Someone once asked Ray Davies why the name of the band was the Kinks. His answer was that a kink was something that nobody wanted, and the punkish, they’ll-take-it-and-like-it implication and underdog appellation made for a marvelously perverse and healthy rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
That assertive spirit came out in power-chord vigor with the first big hits, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All of The Night,” followed by such tempered and sharp-eyed social satires such as “A Well Respected Man” and rebel yell bursts like “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” all of which firmly entrenched the Kinks as an prominent mid-sixties British Invasion force to reckoned with.
That is until, due to combative relations with promoters, they were banned from performing in the United States from late 1965 until 1969–indeed becoming an affliction of sorts that America didn’t seem to want.
Isolated from the currents of American and worldwide sixties revolt and change, the Kinks, more rooted in British folk and music hall traditions than either the American-influenced Beatles or the Rolling Stones, zigged when everybody else zagged. As different strummer Davies almost defiantly immersed himself in a more provincial and nostalgic British sensibility, he increasingly showcased within his songs literate character studies and minutely-crafted sketches of life and love and loss slanted to an idiosyncratic and predominantly English perspective.
With his innately and seemingly effortless melodic and lyrical gifts brought to the forefront, Davies imbued the striking transitional hit “Sunny Afternoon” with a woozy and woebegone wit that–especially compared to other typically cheery summer songs of fun in the sun–told a different and darkly-humored tale “of drunkenness and cruelty” in the lives of the rich and infamous:
The tax man’s taken all my dough,
And left me in my stately home,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can’t sail my yacht,
He’s taken everything I’ve got,
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon.
But it was 1967’s beautifully elegiac and melancholic “Waterloo Sunset” that really displayed, perhaps for the first time, the power and resonating richness of Davies’ attention to songwriting detail. In one of the most evocatively and tenderly melodic ruminations of that time or since, an almost fragile wistfulness is matched by a lyrical third-person study that says as much about the sheltered narrator himself as it does about the characters, a couple who are observed amid the far-from-Edenic urban environs of the “dirty old river” and the “Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground”:
Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander
I stay at home at night.
But I don’t feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise.
Elsewhere, the fooling-nobody narrator, isolated and lonely and living vicariously through the happiness of strangers, protests–too much?–that “I don’t need no friends,” as he continues to reiterate, “As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset/ I am in paradise.” A tenuous paradise, one suspects, forlornly fading, if not soon lost.
“Sunny Afternoon” and “Waterloo Sunset” are highlights on an album of highlights, The Kink Kronikles, a 28-song compilation from 1972 that–far from being just a mere greatest-hits package–constitutes a well-considered CD featuring some hits (including the mid-career staple, “Lola”) albums cuts, non-LP singles, B-sides, unreleased treasures and worthy obscurities. It’s a wide-array overview of the Kinks’ golden era from 1966-1971 that includes selections from the classics Face to Face, Something Else, The Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, and Lola vs. Powerman And the Money-Go-Round.
Bookended by the exuberant “Victoria” and the poignant “Days” (“Thank you for the days/ Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me”), Kronikles features every matter of style and theme, from piercing social commentary (“Dead End Street, “Shangri-La,” “Get Back In The Line“), to Country and Western parody “Willesden Green” (“But there’s one thing that keeps calling me/ To that little, that little semi-detached …”). Good-time pop (“Wonderboy,” “Autumn Almanac”), sits track by track next to more personal vignettes (“This Is Where I Belong,” “David Watts”).
Furthermore, some send-ups like “Apeman” has a would-be escapee who only feels at ease “swinging up and down in a coconut tree,” while in “Holiday In Waikiki,” the story of an “English boy who won a holiday” in an unexpectedly commercialized paradise meets an “authentic” hula girl from New York City where “my mother is Italian/ And my dad’s a Greek.”
After this period of prolific and consistent brilliance celebrated by The Kink Kronikles, the group would go on to a roller-coaster career that included highly theatrical concept albums and rock operas in the 1970s, and more straightforward harder-edged rock albums in the 1980s and 1990s. Along the way, their music and Ray Davies’ songwriting would influence a wide variety of artists, such as the Jam, Van Halen, the Smiths, Blur, Pulp, Suede, Oasis and Green Day (whose “Warning” is virtually a note-by-note copy of “Picture Book”).
Davies releases a long-awaited solo album, Other People’s Lives, in February (preceded by an EP, Thanksgiving Day, that was released in the Fall). A songwriter of still-exquisite skill, Davies has proven himself accomplished in deftly rendering into music and words not only other people’s lives, but also in looking within for an adept explication of his own survival and career. For anyone left wondering what all the promise and expectation is about, The Kink Kronikles is a good place to begin the discovery. Thank you for the days, Ray–and the days to come.