I’d planned to stop my reviews of The Kinks after Schoolboys in Disgrace, but a nice gentleman named Steve suggested that my work would be incomplete without at least taking a look at the hits that made them famous, a fair point indeed. So, as I did for Past Masters 1 and 2, I shall do the same for The Kinks and consider this first collection of their greatest hits.
This is like reviewing an entirely different band! Had they retired after this album, the early Kinks would have later been reclassified as one of the greatest garage bands in history. That said, The Kinks Greatest Hits definitely reveals a progression in terms of lyrical sophistication that would lead step by step to Face to Face and beyond.
“You Really Got Me”: Third time’s the charm! After two failed attempts at getting to the toppermost of the poppermost, Dave Davies took a razor blade to his amp and the rest is history. The distortion created by that surgery flavored the memorable two-chord riff with an unusual sting for the era, and helps explain why this song continues to sound so fresh today. Ray’s vocal is sheer perfection, moving from cool detachment in the verses to growling it out in the climaxing choruses (climax = double entendre). As the chords move up the scale, unholy background vocals and (on verses two and three) driving piano cause the song’s temperature to rise and rise until the explosion of the triple repetition of “you really got me” (explosion = double entendre). The intervals between the verses create little islands of stillness so you can catch your steamy breath, but you know The Kinks are just teasing you before they turn up the heat full blast again and again.
Did I miss anything? Guitar solo? Is there a guitar solo on this track? Really? Let me listen again . . . oh, that guitar solo!
Dave Davies’ marvelously manic attack is simply one of the greatest moments in rock. You can easily put his solo in its proper context context by comparing his work to anything George Harrison was doing at the time. George tried his best to hit the notes, like a good schoolboy, and sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t and sometimes Paul had to step in and do it for him. Dave Davies didn’t care so much what notes he hit as much as he wanted to ride the kinetic energy of rock ‘n’ roll and allow instinct to guide his fingers over the fretboard. The cascade of bends and fills that dance both on and off the beat is a mind-boggling combination of blues riffs and sweet defiance of convention, but most importantly, he captures the sexual and rebellious feel of this archetypal expression of rock ‘n’ roll. Solos like these are why they call the best of them “killer.”
“Tired of Waiting for You”: After “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” I suppose The Kinks felt they had to do something more subdued to show off their range, but a song title that begins with the word “tired” wasn’t a particularly wise choice. The best part of this song is Mick Avory’s drum work, a dazzling display of nimble work on the toms, snare and cymbals. Ray’s vocal is also a high point, covering an impressive range and executed with superb phrasing. I like the song, but it doesn’t knock my socks off.
“Set Me Free”: This is the stronger of the two mid-tempo hits because of its unusual rhythmic mix and remarkable chord complexity (still debated on KindaKinks.net). The rhythmic interplay between Dave Davies’ rhythm guitar and Mick Avory’s drum patterns is fascinating, as Dave accents different beats in the verses. When they come together in the choruses after that simple but exciting shift to the D chord at the end of the verse, it’s a little moment of musical heaven.
“Something Better Beginning”: Yecch. This song is so pre-Invasion high-school-cliché that I’m surprised they got through it without breaking down in fits of laughter. The Honeycombs did a version of this song that was even worse. Even though it wasn’t a hit, I would have preferred the inclusion of “Nothin’ in This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout This Girl,” even with all the apostrophes. It’s a fabulous acoustic number with a nice rhythmic pickup in the chorus and helps the fan broaden his or her perspective on The Kinks’ early period.
“Who’ll Be the Next in Line”: While I appreciate The Kinks trying to vary the pattern with a sort of faux-Rumba, this song sounds forced and never really finds a groove. It’s also awkward to sing the contraction, “who’ll” because, phonetically speaking, the syllable ends in a lateral consonant requiring the tongue to block the airflow, necessitating oral acrobatics to get to the plosive “b” that follows. In simple terms, it’s a difficult song to sing along with. You add the fact that it doesn’t have a strong hook and I’d file this one under “curiosities.” When I listen to this song, I tend to tune out everyone except Pete Quaife, who excels on the bass here. However, I did find a cover version of the song by French icon Francoise Hardy that I found . . . well, charming.
“Till the End of the Day”: Yes, yes, I know. It’s the same chord pattern (in a different key) as “All Day and All of the Night” played to a slightly different rhythm, but the energy The Kinks bring to this record make it a winner in my book. The opening “Baby, I feel good” is such a strong invitation to get up and rock that you can’t dismiss this song on the basis of self-plagiarism. While Dave’s solo here is less manic than his other great early contributions, it’s a sweet piece that should have received a bit more gain in the mix. The harmonies and background vocals help build the excitement, and Ray’s enthusiastic and loose lead vocal simply knocks me out.
“Dedicated Follower of Fashion”: Who was the idiot responsible for the track order on this album? I can understand separating “You Really Got Me” from “All Day and All of the Night,” but I really resent this song appearing before “A Well Respected Man,” because it diminishes the importance of the single that moved The Kinks from boy-meets-girl rock to social commentary. Harrumph!
Bitching now complete, I love this song! The brilliant invention of the word “Carnabetian” is enough to make my twiddle diddle (I find intelligence incredibly sexy), but Ray’s tongue-in-cheek vocal of remarkable variation is the real centerpiece. The call-and-response pattern “Oh yes, he is” forces you to sing along at those points, but after that you want to shush everyone so you can listen to Ray’s delightful articulation. The Big Ben-like opening and closing chords are a brilliant touch.
“A Well Respected Man”: The relative quiet of the opening, with that faint strum leading to a clear and confident vocal over acoustic guitar, may be Dylan-influenced, but I hear it more as the sound of a man who has found his inner voice and mission in life. Ray Davies takes on one of the most important and most despicable aspects of UK society—class consciousness—and exposes it for the hypocritical bullshit it is (in somewhat polite language suitable for the censors):
And his mother goes to meetings while his father pulls the maid
And she stirs the tea with councilors while discussing foreign trade
And she passes looks, as well as bills, at every suave young man
Here Ray also displays his talent for mimicry, delivering the line “And he plays at stocks and shares, and he goes to the Regatta” in the bored, smug tones of the uppers. Although simple and subtle, the harmonies in the chorus provide a nice variation from the necessarily steady delivery of the verses, which are phrased like the indictment they represent.
“Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy”: This was a hit? Really? Hmm. Let me check . . . ah, it was the first of their singles not to crack the UK top 10, so I’m not alone in my indifference. It’s clearly the most dated song of the bunch, sounding like something that might make the soundtrack of an Austin Powers sequel. The hand-clapping in the chorus is really annoying, because either The Kinks lacked the tight hand-clapping skills of The Beatles or the engineer forgot to turn off the echo effect: the claps sound off-rhythm and choppy.
“All Day and All of the Night”: There are many things that make this song one of the hottest ever recorded—Ray’s slightly Caribbean-tinged sneer, Dave’s distortion and killer solo, the demonic background vocals—but for me it is one single musical decision that sends me over the edge. The line in question is “The only time I feel all right is by your side.” Usual rock dogma would dictate that the band hold onto the final chord of the transition line from verse to chorus and drive it home. What The Kinks do is brilliant: as Ray holds the note at the end of the line, instead of sticking on the A-chord, the band plays the three-chord pattern using the A-G-C chords. This has the effect of increasing the original tension of the defiant A chord, creating a dissonance of intense excitement. I’ve heard this song what, a billion times, and that move never fails to send me into fits of ecstasy.
This concludes my look at The Kinks, and what a delightful journey it has been. The experience certainly confirmed my decision to rank Ray Davies above Lennon & McCartney on my great songwriters list, but I also developed a deeper appreciation for their commitment to follow their artistic instincts instead of following the trends of their times. Before I leave, I want to thank all of The Kinks fans who not only read my pieces, but also took the time to comment on them. The comments were often brilliant and insightful, and while we did have our disagreements, the level of engagement was both thrilling and deeply appreciated by this reviewer.
God Save The Kinks!