Friday, April 25, 2008

The Kinks In The 70's

The Kinks were one of the most innovative bands of the British invasion era, but were (and still are) overlooked in almost every way, especially their songwriting abilities and influence on the future of Rock And Roll. The so-called ‘Holy Trinity’ of British rock (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who) have been lauded as pioneers,and rightfully so, but where’s the love for the Kinks who put out just as many, if not more great albums during their existance?

The band released 10 LP’s between the years 1964-1969, seven of which were full blown classics, containing such songs as ‘Well Respected Man’, ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, ‘All Day and All Of The Night’, ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Till The End Of The Day’, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, the absolutely gorgeous ’Waterloo Sunset’, ’David Watts’, ’Death Of A Clown’ and ’Victoria’, to name but a mere few.

I mean, come on! I’ll put those songs, and many other album tracks, up against anything by the ’Holy Trinity’. Well…at least the Who and The Stones. Don’t get me wrong, the Stones and the Who were great bands, but the Who hasn’t put out anything earth shattering since 1978 (Who Are You) and the last interesting album the Stones did was Tattoo You, released in 1980. The 1970’s made these two bands superstars of the frickin’ galaxy, and while the kinks had their 5 minutes in the majors they never really received the wide spread acclaim and long lasting adoration that they so rightfully deserved.

I don’t want to go on too long about this, but I do want to try to encourage you to sink your teeth into some of the best forgotten rock and roll ever laid to wax. Start with the 60’s stuff, if you’re not familiar, but don’t write off the 70’s. Like many ’Classic’ 60’s artists (Bob Dylan, The Who, The Stones, etc etc) the albums they released during that decade were spotty but contained some really, REALLY good tracks!

Here’s my own FAVORITE KINKS SONGS FROM THE 1970’S list, but start wherever you want. It’s well worth the diggin’!

Underneath The Neon Sign and Everybody’s A Star from “A Soap Opera”
Life Goes On, Stormy Sky, Juke Box Music and Mr. Big Man from “Sleepwalker”
The First Time We Fell In Love, Education and Schooldays from “Schoolboys In Disgrace”
Nobody Gives and Preservation from “Preservation Act”
Complicated Life, Muswell Hillbillies and Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues from “Muswell Hillbillies”
Misfits, Out Of The Wardrobe, Rock & Roll Fantasy, from “Misfits”
Low Budget, Catch Me Now I’m Falling from “Low Budget”
Celluloid Heroes, Maximum Consumption and Motorway from “Everybody’s In Show Biz”
Lola, Strangers, Get Back In Line and Apeman from “Lola VS The Powerman”

And I hear that Ray Davies two solo releases aren’t too shabby, either.

...and here's LOLA, from 1970!


Franko6677 said...

Okay, I'll say it loud and proud - I like the Kinks better than the Beatles. That's not a diss on the Beatles. I'm just sayin'.

Favorite Kinks tune = "Waterloo Sunset."

Are you into the Easybeats at all?

Uncle E said...

Haven't heard an awful lot of the Easybeats, Frank. Any suggestions on where to start?

Franko6677 said...

That's a tough one because they have many great tunes, but they're spread across many releases so it takes a bit of effort. That being said, check out these songs first:

Friday on My Mind, Land of Make Believe, She's So Fine, Good Times, Hello How Are You, Heaven and Hell, Lay Me Down and Die, Lisa, The Shame Just Drained, Made My Bed Gonna Lie in It, Sorry, What in the World, I'll Make You Happy

Phil Fountain said...

I love The Kinks, too. Their "under appreciation" I think stems from the fact that they were not allowed to tour in America during the height of their creative period. In retaliation, they became SO terribly, terribly English that only true Anglophiles could make sense of them. I think that hurt them. The squabbling of the Davies boys and rampant alcoholism didn't help either. Fist fights onstage dampen a group's ability to gain wider acceptance.
Once they were allowed back in the States they toured sold-out arenas. I saw them twice at the Forum in L.A. and the place was packed. There was then a rallying cry of "GOD SAVE THE KINKS!" which meant mainly from themselves.
I have to disagree about many of their albums. "Schoolboys" was uneven at best and some were just garbage. You could always pick a diamond or two from the shitpile but they didn't make "great" albums. In America it seemed EVERY release was a compilation with the same fucking songs over and over. After "Something Else" they went quite a while without a decent record. They hit their stride again in the late 70's and early 80's and Ray continues to write brilliant stuff.
One thing about Ray's songwriting, his songs are populated by actual characters. He can get a novel into a two-and-a-half minute song.
"Waterloo Sunset" b/w "Sunny Afternoon" may be the greatest rock single, ever. How about the saga of "Two Sisters"? And, "David Watts"? Ray actually got grown men to stand in front of a microphone and sing "fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa" for two minutes. That's gotta count for something.

Uncle E said...

Phil, thanks for the comment. I knew I could count on you to fill in the gaps! Schoolboys, Soap Opera and Preservation Act2 I'll give you, but Misfits, Sleepwalker, Face To Face should have been HUGE.
Holly? HELP!!

Phil Fountain said...

That's what I was referring to, the Soap Opera, Act 2 era was weak by Kinks standards. Although "Ducks On The Wall" was s great song. I loved Misfits, etc. I thought Low Budget was a very good was Give The People What They Want...Love the Kinks. But to say they were better than The Beatles is kinda weird. Plus, they held on to the ruffled shirts too long. They're in a tie with The Moody Blues and Beach Boys for the dorkiest dressed band of the 60's.

Holly A Hughes said...

Damn, Uncle E, this plus the Nick Lowe post is just like dangling catnip in front of me.

Well, I happen to be a huge fan of the Soap Opera/Preservation era (though Schoolboys not so much) but that may be because that was the era when remaining a true-blue Kinks fan was a badge of honor. I'm also a huge fan of Ray Davies's musical eclecticism, and he went deeper into music-hall and jazz in those years. The campy side of the Kinks always appealed to me, and those were VERY campy productions.

In contrast, the arena-rock years didn't feel as special to me -- it seemed that sounding aggressive, political, and loud was more important to the Kinks then than witty lyrics or the romantic yearning of Ray's best songs (like "Waterloo Sunset" or "Shangri-La"). Give The People What They Want was a deeply cynical album title, and yet that's exactly what the Kinks did for all those years, with Clive Davis and Arista egging them on. My favorite album from those years was State of Confusion, mostly for the trifecta of Come Dancing, Property, and Don't Forget to Dance.

My top era would be the early 70s, with Arthur, Village Green, Lola V Powerman, Muswell Hillbillies, and Everybody's in Show Biz. There's a run of five superb albums that would have made me a lifelong fan if they'd never recorded another note. And of course those coincided with the US touring ban, so even though it screwed their chances of being ranked alongside the Stones and the Beatles, on balance I'd say it was a good thing.

Even Pete Townshend freely admits that the Who was just trying to sound like the Kinks -- "I Can't Explain" is a blatant rip-off of "You Really Got Me." The Who always seemed like a charming second-rate band to me; a lot of fun, but I never took them seriously. I can't believe they are enshrined in the rock pantheon above the Kinks. The Stones get there by virtue of their live act; their songwriting is negligible.

As for the Beatles, I respectfully submit that they were a greater band than the Kinks, maybe because the competition between Lennon and McCartney honed their songwriting to a higher level. Which of course imploded the band eventually, while the Kinks went on for years, with all the other members chafing under Ray's control, in thrall to his genius and his bizarre personality.

And BTW Phil...the "alcoholism" was usually part of the act. Dave Davies was a major partyer, but Ray is a focused and disciplined performer who developed a deliberately volatile stage act. It sure was hard to take your eyes off the stage when you thought they might kill each other at any minute.

The fact that more people don't know who they are is depressing to me. I can wear a Kinks T-shirt down the street and I'll get 10 puzzled looks for every knowing thumbs-up. And while Ray gamely still trots out Lola and You Really Got Me at every show, it's a shame that most folks only know the Great est Hits version of the Kinks (if they even know that). All those power-chord hits from the early 60s -- well, let's be honest, they sound disturbingly similar to one another. When they finally brought out "Well-Respected Man" and "Sunny Afternoon," that's when they started to get interesting to me. Ray's satiric eye and his gift for character studies matched up with a melodic ear that only McCartney could rival. But it wasn't until he had a few hit singles under his belt that he was willing to risk doing more offbeat songs -- and it wasn't until the ban that he let loose with the quirky Englishness that Phil so rightly mentions. That to me is the essence of the Kinks.

The Kinks had a talent for sabotaging their own career at every turn. (The US ban was just one of many examples.) So here's my question: If they had been more in the public eye, would their music have been different -- coarser, more blatant, with a recycled sound like the Stones'? (Talk about a band that hasn't evolved since 1978.) If so, I'm glad they stayed under the radar.

And if more people had been exposed to their music, would all of those people have become fans? Or is there something about the Kinks' music that's innately a cult taste? After all, they had a BIG hit with Lola in 1970; why didn't all the people who bought that single continue to be Kinks fans from then on? People knew who the Kinks were in 1964; they knew who they were in 1970; they knew who they were in 1982 when "Come Dancing" dominated the airwaves. But those fans didn't stick around. Of course I prefer to believe that you have to be a person of rare discernment and taste to be a Kinks fan.

Jacko said...

I stumbled in here by accident...what a great discussion! I'm a huge Kinks fan. First thing that struck me interesting about Uncle E's original post is the 'holy trinity' concept. For years i've said there was a big four, Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who. I've also rolled my eyes a little whenever someone tried to make Zeppelin or Floyd a part of that club.

Not that they don't deserve the acknowledgement. But those were 'second generation' British legends. Everything that followed the initial Invasion '64-66 stemmed from that big four. All the lesser and later acts emulated the style of one of those four. Garage/Punk, Psychedelia, Folk, Music Hall, Country, the lyricism, the thematic album statements...every strain of their experimentation was followed by others. Only Dylan's innovations, and perhaps Brian Wilson among outsiders can be said to have been as pervasive down to the most obscure garage band in those days. The influence of Hendrix, Lou Reed, Zappa, Neil Young and the other titans was to be felt and assimilated after the initial burst. Even Clapton's best work didn't occur until years on.

Ray Davies' artistic growth mirrored Lennon and McCartney's in many ways. Like them, he had a sustained period of concentrated brilliance from '64-70, roughly. From that point on, there were many moments of offhanded greatness, but nothing quite as focused or as fresh. Perhaps he, like they, had simply already offered their essential innovations to the world in the 60s, and was merely trying to remain viable once the youngsters had caught up. There has often been a feeling of aftermath about the later work of many 60s legends in that way.

The 'quintessentially English' theory has some teeth. But there is more to explain what happened to them commercially. For one, at that time, Americans were enamored of all things British, so I tend to downplay that a bit.

I look at it as being more a function of who Ray Davies was. He was an introvert. Lennon and McCartney were more extraverted in their songwriting and musical expression. They tended to 'present' their personas outward, musically speaking. So did Jagger and Richards. A large part of Rock n Roll has been the showing off/exhibitionism element, after all. This made it an easier reach for the audience to identify with them.

But Ray Davies wasn't like that. The secret to the Kinks has always been, they don't bring themselves over to you or overwhelm you with their sound. Just like the introvert behind the pen, they tend to draw you into their world. You have to make an effort, as a listener, to get to know him on his own terms. To allow yourself to be drawn into someone else's world. You become involved with him, essentially. Like a longtime secret penpal.

He was a role model for other sensitive, introverted songwriters in this regard. He and Brian Wilson were the first to really betray a non-romantic, emotional, sentimental, nostalgic sensibility. To bear their hearts openly. It was poetry, but for the writers it was also confessional. Neil Young, Bryan Ferry and others would follow along in those self-effacing footsteps later on. You can enjoy their songs on the surface in passing/on the radio/as a casual fan, but really understanding it is about being invested emotionally with him as a devoted fan.

A simpler aspect is in the very sound of their music. They kicked things off with some blues-based riffers, like their contemporaries, but that's not really who he was. And it confused the public. He wasn't going to keep writing 'You Really Got Me', or 'Satisfaction' or 'A Hard Day's Night', for that matter.

Whimsy and nostalgia always played better with the British. Americans expected guitar driven rock, largely. Which is precisely what doomed them as a singles act, as well as that of another underrated, first class band of the day, The Zombies. Three chords, a solo and a memorable hook is what they wanted. But he was going to different places altogether.

Pete Townshend admired him because he was also an introverted, sensitive songwriter, though that fact was often lost in the bombast of The Who's live act and the bluster of their frontman/vocalist. Townshend always tried to balance that out with some very delicate, decidedly Kink-like vocal harmonies and dynamics.

The Kinks themselves didn't follow the formula and hide behind the loud guitars, at least not in their prime. They were always at their best when they didn't, for it allowed Davies to do what he did best, wear his heart on his sleeve for all to see, and share witty observations and absurdities to make the personal insight worthwhile.

In my estimation, Davies the pop composer/songwriter was the equal of Lennon/McCartney, Wilson and Bacharach for that matter. For all the other great work they did, the '65-70 stuff is their real legacy. Kontroversy is the equal of Help or Out Of Our Heads. Face To Face stands right there with Rubber Soul or Aftermath. Something Else, Village Green and Arthur are as brilliant and vibrant in their own way as anything else from those years, as were Lola and Muswell Hillbillies. Maybe even more so in that they were so unique and enigmatic and so beyond trend, if not remembered as such in the general public's collective memory.

In those days he was a leader in innovation, creating a magical private world, even if not many were listening. His work into the 70s was in the same vein, though not as focused or consistently brilliant as before. Finally they became trend followers, trying to recapture the audience and success so cruelly denied them before, and if not innovative anymore, at least it was supremely well-crafted rock. But you could say the same for most solo-Beatles material, post '81 Stones, and late period Who.