Sunday, 17 May 2009

Kool for Kats

The Kinks are for me the high point of English pop. I doubt that there's anybody who owns even just one of their original studio albums that doesn't own a greatest hits type album. They're that kind of band. "The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society" is often cited as their best album and was rereleased a few years ago to general acclaim and so possibly may be some people's sole Kinks album. I like it a lot but saying it's their best is like saying Sgt Pepper is The Beatles' best album. It's not. Just two concept albums that aren't really concept albums.

When I started to look out for their albums it was all a bit mysterious; in the days before the internet I didn't even know what some of them were called. My favourite is probably "Something Else" - though it feels as though it's been broken up and asset stripped with "David Watts", "Death of a Clown" and "Waterloo Sunset" all such firm fixtures on so many of the greatest hits collections. The quality of these songs led me to believe that whichever album they came from would be worth checking out in its entirety. Finding it one afternoon in a tiny little record shop, at the very bottom of a pile of records that was as high as my chest was quite a buzz.

Album songs such as "Two Sisters", "Afternoon Tea", "End of the Season" and "Harry Rag" are all very good, (I would say it's their most consistent album) but maybe overdo the Englishness. And I'm not always sure about the music hall touches to some of their songs: "Berkley Mews" and "Mr Pleasant" are very much in that vein featuring a high, tinkling piano but they work. Others that don't? "All of My Friends Were There" - brilliant lyrics but let down by a faintly ridiculous jaunty backing track. I do like it but it's just not right. I think what really makes The Kinks seem more English than their contemporaries is the sardonic detachment. "Shangri La" was my favourite for a while but it's perhaps too focussed on the minutiae of suburbia and wears too much of a sneer. Maybe by this time they'd become too self-conscious about it all. Utter irrelevance sets in at about 1970, their last album that I bothered with being Lola vs Powerman of that year which is good only for the singles "Lola" and "Apeman". Their best track all round has to be "Sunny Afternoon", the way Ray Davies wearily croons the lines, an oddly restrained harmonica piping along in the background. It's still in my top ten of songs.

And finally, a not altogether unimportant point: for at least as long as it took to take a few photos they were the sharpest dressed band in the Sixties. They totally had the Edwardian vampire look down.


  1. Hi,

    The Kinks is a grand band, I love the energy and well, the Englishness of the band. You’ve really got a great blog :)!


  2. Englishness indeed!

    I enjoyed reading your text on Kinks. Cool energetic band. Along with Small Faces, they must have been the ulitmate Swinging London band!



  3. Jenny, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Though I haven't read any of the books about the Kinks it seems clear they felt themselves apart from the whole Swinging London thing, despite, or possibly due to, actually being from London in the first place. Maybe it was only Ray Davies who felt that way, but the lyrics to "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" seem pretty lethal to me.

    And yes, the Small Faces are another excellent band - more in tune with the time than the Kinks. As with the Kinks if I'm really into an old band I'll try to seek out everything they've done rather than rely on greatest hits packages but I must confess I haven't with the Small Faces. I've made do with a couple of greatest hits albums and the only original I have is "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" which I absolutely love. Not exactly sure why I've never followed their other stuff up - possibly I was put off by "All or Nothing" and other earlier things being a bit too straight.

  4. Hi again,

    Yes, I am not surprised that Kinks felt apart from that scene. Somehow, their Englishness (seen through my Swedish perspective) and songs like "Waterloo Sunset" and, gee, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" makes me think of them that way. Hm... Then again, I can see their apartness.

    Oh, Small Faces! I love Steve Marriot's energic theatrical style. Talk about a natural born talent. I am also the sort of person who seeks out everything a good band has done, but when it comes to Small Faces I am happy listening to disc one and two of "The Essential Collection". "Ogden's" is really great! But I really like hits like "Tin Soldier" as well. :) I agree, though, that "All or Nothing" is too straight.