Ray Davies

TrackAlbum
Return To WaterlooReturn To Waterloo
StorytellerThe Storyteller
That Old Black MagicThe Storyteller
X-RayThe Storyteller
Things Are Gonna ChangeOther People's Lives
Creatures Of Little FaithOther People's Lives
Stand Up ComicOther People's Lives
Working Man's CaféWorking Man's Café
No One ListenWorking Man's Café
Imaginary ManWorking Man's Café

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Ray Davies might have been the first musical act I appreciated as an adult, or at least from an adult mindset. It’s hard to say now some 40 years after the fact, if it was members of the Band, Ray Davies, Todd Rundgren or maybe Richie Furay who first made me think of music as art, as something substantial and not just fun noise. But he was in the mix when my musical tastes moved from the Monkees (their show was on Saturday Morning TV for years probably has much to do with their nostalgic presence, as they were a lot of U.S. kids’ first band) to the beginning of what they are now. That being pretentious, judgemental and somewhat condescending to those who like “pop”.

OK, maybe it isn’t that bad, but I do take my music seriously, as I suppose most of us on here do.

Anyway, we’re talking about Raymond Douglas Davies, the Charles Dickens of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The 60s icon who could never be seen as a bad boy, but sort of a grumpy old codger awash in nostalgia. In some recent interviews surrounding his new book, Ray has been saying that his best songs wrote him rather than the other way around. Now Ray is a notorious liar, creating Kinks mythology as he goes along, often changing a story to suit his mood at the time. But that sort of makes sense to me. About Waterloo Sunset, he recently said “the great songs write you, that’s how the best songs come about.”

Now nobody in their right mind wouldn’t agree that the vast majority of his best songs came as the leader of The Kinks, but the man’s solo work has been greatly underrated.

If you look Ray up you’ll find he has released six solo albums but for our purposes we’ll be looking at three and a half albums. Not that The Choral Collection and See My Friends aren’t worthwhile listens but they are essentially the Kinks Greatest Hits remade with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and a collection of guest starts a la Sinatra’s Duets, a genre I’m not really a big fan of. 1985’s Return To Waterloo has always been credited as a Ray Solo Album but the personnel is every member of The Kinks but Dave Davies, and a gentleman named John O’Donnell listed as Percussion. So if you ever wanted to know what The Kinks would have sounded like without Dave then listen to Return To Waterloo and Word Of Mouth as a couple of the songs are the same.

So, if I haven’t blathered on too much at this point. The title track, Return To Waterloo, is such a Ray song. “Somehow you feel that the world’s been passing you by/Can’t help thinkin’ somehow they’re living a lie/Now I’m asking questions, I never thought I’d ask them before/Like why or how or what am I doing it for?” Come on Ray, I love you pal, but you find yourself asking questions you’d never thought you’d ask? You spent the previous twenty years asking those questions. I also like how he dropped a little electronica in the song, the lack of having a Dave guitar riff to fall back on seemingly changed the way Ray structured the song. I’m not sure for the best, but it seems he certainly realized not having Dave there changed things.

I waited thirteen years for a second Ray solo album; it was really a recording of a live show where he essentially told the story of The Kinks and how everything happened. I saw the show three times myself, and he was so damn good. It always seemed like a story had just popped into his head, ever the showman milking the crowd. It’s a great album as much for the old Kinks songs as the handful of new songs. You really want to believe the story about them coming back from their first legitimate tour of the UK and the Davies’ dad bringing all his mates down to see his boys the pop stars, and getting good and hammered in the process. According to Ray his dad lumbered over and drunkenly told him, for the first time, he was proud of him. Ray claims all he could think to say was, “Thanks Dad, I’m sorry it couldn’t have been for something good like football.” God I hope that’s true. And Ray’s claim he had to yell Ohhhhh Noooo during You Really Got Me because when it came time for Dave’s solo Ray said he gave him a look to say, this is it brother, this is what we’ve been working for since we played together in the living room. According to Ray, Dave then gave him that half ways smile he has grown to love and hate over his life yelled “Fuck Off”, turned away from him and played himself into Rock ‘n’ Roll history. It was a great version and they had to hide Dave’s swearing. I’m sure it’s a lie, but I want to believe it anyway.

Ray has a couple of pretty good new songs on The Storyteller as well; the title track of course were Ray talks about “Storyteller/I believe ev’ry word you say/Storyteller I bet you told a good tale in your day/He tried to tell the people/But the people wouldn’t hear/Him spinning yarns/and telling tales from yesteryear.” Good stuff, and perhaps a look into how Ray sees himself as an artist. Not a Rock Star, but a Storyteller.

I also loved his version of That Old Back Magic, just because it’s Ray doing Old Black Magic. It makes so much sense Ray would want to do those sort of tunes.

I’m also a big fan of X-Ray from this disc. It’s a great little tune about injuries ending Ray’s athletic career as a student, but of course Ray somehow turns what is revealed in the X-Ray into “Inside every upright citizen a tormented/Emotionally impaired psychological damaged person resides.” And when he starts to think about how being a cripple won’t be so bad, I mean he’ll get priority seating at football matches. So so Ray.

It seemed around 2006-2007, Ray was going to start an actual solo career when he released a couple pretty strong discs back to back.

The first, Other People’s Lives, was the album Kinks fans had been waiting for.

Things Are Gonna Change charges out of the gate announcing Ray is gonna rock out a little this album: “But the world will never change/So we must dig inside, and crawl outside ourselves/I will, I bloody well will/Things are gonna change.” Maybe, probably not Ray, but you can dream.

Creatures Of Little Faith is a great turn about relationships for the most part being doomed because we just can’t trust each other. It’s such a Ray song, full of recriminations and the certainty that in one way or another we’re doomed, we’re all doomed.

Stand Up Comic is as much of a statement of one of Ray’s song streams as he’s ever written. “Jack the Lad has become Oscar Wilde/And the followers of style say it’s the latest thing/and William Shakespeare is the schmooze of the week … And the comic says bollocks and everyone laughs … Style I mean/Never was much, never has been/But the little bit that was all that we had.” Plus, it’s a really catchy tune.

Thanksgiving Day is also a great revisiting of an old Ray theme. “Papa looks over at the small gathering/Remembering days gone by.” Ray, more than any artist of the Rock era, is enamoured with what used to be. Here though instead of singing about an England that no longer exists he specifically says he is singing about America. Little change there that seems to have stuck from that point on.

Not sure if it constitutes a theme but for the fourth time the title track of an album makes my list. In this case it’s Working Man’s Café. Once again though, he sings about how it feels like America and that we have come a long way. Has the quintessential English Pop Star completely migrated in his own head? And of course he has to throw in a line about “I knew you then” which might be the most used line in a Ray Davies song ever.

And as Ray seems to be contractually obligated to write at least one song per album about technology swallowing us whole and screwing with the society he loves, we have No One Listen. And, like always, Ray feels “Now I’m stuck here in their system/They ain’t gonna listen, nobody listens.” For a fairly wealthy successful writer and musician for fifty years now, Ray seems sort of depressed sometimes.

You know, if I’m being completely honest, I like a couple tunes off of Other People’s Lives than my last song from Working Man’s Café. But I’m taken by some of the imagery in Imaginary Man. Specifically, how he asks if this is the last station. When I first heard it I went scrambling for Return to Waterloo, because on the title track and first song from that album Ray asks “Have we got a few more stations/Or is this as far as we go?” Sort of ties things together. Ray’s been writing, for the most part, about the same five or six ideas over and over again for fifty years, which isn’t a criticism mind you. The guy has been trying to work through these ideas for half a century now, and has written tons of good songs while doing so. A much better way than visting a therapist every other Tuesday for all that time.

Point blank, there is stuff here, complete albums mind you, that are as good as anything Ray did with Dave and the other guys for a large part of their careers. Other People’s Lives could have been a late career gem in the way nothing a Beatle, a Who or the Stones have done over the last 20+ years. Ray’s solo career deserves a little love. Go listen to some of the cuts and try and tell me otherwise.

 

Ray Davies official website

Ray Davies biography (iTunes)

Calvin also writes about The Kinks in Toppermost #188.

TopperPost #288

2 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    May 29, 2014

    Thanks for that, Calvin. Working Man’s Café had an odd trajectory in Britiain. The week before its release, it was given away free as a covermount disc with The Sunday Times newspaper, meaning 1.3 million copies in thin card sleeves went out. A week later it was issued on normal CD with two “bonus tracks”, Hymn For A New Age and The Real World. As a result, the free version was easy to pick up in British charity shops for a 10p or 20p donation when every shop used to have a large box of covermount CDs and DVDs. Did the strategy work? There were a few attempts to do this around 2007. Prince released one too. Ray would have been paid a lot of money by The Sunday Times … more than he was likely to earn from sales.
    I picked up the 45 “A Quiet Life” on Friday in a “3 for £5” rack in a used vinyl store. It was from the film Absolute Beginners. Interesting and fun plus truly great sleeve photo. I’m not sure that I’d knock anything else out for it.

  2. Kieth A. Peppers
    May 31, 2014

    Great article. Thanks for the recommendations. I found the Kinks as an adult and have enjoyed much of their music. The flip side of that is, as an adult I have little time or energy to explore anything new including music. So, your thoughts and suggestions make “exploring” Davies solo works much easier to do.

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