The Kinks

TrackSingle / Album
Nothin' In The World Can Stop
Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl
Kinda Kinks
See My FriendsPye single 7N 15919
Do You Remember Walter?The Kinks Are The Village
Green Preservation Society
DaysPye single 7N 17573
StrangersLola Versus Powerman
and the Moneygoround
This Time TomorrowLola Versus Powerman
and the Moneygoround
MisfitsMisfits
Around The DialGive The People What They Want
Summer's GoneWord Of Mouth
To The BoneTo The Bone

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

As a long time admirer of the Brothers Davies, I’ve always been a little miffed they somehow have always been seen as lagging behind the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who in what we in the USA fondly refer to as the British Invasion. A thirty year career which only at the very end saw more than a two year gap between album releases meant the Kinks recorded a whole lot of great songs. Far too many to really create a definitive top ten, but today I’m feeling foolish enough to give it a go.

I surprised myself a little by quickly flying over those early classics and those wonderfully distorted power chords riffs of Dave Davies. I doubt that would have happened if I’d made this list 30 years ago, but like us all the years bring new perspective. That isn’t to say that Dave doesn’t bring so much to the table that I still admire in the Kinks (in fact I couldn’t help think he has a legitimate Toppermost of his own in the making) but Ray’s somewhat unique view of the world hits the right chords at this point in my life.

Met a girl, fell in love, glad as I can be
Met a girl, fell in love, glad as I can be
But I think all the time, is she true to me?
Cause there’s nothing in this world to stop me worryin’ ’bout that girl

Four months into the recording career of the Kinks, Ray Davies was already stretching, and none to happy that Shel Talmy seemed quite content to have them continue on as R&B Cover Band of sorts on their second album, Kinda Kinks. Ray always felt the mixes and production for the album were far too rough, and purposely rough due to Talmy’s desires for the group’s direction. Still, a number of tracks stood out, among them Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl. A wonderfully sad and introspective little lament in which I hear the first awakening of the man on the outside who has always been such a fixture in Ray’s songwriting. Slow and somewhat sad it signals to the world, along with a couple other songs on the album, that the Kinks weren’t just going to be the You Really Got Me guys.

I never quite bought the idea my second song, See My Friends, was the Kinks swerve into recording a psychedelic rock song. I do believe it was the first western rock song to use Indian Raga sounds some six months before the Beatles did so. Ray has occasionally said the song is about his older sister Rene who died from a heart condition while out dancing just after she gave Ray his first guitar for his 13th birthday. The music was supposedly inspired by the fisherman chants Ray heard in Bombay during their 1965 Asian tour. But anyone who has suffered any sort of loss can connect with the singer’s emotions. It’s a great story if true. Life and music always swirling around each other and getting caught up with each other.

Can you have a happy lament? Do You Remember Walter? seems certainly to be one for me. Anyone who has lost touch with friends from their youth can immediately identify with the song. Starting off with a fun little intro on the piano, the singer reaches out to his old friend Walter – who it seems he hasn’t seen in years and has no idea where he is now – about those glorious days of youth when “Walter, how we said we’d fight the world so we’d be free / We’d save up all our money and we’d buy a boat and sail away to sea.” But we all grow up, and he knows his old friend is probably married and home by eight these days. Still, and in one of my favorite lines from a Kinks’ song, “people often change, but memories of people can remain.”

Days is yet another uptempo ballad that is certainly bittersweet lyrically. It seems a pretty stereotypical song about a former lover who has either left or even died. Whatever the reason for the absence they are thanked for the days spent together, forgiven, and remembered by the protagonist every single day. As the years have rolled on, Ray has taken to claiming the song was about Peter Quaife leaving the Kinks and not really being sure what the future of the group was going to be. Ive heard Ray, in live shows, say the Kinks actually ended when Pete left the group and after that it was just some guys using the name. It’s the kind of thing Ray would say, and he has shown a wonderful capacity for rewriting his history and what his songs are about based on what he is thinking at the moment. Regardless, Days is a great song.

It must be pretty annoying to be a very good songwriter in a band that contains a great songwriter who happens to be your older brother. Dave probably deserved more album spots than he got over the years, but his usual one song per album frequently delivered. Strangers was overlooked in the huge success of Lola from the same album, but it is certainly my favorite song from that period. Somewhat cryptic, in a way Dave’s songs were that Ray’s never were, it supposedly was inspired by a Hank Williams song and the death of a schooldays friend of Dave’s. Before the Kinks came together Dave was planning on starting a band with him and saw him as his true musical partner and not Ray. So we have “Strangers on this road we are on / we are not two we are one.” Morbidly enough the lines, “If I live too long, I’m afraid I’ll die” are, according to Dave, about how he knew it was either going to be him or his friend who died young of over excess.

Another song I personally prefer over Lola from the album bearing his/her name is This Time Tomorrow. No great meaning to the song for me, no good story from the Brothers about its meaning, no – I just like it a whole lot, and sometimes that is enough. Today it’s in my top ten, tomorrow it may not be and I’d argue about how much more meaning Set Me Free has for me, but that is the fun of these sort of lists isn’t it?

Misfits from the album of the same name certainly brings back the memorable Ray protagonist of the outsider. In some ways it also brings back memories of the days from Walter, as the singer is describing his friend who has set out to outrage but now can’t get arrested. Still, there seems to be a dual edged sword to being a misfit as even though things haven’t worked well there is some sort of pride in that last line, “Yet, still you go your own way” as well as an earlier line that claims, “Though it’s cold outside / I know the summer’s gonna come again.” Oddly enough, one of my favorite later songs is called Summer’s Gone.

Around The Dial is a great 1980s Kinks song. On the face of it you have a pretty by the book rock and roll tune from the era. But it is still a Kinks song, full of a paradox and a bit of bitter sweetness. As a young man I took it to be an anthem for how bad radio was, and the lack of any effort to play anything not approved by some corporation. And I suppose it still is. It’s also a ton of fun to hear Ray going on about how he is searching for his favorite DJ. He is sure the answer to so much is out there somewhere on the dial. The end though? When he asks “Can you hear me?”, “Are you listenin’?”, “Are you out there?”. Is that singer searching for us or for his favorite DJ?

Another fun rocker from the 1980s is Summer’s Gone. A great little story inside the song is the singer looking back to a time when:

I was riding in the car with my mum and dad,
He was drivin’ the car, the kids were drivin’ him mad.
Dad looked at us, then he looked at his wife,
He must have wondered where we all came from.
And then mum said, Dad, you know it won’t last for long,
Before you know it, Summer’s gone.

Just a really great moment, but like most Ray creations our protagonist thinks he has blown it all and now sadly Summer’s Gone.

It’s a truly wonderful thing when one of your favorite groups bow out on a seriously high note. “In the back of a record rack / There’s a old double pack / twelve inches and black / with an old crumpled cover / but every track is stacked.” You wouldn’t be reading Toppermost if that opening stanza doesn’t mean something to you. Oh sure it’s about a lot of different tunes making this singer remember former love, but when it comes down to it the song is about how, “every single groove / cuts me to the bone”. It’s about how music defines our lives. It’s about the soundtrack of our lives and it’s the last song on the last Kinks album. It’s one hell of way to call it a day.
 

Footnotes

On some other days, Something Better Beginning, Set Me Free, I Gotta Move, Waterloo Sunset, Village Green Preservation Society, 20th Century Man, Sitting In My Hotel and State Of Confusion might have snuck on to this list. But for today, and perhaps today only, this is my Top 10 Favorite Kinks Songs.

See My Friends was first released as a single in the UK in July 1965 (title pressed as See My Friend, B-side Never Met a Girl Like You Before) and is on the 1965 US-only album, Kinks Kinkdom. The track also appears on the 1966 UK EP, Dedicated Kinks.

Days was first released as a single in the UK in June 1968 (title pressed as Day’s, B-side She’s Got Everything) and is on the 1972 US-only compilation album, The Kink Kronikles.

To The Bone appears on the US version of the live double album of the same name released in 1996.
 

The Kinks official website

Dave Emlen’s Unofficial Kinks Web Site

Official Kinks Fan Club

The Kinks biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #188

15 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Feb 5, 2014

    I’m fascinated by Calvin’s choices, and loved his explanations of them. This is a great Toppermost. I’m not aware of the depth of their later catalogue, and every time I do explore further, I find a gem or two. I don’t even know Summer’s Gone, but after reading here, I just ordered “Word of Mouth.”

    I saw The Kinks were coming, and I know how predictable my choices are. I start with You Really Got Me and don’t go past Everybody’s In Showbiz. Try “The Kinks at the BBC” because on those early sessions they sound even better live and simple than studio. In contrast, The Beatles are fun at the BBC, but always inferior to the originals.

    Waterloo Sunset ranks with Like A Rolling Stone, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Hey Jude, Proud Mary and Born To Run as one of the greatest singles ever made. I’ve recovered from my shock when I found out it wasn’t about a Far From The Madding Crowd poster of Terence Stamp and Julie Christie … a pub quiz question for years that was wrong, as the single was out before any film publicity. But I feel a warm glow every time I hear it. In the late 60s, I was often meeting my then girlfriend at Waterloo Station, sometimes at sunset as I was travelling there after work, and we crossed over the river. And Friday was the normal day too. And the song still plays in my head every time I drive past Waterloo to the South Bank. Yes, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

    My list is the screamingly obvious from start to finish and was so fixed mentally I wrote it straight out without thinking. It’s also ignorant of most of their later work. Best album for me? Definitely Village Green Preservation Society.

    You Really Got Me, Tired of Waiting For You, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Sunny Afternoon, Dead End Street, Waterloo Sunset, Picture Book, Days, Lola, Celluloid Heroes.

    The latest Uncut has Ray, Dave and Mick on a Kinks 2014 reunion tour, and they contradict themselves and each other throughout. But that’s expected.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    Feb 5, 2014

    I’ve always thought The Kinks as underrated compared to their peers. Great essay and, like Peter, my choices went straight to the obvious. Lola is as good a single as you could wish to hear and Waterloo Sunset has to be in the top 10 songs about London. I must put in a plug for Kate Rusby’s cover of Village Green Preservation Society. Sung in her native Yorkshire accent it sounds so much better than the original. But you need a quality singer in the first place before you can have a quality cover.

  3. Calvin Rydbom
    Feb 5, 2014

    Word of Mouth is a strong late entry Peter. Do it Again was a fan favorite here in the US and the Kinks kicked off their live shows for a couple of years with it.

    Dave has been trying to get a reunion together for years, which is odd as it was him who pushed Mick out of the band, and he quit the group a few times. But I have noticed a thawing as well, a few years back Ray/Dave interviews always included the statement that they hadn’t spoken in a few years. Lately it’s been showing up on Dave’s website, at least: “Had dinner with Ray last night”.

    Dont know how I feel about it, sometimes the past is best left in the past. I find the Stones and the Who somewhat sad live these days. I’d hate to feel the same about Ray/Dave/Mick.

  4. Peter Viney
    Feb 5, 2014

    The different trajectory in America and Britain is because they had a union ban on touring the States for four years at their British peak. The Kinks were on the Pye label in the 60s, and Pye had no comprehension of what they had. So while Ray Davies struggled with concept albums like The Village Green Preservation Society, Pye merrily chucked together random collections of Kinks singles for the budget-priced Marble Arch label, thus undermining the albums conceived as such. Pye were the quintessential singles label and were incapable of thinking album for very long. “Village Green” was in the remainder racks within six months, which is where I got my mono copy, now rated (if mint) as worth £200.

    The Kinks had an odd career slump somewhere around the Arthur era and Plastic Man / Victoria, though it revived with Lola. I saw them around then, and they weren’t particularly good live at that point either. I have Arthur playing now. “Victoria” was studied so carefully by Marc Bolan for T-Rex. They say they invented heavy metal and punk, but the beginning of Victoria gives a claim to glam rock as well.

  5. Rob Millis
    Feb 7, 2014

    Great choices, Calvin and I say that very much as NOT a fan of The Kinks. I like the way you’ve stuck to your genuinely personal recommendations, as I try to do too, and if that means eschewing golden greats of such magnitude that the comments box lights up like a Christmas tree, then so be it. I’ve got your back covered!

    I cannot warm to Dave Davies. I’ve read so many interviews over the years both in the music monthlies that we probably all read and in guitarist magazines that not all of us read, and the bleating and whinging just beggars belief, mainly aimed at Ray being all kinds of so-and-so and absolutely no gratitude for his brother’s esteemed writing, without which Dave would never have had the money for his first Les Paul Custom.

    I know Mick Avory; we both occupy the same London gig circuit. So Dave fired him? Hmm, I’ll bear THAT in mind too!

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Feb 11, 2014

      Dave and Mick had a pretty contentious relationship at the end. Actually breaking out into a fist fight in a Washington D.C. concerts in the 1980s. Dave supposedly spit on Mick on stage.

      Dave is pretty up front into going to Ray in the 1980s and telling Ray he felt the band needed some changes and pushed to have Mick replaced. I get the feeling from what I read Mick was done anyway, and he moved into managing Konk Studios.

      But yes, Dave is a self absorbed jerk a lot of the time.

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Oct 29, 2014

      Interesting sidenote. Ray was quoted the other day as saying the reason the Kinks Reunion hasnt happened is Dave wants to exclude Mick, and Ray wont go out as the Kinks unless Mick is involved.

  6. Peter Viney
    Feb 7, 2014

    Word of Mouth arrived the next morning. I agree, Summer’s Gone is a first rate lyric and song. Do It Again also stands out, but if I’d just heard it on the radio, until Ray does the semi-spoken bit, I would never have guessed it was The Kinks. Sounds 80s stadium band! The sleeve notes are fascinating on what an ignored poor-seller it was, now being rediscovered. So thanks, Calvin for discovering it for me.

    I tend to agree with Rob on Dave Davies, but he does need his own Toppermost, as does solo Ray. Playing Word of Mouth the last two days, I really like Living On A Thin Line … which is a Dave track.

  7. Merric Davidson
    Feb 7, 2014

    Fine album Word Of Mouth and incredible to think it’s been well over 10 years since Living On A Thin Line featured heavily in The Sopranos. That’s a vote of confidence if you like.

  8. Andrew Shields
    Feb 8, 2014

    Great list and a fine tribute to a great band. For my money, Ray Davies is up there with the very best English songwriters…

    A few personal favourites would be ‘David Watts’, ‘Victoria’ – perhaps the classic rock song about the British Empire (the Fall also did a very good cover version) – “Big Sky’ and ‘Monica’ from The Village Green Preservation Society and almost any track from ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ …

    To my mind, ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ was, perhaps, the last Kinks’ masterpiece (in the great run which started with ‘Something Else’) and also one of the great concept albums.

  9. Merric Davidson
    Feb 8, 2014

    ‘Something Else’ is the Kinks album I return to the most. It’s just such a great run of songs starting with David Watts, ending with Waterloo Sunset, three Dave songs including his wonder-hit Death of a Clown, and Ray – the boy who had six older sisters – one of Ray’s most entrancing songs, Two Sisters. A truly great album.

  10. Peter Viney
    Feb 8, 2014

    I said before that Pye Records didn’t focus on albums, Something Else being indeed an exception … though any other major label would have sold more copies. The other exceptions were two debut LPs, Meet The Searchers, and “Kinks” both being hugely influential on young bands fumbling at playing R&B.

    “Kinks” had some well-chosen covers, but all done in their style. Everyone else that year played Hi-Heel Sneakers. Not the Kinks. They did Long Tall Shorty, the follow-up. The obligatory Chuck Berry were Beautiful Delilah, an unusual choice, and Too Much Monkey Business. Then Lazy Lester’s I’m A Lover Not A Fighter. Which Bo Diddley? Again unexpected, Cadillac. Slim Harpo for Got Love If You Want It. These guys were blues curators to match The Stones at that point … except they moved on quicker and more thoroughly. I can remember learning to (nearly) play all those from “Kinks.”

  11. Roger Woods
    Mar 4, 2014

    Very interesting list Calvin and a great explanation which follows. I would have only chosen Days from your list but that may be because you’ve chosen songs I don’t know. That’s a great thing about Toppermost and I’ll rectify that in short order.

    I’ve seen Ray play three or four times in the last few years. His pride in the Kinks material is impressive. The late Ned Sherrin once compared Ray’s writing to that of Noel Coward. That’s a high powered compliment. Ned Sherrin also made much of their parochialism as a strength of Ray’s composing – commenting that while The Stones took Highway 66, the Kinks took the M6.

  12. Peter Viney
    Mar 4, 2014

    Just linking The Kinks with the Toppermost today (The Decemberists, #213), their website shows that the EP you can only buy on the current solo tour by Colin Meloy is “Colin Meloy Sings The Kinks” and he has chosen Waterloo Sunset, Harry Rag, The Way Love Used To Be, Do You Remember Walter? and Days.

    So turn to today’s UNCUT and Simone Felice (Toppermost #51) has chosen Waterloo Sunset as one of his favorite songs.

  13. Keith Shackleton
    Mar 6, 2014

    One of my favourite covers – Peter Bruntnell recording Waterloo Sunset for a Mojo covermount “The Modern Genius of Ray Davies” – first few bars here.

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