Ray Davies – Album By Album
As The Kinks prepare to release a deluxe edition of Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround Part One, packaged with soundtrack Percy, we take a trip back to Uncut’s November 2007 issue (Take 126), where Ray Davies talks Uncut through some of the best albums he’s made in his long career. “My songwriting has been my ally through life,” Davies muses, “because I ain’t got much else.” Words: Nick Hasted
THE KINKS – FACE TO FACE
Baroque, introspective pop classics, mostly written after Ray’s breakdown that summer.
Ray Davies: “I was 22, and writing about adult concerns – mortgages in ‘Most Exclusive Residence For Sale’, taxes in ‘Sunny Afternoon’. It was my first experience of being a grown-up. I went through a lot of emotional problems that year, because of the constant pressure from managers and the label, and myself, to keep the hits coming. I became washed out and drained, and a bumbling fool. I needed a good sleep, and that’s basically what my ‘breakdown’ was. I wrote ‘Sunny Afternoon’ after that. And ‘Fancy’, a little ballad about being misunderstood, in a world where ‘no one can penetrate me, or understand me’. And ‘Too Much On My Mind’ – but I could have written that 10 years before, or yesterday. With album tracks in those days there was a sense of freedom. And maybe we were a little bit freer than we should’ve been. Face To Face is a collection of songs, not an album. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ had been a hit, so the heat was off. The label didn’t get that one. I said, ‘Please. I was right with all the others – just put this out in five weeks, the sun’s coming out.’ Pop should be an immediate response to the world.”
THE KINKS – SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS
Ray’s reaction to the Summer of Love? Songs about cigarettes, tea – and Waterloo sunsets…
“’Something Else’. No pretension, but I like that. The Summer of Love didn’t bother me too much. I remember my first entry to Sgt Pepper was in Belfast, in Van Morrison’s flat. I didn’t listen to all of it. I knew I’d put out the best song of the year, so it didn’t matter to me.
“You can just hear the words in ‘Waterloo Sunset’, they trickle out. If you listen to the lyrics, I’m a voyeur in the distance, watching the young couple. So I could have written it now. ‘Waterloo Sunset’ was about the view I had from my hospital bed when I was badly injured as a child. It was also about being taken to the Festival Of Britain with my mum and dad. I remember them taking me by the hand, and saying it symbolised the future. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife, and all the dreams that we had. Her in her brown suede coat that she wore, that got stolen. Sometimes when you’re writing, you think, ‘I can relate it to any of these things.’ But listen to the words without the music, and it’s a different thing entirely.”
THE KINKS – THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY
Brilliantly observed concept album about nostalgia and Englishness. Now revered, it failed to chart anywhere on its original release.
“I think every band goes through a phase where they sit back and think about what their future’s going to be, a crossroads record. Wilco did it with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. …Village Green was ours. Maybe it’s an artistic death wish, to put something out like that. But you had underground music starting, with the West Coast explosion in America, and our management were sending us to play working-men’s clubs up north.
“I was angry. And I repressed the competitive instincts that had made me write hit singles. It wasn’t, ‘I think I’m burned out, I can’t be successful.’ It was, ‘I’m deliberately not going to be successful this time. I’m not going to make “You Really Got Me, Part III”.’ …Village Green is probably one of the first indie records. It was also a culmination of all these years of being banned from America [after Ray’s punch-up with a union official in 1965]. I felt we’d had a raw deal, the band were being punished unjustly. And I just wanted to do something English. I wanted to write something that, if we were never heard of again, this is who we are. It was a final stand for things about to be swept away, ideals that can never be kept.
“There are elements of reality. ‘Do You Remember Walter’ was inspired by a close friend of mine who met me once I’d had success, and we didn’t really know each other any more. The real Village Green is a combination of north London places: the little green near my childhood home in Fortis Green, Cherry Tree Woods, Highgate Woods. That little green is where we played football, and where we stayed ’til it was dark. There was mystery there; it was where we heard stories. But the Village Green could be anywhere. It’s all in my head, probably. The record’s about lost childhood, but also being a kid. Everybody’s got their own Village Green, somewhere you go to, when the world gets too much. The peace movement took the album up, when it eventually came out in America. They thought it was anti-Vietnam. Americans interpreted it as being about something that Americans should cherish. In a misconceived way, they took it as theirs.
“We knew it wouldn’t be successful, but in a sense, it did everything I wanted it to do. When people think about The Kinks, they still think about that album. And most of them have never heard it.”
THE KINKS – ARTHUR (OR THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE)
Predating The Who’s Tommy, the first “rock opera”, originally intended as a TV show.
“To this day, I’ve never heard Tommy through. It’s not like getting to the South Pole, it doesn’t really matter who was first. Arthur was supposed to be a TV musical, that was never made. I was doing a script at the same time, with Julian Mitchell. The Arthur I was writing about was my relative. I lived with him and his wife, my older sister, as a boy. All I would hear at dinner was how Britain had been betrayed, after the war. They were lured to Australia by cheap housing. It was a profound loss for me. Arthur heard the record before he died. He said, ‘There were some good things about England. You picked up on too many negatives.’
“’Shangri-La’ was a bitter song, too, about the suburban dream. Its sentiment sometimes bothers me. I really do respect suburban people, with their homes, and their organised lives, making arrangements to have holidays together. Tidy lives. I long for that, now. But I’m still living out of bags.
“But by that time I was also developing a script, and ‘Shangri-La’ fitted the theme, as did songs about the trenches and class. Meanwhile, The Kinks were saying, ‘Come on, we just want to make a rock record.’ I wanted a bigger picture. Arthur’s ideas are aggressive. It’s an angry record, played in a very gentle way.”
THE KINKS – MUSWELL HILLBILLIES
A personal hymn to a changing British landscape.
“We’d just signed a big record deal with RCA, and it was not the ideal record to bring out. It was inspired by the demolition of the Caledonian Road’s north end, where my parents were moved from to Muswell Hill. It’s part of cataloguing where I’m from, and what’s become of it. ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ meant it was a step across the water to America. The conceit was that there are hillbillies even in London. And perhaps I’m one.
“The opening song, ‘20th Century Man’, began as a madcap idea for a movie. This guy was like a suicide bomber, staying on at the end of a building that was going to be knocked down. Like ‘Here Come the People In Grey’, it’s against the bureaucrats who run the world. It was a very personal record. But it was also in the Archway Tavern [Ray’s Irish local, whose bar The Kinks prop up on the sleeve] where I first saw anti-British activities in the ’70s. Burning the flag, and other stuff. I used to take Barrie Keeffe there, who went on to write The Long Good Friday. So Muswell Hillbillies did, in a strange way, open the door into what was going to happen in the ’70s. Bloody Sunday was the next year. It was a record with some sense of place or time.”
THE KINKS – PRESERVATION ACT 1
First and finest of a string of ambitious ’70s concept albums – another lost Kinks classic.
“I felt I had so much to say then. But I was shattered. ‘Sweet Lady Genevieve’ is about breaking up with my first wife, sung by a not wholly good person. But the album was a complete fantasy. Preservation is connected to the Village Green, in that it’s what happened to these people when they got older. It was about the corruption of adults. Mr Flash is the guy who’s got a grudge, the wheeler-dealer, a Lavender Hill Mob villain. There were a lot of new fans in America who felt that resonated with Richard Nixon’s government. Preservation… captured a student following. The problem was, I had a band, and it was not an appropriate project to reactivate a conventional career. I took The Kinks in a direction I know they weren’t comfortable going.
“RCA didn’t understand I wanted to make videos and films as part of it, in 1972. They said, ‘We want you to make music, we’re not in the entertainment business.’ It’s a period when I shouldn’t have been allowed to make records. I should have been locked up! But I’m glad we did, as it helped the band shed its old image. That’s why I think America worked finally, in the ’80s.”
THE KINKS – STATE OF CONFUSION
The pinnacle of The Kinks’ second career as US stadium stars, trailed by MTV hit “Come Dancing”.
“I wanted to regain some of the warmth I thought we’d lost, doing those stadium tours. ‘Come Dancing’ was an attempt to get back to roots, about my sisters’ memories of dancing in the ’50s. [Arista’s] Clive Davis didn’t want to put it out, because he thought it was too vaudevillian. It was the video that convinced him. It went on MTV when it first started, and they couldn’t stop rotating it. It was one of our biggest singles, and it was about an East End spiv, sung in a London voice. If anybody had lost any faith in us being real people, that record would restore it. Even a pompous love ballad like ‘Don’t Forget To Dance’ had great lines. It had all the right ingredients, but it didn’t work, in a brilliant way.
“Mick Avory’s drum-roll into ‘Come Dancing’ is totally late, and that’s what the world is missing without The Kinks: their realism, and their mistakes. If you look at the cover, everybody’s going in different directions. The feuds between Mick and Dave had reached a final peak, and it was horrible to be on tour. We’d gone through massive hard work to get in stadiums. And success made us split up.”
RAY DAVIES – WORKING MAN’S CAFÉ
Swift sequel to Ray’s first proper solo album, Other People’s Lives, written after his 2004 shooting by New Orleans muggers.
“If this album was a book, it would begin with Blair getting in. I’ve never wanted to leave England, but I was going to. Because we’d just gone through Thatcher. But I thought he was worse. I made a half-hearted attempt to run off to New Orleans with this broad, fucked it up royally, and got shot. I was in terrible shape when I made this album. But I wanted to show that I could do it.
“If I hadn’t made this record quickly, I’d never have made another one. It helped get me through the trauma of New Orleans. ‘Morphine Song’ was written in the emergency room. That kept my head together. A lot of the songs are inspired by feeling alienated in America, and looking for somewhere to have a cup of tea. I miss the camaraderie and shared sensibility of being in The Kinks. Trying to get American musicians in my mind-space is hard.
“I went to New Orleans to try and have a new life there. The New Orleans thing started for me in the ’50s at the Highgate jazz club. And in a way, that’s what it always will be. I didn’t have to go all that way to find myself.”
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