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Ray Davies

The quintessential and archetypal English singer-songwriter, RAY DAVIES (born Raymond Douglas Davies, 21st June 1944 in Muswell Hill, London) was of course the main man behind 60s Brit invasion outfit The KINKS. Together with his younger brother DAVE DAVIES (who’d carved out a solo career long before him), Ray and his band were responsible for such truly wonderful creations from `You Really Got Me’ (a UK chart-topper in 1964), `Waterloo Sunset’ and `Lola’. But throughout the 70s and 80s (apart from massive appeal in the States), The KINKS descended into inconsistency and a commercial wilderness, their live shows being the sole factor in keeping the band’s spirit intact. Divorced twice, Ray was beau to the PRETENDERS’ Chrissie Hynde for a time in the early 80s and had one child (Natalie; born in 1983) before they split and she found solace in SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr.
Having unsuccessfully ventured with his KINKS into soundtrack land with the controversial `Percy’ in 1971, RAY DAVIES’ initial foray into screenwriting/directorial solo work came via RETURN TO WATERLOO (1985) {*5}, at first something of a KINKS catalogue oddity, released only in the States. Virtually a KINKS album in all but name/billing (with seasoned musicians Ian Gibbons on keyboards, Jim Rodford on bass and drummers Bob Henrit and Mick Avory) there’s nothing of the calibre of the underrated `Percy’, especially in the ballad department. But – as with `Come Dancing’ (a comeback hit for the band) – DAVIES occasionally manages to square his urban nostalgia with synth-padded studio ethics, most successfully on `Going Solo’ (previously heard – along with `Missing Persons’ and the punk-y `Sold Me Out’ – on 1984’s `Word Of Mouth’ album). Even then, though, what stands out is the message rather than the music, chafing against the tawdry reality of Thatcher’s Britain on the likes of `Expectations’ and other ditties. The soundtrack’s most perversely enjoyable moment (and definitely its most memorable) is actually the end title, `Voices In The Dark’; buttery 80s pop which – unwittingly or otherwise – congeals ELO and OMD; it’s outrageously dated but it fits his reedy voice like a fingerless glove. Cautiously recommended for DAVIES diehard disciples. Duly maintaining his movie manifesto via Julien Temple’s star-studded 1986 Brit-flick Absolute Beginners (Ray took the role of “Arthur” next to actors BOWIE, Patsy Kensit and a raft of pop cameos), a DAVIES flop 45 `Quiet Life’ emerged from the musical fracas.
Back to his day-job as kingpin of The KINKS, the 90s were going nowhere fast for the band, there final curtain call `Phobia’ (1993) only just managing to crack the US Top 200; they split a few years later. Inspired by the promotional tour he undertook after the release of his semi-fictional X-Ray novel, the man’s concert album to finally accompany his move into the literati, THE STORYTELLER (1998) {*7}, was an inspiration for the VH1 series to come. The record’s appeal lay in its witty, intimate dialogue revealing the often amusing stories behind the songs – many of which were culled from The KINKS’ back catalogue (`Victoria’, `Tired Of Waiting’ and `Set Me Free’ among the best on show).
Becoming something of a figurehead in the 90s courtesy of the lavish praise that Brit-pop people such as BLUR and PULP laid on him, Ray popped up with new material in 2006, releasing OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES {*6} to general critical acclaim and Top 40 success. Documenting all the human folly and life-affirming minutiae he’d observed in the decade since the aforementioned `Phobia’ (including being shot in the leg by muggers in New Orleans while out and about early 2004), and still wrestling with his warring impulses of sympathy and contempt, the record confirmed DAVIES as Britain’s most enduring social chronicler.
If one was expecting a long wait until his studio follow-up then one would’ve been surprised by the relatively rush-released WORKING MAN’S CAFÉ (2007) {*7}, a record spoiled by its unique promotional supplement freebie given to readers of the Sunday Times. The album itself was a well-crafted set of reflective songs, including pick of the litter `Vietnam Cowboys’, `Morphine Song’ and `Peace In Our Time’.
On the back of a UK Top 30 retro/classically-derived album (with the Crouch End Festival Chorus) THE KINKS CHORAL COLLECTION (2009) {*5}, DAVIES took the opportunity of putting together his ambitious duet set, SEE MY FRIENDS (2010) {*6}. Garnering a splendid alumni of rock and pop music celebrities such as BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, METALLICA, MUMFORD & SONS, Gary Lightbody (of SNOW PATROL) and the BON JOVI two, there were plenty of past KINKS nuggets for old (and new) fans to get their teeth into, although it must be said the majority of the “best of” tracks were penned with his sparring partner/brother Dave – OASIS eat your heart out.
Together with country rock band The JAYHAWKS, stoic storyteller RAY DAVIES looked to over the Atlantic a la inspiration for 2017’s AMERICANA {*8}; an album and a book. Critics and fans alike were more or less in simpatico as it cracked the UK Top 20; in the States it stalled at No.79. Not exactly a song cycle concept, but a series of vignettes (the closest thing to “The Village Green Preservation Society” for yonks/Yanks), one could debate on its best bits; start at the opening title track, `Poetry’, `Rock ‘N’ Roll Cowboys’ and `The Great Highway’.
The need then for a companion piece sequel was debateable, but relative commercial flop OUR COUNTRY: AMERICANA act II (2018) {*6} had its moments for recently-knighted Sir Ray. The States seen through the lens of a Londoner, maybe our country cousins could appreciate England’s fascination with this promised land gone wrong. Thankfully, modern-days politics took a back-seat and in its place something akin to a US history lesson and the emergence of the British Invasion (i.e. The KINKS et al); `The Invaders’, `Back In The Day’, `Oklahoma USA’ and onwards to `Muswell Kills’, Ray seemed to be having fun on this hoedown hootenanny of sorts.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Dec2011-Sep2018

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