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Friday, March 18, 2016

The Kinks

When one thinks of the British Invasion, of course the first bands that come to mind are The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Then there were the groups that had a lot of hits but didn't last long, like the Dave Clark Five and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The Kinks sometimes don't get their due, for they were right there at the beginning, and lasted well into the '70s making hits. and kept touring until 1996.

Consisting of brothers Ray and Dave Davies at the core, the Kinks may not have the fame of the other groups, but their influence is almost as important. But they were not known for their albums as much as their singles. While I've known the Kinks for decades, until reading about them for this post I couldn't have named one of their albums. Also, unlike most of the British Invasion bands, they weren't reflecting American blues, but instead English traditions, particularly Music Hall.

At the start though it was guitar-centric three-chord power. Their 1964 hit "You Really Got Me" was actually early heavy metal, and that was followed by "All Day and All of the Night." Compared to the pop that the Beatles were up to, the Davies brothers were years beyond that.

In the mid-'60s they switched to a kind of droll, mocking tone in their songs, one of many members of the counterculture to mock the upper-classes. I think of "Well Respected Man":

"'Cause he gets up in the morning,
And he goes to work at nine,
And he comes back home at five-thirty,
Gets the same train every time.
'Cause his world is built 'round punctuality,
It never fails.
And he's oh, so good,
And he's oh, so fine,
And he's oh, so healthy,
In his body and his mind.
He's a well respected man about town,
Doing the best things so conservatively."

This kind of thing happens in "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," which sends up slaves to fashion, and "David Watts," which concerns a young man who wants so much to be like someone else. And what to make of "Waterloo Sunset," which has a man, seemingly unable to leave his home, looking out the window at Waterloo Station and finding beauty in it. Pointedly, he sings about Terry and Julie, who are presumably named after Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, then at the heights of movie stardom in England:

"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."

Though they didn't engage in the coming psychedelia phase much, the band expanded their subject matter to beyond love songs. One of my favorites is Dave Davies' "Death of a Clown," a beautiful song, and "Apeman," which deals with what it means to be a human being (or not). A complete diversion is "Celluloid Heroes," which sounds like i would be horrible--Davies singing about walking down Hollywood Boulevard and noticing the stars--Greta Garbo, Bela Lugosi, Marilyn Monroe. It's cheesy but it works.

In the '70s The Kinks had their most iconic song, "Lola," which deals with an encounter between the singer and a woman who may just be a man. When I was listening to radio, it was the most ubiquitous Kinks song, perhaps due to its wink-wink nature:

"Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.
It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,
 Except for Lola."

They had hits through the decade into the '80s, including "Superman," "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," which is a tribute to the U.S. and how it was ignored during its crises, and the nostalgic "Come Dancing," in which Davies remembers how his sister was taken out every Saturday and taken dancing to the local big band palace.

The Kinks, with all sorts of internal problems, especially between the brothers (tellingly, they now pronounce their last names' differently) and haven't performed together in twenty years. But while listening to them this week I was reminded how diverse and vibrant their sound was, how clever their lyrics were, and how lovely Ray Davies' voice is.

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