This has not been a good year for the Kinks. In January, Ray Davies, the heart and soul of the great English rock band, got shot in the leg in New Orleans while chasing a purse-snatcher...
This has not been a good year for the Kinks.
In January, Ray Davies, the heart and soul of the great English rock band, got shot in the leg in New Orleans while chasing a purse-snatcher. In June, Dave Davies, whose guitar stylings are key to the Kinks’ style, suffered a stroke.
Ray has recovered. But his younger brother Dave may never perform again, which means it is unlikely that the Kinks whose last concert was in 1996 in Norway will ever get back together.
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But this has been a good year for Kinks fans, thanks to Koch Records’ release of classic Kinks albums from the 1970s and ’80s, on “Super Audio” CDs, most with added cuts. Nine titles are already in the stores, with the six remaining due to be released from January to October next year.
Kinks fans have been frustrated for decades by the fact that the seminal “British Invasion” rock band has never gotten its due, in the form of a box set or a series of retrospectives. That’s because the band recorded for many labels, including Reprise, RCA, Arista, MCA, Columbia and Konk, among others, and its songs are owned by several music publishers. Those entities have never been able to agree on a box set drawn from several labels, even though it would surely be a best seller.
The Koch re-releases come from the RCA years, 1971 to 1986. That’s when the Kinks underwent a profound change, following the international success of “Lola,” the novelty/singalong song about a man in drag romanced by an unwitting suitor.
“Lola” was the last in a string of remarkable hit singles for the band, starting with the classic “You Really Got Me” in 1964, and including “All Day and All of the Night,” “Tired of Waiting for You,” “A Well Respected Man,” “Sunny Afternoon” and “Waterloo Sunset.”
After the “Lola” phenomenon, the Kinks had only one more hit single, “Come Dancing,” in 1983. That’s because Ray Davies concentrated on writing concept albums, based on a theme or story, rather than hit singles. He drew on his love of English music hall and vaudeville traditions, along with a fascination with America, to create campy characters and clever storylines.
The quality of his songwriting never diminished, but the change of subject matter and the various styles he utilized confused radio programmers, who largely ignored the Kinks in the 1970s and ’80s.
But true fans never abandoned the band, especially in America. The concept albums did better here than they did in England, and the band continued to tour here very successfully (making up for the latter half of the ’60s, when it was effectively banned from touring in America, after having been blacklisted by unions due to a labor dispute on one of its early tours here.)
The first release of the Koch reissues was “Muswell Hillbillies,” an album that mixed Davies’ personal life including his basic Englishness, and his paranoia with fantasies about the American West. It’s brilliant, with every song a showpiece, literally, capable of being performed by a character in costume. Songs range from the tuba-rhythmed, music-hall style “Alcohol” to the upbeat “Have A Cuppa Tea” to the faux country “Oklahoma U.S.A.”
“Schoolboys in Disgrace” is the most entertaining of the concept albums. Even if you’re not familiar with the English school system, the characters and stories are funny, and the songwriting is inspired. “The Hard Way” and “No More Looking Back” are among Davies’ finest songs of the period.
“Preservation Act I” and “Act II” are the most ambitious of the concept albums, a crime story about the mysterious Flash, who eventually experiences salvation. The albums were intended to be the soundtrack of a musical or a movie, but the show was never staged or filmed.
“Soap Opera,” set to be released Jan. 11 (along with “Sleepwalker”), is about a promoter who randomly picks an ordinary man and makes him a star. The story is clever, but the best thing about the album is the song “Everybody’s A Star.”
Individual songs stand out in the other releases, such as “Celluloid Heroes” from “Everybody’s In Showbiz,” “Juke Box Music” from “Sleepwalker,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” from “Misfits,” “Don’t Forget to Dance” from “State of Confusion,” “Living on a Thin Line” from “Word of Mouth” and the title tune of “Low Budget.”
Early Kinks’ songs are reprised on the live album, “One for the Road,” so the re-issues do give a sense of the whole first 20 years or so of the Kinks. The bonus tracks on most of the albums are cuts that have never before been released on CD, either outtakes or the B-sides of singles.
The Kinks may be mostly thought of as a ’60s group but, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other great bands that emerged in that period, Ray Davies and company continued on for decades, producing great music that endures.
Now how about that box set? We Kinks fans are waiting.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org