band that he was holding back [  ] ‘Whatever’ as a ‘Christmas single to make sure it makes number one in our second year’ and [early live favourite [  ] ‘All Around The World’ back for the third album ‘because by then we’ll have got the budget to put some strings on it’. Noel was in it for the long game. But even his long game only got as far as ‘taking the world over’ – he had no gameplan for how to stay at the top.
This leaves a bit of a problem. By 1997 Noel is running out of material and maybe even he didn’t expect Oasis to stay quite so big for so long. That’s the problem with fame: you dream about getting it, but you don’t dream about the effort that goes into maintaining it. At best maybe [  ] ‘Shakermaker’ had been the only song on the first two albums that hadn’t existed when he put pen to paper and by the time 1997 rolled around Noel was pretty rusty as a songwriter. That would be ok except for two things: one is that he’s cut himself off from the background he used to have and the people he used to write ab out. He can remember what it felt like to be young, hungry and penniless, but it’s a memory – it’s not something he’s lived for a while now and the nagging hunger pains have been blotted out by the whizz-bang-whallop of interviewers fawning over you, fans chanting your name and award ceremonies. For a band like Oasis, who thrived on egotism, they weren’t the sort of people to humbly put it down to luck either – they loved the fact that people were hanging on their every word, giving them awards and wanting to sleep with them. Noel can’t write the anthems that connected him to the people anymore – because he isn’t one of them. Instead he’s one of those rich buggers he used to used to write about in song, the establishment figures (give or take a brawl or three), the ‘haves’ in a world where the people who buy your music are the ‘have nots’ of the world. How can you write a song for people who aren’t like you anymore?
The other problem is that being rich and famous is not all it’s cracked up to be. The first two Oasis albums are full of vim and vigour, ready to shake the world by its roots, but starting with album three ‘Be Here Now’ many songs come out like a long drawn out sigh. Noel wanted it all – and now he’s got it he doesn’t want it. Being rich doesn’t cure that nagging sense of malaise and spiritual longing. Being famous doesn’t help him get his dream girl – indeed it gets in the way, as he can’t be spotted anywhere now without press speculation about both what he is and what he’s not up to. Both of them have led to a drug-habit that he would never have had in his earlier life because he wouldn’t have afforded enough to get addicted. Noel feels sick, attending parties with people he doesn’t like, not getting enough sleep, talking the same old stories. He is without the hope that used to spur him on big time – and what is he (or his songwriting) without hope? He no longer dreams of something in the future, because he’s got what he was dreaming of and what can he dream of next – another quarter of a million crowd at Oasis’ shows? More grammy awards? An extra zillion sales? It doesn’t mean anything. He’s achieved everything he ever dreamt of – but all he dreams of now is for it all to be over. At least when he was young and obscure he didn’t have the paparazzi camping in his backyard and the weight of expectations from record labels waiting for his next move. There’s a moment, he says, when he woke up one day in 1997 with a hangover, listened to the complete strangers talking the same conversations about aliens and parallel worlds on drugs downstairs and got up and shooed them away whilst vowing never to take hard drugs again. As far as we know, he kept his word – this is the turning point in Oasis’ history, leaving a party even though his bandmates are still at the table.
For a short while the two sides of Noel’s thinking live happily beside each other in song. One of his few new songs written during the 1994-1996 period is classic B-side ‘Acquiesce’. Interestingly Liam gets the nastier verses to sing, wondering how to ‘wake that feeling inside’ and realising that even a grand masterplan won’t account for it all, that ‘everything is depending on the way the wind may blow’. Noel himself sings the lyrics of togetherness and brotherness, uniting the audience that the Gallaghers have suddenly found themselves with, desperate to pass on some great revolutionary insight to them. But Noel isn’t sure what that is. ‘Be Here Now’ finds Noel trying to speak to his audience time and time again – but the reason that record fell so short in audience expectations maybe wasn’t the long running times or the long wait or even the bad timing when the public mood was downbeat in the extreme. I think it’s the fact that Noel isn’t certain in his message to his audience anymore. He can’t write songs like ‘Live Forever’, because he doesn’t want this messy period of his life to last forever. He can’t write another ‘Wonderwall’ past 2001 about being ‘saved’ because wife Meg Matthews has got fed up of the fame and girls and the touring and has left him. He can’t write another ‘Going Nowhere’ because he’s got everything he once dreamed of and found out that rather than setting him free, the money and status has trapped him, that the things he longed for were only really trinkets. He doesn’t want his audience to dream of being rich and famous because its all an illusion – he wants to be like his audience, but they don’t want to hear that.
So instead Noel writes songs like [  ] ‘D’yer Know What I Mean?’ that gathers together ‘my’ people in one place and pass on words of great wisdom, but then can’t think of anything to say. So Noel instead hides what he’s trying to tell them with a song that’s literally playing backwards for part of the time and a middle eight about ‘meeting my maker – and making him cry’. Noel is all the way up there with a God, but it’s a God who feels betrayed by the gifts he once granted on Noel of being able to write as the spokesperson for a generation. We hear this too in the lyrics of [  ] ‘Magic Pie’ where Noel looks towards The Beatles for inspiration, as ever, and repeats their idea that they got the band name ‘from a vision of a man on a flaming pie’ (John Lennon’s absurdist response to being asked how The Beatles got their name). Noel’s got a ‘secret’, an answer that came to him in a similar vision – but he can’t pass it on because if he does then it’s no good. Instead he remembers a time when ‘I was that passer by’, dreaming of getting a message. However this feeling is there most of all in [  ] ‘Fade In-Out’, an extraordinary song that’s absolutely the nexus point of the entire Oasis catalogue. For two verses it’s business as usual, Liam adopting the smug grin of his early years, as he taunts the audience for not having what he’s got and ‘fading out’, perhaps revenge on all those jobcentre ladies from years gone by. But then something strange happens. Across the second verse Liam has been singing pretty much on his own, against the flow of the band and is largely on his own. By the end of the second verse brother Noel puts him down with a single line (‘That’s what they all say’) and suddenly the song that’s been so under control paws at our throat with a scream that would outdo a horror movie. This world isn’t fun anymore and it’s no longer an unnamed other that Oasis are sneering at – its themselves, fading out, without a doubt, with no masterplan left to help them, sure they’re going to be ‘cast away’.
As it happens Oasis aren’t cast away at this point. They are, however, cast under their own shadow, struggling with a new bassist and rhythm guitar player. With the public moving on to ‘the next big thing’ (I can’t even remember who it was. Kasabian? The Arctic Monkeys? The Mike Flowers Pops?!?) Noel seems to have greeted this with a sigh of relief. The world isn’t looking anymore and he’s down to Oasis’ core audience who will allow him to sing from the heart again. And what a sad heart it is. Noel’s run of songs for albums four and five (‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ and ‘Heathen Chemistry’) are some of the saddest ever written by anybody, anywhere. [  ] ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong?’ wonders when being a member of the world’s biggest and possibly greatest rock and roll band for thirty years stopped being so much fun. [  ] ‘Sunday Morning Call’ tries to make sense of what happened in the terms of a hangover, reaching out to the fans who too have stopped partying and are trying to make sense of this new scary world where we don’t live forever and things go wrong. [  ] ‘Gas Panic’ takes that Oasis egotism and turns it into paranoia – what if all these people I want to look at me are going to turn on me? – and realises that fame (and drugs) have distanced him from everything; going back home his family ‘don’t seem so familiar’ and reading the papers concludes that ‘my enemies all know my name’. [  ] ‘Little By Little’ returns to ‘my maker’ and asks why he got such a shitty deal, that the ‘wheels of his life have slowly fallen off’ and far from living forever asks himself sadly ‘why am I still here? Why am I really here?’ He may well be addressing the audience too: ‘I gave you everything I ever dreamed of’ he snaps at one point, all but adding ‘so please leave me alone!’ The period B-sides are particularly interesting: [  ] ‘The Fame’ is a specific song rejecting the idea of stardom while [  ] ‘Flashbax’ sounds genuinely nostalgic for ‘the days when I was lost and lonely’.
Interestingly this is where Noel’s major input into the band for whom he was the sole songwriter for three and three-quarter albums ends. It’s the rest of Oasis who pick up most of the story, as Noel by his own admission celebrates [  ] ‘The Importance Of being Idle’. Liam writes about a mysterious someone who might well be his own brother, [  ] ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ reflecting on how miserable and isolated he seems, to quote an Oasis cover of the period, asking [  ] ‘Who Put The Weight Of The World On Your Shoulders?’ Liam even gets the final moment on the final Oasis album , with the bitter and mocking [  ] ‘Soldier On’ making it clear that the band should have stopped when they felt they were on top of the world and that all good things come to an end. Second bassist Andy Bell chips in with [  ] ‘Keep The Dream Alive’, reflecting the bad blood at the end of the Oasis days by saying that effectively he still believes in what Noel used to write about, even if he no longer does. Both of them will explore these ideas further in the quite glorious pair of Beady Eye albums where they come to terms with the fact that the dream they were a part of has ended against their will.
Noel? He’s in a bitter mood. A period B-side has him pleading with the one who gave him this Faustian pact that he’s fed up of heaven and will be happy in ‘the other place…[  ] ‘As Long As They’ve Got Cigarettes In Hell’. Another, passed on to Liam to sing, has him spit out that [  ] ‘Let’s All make Believe’, the complete opposite of songs like ‘Goin’ Nowhere’ and ‘Live Forever’ by claiming that it’s a myth that good things happen to us – the world is a mean place instead, so we have to learn to deal with it. Nearly the last Oasis single is [  ] ‘Lord Don’t Slow Me Down’, which starts with the complaint that ‘I’m tired lord and I’m sick, got a habit that the cat won’t lick!’, but anxious that this rollercoaster ride doesn’t end. The very last Oasis single is [  ] ‘Falling Down’, an adrenalin rush of panic which might perhaps be him realising that he has to move on, but afraid to as this sense of blurry noise and mayhem is ‘all that I’ve ever known’. There was a time when nothing could bring Oasis down ([  ] ‘Bring It On Down’ is, indeed, a mocking song that nothing can bring them down), but now they’re falling down by themselves. Only on [  ] ‘Let There Be Love’ (the ‘real’ end you could argue of the Oasis catalogue) does he find some semblance of peace. For only the second time in the Oasis catalogue the two brothers trade vocals, on lyrics that again acquiesce to fate but in a much quieter and more reflective way. Liam asks the answers, about who gave us the life we lead – Noel replies with love, asking it to heal the universe and calling to those, much like his earlier younger hungrier selves, to step forward anyway because this journey was worth it in the end.
That’s one hell of a journey, from [  ] ‘Supersonic’ to [  ] ‘Falling Down’ in just a few moves, just seven albums (and a bucketload of B-sides) and fifteen years. Oddly enough in his solo work Noel has ditched all sense of the gameplan, of communicating with his old audience, of any thought that he was once young and hungry and hopeful. Instead he’s become domesticated, writing songs about the missus and love and children. It’s that, I think, as much as anything that means I for one don’t think any lasting Oasis reunion will ever happen (although a few one-offs for the right charity or anniversary may yet be possible). Noel had it all and gave it up and leads a different life now. Unfortunately it’s also led to him making some very different music and all that playing with scissors and Gorillaz style production junk has got in the way of the audience he used to speak to. It’s as if he’s put up a wall between himself and ‘us’. That leaves Liam to carry the flag,m which he did in Beady Eye by referring constantly to Oasis and things left unsaid and places they hadn’t been and the fights with his brother that never got resolved. Only on his much delayed solo career has Liam moved on – and even then he’s found peace with his Oasis past, still taunting those who in their enclosed worlds never even realised that there was a dream to be dreamt in the first place and content to walk in [  ] ‘Chinatown’, a (rolling) stone’s throw from the motorways Oasis used to play in case they have him back again.
We give Noel a hard time in our review of his three solo albums because without that dream at the core of his music he really struggles to write. Maybe it’s not too late, with another anniversary looming on the horizon in 2019, to look back at that dream once and for all and have another go. Or maybe not. Oasis were, after all, aptly named. They were once a haven of creative inspirational water in a musical desert and they still were by the end, even if their music changed shape and got miserable along the way (I actually prefer the miserable stuff by and large, song on song), simply by being ‘true’ to themselves and telling the truth as they saw it (no wonder their sixth album is titled ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’, as if even they don’t want to believe it). The world still needs Oasis, the way it did in 1994 (perhaps more so given the rise of music talent-less shows in the years ever since) and it would be a shame if that well in the desert has dried up forever, with Oasis the last stars who lived, ate and dreamt rock and roll. Especially that last bit: dreams are important and even if budding songwriters should be careful of what they wish for (and what Faustian pacts they make with the devil) on balance you suspect Noel would rather have had this life than stayed anonymous and ignored back in Manchester.
Other Oasis related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'(What's The Story?) Morning Glory' (1995)
'Be Here Now' (1997)
‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002)

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005)

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008)

'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011)

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011)  
'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015)
Who Built The Moon? (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) (2017) 
The Best Unreleased Oasis Recordings 1992-2013
Surviving TV Clips 1994-2009:
Compilation/Live/Solo Albums: 1994-2010
Non-Album Songs Part One: 1993-1998

Non-Album Songs Part Two: 2000-2015

The Kinks: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to (in some cases) last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! The Kinks were a particularly exciting live act, much of that excitement coming from the fact that fans never actually knew whether the band were going to hit the stage or not. Their biographies are full of endless non-appearances, bust-ups and rows which have seen them cancel perhaps more gigs than any other band – usually just when The Kinks were about to hit the big-time and promote one of their records that did once seem to be zooming somewhere up the charts. This was still true as late as the 21st century when yours truly went to see Ray Davies perform in Liverpool – and the singer turned up, two hours late, then left the stage twice during the first ten minutes to change his shirt! Even so, when they do turn up The Kinks are a lot of fun as can be heard on their four official live albums where they perfect the artform of the crowd singalong and the rocking riff and there are more than a few highlights to choose from for this top five…

1)  Where: William Grinshaw School, Muswell Hill, London When: September (?) 1961 Why: First Gig? Setlist: Various

Here is The Kinks’ debut, which strictly speaking wasn’t under that name or even their favourite choice of ‘The Ravens’ but ‘The Ray Davies Quartet’, in honour of their rhythm guitar player. It was Ray who’d got them their first gig at the school he attended alongside Pete Quaife and then-drummer John Start by asking if the fledgling Kinks could play at the school’s ‘Autumn Dance’ (this was followed up with a gig at El Toro Coffee Bar where the band are likely to have played as The Dave Davies Quartet, given that it was Dave’s favourite hangout of the time – the perk of not having a steady name was that whoever in the band got the gig got to name the band after themselves!)  For now The Kinks are, like many of their peers, a Shadows-style instrumental band and who take it in turns to play guitar solos on a wide variety of songs that show off just how eclectic the band’s record collection was back in 1961: songs known to have been performed at this gig include ‘Ventures’ songs such as ‘Perfida’, ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ and possibly their arrangement of Sam Phillips’ ‘Raunchy’; plus Shadows hits like ‘Apache’; Duane Eddy’s ‘Ramrod’ and ‘Peter Gunn’; The Ramrods’ own song ‘Riders In The Sky’, The String-A-Longs’ ‘Wheels’; Arthur Smith’s ‘Guitar Boogie’ and Gene Krupa’s ‘St Louis Blues’; Buddy Holly’s ‘Oh Boy’ ‘Rave On’ and ‘Everyday’; Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’ and ‘Living Doll’; Elvis’ ‘One Night With You’; Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B Goode’ and ‘Memphis Tennessee’ The Everly Brothers’ ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’; Bobby Freeman’s ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’; Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’ and Ernesta Lecuana’s Spanish dance song ‘Malequena’. The latter is Ray’s stage spotlight which he plays with his hands behind his back, though it’s Dave’s take on Little Richard’s ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ that apparently sets the girls off screaming and re-ignites a lifelong rivalry between the brothers. For now Ray is the rhythm guitarist while Dave and Pete alternate the lead guitar parts between them. The school dance goes very well and the band are encouraged enough to look at playing pubs and clubs up and down London, nagging the Davies’ brother-in-law Brian Longstaff to book them into a weekly slot at The Athenaeum Ballroom in Muswell Hill. This band seem to have a future…

2)  Where: Camden Head London/Oxford Town Hall When: February 1st 1964 Why: First Gigs Under The Kinks Name and with Mick Avory Setlist: Various

Eighteen months or so later and The Kinks are a much more professional unit. So much so that they’re having to have a long hard think about their day-jobs. At this point Ray is working (briefly) in a publishing office before giving it up to become a full-time student, Dave (even more briefly) is a stock-room assistant at a music shop, Pete is an assistant to the editor of prestigious London fashion magazine ‘The Outfitter’ and John Start is working for his dad’s jewellery business. Start decides that The Kinks aren’t going anywhere and he doesn’t want to end up working for his dad for a living so leaves to become a surveyor, the band hiring temporary drumming replacement in Mickey Willett, a drummer with more experience than the others thanks to a stint in ‘Tommy Bruce and the Bruisers’, an unlikely named group who scored two top forty hits in 1960. The Kinks also briefly feature a local lead singer who went to the same school on lead, but Rod Stewart (yes that one!) and his aggressive style never quite suits the glorious ramshackle nature of the early Kinks and instead he and his band will become the band’s biggest rival as they play gigs around Muswell Hill. The band’s new drummer Mickey gets bored and decides not to take part in new managers’ Robert Wace and Grenville Collins’ quest for stardom, resulting in a three-single contract with Pye Records. The band need to get serious with such a prestigious offer – and fast. So they give up their day jobs, Ray gives up art college and they hire a new drummer in Mick Avory after spotting his advert in Melody Maker (‘Drummer: young with a good kit, read, seeking pro-R and B group’). Realising that they need to make an impression, The Kinks take time out to rehearse, stripping down their act down to basic R and B songs their drummer already knows in preparation of their debut just three days after Mick starts working with the band. What’s more, this is also the first time The Kinks appear under their ‘true’ name, after months of alternating between ‘The Ravens’ and ‘The Bo-Weevils’. The band hate the idea at first, which is thought up by their management for two reasons: it’s X-rated notoriety and the fact that, as the shortest name on the bill, the band will really stand out on all the concert posters. The transformed Kinks take part in a triple bill of local musicians which, through carelessness, isn’t properly advertised and most of the audience is made up of the other acts on the bill cheering the others on. It’s not as big a splash as the band want, but they soon gain ‘word of mouth’ and take off locally, their sound transformed by this early milestone gig. Songs performed include a bunch of early tracks that will appear on the band’s debut album later in the year including one token original in Ray’s instrumental [15] ‘Revenge’ and cover songs [11] ‘I’m A Lover Not A Fighter’ [19] ‘Got Love If You Want It’ and [25] ‘Louie Louie’ as well as various Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley cover songs. The band make a splash with someone though as illustrious DJ Brian Matthew happens to see a flyer for the gig and reports to the nation on TV programme ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ that ‘band names are getting weirder these days – would you believe I even heard about one that are calling themselves ‘The Kinks’!

3)  Where: Capitol Theatre, Cardiff When: May 19th 1965 Why: Shambolic symbolic gig - with cymbals! Setlist: Unknown (but this is the setlist played a week or so later in Berlin): ‘Bye Bye Johnnie’ [25] ‘Louie Louie’ [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ [19] ‘Got Love If You Want It’ [9] ‘Long Tall Shorty’ [26] ‘All Day and All Of The Night’

Many of these ‘concert’ articles in this books record a gig that went wrong for different reasons, either onstage or behind the scenes. This one, though, is legendary and was the most notorious day in Kinkdom. Though the real arguments in The Kinks were always between the brothers, the other members frequently got it in the neck too. Back in 1965 all the band meetings tended to go Ray’s way: Pete didn’t care and was Ray’s old friend anyway, but Mick’s nonchalant acceptance of everything Ray said over Dave was really getting to the younger sibling (and will for the next twenty years!) Overworked, over tired and over emotional, Dave had it out with Mick during a drinking session the night before the gig, which ended in a drunken fight which the drummer supposedly ‘won’. The guitarist wasn’t about to admit defeat though and continued his argument from the night before. Dave had already kicked over Mick’s drums as he was setting them up backstage and after the opening song he mutters an insult to Mick (remembered by the drummer later as ‘you play so bad, why not use your cock instead of your fingers’!) who responds by kicking over his drums and hurling his drum pedal at the guitarist. The audience gasp as Dave is knocked out cold and Mick – regaining his senses – thinks he’s killed his Kinky kolleague and legs it out of Cardiff’s Theatre, sure that the police will be out to arrest him. Ray and Pete, meanwhile, are left on stage, trying to attend to a bleeding Dave who is later carried off, unconscious, to Cardiff Royal Infirmary where he receives sixteen stitches. Rock and roll careers were finished for less in 1964 and it seems unlikely the band will ever work together again (certainly The Kinks don’t finish the end of the tour, the first of many that will get cancelled/postponed across their career). Somehow, though, The Kinks’ management (who to be honest have been more of a hindrance than a help so far, signing the band on a meagre salary to Pye, putting them with egotistical producer Shel Talmy and asking Ray not to make [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ a single) spring into life: they tell the police it was a ‘stunt’ that went wrong, coax a nervous Mick into hiding out the storm at the home of a friendly journalist in Keith Altham and allow Dave to recuperate at sister Joyce’s house given that reporters are camped out at the Davies’ family home. Somehow the drummer and guitarist make up and Dave is keen for Mick to stay in the band – as his ‘punishment’ Mick is sent out to lie to interested reporters that it was all a ‘mistake’ and a gimmick ‘that went fine the night before when we played in Taunton!’

4)  Where: Empire Theatre, Sunderland When: March 15th 1969 Why: Last gig by original line-up Setlist: [50] ‘Til’ The End Of The Day [83] You’re Looking Fine [115] Picture Book [117] Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains [118] Big Sky [110] Act Nice and Gentle [101] Harry Rag [43] A Well Respected Man [86] Dedicated Follower Of Fashion [98] Death Of A Clown [84] Sunny Afternoon [104] Waterloo Sunset [12] You Really Got Me [26] All Day And All Of The Night

Details are sketchy even for Kinks experts like Doug Hinman and Johnny Rogan, but it seems likely that this back-to-bottom-of-the-bill low key gig was the last performed by the original Kinks line-up before Pete Quaife quit for good. The bassist had been feeling disenchanted with the band ever since a car crash the year before and Ray’s perfectionism (and time-wasting) had been driving him mad. What’s more, The Kinks seemed to be over, at least commercially: very few fans came out to see their ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ and there isn’t even a decent list of what The Kinks were performing in this period (which seems daft now ‘Village Green’ is so often heralded as the band’s ‘classic’ LP (we’ve cobbled this line-up together based on two period gigs which includes many of the ‘Village Green’ songs for the sake of ‘completeness’ but it may well be wrong or incomplete).  It’s an odd and unusual gig to end on: Sunderland Town Council figure that the time is right for music-hall to make a comeback and include rock and roll acts in place of the old Victoriana music on an everything-goes bill that includes traditional Northumbrian bands and a ‘Russian cossack’ style dancing troupe. Eye-witnesses recall Ray beginning the gig in emotional form and asking the lighting director to turn a blue filter on the audience and screams ‘I love you’ – it seems likely, given what we learn later about his feelings of the band in this period, that it was his way of saying goodbye to fans just in case, as he feared, The Kinks were about to die out without Pete there on bass alongside him. Pete, however, seems to have been his usual nonchalant self and made no mention of his leaving the band.

5)  Where: Iron City, Pittsburgh When: August 7th 1993Why: (Almost) Final Gig Setlist (Possibly): [43] A Well Respected Man [86] Dedicated Follower Of Fashion [200] Sweet Lady Genevieve [305] Do It Again [50] ‘Til’ The End Of The Day’ [319] Welcome To Sleazy Town [158] Lola [278] Low Budget [295] Come Dancing [164] Apeman [352] Over The Edge [286] Destroyer [348] Phobia [193] Celluloid Heroes [349] Only A Dream [98] Death Of A Clown [26] All Day And All Of The Night ‘Regatta My Ass!’

We normally go with a band’s final gig at this point (which was, as it happened, a performance in Norway on June 15th 1995) but it seems much more Kinks to end with yet another gig that went wrong. The Kinks have signed with yet another CD label (Columbia) to make their final LP ‘Phobia’ and the signs are good. But as recording drags on and the old problems in the band resurface the group find themselves plugging away on tour without an album to sell – and when ‘Phobia’ comes out it’s soundly ignored, with the poorest sales of any Kinks studio set to date. The band are tired, dishevelled and disheartened, as well as being annoyed that their latest management has booked them into so many unlikely and small venues. What’s more, Ray Davies has broken two toes shortly before going on stage, but like a trouper carries on to the end of the gig (but doesn’t help his humour). Tempers have been raised for ages but finally spill over at this American gig, which takes place in a tiny theatre that’s barely attended and where the music all night is drowned out by the sound of locals attending a much bigger event at Pitsburgh Regatta down the road. The Kinks play some of their fiercest, rockiest tunes in their attempt to drown out the sight of fireworks and the sound of a party that once used to be ‘theirs’, finally getting through the gig without incident. The tiny crowd applaud for an encore but the band are fed up and rather than play [12] ‘You Really Got Me’ as planned, a snarling Ray comes out from backstage with his acoustic guitar in hand. He then proceeds to make up a song for the audience on the spot, about how fed up and angry he is that people are turning up to – literally – see their money go up in smoke for some fireworks rather than seeing The Kinks, which includes the memorable chorus ‘regatta, my ass!’ Ray walks off to the sound of gasps, though a reporter from the Pittsburgh paper loves it and votes it his ‘top concert of the year’ in a 1993 look-back article!


Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) The Kinks have always been a favourite with bands of all stages in their career: out sixth-form used to reverberate quickly to the strains of [50] ‘Til’ The End Of The Day’ even though the morons playing it always got the words wrong and wouldn’t listen to me when I told them it was one of my beloved 1960s songs so why were they beating me up for listening to uncool music? (‘Nah, it’s a modern song, gotta be, it says so much about modern life innit?) Later bands love the subtleties of songs like [84] ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and [109] ‘Waterloo Sunset’ that can be done in so many ways, while to this day many acts that have been going decades somehow keep finding their way back to the Davies songbook (though I must admit I’m getting a bit sick of [130] ‘Days’ being their song of choice when there are so many other classics to enjoy). We’ve skipped for all these perhaps over-obvious songs for this section which mostly concentrates on The Kinks’ return to fashion in the era of new wave when the rawness of the early Kinks combined with their later refusal to play the rock and roll game everyone else did made them the perfect band for resurrecting. No space this issue for anything from the two Kinks Kovers sets this time though: look out for both ‘Shangri-La’ (1989) and ‘Kinks Kovered’ (2002) if you want to hear more (the first is better and more eclectic, though neither is as good as, say, The Hollies or many of the Beatles cover sets sadly).

1)   [88] ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ (The Chocolate Watch Band, ‘The Inner Mystique’, 1968)

The fledgling Californian band were very Kinks – they were too punk for the psychedelic era they grew up in and too colourful and weird to be punk, like The Kinks of 1966 and 1979 being mixed up in a liquidiser. Naturally their most popular track, then, was a Kinks kover and a choice that works for both sides of their nature. On the one hand this roaring, prowling, aggressive cover is far more direct than Dave Davies’ take on his brother’s lyric which is cold and aloof – this one is angry, hurting and desperate, the difference between a proud housecat and a scared lion. But it’s also a lot more psychedelic than The Kinks’ take, with some chiming Rickenbacker guitars and a hazy, surreal production that makes everything in the song sound like it’s floating and not direct at all. The band do a few things to the arrangement: they reach the screaming peak of the title being yelled over and over much quicker, before slowing the song down and throwing in the ‘forgive all my sins’ verse in after this and then going louder still for the drum-heavy finale which repeats far more times than the original. They also change switch the third line: from ‘Once I get started I got to town’ to ‘once I get started you can hand me down’ (it could be that their Californian ears struggled with what Dave’s Muswell Hill accent was singing in the days before the internet when you could look these things up or that ‘go to town’ was just too ‘English’ an expression!) The Chocolate Watch Band were a great group who sadly never capitalised on their early success with this song, splitting up three albums into a short career of which this was the closest they ever came to a ‘hit’ song. Very different yet almost as good, this is a klassy Kinks kover of a then-obscure B-side.

2)  [97] ‘David Watts’ (The Jam, A-side, 1978)

Often forgotten now by reviewers who often refer to The Great Kinks Revival of the late 1970s, The Jam in Britain beat Tom Robinson and over in America The Pretenders to the crown of the first great Kinks revival. You can see why this song would have appealed to Paul Weller’s first band: it’s a sarcastic sideswipe against the rigid class structure of Britain and the unbreakable stranglehold the rich seem to have on everything good (no wonder neither band did well in America until long after their heyday as these are very English concerns). ‘David Watts’ has everything: money, privilege, brains, beauty and power and if you’re an ‘underdog’ Kinks or Jam fan you hate him on sight: he doesn’t even notice that he has all these gifts or do anything good with them. Ray, though, still sounds partly in love with the person he can never before, even with his tongue firmly in cheek for much of the song; Paul and co, though, clearly hate his guts, taking all the beauty of the song and turning it into s swampy stompy rocker that marches up and down in protest at the unfairness of it all. Both London bands (though The Jam were Woking to The Kinks’ Muswell Hill) you can hear the solidarity at play here on a cover song released as a double ‘A’ side with another terribly Kinks-like Weller original ‘A’ Bomb In Waldorf Street’.

3)  [69] ‘I Go To Sleep’ (The Pretenders, A-side, 1981)

Chrissie Hynde was such a Kinks fan that she was the only journalist in America to rave about their ‘Misfits’ LP in 1978 and such an extreme Kinks fan that she became Ray Davies’ girlfriend. Somehow she also found time to front a rock band and The Pretenders were for a time as big as The Kinks at their peak. They came to fame with a tidied-up version of Ray’s neurotic Kinks track [18] ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, but cute as that song is it rather misses the point of the original: she almost sounds happy as she sings it, as if trying to gee up the crying boyfriend, whereas Ray’s reaction was more neurotic. Much better, to my ears, is Chrissie’s second Kinks kover from three years later, which he heard on one of her boyfriend’s unreleased demo tapes from 1965 and fell in love with (you can now hear it for yourself as a bonus track on the ‘Kinks Kontroversy’ CD and very beautiful it is too). Spooky, slow and solemn, Ray’s original demo is sparsely pretty but Chrissie’s interpretation is a whole different thing: it’s a full-on arrangement that’s deep, raw and slightly out of control. You wonder, too, if she chose this song to highlight the differences that were becoming apparent in her relationship with the much older Ray, summed up here by the thought that she can sleep but he can’t, ‘imagining that you’re there’ as he wrote himself to sleep in the other room, imagining all sorts of problems in their relationship that she didn’t see (yet). The explosion into a rock number in the middle eight (‘I will cry! I will love you till the day I die!’) sounds particularly good on this turbulent recording, taking the sleeping narrator by the shoulders and shaking them awake, demanding they feel all the things wrong the narrator does and have trouble going to sleep too. Instead all Chrissie gets for her troubles is a muted horn part snoring in its comfortable sleep. ‘Sobbing’ made me wonder, but ‘Sleep’ proves that Chrissie really did *get* her boyfriend’s work and she remains perhaps his best interpreter outside The Kinks.


‘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