90 Minutes to Love: The Kinks

by Darren Clarke, January 27, 2022

“Less ambitious than Tommy, and far more musical — no fillers, no waste tracks, not a matter of ideas but of perceptions worked out by bass, drums, voices, horns and guitars — Arthur is by all odds the best British album of 1969. It shows that Pete Townshend still has worlds to conquer, and that the Beatles have a lot of catching up to do.”

J.R. Young, from Rolling Stone Magazine, Review of The Kinks, Arthur (Or Decline and Fall of the British Empire), 1969

We forget how great the Kinks were.

I was going to do playlists for three bands here- The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. I decided though that I wanted to focus solely on appreciating The Kinks, who, at the height of their powers were- singer/guitarist, Ray Davies his brother, guitarist Dave Davies, Peter Quaife on bass and Mick Avory on drums.

The Kinks Greatest Hits was the first album I walked into a record store, plucked from the Sam the Record Man wall and paid for with my own, probably not-all-that-hard-earned, money (the second was Abbey Road).

The Kinks Greatest Hits! and Ray Davies (courtesy Wiki Commons)

I had purchased The Kinks Greatest Hits! essentially for two songs- All Day and All of the Night and You Really Got Me. And here, some 40+ years after that purchase I recognize that those songs are defining for the heart of my taste. A type of concoction I revisit over and over, only delivered by different humans. The songs are reckless and infectious, delivered big, snappy, drums first, the guitar veering from giddy-up acoustic strumming to gloriously amateurish, lead guitar, that innocently jumps the song with all the verve and grace of an excited drunk stumbling into a room with a drink in both hands and despite much weaving, buckling, and tripping, as if favoured by the Gods, manages to not spill a drop from either drink. The songs create a shared experience of barely being able to contain yourself. In short, I knew at the time- This is the shit. So when I listen to some of my contemporary favourites like- The Replacements, The Black Keys, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Eddie Current Suppression Ring, that same Kinks energy that lit me up as ten year-old is there.

Now, Rolling Stone’s J.R. Young may feel it necessary to view art as a quantifiable competition but I’m not here to say anybody was making better music than anybody else. I instead reference his quote and name check The Beatles and The Rolling Stones more to remind folks that The Kinks were every bit as musically potent and influential as the bands held in the highest esteem from their era. Moreover, as the needle moved across the vinyl on that Greatest Hits album, I discovered there was way more to the band than just those incendiary rock tunes.

“We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck, vaudeville and variety
We are the Desperate Dan Appreciation Society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you
What more can we do?”

The Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society

The Kinks catalogue offers so much in terms of venues, backdrops, feelings and emotions. They take you to the flea market, they transport you back in time (and sometimes into the future via a Supersonic Rocketship), they take you for tea and toast (more than once), they jet you to Australia, they invite you multiple times to simply sit out in the sun with them. Of course, there’s love and heartbreak, sometimes involving young men falling in love with transvestites, sometimes just involving the desire to be nice and gentle. There’s also photo albums and almanacs passed around, we go to Muswell pubs and when we’re there we have a draught and lament the people in grey and conformity in general. You get the point- Listening to the Kinks you travel to a lot of places. You experience the vast, humble, spectrum that constituted the context for both their favourite slices of reality and their most whimsical imaginings.

“We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society
God save Mrs. Mopp and good old Mother Riley
We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross, and all those who were awarded them

We are the Sherlock Holmes English-speaking Vernacular
God save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups, and virginity
We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliates
God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you
What more can we do?”

So, look, I could post a bunch of quotes about things like The Kinks introducing the sitar to The Beatles via the song See My Friends in 1965. I could supply more references to how influential and groundbreaking their songwriting was. But I don’t think The Kinks are viewed properly through the lens of constantly invoking their peers from their era. At their best The Kinks were singular artists relaying something genuine and compelling about the fabric of where they came from and who they were. Ray and Dave Davies grew up in the Muswell Hill area of North London, they were the very Muswell Hillbillies referenced in the 1971 album title. Their songwriting was hallmarked varyingly by humour, wit and melancholy accompanied by a veritable hootenanny of musical backdrops- country, blues, garage rock and even classical flourishes.

There’s so much to the Kinks legacy. Lead by the often times combative brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, banned from playing the United States for four years early in their career, the band’s career spans decades, their influence ongoing. If you want to learn more about The Kinks Ray Davies has written any number of books about the bands experiences and creations. Check them out. In the meantime let’s not further linger on theory and speculation when the meal is served.

God save the Village Green!” and just press play,.

iTunes link

(this blog post is dedicated to your friend and mine, the world’s biggest Kinks fan- Stu Christie as well as another big Kinks fan, though I think he ranks like #7,147 the Kinks Biggest Fan list- Christ Bortolotto)