As one of the original British Invasion bands of the ‘60s, the Kinks' place in rock ‘n' roll history is secure: Just penning "You Really Got Me," with its primal fuzz-toned two-chord riff, a much-copied blueprint for countless bands that followed was enough for that. But they're also a band for whom most people – even diehard music fans – would have a hard time naming more than a few songs...even though those same people would recognize at least a dozen tunes if they heard ‘em.
The Kinks – singer/songwriter/leader Ray Davies, guitarist/hellion/brother Dave Davies, and a revolving door of drummers and bass players, but primarily Mick Avory and Pete Quaife (or John Dalton) – were also fairly screwed by the system: in 1965, at the height of their initial popularity and some peak years for rock ‘n' roll in general, they were banned from re-entering the United States by the American Federation of Musicians union (ostensibly for one of the Kinks punching a union member while recording Dick Clark's television show, but conspiracy theorists postulate the AFM feared that British bands were gaining too much share of the music market and arbitrarily targeted the Kinks). Whatever the reason, for four years, the Kinks were deprived of the world's largest music market, as well as being effectively cut off from the musical and social upheavals of the late '60s. This put them literally and figuratively outside of the entire rock scene at a critical time for both the band and rock music, and was responsible for a before/during/after effect on the band's songwriting, touring and relationship with its audience.
For this writer, the essence of the Kinks can be distilled from one album: the 1980 live set One for the Road. Even though they put out at least a few more great albums (each with at least a few great songs), One for the Road encapsulates what I've come to think of as the three distinct phases of the Kinks – in terms of their hits, that is. Those phases are even more pronounced when you delve, as we like to here at Bullz-Eye, into the Deep Cuts of the Kinks. [Note: many of the early period cuts are not found on official albums, as they were released strictly as singles, as was typical in the ‘60s. Luckily, there are plenty of Kinks compilations to choose from to find this material.]
Early period ("British Invasion Rock'n'Rollers")
"Stop Your Sobbing"- The Kinks
One of the highlights of their debut album, this brilliant little ditty was later covered by the Pretenders, who had a Top 40 hit with it in the late ‘70s. Ray and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde were an item around this time as well (they nearly got married; she ended up marrying the Simple Minds' Jim Kerr within a year of their breakup).
"Set Me Free"
OK, it was a Top 10 single in '65, but I still think it's an overlooked classic, and a bridge between early big smash hits like "You Really Got Me" and such later big numbers as "Waterloo Sunset."
"See My Friends"
Before George Harrison's sitar on the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" made Eastern/Indian raga all the rage in rock music, Ray's use of feedback (as well as double-tracking and compression) on his down-tuned 12-string electric created the nice drone effect on this 1965 song. The fact that lyrically it touched upon homosexuality – still controversial in the ‘60s – makes the song that much more special.
Apart from "'Til the End of the Day" and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone," the band's third album, released in '66, was pretty much a disaster….except for this record-opening version of the Sleepy John Estes blues classic, which finds the band firing on all cylinders, especially Dave's blistering guitar work.
"A Well Respected Man"
Originally released on the 1966 EP Kwyet Kinks (yeah, they really overplayed the whole "K" thing in the mid-‘60s), this is the first of many of Ray's almost vaudevillian parody songs, and it's also sarcastic as hell, as he takes aim at the upper crust establishment. It's also British as hell, another trait that distinguished the Kinks from so many of their contemporaries: they embraced and reveled in their Britishness, rather than going for the quasi-American posturing.
A decent chart single for the Kinks in 1967, this minor key pop masterpiece has many of the trademarks that would begin to define much of Ray Davies' songwriting over the next half dozen years or so, especially lyrically, with Ray tackling one "un-rock" topic after another.
"House in the Country" – Face to
Another rock ‘n' roll rant against the so-called respectable class, this song was covered by the Pretty Things in an attempt to make the Kinks more of a commercial concern. Kinks aficionados Blur appropriated the title of the song in the ‘90s on their No. 1 single "Country House."
"Rainy Day in June" – Face to Face
Provincial lyrical obsessions, undeniable melody, stark production, obvious English-ness in its presentation: it's got all the earmarks of the Ray Davies blueprint for music that lived in the ether between rock and pop.
"Death of a Clown" – Something Else
Sung (and co-written!) by guitarist Dave Davies – which is interesting enough, given that big brother Ray, for all intents and purposes, was the Kinks – this song became something of a hit for Dave, so much so that he began work on a solo career (not that it amounted to anything). Oddly enough, this song was released as a Dave Davies solo single, but then included, months later, on the Something Else album.
"Susannah's Still Alive"
Another Dave number, this is a heavy, stomping, riff-driven burner that bass player Pete Quaife went on record as saying he wished the band did more of in the late ‘60s. So do I.
"David Watts" – Something Else
Timeless bit of upbeat songwriting by Ray, as evidenced by the near-exact cover by The Jam more than a decade later.
"Mindless Child of Motherhood"
Written and sung by Dave, this catalog classic features phenomenal jangling guitar, and upbeat melody, and an almost Keith Moon-like rhythm. It also could be a blueprint for almost all of what came to be called "power pop" a decade later.
Middle period ("Reclusive British Art-Rockers")The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
The entire album is an extended Anglocentric ode to older English life and customs. It's also the first of an often tiring string of concept albums. And though it's one of the Kinks' finest albums, it was the first album that wasn't a hit seller…indeed, starting with this release, the Kinks never again had a hit album. This song is one of many standouts, as it chugs along with its train-like "Smokestack Lightning"-influenced rhythm, speeding up just slightly for the instrumental break, then back down again for the remainder. The harmonica is brilliant.
"Picture Book" –The Kinks Are the
Village Green Preservation Society
Irresistibly hooky and upbeat, and propelled along by a quirky little guitar riff, this song was featured a few years ago in a commercial for HP color photo printers. Perfect.
"Victoria" – Arthur
(Or the Decline and Fall of the British
A flop when it was originally released as a single, this song went on to become a concert standard for the group. The searing guitar of brother Dave lies at the heart of this song's – and the entire album's – appeal.
"Australia" – Arthur (Or the Decline
and Fall of the British Empire)
Presented as a sales pitch to the album's main characters' children (it's a concept album after all...sigh) to relocate to the land Down Under, the last half features an extended, mindblowing guitar solo by Dave, and shows why his guitar work was always key to the Kinks' sound.
"Rats" – Lola Versus Powerman and
the Moneygoround, Part One?
While the album features one of the Kinks' best-known songs ("Lola"), this angry guitar workout, like much of band's best material from this era, shouldn't have lapsed into obscurity. But the Kinks had become just too quirky for more audiences at this point.
"Apeman" – Lola Versus Powerman
and the Moneygoround, Part One
A quirky, upbeat little tune with a Calypso feel, it's an homage to mankind's ultimate simplicity in the face of technological, er, progress.
Skin and Bone –Muswell Hillbillies
The guitar work alone on this up-tempo country blues rocker makes it worthy of rediscovery.
Complicated Life – Muswell Hillbillies
The slide guitar in the background, Ray's lyrical introspection and honesty, the sing-along chorus: when everything clicks for the Kinks, this is the result.
Holloway Jail – Muswell Hillbillies
This story-song about a jailbird and his lady love has an almost Rolling Stones feel in its blending of blues, country and rock influences. Indeed, the entire album is a highlight in the Kinks' catalog.
[Note: nothing from Percy, the studio side of Everybody's In Show-Biz, Everybody's A Star, Preservation Act I, Preservation Act II, Soap Opera or Schoolboys In Disgrace. Hey, I'm a huge Kinks fan, and all 5 ½ of those albums are pure shite. Sorry.]
Late Period ("American Arena Rockers")Sleepwalker
Appearing in 1977 at the height of the punk era, this album was a turning point for the Kinks, and finally saw them shedding the weight of nearly a decade of one concept album after another. It also was a marked return to rock and riffs, rather than the characters, concepts and vaudevillian theatre of their previous five albums. This ballad became an almost-instant concert favorite.
"Trust Your Heart" –Misfits
If only Dave had been able to wrest more control of the Kinks from his older brother, perhaps the band would have become less anchored down by Ray's lyrical obsessions and theatrics and they could have simply gotten on with the business of visceral rocking out. Like on this number.
"(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" –Low
This album began the Kinks' ascension as American arena rockers in earnest, as stateside audiences embraced the band even while the UK collectively yawned. Part of it is the shedding of some of the band's Anglocentrism: what could be more American than Superman? Keep reading…
"Catch Me Now I'm Falling" –Low
The answer? Captain America.
"Around the Dial" – Give the People
What They Want
This album both proved and cemented the popularity of the Kinks in the US, and with such songs as the title track, "Destroyer," "Better Things" and "Art Lover," it's easy to hear why. Digging in a little deeper, this song is a scorching paean to American radio and another standout track.
"Don't Forget to Dance" – State
Overshadowed by "Come Dancing," this album's and Ray's biggest hit since the mid-‘60s, this Dave song is a bit darker, more guitar-driven (of course) and an altogether superior song. But better doesn't always mean better-selling…
"Living on a Thin Line" – Word of
A fan favorite that's only increased in popularity since being included repeatedly in The Sopranos, this stunning piece of songwriting showed that Ray still had it, after all the years, the concept albums, the highs, the lows, and inevitable and ongoing band strife. The Kinks went on to release a few more albums and numerous collections after this, but their force as a commercial entity was pretty much over at this point.
"Rock ‘N' Roll Cities" –Think Visual
Dave's brisk take on life on the road and the restorative power of music was the first time Davies Jr. had a song released as an A-side. The rest of the album is more or less standard fare, and occasionally drifts dangerously close to high concept yet again. You see, Ray was always best a writer of singles. It's the albums that did the band in, really.