The Great Lost Kinks Album has a curious history.
The Kinks never intended for these songs to be released as a collection. They had already allowed several tracks that hadn’t made the cut on earlier albums to appear on The Kink Kronikles the year before. Without their knowledge or agreement, Reprise Records (whom they’d just fired as their American distributor) pulled together several tracks The Kinks had not approved for release and created a package called The Great Lost Kinks Album in 1973. Ray Davies found out about it when he saw the album on the Billboard charts. Legal action ensued and the album was pulled from distribution in 1975, instantly transforming into a collector’s item. Today you can get a sealed copy of the original vinyl for $125; used will set you back $65. You can almost assemble the equivalent album from various other releases authorized by The Kinks in the last couple of decades, but some of these, like the 1998 version of Percy, are rare and expensive themselves. Only one song remains elusive, “Til Death Do Us Part,” a song Ray Davies wrote for a film based on the British TV series that spawned All in the Family.
Had the tracks remained unavailable, I would not be reviewing this album. I firmly believe the artist should have full control over the release of his or her art. So, I’ll skip “Til Death Do Us Part” and share my thoughts on the other tracks. I would also caution the new listener that The Kinks were obviously dissatisfied with the recordings of several of these tracks and many do not meet the recording standards of their official releases, rather like bootlegs and outtakes. That said, a lot of the songwriting on The Great Lost Kinks Album is pretty impressive, making it a worthy addition to one’s music library.
“There is No Life Without Love”: A pretty little folkish ballad from Dave Davies with a high-low combination on the vocal that is unusually compelling. I’m not exactly sure what that odd instrument that sounds like a toy harpsichord is, but the arrangement is reminiscent of the Face to Face period.
“Lavender Hill”: A fascinating mix of the minor key songs of the period spiced with a bit of English show tune and a touch of “Autumn Almanac.” The lyrics describe a sensuous and ideal place to spend a Sunday afternoon, and with a better take this song might have fit nicely on Village Green Preservation Society (which it eventually did in the expanded release).
“Groovy Movies”: An upbeat and catchy little fantasy number from Dave Davies where he imagines himself in the role of movie director and doing very little work in the process. I find the line “Sometimes I think I won’t make it playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band” intriguing from the standpoint of Dave constantly playing back seat to his brother, but that’s just idle speculation. I can understand why they didn’t release this one, as it doesn’t seem to fit with the themes of any of the records they were making at the time.
“Rosemary Rose”: A brief but vivid character sketch from Ray Davies with a slight Latin feel that could have found a place on Something Else . . . but the harpsichord is so Face to Face . . . and it doesn’t really fit on Village Green . . . I don’t know. I like the arrangement and occasional peaks of rhythmic thrust (ooh—great phrase!) very much, and I wish they had spent more time perfecting this one. Like “Lavender Hill,” it is similar to other Kinks songs of the period, so I can understand its orphan status.
“Misty Water”: This song somehow falls between “Monica” and “Wicked Annabella” in terms of feel; it’s more like the latter song in that it deals with strange and mysterious women. While it’s not as strong as either one of those songs, I love Mick Avory’s thumping drums and the endlessly catchy chorus.
“Mr Songbird”: This is The Kinks version of “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”. I generally hate cheerful songs, and this is no exception.
“When I Turn Off the Living Room Light”: Featuring one of the great opening lyrical passages of all time, this song always grabs my attention and makes me laugh. Somebody had to write a song for the homely, and who better than Ray Davies to pull off the trick? The lyrics describe the neurotic behavior that dominates many marriages of laziness or convenience, pointing out the absurdity of the things people will do to pretend things are okay and to hold their marriages together. It’s also a song that questions our obsession with beauty as a prerequisite for self-esteem and relationship success, reminding us that we all have faults that we’d like to hide from the glare of bright light:
Who cares if you’re Jewish,
And your breath smells of garlic,
And your nose is a shiny red light.
To me you are gorgeous,
And everything’s right,
When I turn off the living room light . . .
We don’t feel so ugly,
We don’t feel so draggy,
We don’t feel so twisted up tight.
And we don’t feel as ugly as we really are,
When we turn off the living room light.
Ray’s vocal is perfect, a combination of detachment, a slight note of apology and a touch of human sadness.
“The Way Love Used to Be”: Ray Davies has written comparatively few love songs, but there are few love songs written by anyone as beautiful and tender as this one. First appearing on the Percy soundtrack, one can imagine Terry singing this to Julie when they meet in Waterloo Station:
I know a place not far away
And we’ll find a way through the city streets
We’ll find a way through the mad rushing crowd
And we’ll talk about the way love used to be
The lovely string arrangement, the longing tone in Ray’s voice, the beautifully flowing melody make this one of my favorite Kinks songs of all time. The transition from “When I Turn Off the Living Room Light” is a bit shocking, demonstrating that Reprise cared as much about track order as they did about the artists whose work they were misusing.
“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”: It was mentioned in one of the comment threads attached to my review of Face to Face that Ray Davies originally penned this for Eric Burdon and The Animals, who inexplicably turned it down. It’s a perfect Eric Burdon song! Nonetheless, I love the attitude Dave Davies brings to this vocal. The theme of the song is, “Take your expectations and shove them up your ass,” one of the healthiest pieces of relational advice you could ever receive. It was the B-side to “Sunny Afternoon,” a single I would have bought in a New York minute had I been alive back then. What a combination!
“Plastic Man”: Banned by the BBC for use of the word “bum” in the lyrics, this is one where Ray takes the metaphor and beats the shit out of it. Not one of my favorites.
“This Man He Weeps Tonight”: The B-side to “Shangri-la” is a melodic Dave Davies rocker with a nifty and memorable lead guitar riff. It also features curiously fascinating lyrics that highlight how insecure and we can be when considering relationships:
I thought our thing would last,
‘Cause it said so in my horoscope,
The days have gone and past while dreaming away.
The lighting here is dim,
And the room closes in around me.
Your picture’s hanging loose on a rusting nail.
“Pictures in the Sand”: Not much in the way of depth, but still a fun little song played with a loose feel and good cheer. It’s better when you contrast it with Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand,” which despite its leisurely whistling and Mr. Boone’s white bread, white bucks, white-white-white style, is an astonishingly bitter song.
“Where Did the Spring Go?” (also titled “Where Did My Spring Go?”): This song about the inevitable deterioration of the body can be irritating at times, but the perverse perspective of the narrator, reminiscent of”Complicated Life,” is another example of Ray’s perceptiveness about the absurd flaws in human logic. All the narrator has to do is avoid human contact and activity and he will live forever, even if it means denying all the things that make life worthwhile:
Remember all those sleepless nights,
Making love by candlelight,
And every time you took my love,
You were shortening my life.
As much the record moguls’ arrogance offends me, and despite the fact that you can cobble together most of it from various sources, the experience of listening to The Great Lost Kinks Album feels like you’ve made a wonderful and special discovery, especially when played in its entirety.The lack of polish often adds to the charm of many of the tracks, and really, I don’t think it’s possible to ever satisfy one’s appetite for Kinks’ songs from that period. Refusing to follow the trends of the time, Ray Davies and crew created a unique body of work that will live forever.