Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Secret, or at Least Underplayed, History of the Kinks

You’ve probably heard this a million times already, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true:
The Kinks were one of the best bands of the sixties, and Ray Davies was one of the greatest songwriters of the era.”
If left to radio airplay, the case would be based solely on some great early singles and “Lola”. The very respectable to somewhat annoying work they did in the seventies and eighties kept them in the public eye. My humble opinion is that the very stuff that makes the best case for them was somehow lost.
I find it amazing that people talk about how great the sixties were – something I’m a bit skeptical of myself – while overlooking, well, some of what made them great. I think these people are actually thinking of the seventies. (Math and History really ought to be emphasized more in schools, don’t you think?)
So let me help out here with my incomplete but very enlightening summary below:

This is a very good 18 song intro, covering 1964-66, with all of the hits, and then some. Okay, so the Pretender’s version of “Stop Your Sobbing” is better. But “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” gives the Beatles a good kick in the shins. A lot of fun.
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Now playing: The Kinks - Where Have All the Good Times Gone
via FoxyTunes

Face to Face (1966):
Ray Davies, having by now made a number of classic singles, seems committed to making quality albums. This one’s my favorite, and I consider it one of the great forgotten albums of the sixties. Wonderful songs all over the place. Don’t miss it.
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Now playing: The Kinks - Too Much on My Mind
via FoxyTunes

Another great album, but very different from what anyone else was doing that year. Their most Kinks-like album, in its exploration of specifically English themes and styles, it’s less immediately accessible than “Face to Face”, but almost as good. It also continues their habit of loading up side one with the “friendlier” songs and putting the stranger stuff on side two. I highly recommend it.
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Now playing: The Kinks - David Watts
via FoxyTunes

Again, totally out of step with current trends, celebrating rather than challenging tradition, and very, very English. Side two gets a little too precious, but side one is as good as anything they ever did. The cover shot has a fairly miserable looking Ray Davies on the right, either disapproving of everything else going on at the time, or just showing his frustration at not being more famous. I don’t blame him.
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Now playing: The Kinks - Johnny Thunder
via FoxyTunes

Arthur (1969):
There are only two great songs here (“Shangri-La” and “Victoria”, which are both on “The Kinks Kronikles”.) Ray Davies, perhaps knowing this, regrettably clutters up his music with horns. The band is quite game, though. A good album, but no more.
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Now playing: The Kinks - Victoria
via FoxyTunes

Lola, etc. (1970):
Don’t know - don’t have it, but the ones included on “Kinks Kronikles” are great. I'll pounce when the remastered version appears.

At this point, they’ve switched record labels, so it was time for their old label to cash in with a greatest hits album. But since they didn’t have a whole lot of hits during this period, it instead turns out to be an overview of the prior five years, mixing singles with album highlights and great rarities. (How “She’s Got Everything” and “Days” only ended up tucked away here, I'll never understand). It’s quite special, and the ideal introduction to their wilderness years.
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Now playing: The Kinks - She's Got Everything
via FoxyTunes

As the album liner notes indicate, really a great lost album, assembled from various unrelated projects over several years. Although there are few songs here that would make their pantheon, it’s definitely worthwhile.
From this point forward, it’s clear that while Ray Davies would be capable of writing great songs, he was putting fewer of them on each album. By the time you get to Give the People What They Want:, they’ve lost me completely. Loud, not powerful. Crowd pleasing, not unique. The title is all too accurate in that they are now pandering, which is the last thing you want from the Kinks.
There are quite a few other collections around, but I haven’t found one that covers their entire career in a satisfactory way. Like with Dylan, the Beatles, and the Stones, it’s the “too many great songs” syndrome.
So, to sum up, consider getting:
  • Greatest Hits, if you want the early (1964-66) hits
  • Face to Face (1966), Something Else (1967), and Village Green (1968), in that order, for their peak period
  • Kinks Kronikles for the rarities and B-sides from that same period and the best songs from 1969-70.
  • Any compilation covering 1971 on, but you probably already know that.
And although I’ve focused mostly on Ray Davies himself, at every step along the way, he was more than ably supported by the band. They gave their all, fully committed to every one of his many flights of fancy. And to top it all off, his brother Dave wrote and sang some great songs himself.
After you’ve sampled some of these records I think you’ll be inclined to agree that it’s past time to give the Kinks their due. Raise your glasses for Ray and the boys!

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