Classic Music Review: The Kinks Greatest Hits

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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 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 and creates 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!

11 responses

  1. Hey – Thanks for finishing with a flourish! This is indeed a weirdly constructed album, though easily their best seller in the US. My history with the Kinks is not linear. I was too young to remember their first big hits when they came out, so my first exposure was on the radio with “Well Respected Man” (my kindergarten mind thought it sounded so English and loved the harmonies) and Sunny Afternoon. As I mentioned before, Arthur was their first album I ever heard, and I kind of circled back to them in high school because I liked Soap Opera and Schoolboys. I bought their greatest hits album in 1978 after I had bought Kinks Kronikles and decided I needed more. To this day, I find the Greatest Hits album terribly exciting to listen to, warts and all. The highlights for me, which you’ve mostly touched upon, are:

    1. The changes in key during You Really Got Me as the song and background vocals ramp up to multiple climaxes (what else can you call them?).
    2. Dave’s guitar solo in All Day and All of the Night which, to this day, all things considered, has no equal (why was Let’s Spend the Night Together considered more suggestive than the anarchy of this song?)
    3. Pete Quaife’s bass playing throughout, but especially his “lead” on “Everybody’s Gonna be Happy.’ Paul McCartney had to wait much longer before he was allowed to rule a song with his bass.
    4. Ray’s singing on “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” which is really unbelievable – Monty Python before Monty Python!
    5. Hearing “Til the End of the Day” for the first time and wondering how many more of these great songs I’d never heard (Pete’s bass line at the end is a joy!).

    This album and Kronikles sealed the deal for me and sent me on my quest to find all of their back catalog (not so easy in the late 70’s) which, to this day, remains one of the most enjoyable experiences of discovery in my life. I hope your reviews will encourage others to take that journey and make those discoveries.

    One final thought – The Kinks Greatest Hits is very much a Shel Talmy production, and though we’ve both bagged on him in previous reviews, he does deserve some sort of special honor for “All Day and All of the Night.” While “You Really Got Me” has been recorded in 100 different ways by 100 different artists because it is such a pliable song, there is only one way to have recorded ADAAOTN, and Shel Talmy nailed it. Hardly anyone even tries to re-record this song, and even the Kinks’ subsequent performances (the video clip you included is about the best one out there) pale in comparison to the power of the original. In late 1964, this song was, indeed, the future. The first Beatles guitar solo to even try to take this on was from “Taxman,” over a year later (Paul, not George, as you pointed out). Whatever Shel Talmy did to capture the raw power of Dave’s guitar, he deserves full credit.

    Thanks so much for writing intelligent, passionate, and uncompromising reviews. Now we can move on with our lives! The All-Star break ends Friday. My Red Sox (another boyhood crush of mine) are having a much better year. Do you think they can avoid another collapse? Their starting pitching worries me as it has the last two years. Which Bay Area team has your allegiance? It’s been a great time to be a Giants fan, but I’m guessing the A’s. What’s with Cespedes, anyway? I can’t believe he’s struggling so badly this year, though the A’s are playing great…

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    1. I grew up in The City, so Giants all the way, although I hated them during the Barry Bonds era. The Sox are playing above expectations, so we’ll find out in August. Fenway is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

      On Talmy: “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

      Quaife really was the real deal. Re-listening to this stuff really confirms that. Love the Python comment—it’s true!

      Thank you again for your thoughts!

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      1. Looking back at this, I’d like to add a fun note. Not that it’s a greater distinction than being the Kings of Garage Rock, but the Kinks have also been declared the Fathers of Heavy Metal with their early work. I always thought All Day and All of the Night earned them that distinction until I was listening to You Really Got Me the other day in my car and began zeroing in on the rhythm track under the guitar solo. Oh my God!! It’s been there all of the time, but the solo completely distracted me from the monster buzz of metal distortion occurring behind it! So much going on in that song that hadn’t been going on before.

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  2. Dear Altrock chick….

    As you now know, virtually all fans of The Kinks around the world are extremely passionate about this bands music, their personal life stories, and to a degree, each of us will do a deep dive into all of what is published, from recent artist reviews, new bio articles, new bio books, films, new and unearthed recordings —where each of the authors will attempt to articulate and recognize what Ray, Dave, Mick, Pete et al’s enormous contribution on the global music scene were trying to say how their enormous catalog is relevant today.

    Its not an easy task for any ‘reviewer’ such as yourself to fully understand what each song was meant to convey, the style in which that song was recorded and presented at the time of its release. To also grasph the various styles of music ‘genre’ that Ray and Dave had the band perform for so many years can also be daunting and somewhat confusing.

    Its very easy for a reviewer to take what they did in, say 1974, and attempt to translated it in 2013. But in virtually all instances, one really cannot grasp the importance of Ray’s observations at the time if you are not a dedicated follower and realize what was really going on at the time. They truly followed their own course of accomplishments not watching or expecting to be the next big thing. Sometimes radio airplay and live concerts got them more attention and respect.

    When you do listen to a song like “Low Budget” for the first time today , its insight and purpose applies as much now as it did in the ’70’s. So many other tracks like “Live Life” to “Where Have All The Goodtimes Gone” are as fresh now and as meaningful now as they were when they were first introduced.

    But I applaud your determination to review what you now hear on each LP, and knowing now that you were not really ‘into’ their music when it first appeared except, from what I can tell, a few ‘hits’ and some other ‘album’ tracks. Your comments and suggested criticism’s are understood and appreciated.

    I believe you have come a long way from your first review to understand what we “Kink Fans’ have known for a very long time. Ray Davies is a ‘genius’ in so many ‘shy’ ways. What he wrote and then recorded with the boys really will stand the test of time.

    Over this past weekend, some 50 years after The Kinks first #1 recording, Ray played in Hyde Park at a ‘free’ concert in front of 30,000+ concert goers. He easily ‘lit them up’ getting them all to enjoy singing along to every song he performed including them actually singing the songs for him as his voice was about to give out—is a real testimonial that Ray and The Kinks music will last forever.

    So, thanks for the multiple LP and song reviews and welcome to “The Great Lost Kinks Society”. We’re all very much alive and growing.

    Best,
    Joshua

    GSTK

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    1. Thank you, Joshua. I consider timelessness to be the mark of great art, and The Kinks easily pass that test. Ray Davies writes about the things that really matter and will continue to matter for a long time to come. Things come up during the day or in conversation and it’s amazing how often my mind will pull up one of Ray’s lines to make sense of it all (yesterday it was “There’s a Change in the Weather”). Lola was my first review and it’s my personal favorite but I wrote the review from too narrow a perspective and need to revisit it someday. Cheers!

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  3. Alexander Kaganovsky | Reply

    Thank you for your bright articles!

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    1. You’re very welcome—thank you for reading them!

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  4. […] The Kinks Greatest Hits […]

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  5. Saying “great review” is like saying “the sun has rose in the morning”: routine but always true. Three remarks, though.

    The drummer on “Tired Of Waiting For You” is not Mick Avory but session man Bobby Graham, who played on most Kinks 1964 recordings, as Avory was still not used to studio recording – just like Ringo Starr gave way to Andy White on the Beatles’ first EMI single.

    As to the echo, it was added by the US record company to all tracks in an attmpt to make all tracks, originally released in very good mono, sound like stereo. Most 1965 Kinks recordings suffer from this in their US mock-stereo konfigurations, which are to be avoided like the proverbial plague.

    My final remark is, I admit, a more personal one. I love “Something Better Beginning” and konstrue it as a deceptively simple song, a “Beatles 1962-63 love ballad” with two twists. One: the A-B-A format so favoured by Ray Davies bur rarely used by other rock composers. Two: the song may sound like a routine celebration of the beginning of a romance, but Ray’s world-weariness rears its head at the korus: “Is this the start of another break-up?” A gem, methinks.

    In short, this kompilation is short indeed: ten tracks totalling not much more than 20 minutes on both sides kombined. But at lwast these are 20 of the most intense minutes in rock – and popular music in general.

    Cheerio,

    Ayrton

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  6. Another excellent review I agree with more or less entirely right down to which are the weaker tracks and the annoying running order. This initial era of The Kinks was definitely patchy with a lot of weak material written to order which began pushing Ray to despair and some pointless covers (like their lame version of “Dancing In The Street” – NOBODY can top Martha’s version… ever!) but they delivered when it came to the singles and some of the B sides were worthy too – the B’ side of “You Really Got Me” in the UK was “It’s Alright” which is one of their most manic explosive garagey romps of all. The problem with this compilation is the running order… The Kinks are best appreciated and experienced in chronological order so one can hear their gradual transition and development which in the space of the two years covered here was considerable.

    For my money, “You Really Got Me” is one of THE landmark 45’s of all time. Absolutely NOTHING sounded like that before and my Mum who was 9 years old at the time has told me many times that when she first heard that, it was totally alien, like a bolt out the blue and she became an instant Kinks fan. When she saw them on TV for the first time, she was transfixed by Ray admitting “He was so… DIFFERENT. He looked different, sounded different and I sensed he wasn’t quite like all the other pop stars – there was a sadness about him” – time sure proved my Mum’s pre-teen instinct was correct. Pure power and energy as was the follow up.

    “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy” was a mis-step musically and commercially. A valiant attempt to be different but not good enough and I often find myself skipping that song. I notice “See My Friend(s)” is absent from here and again, 11 months on from “Got Me” they came up with something else truly alien and unusual for it’s time. It was at this point in the UK that mild panic began setting in as it wasn’t deemed at all commercial and given the chart lifespan of an average band then, there were some beginning to write off The Kinks. Hence “Till The End Of The Day” came next, a brief fiery return to the earlier formula and for me, their triumphant farewell to this first era and by fuck… a monster of a record. Fantastic. It never ceases to blow me away with it’s raw power and energy. Suddenly, three months later came “Dedicated Follower” ushering in the next era in superb style as they began to explore their Englishness… there had been two brief glimpses before then, an EP which contained “A Well Respected Man” and the B side of “Till” being “Good Times” but “Follower” was full on… campy, cheeky, catchy and distinctly English. It was shortly after that when Ray had his infamous breakdown and returned with “Sunny Afternoon” and The Kinks really get into their masterful stride.

    As you know I love this band… they were frigging important and remain so. This album for it’s imperfections and annoyances is pretty much chapter one of an intriguing journey and most bands today would kill to come up with just ONE song as memorable as the high spots on this album and will never succeed in their entire career.

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