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The Kinks

Arguably the fourth biggest Brit invasion outfit outside The BEATLES, The ROLLING STONES and The WHO, Muswell Hill’s finest export The KINKS were the darlings of London’s fashion-conscious pop gentry. For over three decades, the band were responsible for a raft of hits (from `You Really Got Me’ in the 60s to `Come Dancing’ in the 80s), while quintessential-Anglo albums were their stock-in-trade.
Spotlighting singer-songwriter/guitarist Ray Davies, his younger brother Dave (on lead guitar), bassist Peter Quaife and drummer Mick Avory (who superseded Mickey Willet), the quartet found managers Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, a producer Shel Talmy (from the States), a contract at Pye Records through Larry Page and changed their moniker from The Ravens to The KINKS – all during a relatively short space of time in the latter half of 1963.
But things didn’t go to plan at first; the group’s first two platters (a cover of Ernie Johnson’s `Long Tall Sally’ and Davies’s own `You Still Want Me’) toting-up little sales. However, when third 45 `You Really Got Me’ was issued, things took a dramatic upsurge as the record stormed the top spot in the UK, while it cracked the US Top 10 having inked a deal with Reprise. With its scuzzy, propulsive R&B guitar riff, the song is oft cited as one of the first real “heavy rock” records, although it’s debatable whether spokesman Ray would admit to inspiring a multitude of poodle-maned VAN HALEN sound-a-likes.
With a formulaic approach not unlike their aforementioned Brit Invasion counterparts and inspired by top American R&B acts and pensmith Talmy himself, mainman Ray fleshed out his own compositions (including `Stop Your Sobbing’, a future PRETENDERS hit) with several cover versions on their debut long-player THE KINKS (1964) {*6} – re-titled in the US as YOU REALLY GOT ME. CHUCK BERRY took credit for two tracks `Beautiful Delilah’ and `Too Much Monkey Business’, while further covers came via BO DIDDLEY (`Cadillac’), SLIM HARPO (`Got Love If You Want It’), Don Covay (`Long Tall Shorty’), J.D. Miller (`I’m A Lover Not A Fighter’) and a couple by Talmy.
A subsequent succession of top flight classic-rock hits flooded the market from then on in, `All Day And All Of The Night’, second UK chart-topper `Tired Of Waiting For You’, `Set Me Free’, `See My Friend’ and `Till The End Of The Day’ being the most memorable. Not counting rushed out American add-on LPs KINKS-SIZE {*5} and KINKDOM {*6}, these singles made their on to further sets, namely Top 10 movers KINDA KINKS {*5} – featuring covers of MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS’ `Dancing In The Street’ – and THE KINK KONTROVERSY {*7}; the latter opening with Sleepy John Estes `Milk Cow Blues’. Yes, 1965 was certainly and busy year for the boys as they churned out records to order on a conveyor-belt system that suited only their highly-paid executives. The bubble was to burst on their American leg of their tour as arguments among the band (mainly from the siblings) came to a head, culminating in their ban from returning to the country for four years – no reason was given at the time.
The consequence of this was obviously hard on the band, and the results were clear the following year as only really `A Well Respected Man’ (not issued in the UK), `Till The End Of The Day’, `Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’ and `Sunny Afternoon’ – all major bullets in Britain, made their mark across the big pond. Album number four (if one dismisses the first of many exploitation but quality chart collections by way of WELL RESPECTED MAN), FACE TO FACE (1966) {*8} was a brave attempt at a concept record, a fanciful Carnaby Street timepiece that was rich in texture as it was playfully raucous; prime examples stemming from `Dandy’, `Rosy Won’t You Please Come Home’, `Party Line’, `Rainy Day In June’ and `Most Exclusive Residence For Sale’.
As Ray’s songwriting developed, The KINKS moved to a quieter, more reflective sound, his camp, semi-detached vocals complementing the wry class observations and quintessential Englishness of the lyrical and literate themes. Come 1967, when every band worth their weight in spiked sugar-cubes were looking towards the “East”, Davies looked no further than his proverbial back garden. Arriving on the back of three UK Top 5 smashes `Dead End Street’, `Waterloo Sunset’ and `Autumn Almanac’, SOMETHING ELSE (1967) {*8} – with its heartfelt eulogies to a mythical England past – still stands as the KINKS’ greatest moment, the aching melancholy of the aforementioned `Waterloo Sunset’ its crowning glory; JAM fans might also want to check out opening salvo `David Watts’ before praising the merits of WELLER and Co too much. A little folky and baroque in its vignette ballads and DYLAN-esque ditties (DAVE DAVIES’ solo Top 3 smash `Death Of A Clown’ was one such cue), The KINKS’ kitchen-sink dramas of sentiment and whimsy were obvious on `Lazy Old Sun’, `Tin Soldier Man’, `Funny Face’ and the Noel Coward-like `End Of The Season’. One can’t then understand its lowly-placed scrape into the UK Top 40, fans settling for another exploitation set SUNNY AFTERNOON (1967) and a second DAVE DAVIES Top 20 hit `Susannah’s Still Alive’ instead; the guitarist’s solo set was mooted but subsequently shelved until much later. Shortly afterwards, The KINKS delivered a predictable and rough concert piece via LIVE AT KELVIN HALL (1968) {*4}; the roaring Glasgow fans winning the noise battle by a country mile.
Brother Ray’s nostalgic bent continued on 1968’s THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY {*9}, an enchanting concept album that reached ever further into a faded history of rural simplicity – but not the pop-centric charts. While omitting recent hits `Wonderboy’ and `Days’ (later procured by KIRSTY MacCOLL), the classic set also included the band’s sole dalliance with psychedelia in `Wicked Annabella’, a Brothers Grimm-like fairy-tale come nightmare fantasy. Sketched out by its four opening numbers `The Village Green Preservation Society’, `Do You Remember Walter?’, `Picture Book’ and `Johnny Thunder’, the record was unceremoniously disregarded by the band’s flailing fanbase, only to be checked out again when they raised their popularity bar again in the early 70s. `Big Sky’, `Animal Farm’ and the almost baroque `Village Green’ are also worth the admission price, but be warned there are a few bubblegum sidesteps. Following on from a dismal time commercially (only `Plastic Man’ breeched the Top 40), Quaife bailed out and was replaced by John Dalton.
Ray Davies’ lyrical obsessions were given centre stage once more on the similarly-fated/feted ARTHUR (OR THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE) (1969) {*8}, wherein the rosy hue of the past was contrasted with the grey decline of modern day Britain. An equal to “The Village Green” in many respects, its song-cycle formula was about one young man’s emigration to Australia after WWII, pre-dating the basic conceptual leanings of ROGER WATERS in his later solo works. Kicking off with a rare Top 40 entry, `Victoria’ (very CANNED HEAT and a hit some 17 years later for The FALL), most fans if pushed would settle for listening to the pastoral `Shangri-la’, the 6-minute `Australia’, `Yes Sir, No Sir’ and the eponymous closer `Arthur’.
The mood lightened somewhat with a follow-on UK No.2 hit single, `Lola’, a classy tongue-in-cheek tribute to a male cross-dresser and the standout track from parent album LOLA VERSUS POWERMAN AND THE MONEYGOROUND, PART ONE (1970) {*6}, both restoring faith with their American audience. Loosely conceptual (as per usual), there were acerbic digs at publishers (`Denmark Street’), former managers (`The Moneygoround’), label executives (`Powerman’) and the media sniping (`Top Of The Pops’), while standing proudly among the dozen songs was of course the irreverent through Top 5 UK novelty-type hit `Apeman’ alongside Dave’s paranoiac B-side `Rats’.
If there’s a general critical consensus at all on The KINKS, it’s that they stretched the vaudevillian barriers on soundtrack PERCY (1971) {*6}, a cheeky movie about a man’s private part without er… taking the proverbial piss. Not since `Waterloo Sunset’ had Davies nursed the inconsolable nostalgia in his soul as candidly as he did on `Moments’ and `The Way Love Used To Be’, pitching those quavering, crone-coy vocals into the embrace of acoustic guitar and orchestral tragedy. Strange kinds of love songs like these deserved a better context than a half-cocked tale of penis envy but, well, that’s showbusiness for you. As a title theme, the sublime `God’s Children’ was even less in tune with the film, preaching humanist wisdom and ramshackle harmony. It should’ve followed `Lola’ into the Top 10 (at a push; `Dreams’ could’ve done the same), but – given Percy’s contract-filling status and Pye’s relative disinterest – it was
a flop when er… released. The instrumental `Lola’ re-tread featured here might be regarded as more filler than killer, but it makes the grade with some scything lead guitar work, cheesy organ and a brass coda fanfare, while the BO DIDDLEY-beat(en) `Animals In The Zoo’ is a funkier, more cynical reprise of the universalist themes of `God’s Children’.
A much-needed move to R.C.A. Records (and the addition of keyboards player John Gosling) for 1971’s MUSWELL HILLBILLIES {*7}, Ray and Co echoed The Village Green’s collection of storybook vignettes, although the band were beginning to lose their focus and the hits were about to dry up. The passing of The BEATLES and with the majority of outfits from all over getting on a BANDwagonesque country-rock blues, one could see the appeal at the time of `Holiday’, `Uncle Son’, `Oklahoma U.S.A.’ and closer `Muswell Hillbilly, but Ray couldn’t escape his English barroom savvy via `Holloway Jail’, `Alcohol’ and `20th Century Man’.
Although received better Stateside, the part-studio/part-live double-set EVERYBODY’S IN SHOW-BIZ (1972) {*5} was a record that broke the camel’s back commercially for The KINKS, and at a time when they scored another UK Top 20 entry in `Supersonic Rocket Ship’. Sounding decidedly drunk and portraying a band at odds with the evolving times, there were at least pieces of greatness in `Celluloid Heroes’, but not for misguided concert debacle covers of `Banana Boat Song’ and `Baby Face’; the audience basically sang the `Lola’ mantra here.
The KINKS then became bogged down in an ambitious concept album and self-parody (split due to record company pressure) on the introspective and theatrical PRESERVATION ACT 1 (1973) {*5} and PRESERVATION ACT 2 (1974) {*3}. A misguided musical in most of its misshapen nostalgic novellas, Ray’s “Village Green” characters had become somewhat cliched and tedious, but there were bits and pieces to interest the listener by way of `Daylight’, `Sweet Lady Genevieve’ (on-that-got-away) and `Sitting In The Midday Sun’; American single `Preservation’ sounds very riff-tastic `Wishing Well’ (by FREE) – but who was first?
The second act double expanded the story beyond self-indulgence and into a musical mire. This is the point most fans drifted into prog or hard-rock, realizing The KINKS were taking them down a sort of sprawling dead end street as projected in further grandiose AOR (“American” Orientated Rock) album projects SOAP OPERA (1975) {*3} and SCHOOLBOYS IN DISGRACE (1975) {*4}.
While the band were virtually ignored in Old Blighty, the band still had a sizeable following Stateside (one is baffled why), hitting the US Top 30 with another rock’n’roll pastiche set SLEEPWALKER (1977) {*6}; their record label Arista insisted they steer clear of the out-of-date concept sets and getting back to basics. Songs such as the hit title track, `Juke Box Music’ and `Life Goes On’ re-established the one-time great outfit and it all paid off as they moved into the mainstream arena-rock field.
With seasoned bassist Andy Pyle finally replacing Dalton, MISFITS (1978) {*7} – featuring US Top 30 hit `A Rock’n’Roll Fantasy’ – was another to take even higher on the literate ladder of success, but further personnel shuffles (ex-PRETTY THINGS’ Gordon Edwards for Gosling, and former ARGENT man Jim Rodford for Pyle), left a somewhat uneasy feeling that The KINKS were still on a sticky wicket. The release of the harder rocking LOW BUDGET (1979) {*6} put paid to any misgivings as the band were embraced fully by the US rock fraternity, hitching a lucrative ride on the stadium rock circuit as well as gaining a sizeable piece of chart action through topical songs like `(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman’.
Having avoided a live document since their dismal efforts in ’67 and `72 (albeit slightly lower key), The KINKS kicked off the 80s with a double set of worldly routes songs on the average ONE FOR THE ROAD {*5} – a sort of “greatest trips”. While the early 80s albums GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT (1981) {*5} and STATE OF CONFUSION (1983) {*5} were competent, albeit largely uninspired, the Americans lapped them up and the band even found themselves back in the UK and US Top 20 with the mirror-ball music-hall `Come Dancing’ single; the follow-up hit `Don’t Forget To Dance’ (sounding rather GELDOF in places) was a rather sedate number than the title suggested.
With WORD OF MOUTH (1984) – showcasing their last US Top 50 hit `Do It Again’ – and THINK VISUAL (1986) {*4}, The KINKS once again descended into inconsistency and commercial wilderness, their live shows being the sole factor in keeping the KINKS’ spirit intact, although many fans would think another live representation THE ROAD (1988) {*3} – with nothing from their 60s heritage – a trip too far.
Going through the motions by way of UK JIVE (1989) {*3}, the band had lost its sense of purpose, although Dave for one had his say in the state of Old Blighty through his paean to the Thatcher-ite (nay wrong) government in `Dear Margaret’. The anaemic anthem `Down All The Days (Till 1992)’ was poignant in the fact that that’s how long it took the band to get around to signing another record deal (this time with Columbia) and release what was to become their swan song studio set, PHOBIA (1993) {*3}. The live TO THE BONE (1994) {*6} gave the kids (that’d slightly grown up by now) what they wanted, a testimonial that “unplugged” and un-plucked several greats from their 60s heyday, with a few pop-pickers from more recent times. Fast forward to 1995 when BLUR were riding high on the Britpop wave with their heavily KINKS-influenced Parklife album. To many senior citizen KINKS fans it was overrated and trailing in the band’s shadows, although the album’s success nevertheless gave BLUR mainman DAMON ALBARN the opportunity to express his admiration for his hero RAY DAVIES and perform a poignant TV duet with the great man on `Waterloo Sunset’; he also revived `Lola’ on a post-millennium soundtrack to `101 Reykjavik’. This renewed interest also resulted in a TV documentary on the KINKS and a solo tour by RAY DAVIES, who was about to unleash his version of To The Bone by way of his `Storytellers’ VH1 project; DAVE DAVIES would also resume his long-shelved solo career.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/BG-GRD/LCS // rev-up MCS Dec2011

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