Saturday, June 29, 2013


THC knows that many of its dedicated readers have asked themselves at one time or another, "Hey, what were The Kinks up to during the four years between their early success (1964-66) and the 1970 resurgence triggered by the hit single Lola and the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One?"  Well, here's your answer!

The Kinks, formed by brothers Ray (chief songwriter and vocalist) and Dave (guitarist) Davies, quickly achieved success as part of the British Invasion of 1964.  Their first hit, You Really Got Me, featured simple lyrics, a frenzied, spastic guitar solo and is considered by some to be THE seminal punk rock song.  Later in the year came their second hit, All Day And All Of The Night, essentially a reworked version of You Really Got Me.  In early 1965, they had a third straight hit single, Tired Of Waiting For You, a quieter, more reflective song.  All three singles reached the US Top 10 and two topped the charts in the UK.

After a couple of relatively unsuccessful releases, The Kinks found themselves with another hit in late 1965, A Well Respected Man, marking their move into social commentary followed by a less successful release, Till The End Of The Day (although it remains one of my favorites of the early singles).  The next single, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, was a hit and a return to the social mode of A Well Respected Man.   Then, in July 1966 came the wonderful Sunny Afternoon, a success in the U.S. and  knocking The Beatles' Paperback Writer off the top of the charts in the U.K.: 

The tax man's taken all my dough,
And left me in my stately home,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can't sail my yacht,
He's taken everything I've got,
All I've got's this sunny afternoon.

My girlfriend's run off with my car,
And gone back to her ma and pa,
Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.
Now I'm sitting here,
Sipping at my ice cold beer,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
What made it even better was the B-side, I'm Not Like Everybody Else (originally written by Ray Davies for The Animals who did not record it), the perfect song for young rebels and a staple of Kinks concerts for years, covered by many other groups and even used over the closing credits of an episode of The Sopranos.

I won't take all that they hand me down,
And make out a smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won't take it all lying down,
'Cause once I get started I go to town.

 But darling, you know that I love you true,
Do anything that you want me to,
Confess all my sins like you want me to,
There's one thing that I will say to you,
I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else.

Ray Davies
Then The Kinks disappeared from U.S. radio and touring.  Why?  First, their songwriting became out of touch with the US scene and more rooted in their "Englishness" (for more, see below).  Second, the well-known contrariness of the band, and particularly of the Davies brothers.  They knew what was expected of them if they were to continue to have U.S. hits and they refused to deliver it.   And finally, the band was "banned" from touring in the U.S. during those years.  It's hard to pin down the specific reasons for the ban but the most common story is that the American Federation of Musicians refused to issue the necessary permits due to their rowdy behavior on and off stage (yes, they were indeed very rowdy, including with each other as the Davies brothers engaged in fisticuffs with each other onstage).

We American fans were left to wander in the desert.  While the band could not chart any U.S. singles in those years (and you could rarely hear them even on the newly born FM-radio band), they had a string of chart successes in the UK, including four Top 5 hits and once a year they would release a marvelous album that we could play over and over again.

In the latter part of 1966 came Face To Face which, along with Sunny Afternoon, contained snappy songs like Dandy (which became a hit for Herman's Hermits) and Party Line.  At the same time, The Kinks released Deadend Street, a U.K. smash and a U.S. flop, a catchy pop tune about folks with no prospects and no hope.

1967 saw the release of Something Else, a collection of "little England" songs permeated by a sense of class punctuated with lugubrious dissipation, featuring standouts such as David Watts (about the finest boy in school), Harry Rag (about smoking) and the languid End Of The Season ("I get no kicks walking down Saville Row, there's no chicks left where the green grass grows"; "You're on a yacht near an island in Greece, though you are hot forget me not"), along with three remarkable U.K. hit singles.  The first was the beautiful Waterloo Sunset, the finest song ever done by the band.

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don't need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don't want to wander
I stay at home at night
But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine

Millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise

Waterloo sunset's fine
Next up was Dave Davies' solo single, Death Of A Clown, a tale of a disintegrating and chaotic circus:

My makeup is dry and it cakes on my chin
I'm drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin
The lion tamer's whip doesn't crack anymore
The lions they won't fight and the tigers won't roar

The old fortune teller lies dead on the floor
Nobody needs fortunes told anymore
The trainer of insects is crouched on his knees
And frantically looking for runaway fleas

So let's all drink to the death of a clown.
Dave Davies

The final hit was Autumn Almanac.  Here are some of the lyrics but you can only appreciate the true lunacy of this very funny oddball song by listening to it.

From the dew-soaked hedge creeps a crawly caterpillar,
When the dawn begins to crack.
It's all part of my autumn almanac.
Breeze blows leaves of a musty-coloured yellow,
So I sweep them in my sack.
Yes, yes, yes, it's my autumn almanac.

I like my football on a Saturday,
Roast beef on Sundays, all right.
I go to Blackpool for my holidays,
Sit in the open sunlight.

This is my street, and I'm never gonna to leave it,
And I'm always gonna to stay here
If I live to be ninety-nine,
'Cause all the people I meet
Seem to come from my street
And I can't get away,
Because it's calling me, (come on home)

In 1968 The Kinks became even more of an acquired taste with the release of  The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, with the band boldly stakeing its claim to "the old ways are the best ways".  The title song said it best and with wit:
We are the village green preservation society
God save donald duck, vaudeville and variety
We are the Desperate Dan appreciation society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do
We are the draught beer preservation society
God save mrs. mopp and good old mother riley
We are the custard pie appreciation consortium
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them
We are the sherlock holmes english speaking vernacular
Help save fu manchu, moriarty and dracula

We are the office block persecution affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the skyscraper condemnation affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do
God save the village green.
The record also contained Picture Book, featured in a recent Hewlett Packard commercial.  The album sold very poorly outside the U.K., but over the decades has become the best-selling of all the original Kinks albums, inspiring Ray Davies to call it the "most successful flop of all time".

That year also saw another hit single, the melancholic Days ("Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me, I'm thinking of the days, I won't forget a single day, believe me")

The final album of this glorious four year run was Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).
Arthur was written as a concept album for a TV production which never materialized.  It tells the story of a family from the height of the empire (Victoria) through WWI, emigration of family members to Australia, the privations of WWII (the rocking Mr Churchill Says) and of the immediate post-war years (She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina).  The highlight is Shangri-La, (the link takes you to a live version of Ray Davies performing the song several years ago), a wistful reflection on these years and the lives settled for.
Now that you've found your paradise
This is your Kingdom to command
You can go outside and polish your car
Or sit by the fire in your Shangri-la
Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la

With Lola, The Kinks again found success in the U.S. and continued to have occasional popular hits into the mid-1980s with some terrific songs (Celluloid Heroes, Father Christmas, Come Dancing, Do It Again and others which deserve their own post cause this one is already way too long) and were a good touring draw into the 1990s until Ray and Dave's quarreling finally broke up the band.  Over the course of their career The Kinks turned out more high-quality, melodic pop songs than any other band except The Beatles.  THC was fortunate to attend two of their shambolic concerts in the early 1970s but our favorite period remains the "lost years" of 1966-69.


  1. Odd title. FABULOUS post. I got into the Kinks in the mid-80s, at the height of the retro-british invasion, when neon was all the rage. Neon is back, but sadly some of the great music (some horrible, too) that accompanied its first go-around in the 80s has not returned...

  2. Music and your narrative brought me back, loved it. dm