The Kinks Konspiracy
About 50 years ago, the British Invasion introduced us to acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who: bands that have been time-tested as some of the most influential of the 20th century. But few people know or remember The Kinks. Sure, the Fab Four moved the world with their evolving style and prolific songwriting; and the Stones still sell out arenas all over the world; and The Who’s rock operas are second to none. But too often, the contributions that the Kinks made to music have gone unrecognized. I even talked to someone once who referred to them as a “one-hit wonder.” Fie, I say!
Time and time again, the Big Three continue to be praised for their musical accomplishments. The Beatles have their own Rock Band video game franchise; the Stones get the Scorcese treatment; and Who songs are heard by millions every week at the beginning of any CSI episode. And to date, all three bands have also played the Super Bowl Half-Time Show.
But what about The Kinks? They get a Van Halen cover and a cameo on the Juno soundtrack. Sure, they’re in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame – and rightly so – but it seems they never achieved that same immortality in the public’s consciousness. Why? One could say it’s because they were too far ahead of their time, but a lot of it has to do with a union dispute that got them banned from playing in the States when the Beatles, the Stones, and The Who catapulted to mega-fame. For that and other business-side reasons, Ray Davies & Co. never got the credit they deserved.
Not to take anything away from the Holy Trinity, whose contributions have been plenty and substantial, but there’s a compelling argument to be made for The Kinks to be up there with them (if not – gasp – above them). Through Ray Davies’ clever lyrics and his brother Dave’s groundbreaking guitar sound (and spine-tingling vocal harmonies), the Kinks have a rich catalog of catchy tunes that everyone can relate to on some level. They’re fantastic storytellers whose songs inspire thought, capturing the complexities of daily life, from the mundane to the absurd.
The Kinks officially broke up in 1996 after decades of creative tension, surely amplified by the Davies brothers’ tumultuous relationship. Each brother has put out a bunch of solo stuff, and despite a few setbacks like Ray getting shot and Dave suffering a stroke (both in 2004), fans continue to hope for an eventual comeback. There’s even a documentary hitting the festivals right now called Do It Again, which chronicles journalist Geoff Edgers’ personal quest to reunite The Kinks – with commentary from famous Kinks fans like Sting and Clive Davis. But should a reunion never materialize, there’s still a rich and timeless catalog of music to reflect on.
So I thought I’d put together some of the reasons I love The Kinks, and why it’s such a mystery to me that they never enjoyed the same commercial success as their contemporaries. To me, there is simply no other band as under-rated and undervalued as Ray Davies and The Kinks.
10) “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – Single B-side (1966)
‘Cause, really, they’re not like everybody else. This angsty tune sums up a lot of the rebel attitude that the Kinks inspired. A real outcast’s anthem, it also foreshadows the mood and style of “punk rock” years before the term even hit our cultural lexicon.
9) “Shangri-La” – Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)
This tune is off of Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), a concept album about the hardships of life in post-war Britain and the desire to start anew. Lyrically, it’s a sarcastic look at cozy suburban life, and realizing that home can be both a haven and a prison. Musically, it’s got everything. It really shows off the band’s versatility. It starts off soft and acoustic; then the horns come in, followed by powerful harmonies that intensify until the song’s climax; throw in a key change and some power chords, and you have one of the most beautifully crafted pop songs of the 20th century.
“Lola” – Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970)
A real cheeky anthem for the Kinks, and an instant classic. I’ve been to a few Ray Davies show, and I’ve never heard so many people singing in unison about (SPOILER ALERT) a transvestite.
7) “Harry Rag” - Something Else by The Kinks (1967)
You don’t hear a lot of songs in popular music that revolve around smoking cigarettes, and how it unites people from all walks of life. Well, it did until the health nuts ruined smoking for everyone (I kid the health nuts.)
6) “Celluloid Heroes” - Everybody’s in Show-Biz (1972)
This is the first song I ever heard by The Kinks. It’s a hauntingly melancholy tune about the dangers of Hollywood through the haunted souls on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And it’s still so relevant today. You could easily substitute the tortured stars and starlets of yore with any name in a tabloid headline.
5) The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
Released only a year after the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, this concept album features a look at small-town life and mourns the loss of childhood relics like the “Village Green,” and that friend who moved away whom you never saw again (“Do You Remember Walter?”)
4) “Sunny Afternoon” – Single (1966)
One of my all-time favorites. It’s an ironic little tune about falling from grace, losing everything, and reflecting on the simpler things – the quiet peace of a “Sunny Afternoon.”
3) “Waterloo Sunset” – Something Else by The Kinks (1967)
Whenever he plays in the States, Ray Davies says the audience probably won’t understand this song because it’s about watching the sun set over his North London home. But really, it’s just a simple and beautiful soft ballad with great harmonies.
2) “Dead End Street” – Single (1966)
It’s a sad little song about the frustration of living in poverty. Accompanied with a few horns, it’s melancholy but also rebellious. A poor man’s cry to arms, if you will.
1) “You Really Got Me”/”All Day and All of the Night” – (1964)
Legend has it that guitarist Dave Davies (frontman Ray’s brother) invented that dirty, distorted sound by shredding the speaker cone of his amplifier with his mother’s knitting needles. The Kinks were also one of the first bands to use power chords way before anyone had conceived of Hard Rock, Punk, and Grunge. (Admittedly, Link Wray deserves a lot of credit for power chord, too). Side note: Record company execs originally rejected these early recordings, saying no one wants to listen to a guitar that sounds like a barking dog.
And here are some more songs worthy of a good listen:
“Alcohol” - Muswell Hillbillies (1971)
“Well Respected Man” – Kwyet Kinks (1965)
“Autumn Almanac” – Single (1967)
“Ape Man” - Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970)
“Till the End of the Day” – The Kink Kontroversy (1965)
“Victoria” - Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (1969)
“I Need You” – Single B-Side (1965)
“She’s Got Everything” – Four More Respected Gentlemen (1968)
“Animal Farm” – The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1969)
“Picture Book” – The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1969)
What’s your favorite Kinks tune? Are you a long time fan or a new recruit? Is their contribution to music as significant as those of the Beatles, the Stones, and The Who?