Tuesday, March 04, 2008


My brother is doing a thing on his blog about the Beatles, Stones and The Who and their best ten songs in his humble opinion. He mentioned The Kinks and admitted that there are many (myself included) who would argue their superiority over those other British bands (though The Who were the perfect rock band). So I’ll let him do those bands and I’ll talk about The Kinks and my favorite songs of theirs.

First off, let me say that The Kinks may never have made a perfect album, like The Who did with Quadrophenia. But The Beatles never made a perfect album either. Sgt. Pepper could have used some trimming. I love The White Album with all of my heart, though I admit it has a few clunkers (only two, really, that I can’t stomach, neither of which is the underrated and oft maligned “Revolution 9”). All things considered, I’ll still always take peak era Kinks (Face to Face, Something Else, Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur) over The Beatles any day. Here are some of the reasons why:

Little Miss Queen of Darkness. I’m a newcomer to the Face to Face, a record I’ve always sort of ignored. Boy was I remiss. This is one of their best collections, and while I admit that the bonus tracks on the re-release are really some of the highlights of the record, the original release is quite great as well. This song especially has captivated my heart, and though the lyrics don’t really apply to mi bella niña, I like to think of her when I hear this. She’s my little miss queen of darkness, even if she’s not Ray’s.

Shangri-La. One of the most devastating songs I know, maybe due to my associating it with riding in Xtop’s van, Edgar, on the way back from Kansas City and nearly dying on the road. After a blowout and an ungodly amount of time sweating over our fates in an Iowa auto boneyard, we manage to get back on the road and this is the first song Xtop plays. And he plays it loud and life seems so absurd and sad. We could end up in a ditch in Iowa or we could end up old and useless in some god forsaken home with nothing but bills to worry over after a life spent working so fucking hard. “Life ain’t so happy in your little Shangri-La.”

Do You Remember Walter? I always wondered if when Xtop gave me The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society as a gift if he meant for me to hear this song and think about how little I was leaving my apartment back then and how we were seeing less of each other. Hmm. Regardless, Xtop introduced me to the joy of the Kinks, and god love him for that. While most fans agree that record this is their best effort—and it’s hard to disagree—I am perhaps a little burned out on some of it. Or am I? I think I am but the moment the piano intro to this song comes on I get gooseflesh excited.

Waterloo Sunset. Just a perfect song. Even with the sha-la-las it manages to sound more morose than a pack of doom rockers. Really this is what the 60s pop song was meant to be. Absolutely beautiful.

Big Black Smoke. A bonus track from Face to Face, this song uses one of my favorite subjects, a girl running away from the small town and losing her innocence in the big city, and runs with it. Wonderful chord changes, wonderful song. Just top notch storytelling from master storyteller, Ray Davies.

Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home? Another song about a daughter who left home, though this story is not of a runaway but of a girl who left her family and “joined the upper classes.” When everyone was decrying small town life and the nuclear family, The Kinks, ever the contrarians, presented a song about the parents left behind as their children go on to better lives.

Big Sky. Not much to say for this song except that it fucking rocks.

All Day and All of the Night. In an interview for MTV back in the late 80s, Ray Davies said that he thinks this song still blows away Metallica and all the metal bands that were so popular at the time. I agree.

Stop Your Sobbing. Such a funny song to me. I’ll want you if you’ll quit crying all the time. Hilarious and sung like a good old love song.

Victoria. The best opening to any album. This song just kills. The chorus is so simple, so perfect, so infectious you just want to shout along “VICTORIA!” and laugh with Dave Davies in the background.

A Well Respected Man. Long a favorite, this one always makes me smile, though when Ray sings “He adores a girl next door / cause he’s dying to get at her” it makes me shiver and feel the worst kind of sympathy and disgust.

Mr. Pleasant. Another bonus track from Face to Face, this one predicts “Shangri-La” and echoes “A Well Respected Man” though it does so with a catchy melody and some haunting background vocals. And cabert style horns and percussion.

She’s Bought Like Princess Marina. People compare The Kinks to the Beatles, which I usually think is a fucking stupid thing to do, but I’ll admit that this song reminds me of what McCartney was doing on side two of Abbey Road, especially in the “Brother can you spare me a dime?” section, though Ray’s lyrics beat the shit out of Paul’s.

David Watts. Mi bella hates when I play this song. The Fa-fa-fa-fa chorus bothers her, so I save it for when she’s not around. I love this song. A great opener to Something Else and the best song about jealously ever written, maybe because it's about jealously outside of a love affair. “And when I lie on my pillow at night, I dream I can fight like David Watts. Lead the school team to victory, take my exams and pass the lot.” I know the feeling.

Harry Rag. No one seems to like this song but me and mi bella. I think it’s damn near perfect.

Party Line. Again, I think this song gets dismissed because it is so poppy. Dave Davies’ vocals are so serious though, and that’s what makes the goofy line: “and I’m not voting in the next election if they don’t do something about finding out the person who is on my party line” so great.

Village Green. The song most Kinks fans will tell you is their best. A mini-masterpiece, this is unapologetic nostalgia complete with harpsichord and rural ruminations from big city eyes that still remember “all the simple people” and the American tourists who take photographs and say “golldarnit, isn’t it a pretty scene.” The closing lines about returning to the Village Green to sip tea and laugh with a former girlfriend still make me sentimental for something I’ve never seen. That’s art!

Celluloid Heroes. I don’t even own a copy of this song, I just pull it up on YouTube when I want to hear it. Or I wait for it to come on the radio, and when it comes on I drive around for blocks until it’s over. Or I pull over and listen to it. It’s so beautiful I can’t describe it adequately. This is an example of a standout song from a not-so great record, which would be the modus operandi of The Kinks for the rest of their career. Still, it might be worth getting this record for this one track because this song is that fantastic. Really it is one of the ten best songs I’ve ever heard.

People Take Pictures of Each Other. This and “Picture Book” exist in the same place for me, so it’s hard to pick one over the other. Luckilly, they’re on the same record. Both songs seem conjoined and each makes me think of my family and their incessant picture taking. “People take pictures of each other, just to prove that they really existed…of the time when they mattered to someone.” Exactly.

Apeman. A silly song, to be sure, but fun, and it makes me think of a bad movie from the 80s, Club Paradise. Not that this is a good thing, but I remember liking the song when I heard it in the movie, long before I knew anything about The Kinks. This is on the same record as the famous “Lola” and while there are some real gems on this record I always seem to go back to this ridiculous song.

Some Mother’s Son. The best anti-war song you’ll ever hear.

Sunny Afternoon. Another perfect gem where Ray managed to please the record execs pressuring him for another hit while sticking to his preferred brand of narrative songwriting. A great song for the bachelors or anyone whose girlfriend “ran off with my car" and went "back to her ma and pa, telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty.”

Till the End of the Day. A sort of step forward from “All Day and All of the Night” though I prefer this cut, maybe because it’s less played. There’s an intensity to it that is impossible to ignore. The best of the early Kinks sound.

Come Dancing. A late one in the career of The Kinks and their first gem in a while at that point, I used to watch this video on MTV with my brother. I still get nostalgic when I hear this song. I think that is why I love The Kinks so much. I don’t mind nostalgia when I get it from them. Ray Davies knows how to serve it and not overdo things ala Carole King.

Father Christmas. Not a great song along the lines of their peak era, but still a fun one about poverty struck youth in England asking for money instead of toys, and for their father to stop drinking and find a job. What’s not to love?

Okay, that’s more than enough, though there are other great songs I’m surely forgetting. I haven’t touched Muswell Hillbillies, though I’m pretty unfamiliar with that record. I tend to ignore most of what came after all that anyway. Thanks for listening and go listen to some Kinks.