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.


Holly A Hughes said...

I still get chills up my spine when I hear that choral version of Shangri-La.

Lovely post. You might want to check out what I wrote about "Shangri-La" a couple years ago:

That "put on your slippers and sit by the fire" line -- I don't know why it's so poignant, but it goes right to the heart, doesn't it?

Holly A Hughes said...

BTW, we have decided to take Sundays off throughout the Kinksathon -- so don't get ahead of us!

Mister Pleasant said...

Howdy Holly. I saw the posting on the Ray Davies forum about the day off, and I am glad for the break. Although it has been a wonderful week of listening for sure. Now we can all get recharged and ready for the next set.

Just read your post on "Shangri-La"... and as usual you offer more insight into Ray's lyrics than any number of biographers and critics. I agree with you that his point is not a put down - he does identify with the "you" referenced throughout the lyrics. That's what gives them so much power, and why it frankly scares me a bit, putting it all into context with the current economic mess that we are all intertwined within at some level.

Vivalabeat said...

Wow! Another great blog on the great music. :)

I've read your posts on the Kinks songs. It's good that there's someone else participating in our marathon. :)

I love Shangri-la to bits and I really enjoyed reading this post.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Well said, Mr. P! Well said, Holly A!

And you guys think you can empathize with the little man now? Lemme tell you, just wait till you pass the 50-year-old mark!

Because yeah, both aspects of post mid-life crisis get hit hard in Shangri-La. The dull realization that you are never going to accomplish x,y,&Z after all. And then the realization that even the social contract that said, you give up your dreams, we'll give you a steady job & a pension, is no longer operative.

After all this, you do need worry, you do need care. And you STILL owe 7 shillings a week.

How Ray saw all this when he was but a kid, I dunno. It's astonishing. Only a handful of young artists can envision the life cycle with any real understanding. Hank Williams could do it. Dylan could do it. Ray could do it.

And Holly i loved your blog's point re the cinematic aspects of pulling the Shangri-La camera back for a wide, swooping shot of all the houses in the street. That's exactly what happens here but I hadn't ever put my finger on it before.

Also, also: Two great vids, Mr. P. The 2007 live show especially is a tremendous find -- thanks for posting it.

Mister Pleasant said...

Welcome Vivalabeat, and I am glad that you enjoyed the post. Every time I listen to Shangri-La I love it more.

Who Am Us Anyway - I must confess to also being past the half century mark. You hit the nail on the head regarding the change for the worse since that day in 1969 when Ray wrote Shangri-La. Even the little crumbs that could be expected in that day are no longer there. The safety net is gone.

And indeed, how did Ray Davies understand the world so clearly when he was just a lad in his early twenties? It is almost as if he had an old soul inhabiting his body.