Classic Music Review: Come Dancing by The Kinks

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Man, I just can’t seem to get away from The Kinks.

After spending months in their company reviewing nearly everything from Face to Face to Schoolboys in Disgrace, I began suffering from Kinks Withdrawal Syndrome (KWS). The cause of this debilitating condition can easily be traced to listening to dozens of albums by other artists, past and present, who simply don’t measure up. While listening to often muddled music in my search for albums to review, I found my mind wandering to fragments of “Waterloo Sunset” and “Celluloid Heroes” and longing for sparkling wit, exceptional insight into human and social conditions, engaging music and artistic commitment.

You can’t begin to appreciate how rare those qualities are in today’s music until you spend every week for almost two years listening to new releases. It’s like looking for a 1/16 carat diamond in a 20,000-foot mountain of shit. When I find one, it’s an orgasmic experience, but I’m fully aware that next week I’ll be back digging into the shitpile, which diminishes both the impact and duration of the climax.

I had several Kinky choices available to me. I could have decided to review the albums from the Arista period and beyond. There were also the possibilities of taking a leap into Ray Davies’ solo career or covering Dave Davies’ recent release. Last but not least, there was Come Dancing with The Kinks, their Arista-period hits collection.

I chose the latter because frankly, I don’t care much for the Arista period and find all the albums from that period lacking in one way or another. First, the production is too slick and too commercial. Second, although he did not descend to the depths that McCartney did with his Wings and solo efforts, the lyrics are generally not Ray Davies-level quality. Finally, the style The Kinks adopted is called “arena rock,” which to me means “rock for the masses.” In addition to the dumbing down of the lyrics, the greatest loss suffered during the Arista period is the feeling of intimacy between artist and listener. The Kinks never felt distant or inaccessible before this period; their music felt and sounded very human, and we often experienced it in very personal ways. The music from the Arista period is full of distance—The Kinks became tiny dots on the stage enhanced by televised images on Jumbotrons rather than the guys hanging out at the pub on the cover of Muswell Hillbillies.

So, reviewing this collection allows me to cover the Arista period without spending too much time there. Fortunately, Clive Davis did not have The Kinks’ bodies snatched and replaced with the souls of K. C. and the Sunshine Band. There is enough evidence on this record to confirm that the band is in fact The Kinks. Maybe not The Kinks at their best, but still The Kinks. The track order is an annoyance, for rather than take the chronological route, the powers that be decided to open with their top-charting single, “Come Dancing,” followed by tracks from Low Budget, their best-selling album. I’m reviewing the 2005 CD release that with begins with . . .

“Come Dancing”: Ray Davies created a beautiful and touching tribute to the sister who gave him his first guitar but died before the age when she could worry about the dating habits of daughters. The preservation theme gains a new lease on life through the dramatization of the impact of demolition on a real, human life. The intimate meanings people attach to places are juxtaposed against the ironic indifference in Ray’s reverse-order description of the sequence of destruction that finally brings us to the palais that held his sister’s fondest memories. The joyous Wurlitzer-driven music takes a sharp turn into the harsh shock of distorted guitar after Ray delivers the core lines of the song:

The day they knocked down the palais
My sister stood and cried
The day they knocked down the palais
Part of my childhood died, just died

“Low Budget”: The best thing about the Arista period was that Dave Davies finally got to really play some gee-tar! I love this underplayed opening riff that just sucks you right into the groove and the way they left that right channel wide open for guitar fills throughout the song. Ray’s vocal is satirically playful and the feel of the song is best described as “modern reverse gospel rock.” It moves, makes you laugh and reminds you that The Kinks hadn’t entirely lost the common touch. The video opens with an extended lead guitar intro that’s to die for—so much so that I’m thinking of starting a Kickstarter project to cryogenically freeze Dave Davies’ fingers like they did with Ted Williams’ brain.

“Catch Me Now I’m Falling”: When I said I didn’t care much for the Arista period, I’m talking about songs like this one: social commentary with no meat on the bones. America’s in deep doo-doo, Europe gives America the cold shoulder. The lesson is . . .? The “Jumping Jack Flash” riff rip-off falls flat on its face, as does this overly repetitive, boring song.

“A Gallon of Gas”: Another yawner and a complete waste of the blues idiom. Hard to empathize with the sentiment here, for it feels like Ray is pandering to the moronic masses who thought that being unable to drive was the end of civilization.

“(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman [Disco Edit]”: The second hot rocker on Low Budget features some intense bass picking from Jim Rodford, more great licks from Dave Davies and the ever-steady drumming of Mick Avory. Ray’s first-verse delivery is suitably defeatist and reflects the wimpy Walter Mitty dreams of the lead character. The theme is the classic Kinks theme of the choice between escaping or withdrawing from our crazy world, and while the narrator claims “I’d really like to change the world/And save it from the mess it’s in,” we know (and he knows) it’s not a serious option. This song brilliantly encapsulates the nature of the paradox that underlies this theme: the world we created is a world we can no longer control. Trying to become Superman is as sensible an idea as any in a world gone mad.

“Sleepwalker”: Oh, Lord, how I detest this song. I find the character irritating and the choppy rhythms even more distracting. The song never really finds a groove. It’s too bad, because I really love Dave Davies’ guitar work here.

“Full Moon”: Detest isn’t a strong enough word for how I feel about this silly characterization. Fortunately the Ray Davies Creepy Period ends here.

“Misfits”: Too slick with little in the way of substance. I’m not sure if Ray is arguing for conformity (“Why don’t you join the crowd and come inside?”), condemning a society that creates misfits, or if he’s expressing doubts about his sellout to Arista. Maybe all three, maybe none. In any case, the repetition of the cliché “every dog has its day” sets my teeth on edge every time I hear it.

“A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy”: Misfits was an excessively overproduced album, and this second drama queen number is way over the top. Like “Stairway to Heaven,” the content simply doesn’t justify the dramatic production designed to communicate that you’re listening to something of major significance. You’re not. The message contradicts itself several times over so you don’t know if Ray is trying to convince the person he’s having a conversation with that he should stick with it or knock off the childish fantasy crap. As readers know, I love ambiguity, but this is just a garbled mess. This should be my least favorite track, but they saved that for later.

“Do It Again”: Is that the chord from the opening of “A Hard Day’s Night?” Pretty close. Dave Davies is fabulous once again (is there a pattern here?), but this song is superficial arena rock that leaves me cold.

“Better Things”: A Hallmark card.

“Lola [Live]”: “Lola” is the classic crowd-pleaser but I’ve never heard a live version that compares with the original, this one included. The only possible reason for including it in a set is to allow fans to go home and tell their friends “And they did ‘Lola!’” Mission accomplished.

“You Really Got Me [Live]”: This one’s much better because of Dave Davies’ too-short opening solo. Are you noticing the pattern here?

“Good Day”: A neurotic Hallmark card.

“Living on a Thin Line”: My favorite song from the Arista period comes not from brother Ray but (I think there’s a pattern here) but from brother Dave. Overall a cleaner, sparser arrangement than the period norm, the clarity helps highlight the way Dave integrates the melodic line and the dominant guitar riff on the chorus—a moment of pure genius. The lyrics (dare I say it?) are the strongest on the entire record. The line “Now I see change/But inside we’re the same as we ever were” is played out every day in those tragic communications that pass for the news. Even better and more disgustingly relevant in our times is the verse that paints us as victimized by weak-minded leaders stuck in historical patterns who are always ready to repress the working folk and call on youth to make another meaningless sacrifice for the permanent war economy.

Now another leader says
Break their hearts and break some heads.
Is there nothing we can say or do?
Blame the future on the past,
Always lost in blood and guts.
And when they’re gone, it’s me and you.

And just like seagulls, those leaders crap on us and move on.

“Destroyer”: By way of contrast, no song on the album demonstrates the decline in Ray Davies’ lyrical ability better than this one. He drags Lola into this pale imitation of “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues” for no ostensible reason other than her marketing value. He rips off Mick Jagger’s vocal riff from “Shattered” and throws in the main riff from “All Day and All of the Night” for good measure. Simply embarrassing on every level.

“Don’t Forget to Dance”: At last we arrive at my least favorite track, dominated by an excessively melodramatic vocal and lyrics clearly targeting the middle-aged-divorcee market segment that Rod Stewart exploited to great personal advantage. I’m recommending that the next update to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary include a link to this song in their definition of the word “overproduced.” This is as manufactured and lifeless as a record can get.

“Father Christmas”: I hate ending reviews on a sour note, so I am very happy that “Father Christmas” ends this album, even if it is way out of sequence. This story of a guy who plays Santa Claus only to get mugged by some young thugs is a brilliant piece of music-making. The melody and harmonies make for a pleasant listening experience, and the lyrics are real Ray Davies-quality. At his best, Ray always looked for the underlying cause, so while other fake Santa Clauses might have gone after these punks with an AK-47, this Santa Claus listens and learns:

But give my daddy a job ‘cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve got one, I’ll have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids down the street

Poverty and unemployment create more than a drop in consumer spending—they undermine the social fabric by creating the anger and powerlessness that leads too many to turn to violence. The “seasonal message” delivered here has a real and personal meaning once you understand the context:

Have yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothin’
While you’re drinkin’ down your wine

Save them if only to save yourselves! I read today that back in my homeland the gap between rich and poor has increased to all-time levels. So much for Obama the Socialist! History (a topic about which Americans are completely ignorant) tells us that such disparity eventually leads to the bloodiest revolutions; in a society like America, though, the marketing power of the American dream manages to keep people in their place by encouraging the naïve belief that anyone can make it to the top. The problem is that “The kids who got nothin’” don’t believe in that dream and they’re seriously pissed off about it. As we know that nearly all assassins and mass murderers are social outcasts, a society that ignores those kinds of imbalances will inevitably create more Sandy Hooks, more Columbines, more and more people going postal after they lose their jobs and get sick of living with the shame of unemployment. Americans believe that’s the price of freedom; Ray Davies says here that it’s an unnecessary sacrifice that could be avoided if we accepted the fact that we are all part of the same community and what affects one affects us all.

My apologies for spending so much time on one song, but “Father Christmas” is exactly the kind of song I’ve been missing in my Kink-less period. I wish there had been more of these in the Arista years. I’m delighted that the boys in the band finally earned some decent money during this period, but I regret the loss of poetically economical songs characterized by beauty, substance and unusually perceptive social and human insight.

12 responses

  1. I find The Kinks’ Arista era pretty hard to stomach. I have a major allergy to the Arista label as it’s biggest acts represent everything I LOATHE in music… if anything it’s a label that specialised in muzak of the blandest kind (Manilow, Whitney, Air Supply etc) so The Kinks being part of such a wretched label doesn’t sit well. Commercially and financially, they may had been quids in, but musically…

    The problem I have with this era is that The Kinks – that most ENGLISH of bands – tried to be “American” with the slick production values and sanitising the lyrical bite. Of course Ray still had his moments but on the whole, it’s hard work to wade through and one can actually skip the original albums and just settle for this one which rounds up the few highlights there was.

    The late 70’s saw the whole punk/new wave movement, both of which The Kinks would had fitted into had they not sold out and sucked corporate Arena rock dick. So whilst we were being treated to new and diverse sounds and ideas from younger acts (some of whom cited The Kinks as an influence), The Kinks perversely went in the opposite direction sounding safe and conformist by comparison which is totally against the true Kinks ethic. The best thing to be said is it did introduce them to a much bigger audience but what they would had made of their classic 60’s work and the eccentric RCA gems, one can only wonder.

    “Father Christmas” is Ray satire at it’s very best and “Come Dancing” a delightful piece of whimsy. Kinda ironic they bookend this collection since for me they were the two best songs of the whole Arista era. You know you’re in trouble when you have ten years worth of material to choose from but still end up having to toss in a couple of live versions of earlier gems to pad it out. This is my least played Kinks CD – I did have the original albums on vinyl but each time I dared to play them, I’d just think “I’d rather be listening to SOMETHING ELSE!” hence I just bought this one to have the Arista era represented on CD and even then, given this was believed to be the best that era could offer, one still wishes for something else much more substantial from Ray, Dave and The Kinks. Sadder still, the remaining years of the 80’s on the London label were no better but the very last album “Phobia” despite being overproduced was surprising… still some stodge but a few decent songs and a handful of reminders that The Kinks could still turn in the occasional goodie (and yep, Dave was in good form on there). “Drift Away” especially – lyrically – is so prophetic it’s downright scary as it goes hand in hand with “Money and Corruption” in describing everything that is so wrong and fucked up about the world right now in 2016 whereas the contents of this album sound like they belong to an era I’d much rather forget.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You gave me the word I’ve been seeking forever to describe my dismay with the Arista period: Americanization! The more time I’ve spent away from the place, the more I realize how American society is structured to create market-based conformity. Clive Davis made sure that The Kinks would be palatable to American audiences whose tastes had been shaped by a handful of powers in the American music industry. It’s really a very frightened inward-looking culture terrified of change that isn’t market-sanctioned.

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  2. Because the Kinks is my favorite band I have no desire to listen to pretty much anything they did after 1974, just the artwork makes me puke.
    From the little I know I like “Come dancing” though, a nice melody and reminds me that Ray’s voice is a big part of why I like this band so much.
    Unfortunately, it’s marred by this awful drum machine, I refuse to believe it’s Mick Avory playing.
    Shame because the rest of the production is nice but I won’t listen to it a lot because of this plastic drum.

    “Nuclear love” I like too from the period, it was never issued I think it’s in demo form on the “Picture book” box set.

    How are things going in Nice ?
    I’m in Montpellier so this madness got a little closer to home this time.

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    1. It still feels pretty raw here; people are still in a daze. I was lucky in a strange way: I was in San Francisco with my parents on the day of the attack attending my grandfather’s funeral. None of our relatives or friends were on the Prom that night, so we consider ourselves very fortunate. I don’t think Hollande knows what the hell he’s doing and I don’t have confidence in any of our other prospects, so I feel edgy about the short-term outlook.

      I’m completely with you on late Kinks stuff. Another commenter described their Arista period as “Americanized,” which is so, so true.

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  3. Crazy that you were away when it happened, I guess the city will be in shock for a while.
    Yes it’s hard to tell how it will evolve but I don’t want to stop living because of these assholes.
    I ‘ll just try to avoid crowded places, which is a good thing to do even when there’s no risk haha.

    Yes americanized but not in the sense of playing the r’n’b covers of their beginnings, nor like “Muswell hillbilies” which is also very british.
    Appealing to the masses with the worst possible sound.

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    1. It’s hard to avoid crowded places in Nice. I have no intention of avoiding my favorite restaurant on the fringes of Vieille Ville, even though I usually abhor crowds. So if you hear of some wacko shooting up Di Yar, I’ll probably be one of the victims unless I get to the prick first.

      And yes, appealing to the masses with homogenized sound is why I resist the Arista period.

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  4. I have a strange feeling we’ve been here before. I will repeat briefly that I agree that Father Christmas is one of the Kinks’ best songs, certainly of the Arista period, and Better Things is a much better song than you still neglect to give it credit for; its musical intro always brings me back to a good place in 1981 when I was falling in love with life and my wife. Oh well. Not going to convince you, I know, but it was a tonic when the Kinks seemed like they didn’t have a good song left in them. I also really like “Do It Again,” which is their last great song while anyone was still listening. They first played the song on SNL before the album was out ( a rare example of proper promotion for any of their records) and I still love this performance. Glad you are back at it and so sorry, again, for all that has happened in France and your city.
    https://new.vk.com/video-482843_170253958

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    1. Yes, we’ve been here before because I accidentally deleted the post! I was stunned by the response when I reposted it. The Kinks will live forever.

      It’s weird here in Nice—people are in a daze, trying to find meaning in madness. Our lousy leaders aren’t helping much, and because Nice is more right-wing French, there’s a certain ugliness to it all. Really, people just want to be safe but they’re turning in the wrong direction to find it.

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      1. Well, at least you didn’t accidentally delete Arthur; you wouldn’t want to live through that again!

        Do your best to encourage reason and sanity where you are. For a number of reasons, France has tragically become the current ground zero for terrorist attacks. I can see how it would be tempting for the French population, in general, to succumb to nationalist demagogues and entertain dark responses, but we are all better than that. As you know, the US is entertaining its own version of the Dark Side right now and guess what? It is losing badly. I take every opportunity I can to inject reason and sanity into political discussions without belittling the other side. I truly believe we can come out of all of this stronger and better, unified against fear and ignorance.

        Your voice does matter – it is a strong and smart one!

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        1. I’d rather have a mouthful of root canals than go through Arthur again.

          It only dawned on me a few months ago that I can vote in both France and the U. S. With everything going on I’ve been monitoring the political scene in both countries despite my abhorrence of politics. The only real difference is Marine Le Pen and her wacko daughter are more open and honest about their racism than Trump is.

          I think the difference in the response to the attacks is that there is more astonishment here whereas in the U.S. mass murder is a regular occurrence and people just shrug it off after a few days. Another big difference is we have gun control; the U.S. continues to move in the opposite direction. I haven’t heard anyone here calling for arming the citizenry in response to terrorism, but there’s a lot of talk about rounding up the immigrants and shipping them out. Very ugly. The old UMP actually renamed themselves Les Republicaines and Sarkozy is starting to sound a lot like Trump. With the socialists suffering from massive incompetence, I think we’ll see a pretty strong shift to the right next year—the two most likely finalists for the presidency are Trump clones.

          The four of us (maman, dad, my partner and I) have had preliminary talks (sounds like diplomacy!) about a backup plan if things get really bad here. It would be great if Hillary crushes Trump and the Democrats take control of Congress, because that would give us some real options.

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          1. It’s still early here. It’s like Hillary has a ten run lead, but it’s only the third inning. I’d rather have the lead, but I wish it were November already. I’ve never believed that there was a mathematical chance that Trump could get enough votes to win in a general election and I still don’t. I’m not sure if the Democrats can get the House but I’m optimistic about the Senate. At any rate, the Supreme Court will swing to the left soon and many of their worst recent decisions will be revisited. I like the future prospects here but see if you can make a difference in France before leaving the country you love. As I once wrote, I really think you could make a difference politically if you applied your considerable talents. Maybe you should give “Better Things” one more listen…

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          2. Hah! I wouldn’t have a chance of getting elected in the States, but France might go for a leather-clad dominatrix.

            Our first preference is to stay in France and if we have to leave, we would hope it would be a temporary move. There is a growing concern that our government and the EU government are incapable of protecting their citizens and they have offered little in the way of solutions beyond staying true to our principles. As you know from our well-publicized, never-ending strikes, the French prefer collective action, so I’m not sure what I can do but join some group and I’ve never been much of a joiner. I’ll keep thinking about it and look for opportunities, because I really love it here.

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