Compilation albums rarely make anyone happy. Read the reviews of any compilation album on Amazon and you’ll read stuff like, “How could they have left off X?” or “The idiots used the live version, which is crap!” and similar complaints. Compilation albums are the blonde who looks hot as she whizzes by in her convertible, but when you pull up next to her at the stoplight, she never turns out to be the girl of your dreams.*
Unless you’re talking about The Kink Kronikles. The blonde turns out to be Lana Turner in her prime. Oh, you can argue that they should have included “Strangers” instead of “Get Back in Line,” just like you could argue that Lana might look a bit better in the tight jet black sweater instead of the midnight blue. Who cares? It’s Lana Turner! Who cares? This is The Kinks in their prime!
The collection features songs from the bulk of their golden era, from Face to Face to Lola. It features all the hits from that period, a handful of B-sides, several excellent album tracks and a few gems that had been tucked away in the vaults. It’s a remarkably delightful listening experience that feels surprisingly unified. If you’re going to introduce a neophyte to the wonders of The Kinks, this is the album I would recommend.
I’ve already reviewed the songs that appeared on their studio albums (links below, after the full track listing), so this review will focus on the B-sides and (at the time) previously unreleased tracks.
“Berkeley Mews”: Douglas MacCutcheon wrote a funny little piece on searching for this London street on Songplaces.com. Wherever the real encounter took place, Ray’s dig at the pseudo-intellectuals who sprung up all over the world to impart wisdom to the masses in the 1960’s is both brilliant satire and a very strong piece of music. I take exception to Mr. MacCutcheon’s characterization of the rock segments as “a typical rock & roll back beat,” because the statement implies something played in a pedestrian manner. Au contraire! The Kinks kick ass on this song, and the burlesque sections make the rock sections even more powerful in contrast. There is a debate over the actual lyrics in the crucial line, “I staggered through your _____ dining room . . . ” Mendelsohn’s original liner notes say “shitty,” MacCutcheon hears “chilly,” and I hear a compromise, “chitty.” I like mine because it could have been a way to get past the censors, but I’ll take any of the three options. The bridge features some surprising chord changes before finding resolution, and the band handles those and the stutter-stop rhythm linking the bridge with the verse with great finesse. One of my favorite lost Kinks songs!
“Willesden Green”: I wrote in my review of Muswell Hillbillies that The Kinks didn’t do country all that well, but this track from Percy may be the exception to the rule. The only Kinks song not to feature a Davies brother as lead singer, “Willesden Green” works primarily because John Dalton makes it work with a vocal that combines a little bit of Conway Twitty with a whole lot of tongue in cheek. The spoken verse is a hoot-and-a-half, delivered with the face-saving defiance of a man who couldn’t make it in the city and is headed back to the burbs. Nice warm background vocals, too.
“This Is Where I Belong”: A relatively rare (for The Kinks) love song, I love it for the strength of the melody, Mick Avory’s strong drumming and Dave Davies’ memorable filler riff. The recording sounds a bit primitive but I actually rather like that, as the recording doesn’t distort the sincere emotions with fluff or syrup. I tend to trust expressions of love more when there’s an almost uncontrollable force behind them that can’t be bound by shy squeamishness, and The Kinks’ show of force here suits me just fine.
“Dead End Street”: No witty social satire here—this is a clarion call to draw attention to the extent of urban poverty and class discrimination in the UK. The intensity The Kinks bring to this track stands in stark contrast to the more lyrical feel of other songs during this period, further intensifying the urgency of the message. The double-tracking on the “What are we living for?” lines gives more emphasis to the point of the song: shouldn’t we have a greater purpose than survival? The lyrics are painfully direct and to the point; there’s no Dickensian juicy joint of lamb on the Sunday dinner table to welcome a happy family:
There’s a crack up in the ceiling,
And the kitchen sink is leaking.
Out of work and got no money,
A Sunday joint of bread and honey.
This is a song that never fails to move me; it not only reminds me how good I have it in contrast but also to continue my modest efforts to rid the world of the cancer of poverty. Alex DiBlasi has written a superb and more detailed analysis of “Dead End Street” you can read on KindaKinks.net. The second half of his treatise deals entirely with the promotional film shown here:
“Autumn Almanac”: I know several loyal Kinks fans who absolutely despise this song. It does have a rather jaunty feel to it that some may find annoying. As a character sketch, though, it’s superb, a dramatic monologue about a chap who likes his routines, feels tremendous loyalty to his neighborhood and wants to stay where he is—not out of conditioning as in “Shangri-La,” but out of choice:
This is my street, and I’m never gonna to leave it,
And I’m always gonna to stay here
If I live to be ninety-nine,
‘Cause all the people I meet
Seem to come from my street
And I can’t get away,
Because it’s calling me, (come on home)
Hear it calling me, (come on home)
There’s a part of me that wishes for that kind of life; it’s the life I had in San Francisco before education, economics and value conflicts sent my boot heels to be wanderin’. Neighborhoods matter! Continuity is as vital as change! The bouncy music reflects an empathy for someone who is happy with a life that others might find dreadfully boring. And kudos to Ray for mentioning Armagnac, the under-appreciated relative of our more famous Cognac. Vive la France!
“Did You See His Name?”: One of the best examples of Ray Davies’ gift of poetic economy, this song relates a modern tragedy with astonishing impact in less than two minutes. A man steals a tin of beans from a grocery store and finds his name and address published in the paper, excluding him for employment and companionship. I’ve never understood how media publication of any crime can be reconciled with our alleged belief in rehabilitation, for the primary effect of media coverage is to significantly reduce the chances of the accused or the guilty of ever finding a place in society (unless you’re as wealthy as Martha Stewart). In this case, the character snuffs out his life in his cramped maisonette. So much for Christian forgiveness.
“Wonderboy”: Hmm. John Lennon was obsessed with this song, according to Ray’s story in X-Ray, and lo and behold, it is very, very similar to “Beautiful Boy” in terms of subject matter and tone. I’ve never wanted babies or been particularly fond of them, so both songs are closed books for me. If I had to choose, I’d take this one for its more interesting melody.
“King Kong”: This “Apeman” doppelgänger rocks pretty hard in spots, and I think if they’d committed to it all the way through, this song would have turned out much better. First, it would have meant a more prominent role for Dave Davies, whose solo here feels truncated. Second, the “la, la, la, la, la” sequences break the flow and seem completely out-of-place. It’s like having a guy on top of me banging away with all his might suddenly pulling out, jumping off the bed, pulling a bouquet of posies out of thin air and crying, “You’re my forever valentine, snookie ookums!” Son of a bitch wouldn’t get out of that room alive.
“Mr. Pleasant”: “A Well Respected Man” dealt with old money; “Mr. Pleasant” deals with the nouveau riche. The message is the same: greed is a virulent disease that corrodes other human values, like honesty in relationships. The Kinks are very good at working the music hall genre, and the melody here is certainly catchy. It may not have the impact of its progenitor, but one thing I like about Ray Davies is he has a clear sense of artistic priorities. “Mr. Pleasant” is a nice addition to his work on social and economic corruption.
“God’s Children”: I can’t listen to music with religious overtones very well, so I’ll limit my comments to say this song from Percy has a lovely melody. ‘Nuff ced (a phrase chosen to honor Red Sox fans with a sense of baseball history).
“Mindless Child of Motherhood”: Don’t care for this one either. The title is a mouthful to sing and makes the chorus very clunky. The lyrics seem to indicate that Dave is searching for a woman who gave birth to a “bastard child,” and is willing to do the right thing, but what does he mean by the “mindless child of motherhood” at whom he directs his frustration? This is a song best described as “labored,” pun intended. Dave’s guitar work, though, is excellent. How about an instrumental version, folks?
“Polly”: While I like the music, I have to take exception to the lyrics, which treat a young woman’s liberation as a fleeting period in her life that she will eventually regret to return to hearth and home. Polly “had to break the chains,” and kick up her heels, as did her mama in her time—the old myth of “she needs to get it out of her system before she settles down.” Unfortunately, Polly repents, returns home with her tail between her legs and “Mummy’s proud ’cause Polly’s still in chains,” implying that women are aiders and abettors of female repression. The line might have been ironic had not the narrator emphasized three times, “I think that pretty Polly should have stayed at home.” Ray, I love the idea of preservation, but don’t try to apply it to “preserving the old ways” that left my sisters and me second-class citizens. Harrumph!
“Big Black Smoke”: Another song about a poor young country lass corrupted by the city, this one has more ambiguity and color than “Polly.” This nameless young lass indulges in sophisticated pleasures like cigarettes and Dexamyl (purple hearts) and is exploited by a loser guy who takes all her money and drags her down into the hellish world of the Big Black Smoke. The Kinks give an energetic performance, and the opening bells indicate that it could have been headed for a slot on Face to Face, but didn’t make the cut. It wound up as a B-side to “Dead End Street,” which makes for the ultimate anti-urban single.
“Susannah’s Still Alive”: Originally released as a Dave Davies’ single as the follow-up to “Death of a Clown,” this song belongs in the Rock Lyrics Hall of Fame solely for the use of the word “bedraggled” in the opening line. Although the story takes a couple of detours, it’s a vivid picture of a girl compensating for the absence of her soldier boy by sharing her bed with bottles of whisky or gin. Given such a bleak reality, it’s an oddly cheerful-sounding song, but I wind up forgiving the inconsistency and enjoying Dave’s enthusiasm and the catchy chorus.
“She’s Got Everything”: If this song seems out-of-place, it’s because it is! The recording precedes Face to Face and was only pulled from the vault because they needed a B-side for “Days.” The song is okay, but they don’t sound particularly committed to it. Its value is in demonstrating how dramatically The Kinks had progressed from their early period.
“Days”: As noted above, Ray Davies didn’t write too many love songs, but when he did, he came as close to perfection as you can get. “Days” and “The Way Love Used to Be” belong in any list of great modern love songs. “Days” has an unusually quick tempo for a romantic number, with quick chord shifts on the off-beats that reflect the heart-skip that accompanies the excitement of a romantic encounter. The opening key only applies to the verses; both the chorus and bridge are in different keys. Despite the rhythmic variations and the key changes, there are few songs I’ve heard that flow so well, thanks to Mick Avory’s steadiness.
The Kink Kronikles is loaded with great songs, as you’ll see in the track listing below. It is testament to the consistent excellence of The Kinks and to Ray Davies, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. While it’s great to listen to the individual albums for their themes and moods, sometimes it’s nice to look at the big picture so you can see how damned good The Kinks really were.
The Kink Kronikles Track Listing
|2. The Village Green Preservation Society|
|3. Berkeley Mews|
|4. Holiday In Waikiki|
|5. Willesden Green|
|6. This Is Where I Belong|
|7. Waterloo Sunset|
|8. David Watts|
|9. Deadend Street|
|11. Autumn Almanac|
|12. Sunny Afternoon|
|13. Get Back In Line|
|14. Did You See His Name?|
|4. King Kong|
|5. Mr. Pleasant|
|6. God’s Children|
|7. Death Of A Clown|
|9. Mindless Child Of Motherhood|
|11. Big Black Smoke|
|12. Susannah’s Still Alive|
|13. She’s Got Everything|
*Yes, guys, bisexual girls feel the same sting of disappointment you do.
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. While I found no live videos of this song, it’s still worth posting a static YouTube video just to hear his performance:
“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.