Monday, November 30, 2009

They Really Got Me

The folks at Reprise Records in the USA were a crafty bunch. They figured out how to multiply two 12" LPs into four. By shuffling a few tracks across LPs, reducing the track count by two or three, and adding non-LP single A and B sides, they succeeded in creating twice as much Kinks product as their counterpart Pye in the UK.

In the US that meant the first LP - known as You Really Got Me - would have only 11 tracks compared to 14 on Kinks. I Took My Baby Home had already been released on the B-Side of The Kinks initial Long Tall Sally single on the Cameo label. I'm A Lover Not A Fighter and the instrumental Revenge would be moved to the next LP. Given the high percentage of covers already on the record, it does not take away from the overall feel to miss these tracks. In fact it makes the listening time just about right.

Of course the real deals here are that harbinger of metal You Really Got Me, and Stop Your Sobbing which would be covered by the Pretenders early in their career. The remaining songs are rough around the edges and yet there is a real joy in the performances. Mr. Quaife lays out some awesome bass lines. Dave's solos on the two Chuck Berry covers are wild and wooly in the best possible way. I will go out on a limb here and state that for me the early Kinks were a much more fun R&B band than the Rolling Stones at this stage of their careers. Yeah I know - the accepted opinion is that the Stones were hands down the best at covering American R&B - but the fact is I never listen to anything they released before Satisfaction. I will take Ray Davies' more natural attempt at blues vocals over Mick Jagger's exagerated cotton-balls-in-mouth slurry any day of the week. If you think I speak blasphemy - well, sue me.

Case in point - dig Ray's performance on this clip of The Kinks covering Got Love If You Want It. No need for any further words from me. It speaks for itself.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I bet you danced a good one in your time

Over two years had passed since The Kinks released Low Budget in 1979. Other than the One For the Road live double LP, there would be no new Kinks product until early 1982 with the release of Give The People What They Want. During that span I lost track of the band that had been such an important part of my life during the 60's and 70's. Fresh out of college I started a couple of synchronous but separate careers, one of those being a part time symphony musician. The duality of my professional life spilled over into my personal life, for as often as I listened to a Mahler symphony I was just as likely to put the latest Elvis Costello LP on my turntable. The pop side of my brain was voraciously consuming the great "new" music being produced on both sides of the Atlantic. In the span of a year I completely abandoned the latest output of the ex-Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, and all the other bands of my youth. In their stead came the Talking Heads, Pretenders, The Clash, Devo, B-52s, Madness, and a couple of dozen other bands of that period.

I was very aware of the Kinks' new found success with State of Confusion in 1983, as Come Dancing was all over MTV and the radio. And I was happy for them, but at the same time saddened that it just did not connect for me. I had become like a caffeine junky needing the latest fix of new wave outlandishness to keep my interest. There would be no more Kinks vinyl added to my collection after Low Budget. And in terms of my current Kinks blog project I have also come to the chronological end, although I will eventually go back to cover the first four US LPs that I skipped at the beginning of the month.

Years after the release of SOC I discovered a song that - believe it or not - had escaped my notice. This song had sneaked under my radar but once I heard it I was instantly addicted. Don't Forget to Dance may be the most touching song in the Ray Davies songbook. Who else would write a song about an lonely aging woman, the story told from Ray's vantage point, encouraging her to dance so that she can forget her loneliness and remember a time when she felt vital?

"But that's no reason to just stop living. That's no excuse to just give in to a sad and lonely heart."

And the line that just sends a quiver through my heart, as a retort to the younger apemen who taunt her for her age:

"And when they ask me how you dance, I say that you dance real close."

There is nothing in the synth-addled background that would identify this as a Kinks' song, but dammit the synths and the background vocals and Ray's lilting lead vocal and the percussion 101 drumming coalesce into a sum much greater than its parts.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some people say it blows your mind

Holy cow, Batman! I just finished my first listen to The Kinks Low Budget since the early eighties and it hit me that this is the killer follow-up to Some Girls that the Stones should have recorded. Scattered amidst the Keith Richard's riffs and driving drums are some juicy new wave nuggets too. At this point the Kinks had cast off most of their otherness that made them so special, but in return they were playing real honest-to-goodness rock'n'roll. And doing it as well as any band out there. There is no looking back.

Ray had his ear to the track and was picking up all sorts of interesting sounds from the burgeoning new wave and punk movements. Pressure pumps it up with a driving Ramone's fury. National Health takes the Stone's Shattered and adds a veneer of ska/reggae ala the Clash. Check out Holly Hughes bang-up posting on this LP's new wave influences over at the Ray Davies Forum. And there are some juicy Ray Davies' nuggets in the lyrics throughout. Misery has a couplet that really slays me:

"Until you learn to laugh you'll never come to any parties at my house/And if you go on like this the only house you'll ever visit is the nut house"

My only complaint about this LP is that a few of the songs go on too long, wearing out their welcome after they have had their say. In 1979 I bought the 12" single of (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman which is the extended 6:01 edit on the LP. But I really wish I had bought the 7" 45rpm edit because it is a real corker. It lays out all the juicy parts and then is done in 3:26.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The summer's all gone

It has been a busy weekend in the Mister Pleasant household so I had to delay the next Kinks' LP posts until things settle down a bit. In the meantime here is a non-LP single from October 1967, the exquisite Autumn Almanac. No bullsh*t from me this time, just one of the finest 45 rpm singles ever cut.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Cos when he puts on that dress he looks like a princess

The Kinks second LP release on Arista was Misfits, released in mid-1978. Cut from the same cloth as the previous year's Sleepwalker, the band takes a further step into the guitar rock of the pre-punk period. Of course the punk movement itself was already underway in the UK while in the USA the C.B.G.B.'s bands were beginning to make some noise. By this point the Kinks were a product of a different generation and yet somehow managed to tap into a market that had been so indifferent to them in their 60's heyday.

There are some good songs here, including Misfits, A Rock and Roll Fantasy, Black Messiah, Out of the Wardrobe, and Live Life. The band had developed into a very cohesive live unit at this point. I would rank it a few steps down from the previous effort but there is certainly nothing to be ashamed of here.

The Kinks pull out all the stops for the extremely Stones-ish Live Life. Ray takes a very pragmatic view about political causes and the extreme views of both ends of the social spectrum.

Trendy intellectuals always take action,
For every cause that's ever been in fashion
Weekend revolutionaries protest and sing
Because they're dedicated followers of any old thing

With a hilarious two word fragment from his 1966 single he puts a whole movement in its place.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ev'rybody got problems, buddy. I got mine

Putting the concept albums behind, The Kinks moved forward with an album that became a blueprint for what would follow until the end of their career. Sleepwalker paved a path into the rock mainstream for a band that had never been a follower. The glove did not quite fit - and for me that's why it works. Little bits of the real Ray Davies keeps popping up in both the lyrics and the music. Years later I read a quote from Dave about Ray's habit of sleepwalking. Coupled with Ray's insomnia, suddenly the song made sense to me. The sentiment reflected in Brother is carried aloft by a slow lilting melody in a gorgeous middle period Beach Boys style, with Ray sounding exactly like Carl Wilson on the high chorus parts.

The album produced a couple of entries into the pop charts in the USA. Sleepwalker kicks off with a great jangly guitar, a perky verse melody and a classic rock construction, ending with a repeated harmonic line over which the band plays with a real gusto and Ray and band literally bellow the chorus. It is a cathartic moment. Juke Box Music offers a glimpse at how great the Davies Brothers could be when sharing the vocal lines, and Dave lets loose with some very fine guitar playing. Listening to the radio in 1977 was wonderful for me because there was new Kinks music being heard by the masses.

If Ray had taken a further step down the path he had started with Preservation, The Kinks would likely have come to an end. I wonder what he might have produced on his own at the point, but the fact is he didn't, and the band moved ahead to reach their highest levels of success on this side of the Atlantic. This is the starting point for that next journey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Higher Education

The last of The Kinks musical theater albums hit the record bins in January 1976. Schoolboys In Disgrace is a prequel of sorts to the Preservation albums, as it covers the last of the school days of the character Flash. On the non-musical level, I think the LP cover is the best of The Kinks RCA years. The front comic drawing of a school boy smarting from corporal punishment has to be seen to be believed, and the back shows the now five Kinks in schoolboy attire, and Ray Davies' expression is worth the price of the LP.

The music is a move back towards the rock'n'roll world. The spoken sections and theatrical interludes of the previous concept albums are gone. The musical styles run the gamut from 50s doo wop to contemporary rock. Its a fun romp but I wish it were better. Dave's guitar is front and center on several tunes, and he certainly proves that he has the chops. A further move towards a more mainstream 70s rock sound is just around the corner.

Here is one of the real rock'n'roll cuts - No More Looking Back.
Thanks to Vivalabeat for providing a live video on Youtube:

Monday, November 16, 2009


Coming out of the three album Preservation series, The Kinks were still an eight man band plus additional backup singers. At the time Ray Davies stated that after the intensity of the previous albums he wanted something lighter and less serious. The rest of the band - well, at least Dave for certain - were growing tired of the concept albums. But Ray persevered to complete and release A Soap Opera one year after Preservation Act 2.

This album tells its tale in a single LP with dialogue interspersed to assist with the story telling. It is cute and listenable but I rarely find myself pulling out the vinyl. There are not any songs that I would list as a favorite, although the first song opens the record with a wall of sound. Ray has been accused of "borrowing" from himself and other bands, though I do not hear it so much. But in this case the opening riff on Everybody's a Star (Starmaker) owes a heavy debt to The Move's awesome Do Ya. It loses some steam after the opening salvo but is one of the perkiest tunes on the album.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Four More Respected Gentlemen Part 2

Sunday is a day off for the official Kinks Chronological Album Listen. But I am so far into this thing now that I cannot let go, so let's take a look at an album that is not a part of the official canon. The Great Lost Kinks Album came out as a USA-only release in 1973 when Reprise decided to recover some of their investment after the Kinks bailed for RCA a few years earlier. It was a hodgepodge of unreleased tracks and singles B-sides mostly from 1968-69.

I bought the LP when it was released, as it came out soon after I became a Kinks fanatic. Little did I know that I have been sitting on one of the rarest Kinks' recordings around. Only recently has it come to my attention that it was pulled from distribution in 1975 as a result of a lawsuit filed by Ray Davies. The expanded CD releases include the B-sides as extra tracks but I don't know if the unreleased tracks are available elsewhere.

Maybe it is because I just cannot extricate myself from the Kinks "second" period music - Face to Face up through Lola - but the music on TGLKA seems so darned intimate and touching. Employing the classic four man Kinks sound, you will immediately feel at home here if you like The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.

For a change of pace I am going to write just a little about each song. The first two rank fairly low on the Mister Pleasant-o-meter but the remaining dozen are charming and then some.
  1. Plastic Man - unfortunately this was released as a single A-side. Other than the cleverly Monkee-ish "ba-oom bah bah bah" section, this song is the one Kinks failure in their otherwise stellar 66-70 singles releases.
  2. Groovie Movies - ostensibly from Dave's never released first solo album. He wrote some great songs over the years but this is not one of them
  3. Pictures In The Sand - apparently an outtake from TVGPS, a slight country tune which points the way towards where the band would be heading in the 1970s.
  4. Lavender Hill - great drumming, bassoon!, one of the verses is instrumental with a wah wah guitar solo line, ethereal vocal harmonies, and a rare Beach Boys type vocal section at the end. Also a few hard-to-hear mellotron licks.
  5. The Way Love Used To Be - from the Percy soundtrack. As far as I can determine, Reprise included it on TGLKA because Percy was never released in the USA. A lovely contemplative song with acoustic guitar accompaniment. Ray sings as if his heart is in his throat. Touching.
  6. Mr. Songbird (yes another Kinks "Mr." song) - That rare truly happy Kinks song with a mellotron sounding like a duo of flutes and a very jazzy contrapuntal vocalized section sounding a bit like the Swingles Singers
  7. This Man He Weeps Tonight - Dave's best effort here. It opens with an awesome guitar riff doubled on bass. The guitar work throughout is gorgeous but way too much in the back of the mix. Mr. Avory gets in some really good hits.
  8. Till Death Us Do Part - Ray's great theme song for a 1969 film based on Britain's long running sitcom (and basis for the USA's All In The Family). Like Dead End Street, a trombone plays a major role here and its use is spot-on spectacular. The vocal harmonies in the chorus are a harbringer of that la-la-la-iest Kinks' tune - Wonderboy. This song is a little lost treasure.
  9. There Is No Life Without Love - credited to both Davies' brothers, a sweet little tune with simple accompaniment of mandolin bass and drums. I would guess that there are no more than twenty distinct words total in the lyrics, but you know it just doesn't matter when the melody is so wonderful and these two sometimes warring brothers are singing octave harmonies so peacefully.
  10. Misty Water - It starts with succinct piano chords beneath Ray's delicately delivered opening verse, but things really get rolling on the second verse when the guitar kicks in. But wait there is even more fun - the chorus transmogrifies this into a garage rock sing-a-long. There is even a cheesy 60's farfisa organ buried deep in the mix. Then a short ethereal vocalized section appears as if we suddenly dropped into Gogi Grant's The Wayward Wind only to be knocked off our feet with Dave's ferocious guitar chords to bring us back for another pass.
  11. When I Turn Off The Living Room Light - The opening line seems to get some people really angry but I think Ray is totally innocent of any sort of ethnic or racial slur. The lyrics may seem thoughtless at the beginning but by the final verse it is clear that the singer puts himself in the same boat as his less than lovely partner - "We don't feel so ugly, we don't feel so draggy, we don't feel so twisted up tight/and we don't feel as ugly as we really are, when we turn off the living room light."
  12. I'm Not Like Everybody Else - The B-side to Sunny Afternoon. It seems to me as if Ray is singing with his best Dave vocal immitation. Or maybe it is Dave - I am never sure. A true classic, this one bridges the gap between The Kinks and The Who, with a few dollops of garage rock thrown in for good measure. Dave's guitar is thunderous here.
  13. Where Did My Spring Go? - Opens with a piano and guitar intro, with Dave's guitar work sounding vaguely like something off of a Jefferson Airplane album. This contains some of Ray's most angry and bleak lyrics. "Remember all those sleepless nights, making love by candlelight, and every time you took my love, you were shortening my life."
  14. Rosemary Rose - Luckily Ray just cannot stop singing about his sister. Starting off like an early Del Shannon rocker with a mandolin standing in for the musitron, the song adds a harpsichord for the middle eight. And the priceless lyrics are scolding yet tender - "You look nothing like a child, yet you're such a little baby/Chewing on your liquorish gum, and cigarettes."
I love this album dearly and cannot for the life of me choose only one song for your listening pleasure. So here are two - first Rosemary Rose:

And the tale of Anne Maria and her daughters in Misty Water:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's painfully clear that the battle is near

Preservation Act 2 really gets down to the nitty gritty of the story of the two principal characters Flash and Mr. Black in Ray Davies epic saga. Act 1 is stronger in terms of the tunes, but the drama really hits hard in this follow-up. Overall I find the first two sides of this double LP very strong, and side four really pulls out all the stops. There is a definite Weill/Brecht feeling throughout, with the magnificent horn oompahs and woodwind runs in the verse parts of Second-Hand Car Spiv sounding as if they came from a lost manuscript for A Threepenny Opera.

Reviewers back in the day considered the live road show version to be superior to the recordings. Having seen it then, I would agree that the combination of the expanded forces on the stage, projected images and a reduced, concise song lineup made for excellent theater. But the records really do hold their own, even with the spoken "announcements" in Act 2 which help to flesh out the story with a news announcer censoring the proceedings according to the wishes of Mr. Black's dictatorship.

It is weird and wonderful to hear female voices on a Kinks record, and especially the ladies-only Scrapheap City. I also picked up a 70s glam vibe on parts of Artificial Man and Salvation Road that I don't believe I ever noticed before - shades of Mott the Hoople! Some of the most heart-rending moments for me include the final lines in Nothing Lasts Forever - "Your love will fade but mine will last forever". This song would be a great companion to The Party's Over and the arrangement reminds me of a broken-heart love song in a big 50's musical. And Flash's plea for acceptance in Scum Of The Earth - "Before you condemn me my friends, I suggest that you look deep inside you" - he's not about to apologize for being human.

It may be the oddest combination of rock, musical theater, and political commentary ever produced. It is a very long way from Face to Face. Those Kinks no longer exist by this juncture. At the time I fought with myself on whether I would continue to follow them into their new world. I would like to think that as I grew older, I became wiser and more open to something different. Listening again after so many years I find Preservation to be refreshing and extremely current to today's world.

Who else was this musically adventurous in the mid 1970s? Preservation is one of Ray Davies' crowning moments.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where are all the angry young men now?

I sincerely hope that I did not chase away any hard-core Kinks fans with yesterday's post. There are no worries today. The demons of 1972 were thankfully gone by 1973. Ray Davies recovered his talent for composing stellar melodies on Preservation Act I. In fact this album is so tuneful that it really deserves a dozen listens just to let it all soak in.

The storyline of the Preservation LPs is fairly dense, and since this is Part 1 it serves as an introduction with more of the details to come with Part 2. My first live Kinks experience was about this time, though my rusty memory does not recall if Part 2 had been released yet. But I can tell you that it was like no other concert I have experienced. The stage was filled with a horn section, floozies, and the (at this point) five Kinks. There has always been a lot of conjecture about the alcohol level in the Kinks during their live shows from this period. If they were not tipsy they certainly put on a good act. But it fit perfectly in to the proceedings. For a detailed description of one of the live Preservation shows check out 10th December, 1974, Santa Monica. The end of the show was one encore after another of their well known hits. But the Preservation music already had the audience on its feet. So the encores were just gravy. (and delicious gravy too!)

This album is very even, in that every song is great in its own way. So it was a coin toss to pick a song for today's post. First is a short segment of a video for Sitting In the Midday Sun, followed by a the entire song without video. If anyone knows where the first video originated, and if it the full song is available I would love to know about it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's very hard to please the people every single time

Neither trend setters nor trend followers, the Kinks marched to their own drummer, at least up until the late 70s. As is the case with bands that have lengthy careers, changes in musical styles and structure affect fans differently. Beginning in 1972 the Kinks entered a period that would soon evolve into a series of musical theater pieces. The album that fills the gap between that future and what came before is Everybody's In Show-Biz. At the time of its release I was very fond of this record and the song from it that became a staple of progressive FM radio - Celluloid Heroes.

Over the years my initial feelings began to wane as I found myself pulled back to their 1960s output. After listening to this album today for the first time in a long spell I wish I could say that it stirred those good old memories. It pains me to say that it just does not pull me in. It is not the "poor me, being a rock star is so hard" sentiments expressed in the lyrics. I would easily grant Ray Davies his right to wail and moan if only the songs themselves carried the melodic invention that he so amply demonstrated heretofore. Muswell was a bit shy on the melody front but more than made up for it with its crisp country arrangements and biting lyrics. For the two songs here that actually have wonderful melodies, one has lyrics so clumsy that I find myself cringing.

On the other hand the second disk is quite a fun listen. A chance for the boys to bring their boozy on-stage persona to vinyl for some wonderfully sloppy live performances of tunes taken mostly from the previous year's Muswell Hillbillies.

Luckily for today's post there is one studio song here that is more than worthy of repeated listening. Sitting in My Hotel finds Ray in a reflective mood, musing about what his friends might think of his present situation. He is in a funk, treading water. One gets the feeling that he knows he has to find a way to move forward, but he is unsure of himself. When assuming the viewpoint of his friends he cast doubts over everything from his haute couture to feeding his insomnia by watching old movies on TV all night long. His self deprecating humor here is really quite touching, and the tune is one of his lovliest creations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

They're never gonna kill my cockney pride

In 1971 the Kinks jumped ship from Pye/Reprise records to RCA. And the first product from that move was Muswell Hillbillies, possibly the most surprising change of pace by any major long term rock band. The production is pared down to bare bones. Musically there are big changes too - the harpsichord is out, the electronic organ is in. Complex harmonies are replaced by sing-along choruses. But this is not a simple record by any means. The Kinks as a band had never played together so well before. There is a relaxed yet intense vibe, and the entire album holds together as a single piece. Perhaps the prospect of finally being paid some decent money for their troubles brought this about, but regardless of the genesis, the band delivers in spades.

The lyrics are also tighter and focused like a laser on the ills of modern society. Ray's singing takes on a whole new dimension. For each song he has devised a sound specific to the content therein. It works beautifully for me, but it does require shedding all my conceptions and expectations from what came before. This is a new Kinks.

20th Century Man is the lead off track, and serves as a blueprint for what is to follow. Listen to the chugging acoustic guitar lick after a brief intro, then kick into high gear when the drums enter. Midway through the electric guitar enters and a middle section begins. It is unearthly in its beauty. The melody has the clarity of an old English folksong. And Ray gets down to the dirty details of the cause of his melancholy:

I was born in a welfare state
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in grey
Got no privacy, got no liberty
Cos the twentieth century people
Took it all away from me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Not the Size That Counts

I was thrilled when I noticed that the Kinks Chronological album listen at the Ray Davies Forum had reserved a day for Percy. You are probably asking yourself "why on earth" I would care about a soundtrack album that was never released on LP in the US and is half full of mediocre instrumentals. Well let me tell you - I consider the non-instrumentals on Percy to be every bit as wonderful as the songs from the Kinks 1966-69 glory years.

Check out Holly Hughes' assessment of The Way Love Used To Be. Or Animals In The Zoo to hear the next installment after Apeman of Ray Davies' Jamaican voice. Or the lovely Moments in which Dave turns in a short guitar solo in the style of Abbey Road period George Harrison.

But the real deal here is God's Children. Considering that it was the theme song for a forgotten film about the first penis transplant (really I kid you not), it is quite amazing that the studio actually placed the song in the movie. As it takes a diametrically opposed view to any sort of organ transplant. Regardless of one's religious beliefs, there is no denying that the melody is of the first order of loveliness. And Ray's singing is so emotive and impassioned that I have no doubt that he meant every word.

"'Cause we are all God's children
And he got no right to change us
Oh, we gotta go back the way the good lord made us all"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Little man's weak and big man's strong

Even when his is pissed off, Ray Davies can be hilarious. And he was very po'd when he wrote many of the songs on Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One. Mostly ticked at big business, especially the record biz (more on that in a minute). Granted there are some warm and lovely songs here, including a beauty written by Dave - Strangers - and Ray's touching but subtle warning to his brother - A Long Way From Home. And of course there is Lola, which resurrected The Kinks career and proved without a doubt that Ray is the king of the 45 rpm single. Too bad that the glory days of top 40 radio were already on the wane.

The success of Ray's little ode to a transvestite resulted in his pithy recount of its effects in Top Of the Pops. His anger reaches even deeper in The Moneygoround, which includes his astute observation:

"Everyone take a little bit here and a little bit there
Do they all deserve money from a song that they've never heard
They don't know the tune and they don't know the words
But they don't give a damn"

The song could have been an ultimate downer if not for the cheery musical hall treatment that turns the anger into one of the funniest songs in the Kinks career.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Put on your slippers and sit by the fire

It is hard to believe that day seven of The Kinks album-a-day listen-a-thon is already here. Just around the corner the band will morph into something quite different, but on today's listen they melded the top notch songwriting of their last three LPs with a return to being a real rock'n'roll band. Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire was released in October 1969, with John Dalton replacing original member Peter Quaife on bass. This would be the first of several personnel changes soon to come. It was written for a never televised UK TV movie, and ushered in a return to the charts after The Village Green Preservation Society sadly managed to miss any chart in the known universe.

From the very first seconds it is clear that the guitar is back. Finally given the opportunity, Dave Davies' guitar work matures considerably. No longer dependent on power chords, his guitar lines becomes a counterpoint to the melody throughout the album. Along with a judicious and tasteful use of a horn section this album takes on a ruddy glow.

It turns out that Ray Davies had more than one masterpiece (Waterloo Sunset) in him. Shangri-La starts with a stunningly gorgeous melody to acoustic guitar accompaniment, soon augmented by a harpsichord and Dave's lovely high harmony vocal, and then by a lovely horn countermelody. The chorus arrives and builds with the band wailing "Shangri-La" as if their lives depended upon it. Then an amazing rockier section intrudes, with descending bass line a'la Sunny Afternoon, and Ray laying it out to the masses exactly why "Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la". With the truth about the bourgeois lifestyle laid bare, the chorus section returns with a renewed vigor. The final stanzas are delivered in an all-out fury with the most ferocious drumming that Mick Avory had ever laid down on a Kinks LP.

The second embedded video is Ray's first ever live performance of Shangri-La from 2007. Given the Phil Spector treatment with an army of musicians, it bears up beautifully to the production.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Four More Respected Gentlemen

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. It is a mouthful. And on plenty of days, my favorite LP of all time. By anyone. Thirteen of its fifteen songs clock in at under three minutes. The full flowering of Ray Davies' melodicism runs rampant throughout. Never again would his muse maintain such a consistently high level of songwriting (the pleasures of the next LP to come notwithstanding). Mr. Davies pulled a rabbit of a hat for TVGPS, for the songs were cobbled together from a solo project and the aborted Kink's LP Four More Respected Gentlemen. I have always wondered if those four distinguished Gentlemen went by the names of Quaife, Davies, Avory, and Davies.

If one includes the two splendid Kinks singles A sides released in 1968 - Wonderboy and Days - Mr. Davies gives the Beatles and the Rolling Stones their fiercest competition in that incredible year of music. But make no mistake, The Kinks at this point are about as far from a rock and roll band as they will ever get. The focus here is on the past, things that no longer exist, and our attempts to recall that past via memories and photographs. Ray Davies was fighting to keep that past alive. And I suppose that by writing about it, I attempt to do the same.

If you do not own TVGPS in some media format, shame on you. But since I know you do, go listen. There is a wonderful live performance of Last of the Steam-Powered Trains and Picture Book on YouTube, but alas no embedding. Just click the link.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise

Something Else is a great album, no doubt about it. As Who Am Us Anyway mentioned in yesterday's comments , Death Of A Clown is Dave Davies' one-of-a-kind masterpiece. As much as I love it and David Watts, and frankly nearly every song here, the album itself is overshadowed by its finale. Waterloo Sunset is such a pinnacle, I cannot even attempt to describe it.

There are a number of fine live Ray Davies video performances from over the years. Even in later years his voice is still tender. But I decided to embed Terry Reid's shattering club performance, with Waddy Wachtel's churning guitar. Mr. Reid channels Laurence Olivier's Archie Rice from The Entertainer. A song as great as this deserves a bravura performance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

No one can penetrate me

Ray Davies first foray into East Indian music was See My Friends, the A-side of a 45-rpm single released by The Kinks in July 1965. It coupled a haunting melody with a simple, sad lyric whose subject of loneliness would be explored more fully in 1967 with Waterloo Sunset.

Fancy from 1966's Face To Face uses an even more exotic instrumentation and melody. The first verse is accompanied by two acoustic stringed instruments (guitar & ?), then at the 0:55 mark percussion instruments come aboard. No other song in the Kinks Kanon sounds at all like it. The lyrics are more difficult to decipher. Mr. Davies becomes opaque, and in the process tells us more about human nature in one short stanza than a lesser songwriter could with an entire LP.

"My love is like a ruby that no one can see,
Only my fancy, always.
No one can penetrate me,
They only see what's in their own fancy, always."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I've got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell

Holly Hughes and a bunch of Kink's Kooks at the Ray Davies Forum are listening to one Kinks (UK) album per day, in chronological order. They started on November 1st, and today they are listening to The Kink Kontroversy. See Holly's post at The Song In My Head Today.

Because my Kinks LP collection consists of the US releases I waited until today to join them, as from this point forward the UK and US albums contain virtually the same tracks. The Kink Kontroversy is also an entry point for what I consider to be the Kinks run of five consecutive studio LPs that are essential to any rock collection, along with The Kink Kronikles which collects all their exquisite 45 rpm only singles along with a few outstanding album tracks. The newer CDs include these singles A and B sides on the LP from the same period.

Till the End of the Day is the single that was pulled from today's LP. A great song that bridges the gap between their early guitar-riff oriented songs and the new direction they would take after this LP. But for sheer listening pleasure I'm On an Island is the song that grabs me and won't let go.

More so than most rock singers, Ray Davies sings with a vast array of inflections, and when he forces out the words "I'm..On..An..Island" I cannot help but smile and chuckle. The unusual calypso beat and hilarious entry of the cowbell take this song to a whole new level. Ray moans wistfully that "my girl left me behind. She said that I'm not her kind" but hoping against hope "there is nowhere else on Earth I'd rather be, than if my long, lost little girl was here with me". The island in question is no doubt an analogy to the lonely state of his heart, so setting the song to a Caribbean beat not only deflects the pain of his loss but creates one of the finest happy tune/sad lyrics pop songs of the 60s.