13 December 2010

STORYTELLING

Apropos of absolutely nothing, here's a quick and dirty rundown of my favorite Kinks tracks from the 1970s onwards. As with most of the Kinks' best material, Ray Davies' songwriting is the main attraction, especially his unparalleled knack for constructing such fully-realized stories within the context of the three-and-half-minute pop song. To be sure, Davies did his finest work in the mid-to-late '60s, but there's still plenty to like about what came next...

1. "This Time Tomorrow" (Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, 1970)
Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround was a pretty big disappointment for me when I first heard it, but over the years it has become my absolute favorite Kinks album of the '70s. "Lola" was a massive hit, obviously (and the band's first top five single since 1967), but this little wonder was always the highlight of the album for me. Ray's wistful lyrics and the chugging acoustic guitar imbue this track with a joyous melancholia that still gets me every time. Dusted off a couple years back for Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, this is without a doubt a lost Kinks Klassic.

2. "Where Are They Now?"
3. "Sweet Lady Genievieve"
4. "Sitting in the Midday Sun" (Preservation Act 1, 1973)
These three songs are all from an unwieldy (and incredibly uneven) concept album based loosely on themes first explored on the band's 1968 classic, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. (And yes, there is a Preservation Act 2, which I highly recommend avoiding.) It's easy to dismiss Preservation Act 1 when considered as a whole, but these three gems (all attributed to a character known only as "The Tramp," Ray's thinly-veiled persona within the overall concept) wouldn't sound out of place alongside the Kinks' mid-'60s output. The best of the lot is Ray's paean to the lost summer days of the '60s, "Where Are They Now?", an oddly affecting roll call of Swinging Londoners, Mods, Rockers and Teddy Boys that name checks everyone from Mary Quant to Christine Keeler.

5. "Have a Cuppa Tea" (Muswell Hillbillies, 1971)
This is from another album I didn't take to right away, and it's basically a good-natured ode to the healing properties of England's national beverage. Steeped in working class hall tradition, this track never fails to get me humming, not to mention thirsty for a nice, warm cuppa...

6. "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy," (Misfits, 1978)
I've never really cared for songs about rock and roll. Things like The Who's "Long Live Rock" or "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll" by the Stones just get up my nose, and don't get me started on road songs! Why, then, do I find "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" so poignant? Written right around the time of Elvis Presley's death, this is less a "rah rah, rock 'n' roll" anthem than a tuneful bit of self-analysis by Ray, sounding in places like an appeal to carry on. What I like about this most, though, is the music. This is one of those songs that keeps changing into something else, building and building until it finally climaxes with the Beach Boys-esque harmonies on the bridge at the end and some beautifully understated guitar work from the often-underrated Dave Davies.

7. "Good Day," (Word of Mouth, 1984)
The Kinks had a lot of success in the U.S. during the late '70s/early '80s, and while I can find things to like about albums like Low Budget and Give the People What They Want, I was fast losing interest by the time the aptly titled State of Confusionwas released in 1983. I seem to recall Word of Mouth being touted as a return to form at the time, but really, there's just this one track, which I'd rate over hits like "Come Danging" or "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" any day.

8. "God's Children," (Percy, 1971)
Written for the soundtrack to a British comedy about a penis transplant. That's right: a penis transplant. I've never seen the film, so I don't know if it's as crap as it sounds (although I'm assured it is), but the accompanying album contains a handful of quality compositions from RD, and this string-laden call for a return to nature is the best of them.

9. "The Hard Way," (Schoolboys in Disgrace, 1974)
I don't actually own the album this first appeared on, as I only sought the track out after learning its main riff provided the inspiration for The Jam's "A-Bomb in Wardour Street." While that's most certainly the case, this is also a pretty great song that harkens back to that earlier part of the Kinks' career when they cranked out riff-based rock like nobody's business. A lot of people prefer the live version (available on One for the Road), but I think I like the original best.

10. "Scattered," (Phobia, 1993)
This is from the Kinks' final studio album, and musically, it isn't a million miles away from "This Time Tomorrow." Maybe it's the intro, or just Ray's National steel acoustic. Whatever the case, this would have been a highlight on any Kinks album between the time it was recorded and the early '70s. Sadly, there's nothing else onPhobia that comes even close to matching the quality of this track, but the esteemed Mr. Davies seems to have caught up with his muse again for his recent solo material...