By Dave Thompson
Tumultuous, tortured, tenacious and twisted. It’s traditional to open any appraisal of The Kinks with a bunch of adjectives misspelt with a “k.” But though tradition itself plays a big part in their story, kliché and the kommonplace will find no room at the inn.
More than half a century on from their dawn, and 50 years on from their American debut, The Kinks remain one of rock’s most misunderstood institutions, largely because they never truly understood their role in it. Always one step out of sync with everyone else, either the rest were playing catch-up with their brilliance, or their brilliance was playing catch-up with the rest.
A peerless run of ’60s hits notwithstanding, there was never a time when The Kinks were content to sit back on their laurels; nor a moment when Raymond Douglas Davies (henceforth “RDD”) believed he was in sight of his creative peak.
But still there are moments when the rest of us agree he was close; and others which, though they are less well-known, might even shade all of them. So here, for the sake of argument, debate and complaints, Goldmine kompiles the kream of The Kinks. And when you’ve kollekted them all, you’ve really got them.
You Really Got Me (1964)
All Day and All of the Night (1964)
In the beginning there was The Riff. Everybody now knows the story of the tatty green amp with knitting needles stuck in it; every musician still wishes that genius was always that simple to channel. But the fact remains, RDD’s song, Dave Davies’ guitar and a moment of man-machine madness created the monster that is still called Heavy Metal, and if The Kinks had dried up and died right now, that fact would remain unchanged.
A Well Respected Man (1965)
Autumn Almanac (1967)
Dead End Street (1966)
Dedicated Follower of Fashion (1966)
See My Friends (1965)
Set Me Free (1965)
Sunny Afternoon (1966)
Till the End of the Day (1965)
Tired of Waiting for You (1965)
Waterloo Sunset (1967)
This is it, the run of singles that established The Kinks among the British Invasion’s most reliable hitmakers (at least at home), and confirmed RDD not merely among the best pop songwriters of the era, but among the greatest of all time.
It’s standard journalese to wheel out praise for his powers of observation, satire, cynicism, wit and nostalgia, but none of those would matter if he hadn’t written such phenomenal songs. Visions of hometown London abound (“Waterloo Sunset” most notably), images of the working class life that RDD so lionized (“Shangri-La” is breathtakingly accurate; “Autumn Almanac” gloriously anachronistic; “Dead End Street” passionately unpatronizing). Modern fashions, favorite pretensions, loneliness, longing and love — all human life is here, and, again, when RDD was at his best, nobody could outwrite him.
I Go To Sleep (1965)
Stop Your Sobbing (1964)
Arguably, The Kinks’ own versions (one album track, one demo) are insignificant little things. But Pretender Chrissie Hynde saw their value, and transformed both into signature hits of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Catch her, too, on the ‘80s stand-put “Add It Up.”
Big Black Smoke (1966)
David Watts (1967)
Where Have All The Good Times Gone? (1966)
David Bowie more-or-less rewrote “Big Black Smoke” for his 1967 single “London Boys,” then served up a grinding guitar-led “Where Have All…” for his 1973 “Pin Ups” album, to deliver one of the finest Kinks covers of all time. Herman’s Hermits’ “Dandy” comes close, though, while the Jam’s take on “David Watts” seethed with all the punky-mod spunk that its lyrics demanded.
Harry Rag (1967)
There’s not many truly great songs about smoking, and that is probably for the best. But if you ever wanted a reason to start puffing on 20 a day, and an excuse to glory in the pursuit as well, there’s none better than RDD’s ode to the old demon weed, titled for a slab of Cockney rhyming slang.
Don’t You Fret (1965)
End of the Season (1967)
This is Where I Belong (1966)
Three odds that are easy to overlook … until you play them. “Don’t You Fret” is playful and gnarly, “End of the Season” sad and reflective and “This is Where I Belong” is just a lovely song about belonging.
All of My Friends Were There (1968)
Phenomenal Cat (1968)
The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
Village Green (1968)
Wicked Annabella (1968)
It’s easy to describe “The Village Green Preservation Society” as The Kinks’ finest album, all the more so since it arrived devoid of hit singles and was all but ignored at the time. But the title track is the ultra-Anglo statement of intent that RDD had been aiming for all along; “Village Green” is the sweetest of all home thoughts from abroad, “All of my Friends” paints stagefright in neon lettering and the cat and the witch are whimsical fairy tales that appeal to all ages.
When I Turn off the Living Room Light (1969)
Where Did the Spring Go (1969)
A brace of ditties first unearthed for “The Great Lost Kinks Album” — one the most back-handed love songs ever written; the other, as original purchasers will now know, a frighteningly prescient ode to the aging process.
Alcohol (live) (1971)
Celluloid Heroes (1972)
Holiday (live) (1971)
Muswell Hillbilly (1971)
The Moneygoround (1970)
It might be one of the great pop singalongs, but “Lola’s” knowing hybrid of sexual ambiguity and hormonal ambivalence also marks it out as one of the most disturbing songs of the era, a mood that set the pace for the best of RDD’s immediate future. “Celluloid Heroes” is weary and sad. “Alcohol” and “Holiday” (best caught on the live portion of “Everybody’s in Show-Biz”) are resignedly twisted and “The Moneygoround’s”s brief examination of its writer’s own finances is so brittle and bitter that you have to smile.
(A) Face in the Crowd (1975)
Mirror of Love (1974)
Sitting in the Midday Sun (1973)
Still the most misunderstood era in The Kinks’ history, the early-to-mid ‘70s drive to create the ultimate concept album saw RDD sacrificing song for plot, without seeming to realize that he’d already perfected the genre with “Village Green…” As an entire album, “Soap Opera” (represented here by the live favorite “(A) Face in the Crowd”) is the strongest, but highlights of its predecessors include the quirky “Mirror of Love” (catch the single mix), the uproarious “Cricket” and, best of all, “Midday Sun,” updating “Sunny Afternoon” (and “Holiday,” too) for the laziest day of your life.
Catch Me Now I’m Falling (1979)
Low Budget (1979)
Prince of the Punks (1980)
A new lease on life (at last, the conquest of America) saw The Kinks return to rocking basics, a process that peaked on the “One for the Road” live album (1980), which allowed each of these, and more besides, to rejoice in the most frenetic of environments. Lovers of RDD’s earlier wit might be left grimacing by the occasional blast of bombast, but “Prince of the Punks” (allegedly targeted at Tom Robinson, once signed – unhappily – to RDD’s Konk label) is the new “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” with added spite; and “Low Budget” could have been sung by any of RDD’s past luckless protagonists.
Add It Up (1981)
Art Lover (1981)
Come Dancing (1983)
Do It Again (1984)
Don’t Forget to Dance (1983)
The law of diminishing returns finally kicked in, and the last few Kinks albums, though they have their friends, rarely hold a candle to the past. Still, “Add It Up” is a mighty rocker, “Do It Again” was catchy as hell and “Art Lover” so delicately walks the line between sensitive and creepy that it can stand alongside any of RDD’s past paeans to pathos. Then there’s “Come Dancing,” a piece of semi-autobiographical nostalgia that would not have been out of place among the band’s ’60s hits; and “Don’t Forget to Dance,” another rumination on age, but supremely sensitive this time, and implausibly moving, too. Proving that the old devil could still write ‘em when he felt like it.