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Liner Notables: The Great Lost Kinks Album

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Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out-of-focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits… 

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, Ray Davies reminds us in “Til Death Do Us Part,” which kicks off The Great Lost Kinks Album, leaving him in no mood to catch up:

    In my little life,
    I know that the world must keep on turning,
    Even though it leaves me far behind…

A collection of enjoyable but low-key and disheveled outtakes, rarities, and B-sides, mostly from the late-'60s, the LP’s 1973 release date instantly pegged it an instant period piece — “Groovy Movies,” anyone? — but often refreshingly so, considering the then-encroaching age of hand-wringing soft-rock and cosmic bloat. The Great Lost Kinks Album — much like the previous year’s marvelous and somewhat more conventional catch-up anthology The Kink Chronicles — was indeed a Brit-centric treasure trove of provincial pop, trumping more widespread pap and prog.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBut let’s not go too far. Rear-view reflecting is a great thing, but how about myopic hindsight in a house of mirrors, and the dizzying loss of historical perspective it brings? The hit-and-mostly-miss liner notes of Lost, extensive enough to provide a critical and then-updated overview of the group’s career, as well as a song-by song assessment of the album’s tracks, were written by noted music critic and Kinks chronicler John Mendelsohn. And while the commentary certainly benefits with such literate and expressive writing, it almost seems as if Mendelsohn needs to be dragged out of the Carnaby Street carny kicking and screaming L-O-L-A into the Kinks-sized ’70s. “What’s clearly amiss with the Kinks since the dawn of the present decade,” he hastily sniffs in a comment redolent of redundancy, “is that Raymond D. Davies’ songwriting brilliance as a songwriter has greatly dimmed.”

A has-been in the course of a mere two years? Let's do the math, and the poetics. First, give Mendelsohn the benefit of one doubt and put the raucous 'n' rollickiing 1970 decade-sitter Lola Vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round in the ‘60’s column — that means the critic is basing his argument on the western-style worthy Muswell Hillbillies, from 1971, and the following year’s loopy ode-to-the-road Everybody’s in Show-Biz. Mendelsohn’s ears weren’t attuned to Muswell’s affectionate mix of boozy music hall and poignant Americana: “But in her dreams she is far away… With Shirley Jones and Gordon McRea,” Davies sings in the exquisite “Oklahoma U.S.A.” And instead of acknowledging some of the LP's roots in the Davies brothers' upbringing in Muswell Hill north of London, Mendelsohn bypasses the biographical, asserting that “Ray’s treatment of the familiar theme of the old fashioned tradition-cherishing soul’s inability to suffer the cruel modern world was largely clumsily heavy-handed and obvious.”

The double album Everybody’s in Show Biz, which includes the classic “Celluloid Heroes,” comes in for even more socio-babble as the grumbling Mendelsohn finds “hardly a trace of my own favorite Davies, the immensely-social-conscienced champion of the forgotten ordinary people. Instead, it’s a bitchily egocentric Davies who dominates the work…”

(Davies Goes Eclectic! Not only that, but there may be room for more doubt: At this point, of course, Mendelsohn hasn’t yet heard that soon enough Davies Goes Eccentric! — such elaborately theatrical concept albums and stage shows as Preservation: Act I and II (1973-'74) and The Kinks Present A Soap Opera (1975) will really get us all day and all of the night. Or not.)

Day-O! One disc of Everybody’s in Show Biz is a concert recording of Ray and the boys’ typically loose, drunk, and rowdy stage shows of the period — and I’ve personally lived to tell the tale, or at least awakened in unfamiliar places and made something up. Though I understand to an extent Mendelsohn's declaration that he would quit seeing the band live “if it meant the rejuvenation of the Ray Davies who wrote 'Waterloo Sunset,' 'Get Back in Line,' and 'Shangri-La' and 'Days,'” I must also go along with his contention that, nevertheless, “The Kinks [had] become just about the funnest live rock and roll show under the big sky…”

At least the music journalist expressively captures in print the live show’s quintessential good-times buffoonery, interspersed with "Wateroo"-style wistfulness.

    Wotta sight are the current Kinks! Groupies charlestoning frenziedly in the wings… An immense motley horn section — one of whom looks like three of Black Sabbath’s identical twin, another of whom looks like he just wandered off the bandstand of The Lulu Show — doubling up with laughter at the absurd Dixieland that’s coming out of their horns…

    And this preposterous bow-tied bastard grandson of Oscar Wilde grinning the most lopsided grin anyone’s ever seen while flouncing to and fro like a Ziegfeld choreographer’s worst nightmare.

    But, as was noted in The Kink Kronicles, the role of underdogs has always been much cherished by them, and only a stranger could conceive of a Kinkdom in which nothing was amiss.

The only thing conceivably amiss on Lost, however, is that while understandably evoking the songs from the Kinks ‘60s classics Face to Face, Something Else, and The Village Green Preservation Society, it’s a misfit clearinghouse LP that doesn’t conform to the 33-and-a-theme format that found favor in such albums as the brilliant conceptual works Arthur and Lola. Instead, it’s wry and ramshackle charm stems for the most part from the wit and poignancy of the always-perceptive writing and observances of tunesmith Ray Davies.

But the segment of Mendelsohn’s liner notes devoted specifically to the out-of-print Lost's 14 songs — several of which "are neither profound humanitarian statements nor monuments of satire, but rather only sheerest whimsy" — are an intriguing and potentially irksome read for the targeted Kinks' fan, and range from sardonic subjectivity to slapdash musing. There’s nothing here in regard to specific recording information — dates, credits, and such — but if you like “what to listen for” clues for you all, you’ll learn the not terribly riveting bit of trivia, in the bouncy “Til Death Do Us Part,” that “So demanding are the charts they’ve been asked to play that the horns can be heard gasping for a second wind about three-quarters of the way through…”

Mendelsohn is also good for a segue or two in sketching out his insights about such tunes as the lovely and harpsichord-laced portrait of loneliness, “Rosemary Rose” — though “someone is treasuring a picture of you” — to the darker “Misty Water,” while going the extra vinyl to cite a relevant reference to the insidiously menacing “Wicked Arrabella” from Village Green.

A solid connect-the-dots case could also be made to link the character of Rosemary Rose, who is “not beautiful as someone would know,” to the plain Jane and her gentleman caller central to “When I Turn Out the Living Room Light.” Here, Mendelsohn notes, Davies makes us “feel like callous swine for giggling at the sorry plight of two homely lovers … but how can we help but giggle when the person Ray’s singing to is obviously the most unsightly mutant ever coughed up by homo sapiens?” Indeed, “Living Room Light” finds Davies “near the pinnacle of his form, making us want to laugh and cry simultaneously.” Commence misery and mirth:

    Your nose may be bulbous,
    Your face may be spotty,
    Your skin may be wrinkled and tight.
    But I don’t want to see you,
    The way that you are,
    So I turn off the living room light.

    We don’t feel so ugly,
    We don’t feel so draggy,
    We don’t feel so twisted up tight.
    And we don’t feel as ugly as we really are,
    When we turn off the living room light.
    When we turn off the living room light.
    We don’t feel as ugly as we really are,
    When we turn off the living room light.

Another sign that a writer is "near the pinnacle of his form" lies in the timelessness of his or her songs and the universality of their themes, broad issues being couched in the specifics and discerningly-applied craftsmanship. “Plastic Man” in the pen of another could’ve easily become a ham-fisted and outdated protest about the establishment, man. Mendelsohn gets it half right, overlooking some of the song’s satiric sideswipes, saying that this “infectious toe-tapper implies no moral judgment” — but he's beguiled more by the overt jocular spirit: “By being just unspeakably good-natured musically and pointing out lyrically that plastic folk aren’t distressed even when people stomp on their toes and pull their noses all over the landscape, it hints that being plastic might be loads of fun.”

Mendelsohn, however, more certainly misses the mark on a couple other songs on The Great Lost Kinks Album, one an obscurity and the other a Kinks classic with a lead vocal by brother Dave. “Lavender Hill” is an eerie and evocative slice of fantasy without a trace of summer-of-love bandwagonry about it, but the only inspiration elicited from Mendelsohn is the joke that it “reveals little, if anything, about Ray's sexual leanings.” And in the shout-from-the-rooftops declaration of personal independence that characterizes “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” the rock critic gives it short shrift, relegating this often re-issued 1966 track to hippy-dippy sloganeering and saying he “fails to detect anything other than the usual I’m-gonna-let-my-freak-flag-fly sentiments therein…”

Then again, maybe you better fly your freak flag while you can. In old age you will be just like everybody else, as the Kinks leader reminds us in “Where Did My Spring Go?” — which an on-target Mendelsohn calls “probably the most chillingly cynical of all of Ray’s songs.” It’ll surely sap any good will generated by the absurdly cheery if tongue-in-cheek “Pictures in the Sand” and “Mr. Songbird,” on which “Jimmy Page did not play the recorder.” In any case, in “Spring” Ray sings “the part of a man terrified to the point of cursing the time he spent being in love by the realization that physically he’s no more what he once was”:

    Where did the spring go?
    Where did my hormones go?
    Where did my energy go?
    Where did my go go?
    Where did the pleasure go?
    Where did my hair go?

    Remember all those sleepless nights,
    Making love by candlelight,
    And every time you took my love,
    You were shortening my life.

    Where did my teeth go?
    Where did my hair go?
    Where did my shoulders go?
    Where did my chest go?
    Where did my hormones go?
    Where did my go go?
    Where did my energy go?
    Where did my skin go?
    Where did my muscles go?
    Where did my liver go?
    Where did my heart go?
    Where did my bones go?

"Thank you for the days," Davies once sang in the tender "Days," but he may not have intended the passing of time at the expense of time-lapse seasons and rapidly deteriorating vital organs. Cue Mr. Songbird, please, and show Mr. Mendelsohn the door…

    Track Listing
    Side One
    "Til Death Do Us Part" – 3:12
    "There Is No Life Without Love"* – 1:55
    "Lavender Hill" – 2:53
    "Groovy Movies" – 2:30
    "Rosemary Rose" – 1:43
    "Misty Water" – 3:01
    "Mister Songbird" – 2:24

    Side Two
    "When I Turn off the Living Room Light" – 2:17
    "The Way Love Used to Be" – 2:11
    "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" — 3:29
    "Plastic Man" – 3:00
    "This Man He Weeps Tonight"* – 2:38
    "Pictures in the Sand" – 2:45
    "Where Did My Spring Go?" – 2:10

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • If you want to email me I’d be glad to mail you a copy.

    That’s okay. I’ve gotten along without it so far. 🙂

    That Holland import included some demo-level tracks from Dave Davies’ first attempt at a solo album (done in the wake of “Death of A Clown,” apparently), so it’s of additional interst to Kinks fans who can track it down. I used to have a copy of it in my own little hands, but I let it slip through my fingers . . .

  • Enjoy, Josh!

  • I’m happy to say my copy of Kinks Kronicles has been ordered and should be on the doorstep on Tuesday. I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time and am really looking forward to taking the first steps in catching up to everyone else.

  • Bill–thanks for the comment. Holland must be a good place for finds–I picked up an import of Lennon’s ‘Two Virgins’ once, plain brown wrapper and all.

    As you probably know, the liner notes for GLKA come as an insert within the album. If you want me to email me I’d be glad to mail you a copy.

  • Thanks, Holly–agreed.

    I happened to dig out the more sloppy, elaborate and theatrical ’70s concept albums — both Preservations, Soap (which immediately puts “Ducks on the Wall” into my head for hours–but that’s a good thing). I hadn’t played these in years, and even though I had loved these LPs (and the concerts at the time) I kind of expected something cringe-inducing and indulgent, but they still sounded marvelous, tuneful, and indeed sloppy, but gloriously so.

  • I’m a pretty uncritical Kinks fan, but then so was Mendelsohn up to this point…I guess we’ll never know why he turned on the band so viciously with these liner notes. This is, after all, a collection of lighter songs that Ray Davies had decided NOT to put on other albums (and I’ve always heard he didn’t want them released on this, either), so why complain that it’s not Significant Music? Personally I love the early 70s Kinks — yes, every last track of Preservation 1 and 2, the sloppy live tracks on the second disk of Show Biz, the whole shebang. It’s my favorite era of the Kinks, in fact; how can you top Muswell Hillbillies?

    These liner notes are a classic example of a critic simply getting it wrong, for whatever reason. To dislike a record is one thing, but to go on for so many pages disliking it in such detail — well, that’s just creepy.

  • Though I frequently disagree with Mendelsohn’s liner notes on both this and Kink Kronikles, this Kinksfan still has a big soft spot in his heart for this out-of-print “ramshackle” collection. Even though most of these tracks have since appeared as bonus tracks on CD reissues, I’d love to own a copy of this disc – saw an import version (from Holland, I think) of it once, but it inexplicably omitted the liner notes . . .