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Liner Notables: The Kinks – Face To Face

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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…

“It has been said by mercenary-minded persons,” the liner notes to the Kinks' Face To Face begin, “that upon setting out along life's road the bread, the filthy lucre of W. Shakespeare of highly regarded memory would seem to be the thing to go for. So if you accept the opinion of these aforesaid persons in the spirit in which it is given and get cracking you get the loot. So what next?”

What next? Well, if you’re the considerably less mercenary-minded Ray Davies, you get cracking and create a classic album that foreshadows the similarly-themed elegance of 1967’s Something Else and the following year’s nostalgia-on-parade pinnacle, The Village Green Preservation Society.

And if the afore-alluded to Face To Face can be considered, as it has been, an early and at least loosely-constructed concept album, why shouldn't its liner notes also be seen to cohere conceptually? Ray Davies’ character studies and sharply-etched observations of British society musically permeate and pepper this 1966 release, but such impulses also inspire the album cover content. 

In the wonderfully woozy and boozy smash “Sunny Afternoon” lurks a cautionary tale of what befalls when “The taxman's taken all my dough / And left me in my stately home / Lazing on a sunny afternoon.” And the jaunty hit — well, a hit in a cover song incarnation by Herman's Hermits — gets a more aptly sneering vocal by Ray Davies as he warns an aging ladies’ man what's in store for him: “And when you're old and grey you will remember what they said / That two girls are too many, three's a crowd and four you're dead.”

A haughty air infuses “House In The Country,” which declares a haughty heir “got his job when drunken Daddy tumbled down the stairs,” and wry humor imbues “Holiday in Waikiki” wherein a vacationing English boy encounters a genuine hula hula dancer from New York City whose “mother is Italian / And my dad's a Greek." In contrast, poignancy paints “Rosy Won’t You Please Come Home,” and “Little Miss Queen Of Darkness,” who “Although she looked so happy there was sadness in her eyes / And her curly false eyelashes weren't much of a disguise.”

How does such an array of profiles in discouragement play out — as the record plays on — in the liner notes of Face To Face? Poetically and expressively written by Frank Smyth — yeah, I don’t know who he is either — the commentary complements in letter and spirit the incipient ’60s-style anti-materialistic societal essence in spades. Moreover, just as the album traces a trajectory from the personal inexperience and alienation expressed “Party Line” — “Wonderin' all the time / Who's on the other end” — to the world-weary and skewed sensibilities of the penultimate “Sunny Afternoon,” so too do the liner notes chronicle a “passage through this vale of tears," using not only imagery spurred by the songs on Face To Face, but also earlier Kinks’ hits, to chart the rise and fall of the self-made “man about town.”

"So far on your passage … you have been a hick, a nothing and an unheralded nobody. To be a well respected man must be your next aim,” Smyth says, as he goes on to note the importance of a “dedication to the dictates of fashion”: “The Carnaby Street. The striped natty suiting. Touches of velvet upon the collar. Touches of lace upon the underwear. And of course ties of polka dot and Persian-originated Paisley pattern.”

Next, of course, comes the reward for working so hard, the Shangri-la, the country house – then a yacht and a motor car “with white walls to its wheels smiling in the golden gravel drive.”

But what of the gold-digging trophy wife who’ll will lead you to ruination, the "big fat mama trying to break you?"

    Ladies of course. Ladies with long legs and little bosom, hair the colour of corn, very mini, very skinny dresses. Status symbol ladies with rich dark sheen in the depths of the skin. Dwindling in the end to one lady, one Special who gets in among the soul. The trouble being that the perfect woman becomes a bore, like having Venus de Milo constantly upon one's hands. So angry words are spoken, and she of golden hair and mini skirt, half woman, half thighs leaves. With car. Back to ma and pa. With tales of drunkenness and cruelty.

And as if things couldn’t get any worse, “fate flings its last custard pie” as “The taxman cometh.” All you have left, then, is “the sun on the uplands with dappled shadows and all"… and that glass of ice cold beer.

In the summertime, in the summertime…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://www.butterflyfiction.com/journal/ Connie Phillips

    Nice article, Gordon! I was just listening to some Kinks yesterday and thinking they would be the good subject of an article. You did a great job with it.

  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks Connie–appreciate it.

  • Vern Halen

    Awwww…. this is the second Kinks’ review in the past couple of weeks, and as much as I hate to disagree with the esteemed bc writers’ pool, I’m still not gettin’ it. There’s something about this era of the Kinks that just doesn’t move me. OK – so RD writes these great little sketches of English life – was he celebrating or mocking English society? And how were we supposed to take it here on the other side of the pond? Same question – does a stateside audience see these songs as positive or negative comments on Jolly Old Her Majesty’s realm?

    And the sound of the records is terrible – they must’ve been mixed in pudding. I do like a handful of songs that appeared on their RCA best of – Celluloid Heroes I think it was called. 20th Century Man rocked foro sure, despite the poor sound – Celluloid Heroes was a nice ballad, but Lou Reed’s New Age was a better ballad pound for pound. Hmmm… only two I can even remember at this point.

    I dunno – maybe I’ll get it eventually. It’s just that there was a lot of great music being made then, and I think a lot of it still holds up. Anybody ever hear an album by Neil Merriweather called Space Rangers?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’m probably most partial to mid-period Kinks myself. Much as everybody raves about albums like “Village Green Preservation Society,” my all-time favorites are probably “Muswell Hillbillies” and “Schoolboys In Disgrace.” Of “Schoolboys,” the song “No More Looking BacK’ in particular just really hits me on an emotional level as this really sort of bittersweet reflection of better days long past. On the surface it wouldn’t seem to work within the “Schoolboys” concept, but surprisingly does so quite well.

    Nice job as always though Gordon.

    Vern — the only Meriweather album I can recall is one called “Word Of Mouth” which as I recall was kind of a jam record that had some nice bits in it.

    -Glen

  • Mark Saleski

    you guys are gonna kill me for this, but my favorite Kinks records are Low Budget and Give The People What They Want

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Your right Mark, we are gonna kill you for that.

    Actually, I like “Sleepwalker” and “Misfits” from that same period….

    -Glen

  • fingerfood

    The Kinks have never been a mainstream band; you either “get” them or you don’t. Most of the time, the record-buying public hasn’t – and that’s – ok.

    “Face To Face” is a wonderful record. I bought mine brand new, right around Xmas of 1966, and have loved it from first hearing. The sound of it, however, as noted above, is underwhelming, but the consistent high quality of Ray Davies’s songwriting and The Kinks delivery makes it all worthwhile.

    This album, coupled with their concurrent “Deadend Street”/ “Big Black Smoke” 45, placed The Kinks, and kept The Kinks, in The Major Leagues.

    Thanks for shout-out, Glen.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Shoutout? I dont recall a shoutout to anyone named “fingerfood”…

    ???

    -Glen

  • Vern Halen

    Yep – Low Bud, Misfits esp. Sleepwalker – that’s where I get my Kink’s fix.

    Glen – the fact that you even heard of Neil Merriweather is fascinating – Space Rangers has a great cover ofEight Miles High – very highly produced for a 70’s recording.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The obscure little corridors of my music knowledge can be a scary place Vern. The other night I was playing music trivia and someone thought they’d stump me with “Baron Tollbooth”. Not a chance…

    -Glen

    P.S. The answer is it’s a rather obscure Paul Kantner/Grace Slick solo thing…

  • Vern Halen

    … and the Chrome Nun.

    How about Baron Saturday?

    This is funny – on another website where I post my music someone just told me my material reminds him of Ray Davies. Didn’t ask him which period RD to which he was referring, tho’….

  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks,all, for the comments. Part of the reason for “Arthur” being my favorite Kinks album–along with the quality of songs–is that by then the sound quality inmproved considerably. And the change in record labels with “Muswell Hillbillies” clinched it.

  • http://www.gohah.blogspot.com Von Zipper

    (this is Gordon H., but having comments-leaving problems as such)

    Thanks all for the comments. Part of the reason for “Arthur being” my favorite–along with the great songs–is the increased sound quality By “Muswell Hillbillies” (a new record label for the Kinks) they had ait clinched.

    I’m an all-era equal-opportunity Kinks’ fan, but I don’t have many choices for liner notes after the late sixties.