Davies, Ray(mond Douglas)
Ray(mond Douglas) Davies 1944–
British songwriter, singer, musician, and actor.
Davies is a founding member and lead singer of the Kinks, a rock group which achieved success during pop music's "British Invasion" in 1964. Davies writes nearly all of the band's material, and his blend of catchy melodies and uniquely British subjects has established a cult following for the Kinks which continues to grow. Davies has gone through various stages in his songwriting career. He has written top 40-oriented pop songs, social satires, concept albums, vaudeville-type stage shows, and New Wave music with topical overtones. Through all of these changes, Davies has maintained the stance of a loner, and his songs most often reflect the alienation and unfulfilled aspirations of the lower middle class.
Davies first became involved in music while an art student in England. With his brother Dave, Peter Quaife, and Mick Avory, Davies began a rhythm-and-blues band called the Ravens. Soon after changing their name to the Kinks, the group signed a recording contract. After releasing two cover singles with little success, the Kinks recorded Davies's composition "You Really Got Me," which was highly successful worldwide. Davies continued to write popular hits through the mid-sixties, including "All Day and All of the Night," "Tired of Waiting for You," "Set Me Free," and "Till the End of the Day." These songs feature a basic beat embellished by distinctive guitar work and repetitive lyrics which reflect the experiences of young people. The Kinks's early albums were overshadowed by these singles, however, since Davies rarely surpassed the lyrical and musical limitations of his hits. Nevertheless, listeners were intrigued by Davies's quirky songs about aggressive women and passive men. The best example of this type of song is "Set Me Free," in which Davies, unlike other pop songwriters of the time, asks the girl to set him free. This sexual ambiguity is apparent both in Davies's soundtrack for the English television movie Percy, which concerns a homosexual, and in "Lola," a song about a person who "walked like a woman but talked like a man."
The release of the single "A Well Respected Man" in late 1965 saw a marked shift in Davies's song topics. This song centers on the themes of corruption and appearance-and-reality rather than love relationships. From this time on, Davies's work began to depict "serious" situations which are felt to be related from a specifically British viewpoint. These works include "Dedicated Follower of Fashion," "Sunny Afternoon," and "Deadend Street," and the albums Something Else and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Village Green is seen as a "concept album" with a surprising theme for a rock group: the preservation of traditional ideals and morals. The Kinks's next album, Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), is considered the most successful of Davies's concept works. Written for an English television musical, Arthur shows the decline of English values through the life and views of one character. The Kinks's popularity in England reached its peak with Arthur, but the British nature of Davies's writing alienated American fans, and the Kinks were regarded in the United States as an eccentric cult band.
The Kinks had a hit single in 1971 with "Lola," a Davies song with a typically offbeat theme: transvestism. However, "Lola" is not representative of Davies's work in the early seventies. Davies continued to rely on specific themes for his albums, but his songs veered more toward music-hall vaudeville routines. Beginning with the album Muswell Hillbillies, Davies incorporated brass and a distinctly un-rocklike sound to many of the group's songs. The album was a popular success, but it proved to be the last one the Kinks would have for a few years. Davies's Preservation trilogy, Soap Opera, and Schoolboys in Disgrace are the most theatrical Kinks albums, and Davies took his ideas one step further by acting out his stories in elaborate stage shows. These shows were highly regarded by fans and critics, and were likened to Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill themes and productions. However, the albums are felt to be little more than soundtracks for the stage musicals and were not commercially successful. Also, there was dissatisfaction among other members of the band toward the direction Davies's music was taking; this resulted in some halfhearted performances and caused Davies to reevaluate his songwriting theories.
Sleepwalker, released in 1977, showed distinct changes in Davies's work. He was no longer writing theater pieces, opting instead for the Something Else/Village Green idea of individual songs working toward a collective theme. Critics heralded Davies's creative rebirth on Sleepwalker and the next Kinks album, Misfits. Misfits is considered to be one of Davies's most personal works, and the title song and "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" are felt to be among Davies's most beautiful and significant lyrics. The Kinks achieved commercial success with Low Budget, which was recorded while Davies was living in New York and contains lyrics which reflect American society much more than previous albums. The music on Low Budget has a harder edge to it, and Davies's topical themes and pessimistic viewpoint seems influenced by the songs of numerous new wave bands. Accordingly, the Kinks have attained a greater level of popularity in the United States than at any time since the years of their first albums, and they have become more popular in America than in England. This American resurgence proves that Davies still speaks to young people with his songs while working with the ideas and problems that have become his trademark.
On the subject of songwriting, I try to put my own feelings in our records, apart from making them commercial….
["All Day and All of the Night"]—despite what many critics say—is a sincere effort to convey the attitude of many people today. It seems that when a thing is "down-to-earth" and factual people always try to stamp it out, but eventually it becomes the established thing.
I could really call myself an apprentice songwriter at the moment and I hope eventually to become sufficiently capable of expressing people's everyday moods, thoughts and emotions in music.
Maybe we should be called the Francis Bacons of pop music!
Ray Davies, "Kink Is Still a Naughty Word," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), November 28, 1964, p. 9.
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If you are not a Kinks fan, you are either a) uninformed, or b) not a Kinks fan. If it's the latter, there's nothing you can do about it. The Kinks, rather like Johnny Hart's B.C. or the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, are absolutely indefensible (and unassailable). I can't tell you why they're great: there are no standards by which the Kinks can be judged. Ray Davies' music has nothing to do with almost anything else. It's in a category unto itself, and if you don't like it, well, there you are.
I would like to say that Face to Face is a tremendously funny lp. I'm uncomfortably aware, however, that there are those, even those I respect muchly and love warmly, who do not find B.C. at all funny. I hesitate, therefore, to urge upon them an album that starts with four rings of a telephone and a pristine male voice saying "Hello, who is that speaking please?", followed inexorably by a lead guitar and bass who sound like they've been perched for hours just waiting to play their little run and get into the song (a righteous complaint against whatever it is that interrupts phone conversations). The humor of the thing is indescribable: it's all in the timing, and I break down every time I hear it. But there are those who sit unmoved. It must have something to do with taste.
The Kinks are mostly—but not entirely—Ray Davies. Ray is … [the] motive force for the group, and it is his curious personality that...
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[Ray Davies is not] the sort of hero to inspire faith. But he is pretty cynical. Thoroughly disenchanted. (p. 21)
On Kinks Size [the Kinks] do "Louie, Louie." This is highly significant because it seems that the Kingsmen and their "Louie, Louie" are the source for the Kinks' style. Recall that "Louie, Louie" was the big hit on the eve of the Beatles in late 1963. And realize that the Kinks loved it well enough to even do it again on Kinks' Kinkdom (a double cover). Played back-to-back …, "You Really Got Me" seems the plausible—if long awaited—sequel to "Louie, Louie." And "Louie, Louie" becomes archetypically astringent, an influential song in the tradition of "Can I Get A Witness," "Memphis," "Hand on Sloopy," "La Bamba" and "Tequila." Kinks Size also has the Kinks' second hit, "All Day and All of The Night," a remake of "You Really Got Me," in which (rare for a sequel) the internal tongue pressure remains enormous enough for grammatical structure to collapse as Ray Davies sings "Girl you and me last forever." "So Tired of Waiting For You" is, of course, beautiful beyond words, so sad and so weary. The first confluence of astringency and the big Kinks' theme of gentle and disappointed cynicism. Here it is that the Kinks first openly approach the abyss…. On [Kinda Kinks] the boys rounded out their methodology. Their tone of voice (and pronunciation) became disorienting. An apparently sincere song...
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I certainly love the Kinks; it's been fifteen months since I've had a new Kinks album in my house, and though I've been listening to them I've missed that pleasure…. I've played [The Village Green Preservation Society] twice since it arrived here this afternoon, and already the songs are slipping into my mind, each new hearing is a combined joy of renewal and discovery. Such a joy, to make new friends! And each and every song Ray Davies has written is a different friend to me.
Ray makes statements, he says the sort of stuff that makes you delighted just to know that someone would say stuff like that….
Now why is it Ray's songs always sound like something else, a different something else with each song and sometimes with each hearing? Sure, he's the world's master plagiarist, but it's more than that. It's more a feeling that it's all part of the same thing, it's all music and isn't it nice to run across this melody again? And it is, it's never a repetition, it's always some sort of opening. Ray Davies makes you realize how much there is all around us, waiting to be explored and explored again. Boredom? Every place you've been is a new frontier, now that you're someone different….
I've bought their every album as it's been released, and that's four years now and ten albums, every one satisfactory and worth far more than double your money back….
Each Kinks song [is] a...
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The Kinks' image is so strange, a group making it on the fact that they've never made it. The ultimate recording group—that's all they do, they just make records, you never see them but once a year they put out an album—a gift from themselves to their audience. The Kinks' last two albums, Something Else and Village Green Preservation Society sold a combined total, in America, of 25,000 copies—that ain't very many. I don't know whether people actually don't like their stuff or if they've just never heard it—whatever the reason, somebody's missing something, because the Kinks, since 1964, have been making some of the finest rock music this side of the Stones and the Beatles.
Things like "You Really Got Me"—really tough, grinding hardrock; and "All Day and All of the Night"—strange, stumbling, go-stop-go tempo; and "So Tired of Waiting For You"—repetition working, monotony makes it….
The Kinks have always done it, one little gem after another, six years of treats: "David Watts," "Waterloo Sunset," the Face to Face album … it's all there, folks, in the world of Ray Davies, the magical kingdom of the Kinks—the Disneyland of rock in its most beautiful form.
Arthur, the Kinks' new movie: such an incredible album….
Arthur—The Decline and Fall of the British Empire: Ray's England with a brass section.
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So, apparently having forgotten the Byrds' words of caution, you wanna be a rock and roll star, eh? Before you trade in your stereo components toward the price of an electric guitar, there's [Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround (Part One), a] rock and roll essay by Ray Davies and his boys that your ears just have to read….
"The Contender"—silly quasi-bluegrass yielding to some of the most energetic rock and roll noises the Kinks have made since their live-at-Kelvin-Hall LP. Impatient to get out of the life you're presently leading …, you resolve to bust out by playing rock and roll….
"Get Back In Line"—the album's masterpiece: lovely musically, most poignant lyrically…. It gets to the point where the union-man decides whether or not you eat, let alone bring your woman home some wine.
"Lola"—what praises remain to be sung for this perfectly magnificent, piece? Let me mention only that, contrary to the belief of those who celebrated it in its single incarnation, Ray never comes out and tells us whether or not Lola is indeed a transvestite—the most he says is, "I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man, and so is Lola." This fits in the essay contextually rather than thematically; that is, not because of its plot but because it was the hit record our attention is directed toward in—
"Top of The Pops"—the two most banal riffs Ray could...
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Well, we all know what "Percy"'s about, don't we? Nudge, nudge, and a nod's as good as a wink.
Well this length from the film score, laid flat by Ray Davies, performed by the Kinks, hangs I'm afraid, limp, rather lank, cold—and lacking in guts.
But how can one really criticise a movie film score, how can one talk creatively about sets of music laid down to slip in, and fuse with a film? All tracks fail to rise, fail to reach any form of climax…. Possibly the best track is "The Way Love Used To Be," a drifting ballad…. "Whip Lady" would I thought, have been a Kinky movement, but there's no naughtiness to get into…. Davies has undoubtedly been successful with the score—if you see the film with it—but it's a shame an album has to be released. It fails to rise to the occasion.
Roy Hollingworth, "A Limp 'Percy' from the Kinks," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), March 20, 1971, p. 17.
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The Kinks are craftsmen in a musical genre that often relies on flash and force, literate chroniclers in a post-literate medium. They are also the most consistent band in rock and roll. Each of the Kinks' preceding twelve albums … is an absolutely integral piece of work. While other groups have dried up, broken down, spawned generations of side-man/superstar spinoffs, the Kinks roll on.
Ray Davies, the group's lead singer and songwriter, seems to be an inexhaustible source of pithy, self-contained songs…. All 12 songs on "Muswell Hillbillies" … are his, though the spirit of pub philosophy that dominates the album owes much to Dave's brand of tipsy populism.
But this is essentially a serious album. Ray used to paint pictures of well-respected men that were quaint and a little one-dimensional, and his descriptions of English working-class traditions occasionally verged on the lugubrious. "Muswell Hillbillies" deals with the kind of attitudes that rockers-in-rebellion and men who work with their hands can share over a pint of stout; it equates the Cockney's stubborn pride with the pride of the American "hillbilly," but Ray Davies is no drug store cowboy; and he doesn't care to record in Nashville. His idiom is still soaring hard rock, with side trips into the updated music hall idiom that has become a Kinks trademark.
The Kinks and their Muswell Hill cronies have a common enemy: the "people in...
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Musically, the Kinks' roots in the British Music Hall tradition really show up strongly on Muswell Hillbillies. At least five songs could be described as this type, and when the countryish material is added, the two styles account for almost the whole LP…. Most of the music-hall style songs come over pretty well, even if the genre is minor compared to things the Kinks have done in the past. "Have A Cuppa Tea" is reminiscent of previous Kinks quaintness, and "Alcohol" is particularly delightful—sort of a followup to Ray Davies' Maurice Chevalier tribute "Just Friends" on Percy.
The country stuff is another matter. A portion of it is fine, but some of the songs are so positively uninspired and unenergetic it drives me up the wall. Such as things like the Kinks nasally whining "I'm a Muswell hillbilly boy / But my heart lies in old West Virginia" or Ray singing the saga of "Holloway Jail," a total doggerel of a song which would have been more at home on some forgotten Marty Robbins album ten years ago. The Kinks who roared out of Muswell Hill in 1964 … weren't any shuffling hillbillies, they were grade-A urban brats; and they later matured in a way encompassing broadened scope and sensibilities that few rock bands have ever matched. And that's why it's such a drag to hear the routine 1971 country slide guitar rot turning up on a Kinks album, even if only in a couple spots….
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The Kinks started out by being raunchier than any group in history. "You Really Got Me," "All Day And All Of The Night," "I Need You," and "Till The End Of The Day" were truly the Kingsmen unleashed, and for my money more thrillingly raucous records have never been recorded.
After such successful rock and roll albums as You Really Got Me, Kinda Kinks, and particularly The Kink Kontroversy, not to mention Well Respected Kinks, Ray Davies decided it was time to explore some different alleys. This is precisely what the Kinks' work since Kink Kontroversy has been—a probe down one alley of expression, and once the genre has been satisfactorily mined, a move on to something else….
Ray's effete, melodic side had been apparent all along, especially on … [Kinda Kinks]. So it is no surprise that the Kinks went into an extended introspective soft-rock period, recording Face To Face, Something Else, Village Green, Arthur, and Lola Vs. Powerman. It is this period that is the focus of The Kink Kronikles.
The Kink Kronikles opens with "Victoria," the same song that had opened Arthur with the most overt rock and roll the Kinks had recorded in several years. Arthur was a culmination of all the themes from the three previous Kinks LPs: nostalgia, the little people in life, village greens, situations vacant, steam-powered trains, and...
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Ray Davies continues to wear his English citizenship like a badge. The Kinks have often used American musical idioms … but Ray has regularly used his considerable songwriting talents to anatomize situations of class and culture that are peculiarly English…. His nostalgia for the afternoon of the Empire, and his interest in the music hall/vaudeville traditions of his youth, continue unabated. His early efforts at the stand-up crooner idiom were often exquisite, especially "Sunny Afternoon" and "End of the Season," and most recently he has shown ingenuity in adapting fashionable rock currents to his obsession….
Everybody's in Showbiz, a double album containing a studio and a live record, is Ray's first extended look at America. The new songs deal for the most part with touring, and with the difference between Hollywood stereotypes and American reality: the live record comprises hard rock and vaudeville material from recent Kinks albums performed with juiced gusto, high spirits, and occasional rank sloppiness. But the tour sides hold together remarkably well, since most of the song situations deal with show business and its facade of tinsel and celluloid…. Some listeners may find parts of the album revoltingly reminiscent of the kind of entertainment favored by their mums and dads, but Davies isn't just trying to become the new Val Doonican; in fact, he seems to be magnifying and exaggerating the excesses of show business...
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The first question to be asked about a new Kinks album has to be: What is Ray Davies going to say about the world this time?… It is a fairly well-accepted opinion among people who listen to lyrics that Davies is a master songwriter, an unexcelled painter of people and scenes. In the course of 16 or so Kinks albums, he has created dozens—maybe hundreds—of incisive, bittersweet, funny-sad observations on the ways that people live. The British group's past several American tours have established an irreconcilable contrast between Ray Davies, the sensitive and intelligent songwriter, and the onstage buffoon of the same name.
"Everybody's In Show Biz" is about that contrast….
The new material is desperately grim. On the one hand, Davies' lyrics with an unaccustomed lack of subtlety, come out and say how unpleasant the various aspects of the star's life are. On the other hand, that ambiguity of emotion, the understanding of several sides of a situation that usually characterizes Davies' songs, is here temporarily (I hope) suspended. The result is basically a series of musical complaints, literate, occasionally charming, at one point ("Sunny Side") obnoxiously cynical, and consistently depressing….
The two records were evidently not intended to be the Kinks' most enjoyable release. They can, however, be pretty instructive listening for all the young guitar players who would like to grow up to be...
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Ray Davies has enjoyed two periods of Kinky creativity, one marked by crude energy, raw nerve and powerful rock ("All Day and All of the Night"), the other by accomplished artiness, social commentary and wistful vignettes ("Waterloo Sunset"). The Great Lost Kinks Album … concentrates on this second period, which ran approximately from "Sunny Afternoon" to "Lola"; together with last year's Kink Kronikles, it brings to light on album almost the complete Kinks works (although I do quibble with the exclusion of "Sitting on My Sofa").
The world of the Kinks as it evolved after "Sunny Afternoon" evinced a characteristic blend of nostalgia for a quieter period of English history, coupled with an almost arrogant stance toward the status-seeking English bourgeois who would replace the green spaciousness of the past with an incessant and constricting rat race for fame and fortune. Into this world were introduced a panoply of Kinky characters, ranging from "Dandy" to "Lola" him/herself. The Kinks world created by Davies represented a charming oasis where the tradition of the music hall survived in a rock & roll incarnation.
Most of the Lost album's material is roughly contemporaneous with Village Green Preservation Society. At the time, Ray was particularly absorbed by antique strains of popular music as stylized vehicles for his lyrical concerns. Although the softshoe patina of songs like...
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[The songs on The Great Lost Kinks Album] marvelously cohere to make this a real album and not merely an assortment of unrelated curios. This of course says a lot for the organic consistency of The Kinks' work. File TGLKA between Something Else and Village Green.
Like most Kinks albums since 1966, this one is sad. Oh, some of the songs sound happy enough, but they're wistful thinking, pathetically evanescent fantasies. There's no getting away from pain, ugliness, and isolation, which a few tracks face squarely. "Where Did the Spring Go?" is an extremely upsetting song about an aging man who has gotten nothing from life but varicose veins. "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" is chilling…. I still feel in the vocal's grating, paranoiac edge the fear and the menace of a cornered dog….
In his [liner notes John] Mendelsohn rather querulously argues that The Great Lost Kinks Album is the last great Kinks album, that since moving to RCA the group has sadly deteriorated. Muswell Hillbillies is "clumsily heavy-handed and obvious," and on Everybody's in Showbiz Ray is "bitchily egocentric." He is no longer "sensitizing us" with his "beautiful songs." But MH is surely no more heavy-handed and obvious than earlier numbers such as "Powerman" and "Brainwashed" (one of Mendelsohn's favorites), and Mendelsohn seems not to understand MH's relation to Village Green....
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[The odd thing about the Kinks] is that despite their frequent inability to remain vertical on stage, and despite the fact that they've been known to give performances in which they sounded like, in John Mendelsohn's phrase, "the first rehearsal of an inept teenage garage band," they've managed to create a body of recorded work that is quite clearly in the Beatles/Stones/Dylan class. Yet they've never really achieved the commensurate superstardom….
Discussions of the Kinks have invariably centered around Ray Davies…. But in the beginning it was the Kinks as a band that knocked people out. And, strangely enough, they made their initial reputation as avant-gardists. But there really is no rock avant-garde anymore, John Lennon's protestations to the contrary, and the style of amphetamine raving pioneered on their early singles is by now—eight brief years later—totally absorbed into the mainstream. But avant-gardists they were, a totally electric rock-and-roll band that produced a cataclysmic wall of sound unlike anything that had ever been heard in rock before. (p. 96)
Somewhere along the line Ray began to write. At first his lyrics were the conventional boy-girl stuff of the period (though laced with a rather unambiguous sexuality that was perfectly mated to the sonic blitz the band was laying down), but he soon began to get itchy for something more serious. What he eventually came up with, A Well...
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There are snatches of the Who in ["Preservation Act 1"], the first of a two-act musical by Ray Davies. In fact, insidious as most of them are, the influences of "Tommy" abound, and detract from this album.
That said, there are some Kinks gems, a pretty good, if somewhat hackneyed, storyline, and enough good music to swell the ranks of the Kinks Preservation Society.
At first listen "Preservation Act 1" is disappointing. It hasn't quite the impact of "Muswell Hillbillies" on the rock numbers, nor the lovability of "Village Green Preservation Society," which, for me, must be the definitive Kinks "musical." Ray Davies inevitably has his eyes on the past. Now he's looking to the future; to revolution and a new society. Stars of Act 1 are "the people," the tramp, Johnny Thunder, the vicar and Flash. As would be expected, Ray makes the tramp the hero and gives him the standout songs: "Sitting In The Mid-day Sun," "Where Are They Now" and "Sweet Lady Genevieve." All three are beauts; all three have Kinks stamped all over them; and all three look back into the past. There's no getting away from it, that's where Ray Davies is at. It's the faster, and in many ways too fast, tracks that owe a lot to, or rather bring back memories of, Pete Townshend's "Tommy": songs like "There's A Change In The Weather," "One Of The Survivors" …, and "Here Comes Flash." There's a lot of uneasiness in this album…. "Muswell Hillbillies" had...
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"Preservation Act 1" is actually a full-length development of themes Davies began in 1968 on "The Village Green Preservation Society" album. The songs on this new album relate how greed in the guise of progress is swallowing up individuality and humanity as personified by the inhabitants of a small town. The concept may sound rather grandiose, but Davies … could never get swept up by pretension.
Sparked by his sardonic wit and keen sensitivity, Davies makes his point in very down-to-earth terms. The lyric sheet indicates that each song is to be sung by a different character in this musical so Davies, the songwriter and lead singer, gives us all sides of the story including the villain who gets rich knocking down the village's thatched cottages and the vicar who compares life to a game of cricket….
By varying his music and arrangements to reflect the idea of his lyrics, Davies has created that rarity, a concept album (or "rock opera" if you must) that never gets dull. And though he is protesting the bulldozing of old values, Davies' wit saves him from the heaviness that lessens the impact of message songs.
The Kinks never got as much exposure in America as the Beatles or the Stones in the sixties so they have never had as much popular acclaim as they deserve. Yet there's no doubt that they continue to flourish as one of England's most original rock bands, anchored on the exceptional songwriting...
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[If] the Kinks haven't taught us anything else, they've showed us that you can be real and make it….
Who else but Ray Davies would sing about Waterloo Station and Muswell Hill and village greens?
It wasn't always that straightforward, though….
[With "You Really Got Me"] The Kinks proved that they could execute a pretty mean boogie with two chords and a key change….
Maybe it's the type of situation that occurs when a group achieves a measure of success before it's mature enough to handle it, but Ray Davies wrote a large number of variations on a theme of "You Really Got Me," that filled up the bulk of the early albums and B-sides.
Still, it was a fine riff, and would bands like the Stooges have existed if folks like the Kinks hadn't shown what could be achieved with a modicum of instrumental ability? And think of the Velvet Underground's two-chord epic, "Sister Ray." (Sister Ray? Think about it.)
But how do you follow the success of such a hit record? Why, simple, you just doctor the riff, call it "All Day And All Of The Night," and sing it out….
I'd guess that the Kinks must have begun to get acute paranoia over what they were going to do when Ray ran out of variations. Clearly they were looking for a way out of the impasse, but weren't sure where they were supposed to look….
"Tired Of Waiting For You"...
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To my mind the Kinks have always excelled at short, simple pop songs, the best of which—like "Waterloo Sunset," "Autumn Almanac" and "Days"—have contained a warm, slightly old-fashioned sentimentality that cuts across any prejudices I have about the band's musicianship and general performance….
[Ray Davies] has sharp ears and eyes for the ways of a world that seems to lap at his doorstep while eternally he gazes, hand on chin, behind the upstairs window; and of course, that world is specifically British. However, observer though he may be, satirist he is not. His eyes may be sharp, but his pen draws no blood, essentially because he's too kindly and loveable when he should be savage, cranky and eccentric instead of incisive. The two albums in his "Preservation" drama proffer Davies' view of the way in which his world is being dragged into the mud, a dirty struggle between the running dogs of Capitalism—represented in his dramatis personae by Mr Flash, a spiv and secondhand car salesman—and the odious forces of a puritanical Socialism—symbolised, appropriately, by Mr Black. Outside these ideological extremes, is The Tramp, a figure of tromaticism who would appear to speak for Davies himself, on the sidelines but deeply concerned. Surely there's something of Davies in the Tramp's cry of "Oh Where, Oh Where is Love?" The concurrence of time and political circumstance has given this vision of a downhill descent a very topical...
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Some sweet irony has Ray Davies posted on [the cover of Preservation Act 2] as a demagogic hustler when his refusal to merchandise himself has long impeded widespread recognition of the Kinks.
Because Ray, on this album, mingles his persona as a reluctant rock star and querulous love object with the characters of Flash, Mr. Black and the Tramp (with a bogglingly well-realized cameo as Flash's Special Floosie Belle), then marches these composite characters into a scenario that clicks (musically and narratively) with Preservation Act 1: because that scenario is informed by a superbly intuited moral sense of history, utterly germane to this year of deposed monarchies; and because the whole thing rocks, rolls and saunters its way across four sides, Ray cannot be denied his place as rock's ascendant genius.
Think about the congruence between Ray's morality play and the musical theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, specifically their collaboration, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Germany was in upheaval when Mahagonny premiered in 1930. The production aimed for impact, with Weill drawing musical motifs from the cabarets and Brecht staging the performance to jar and alienate the audience, a principle of his politicized commitment. The whiteface make-up and repellent grin Ray sports on the cover are very much emblems of Brechtian theatre today; walking on Weill's side, Ray has...
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British rock stagecraft has flirted with theatrical conceits for over a decade. What began as a performance dynamic in which movement was a direct function of the music itself (for example, the early Who and Stones) has evolved to the self-conscious spectacle of David Bowie's Cecil B. DeMille imitations and Jethro Tull's ridiculously cluttered, absurdist program pieces….
What's missing from this Grand Opera approach to rock performance is the solid conceptualization which can only come from strong songwriting point-of-view. The clarity and simplicity of statement which has always been one of rock's most positive songwriting attributes is gone from the tangled web of solipsistic allusions which visual concerns seem to have necessitated. Only the most clever writer can overcome the immense problem posed by this artistic conflict of interest. It does not surprise me that the person to finally put it off is Ray Davies.
Davies is arguably the finest rock songwriter England has produced. Sure, Lennon-McCartney, Jagger-Richard and Townshend have written more standards than any of their peers, but only Ray Davies and Townshend have been able to completely articulate a unique point of view which evolves in direct relation to their on-going attempt to understand themselves and the world they live in….
As their introspection led Davies and Townshend to song cycles, Townshend became mystical in the high...
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It's no secret that Ray Davies has, in comparison with his early work, dished out an awful lot of substandard dross of late. In this he is like most of the rest of the great songwriters of the Sixties rock explosion….
The question of why Ray Davies' work has declined is a mite puzzling, however. Granted, he has tried of late to adapt his usual themes—the lives of little people, English traditions and their decline—to larger canvases than he's accustomed to. Even though his first attempt, the concept album "Arthur," was a rousing success, I still maintain that he is primarily a short-story writer, if you will, rather than a novelist: into such songs as Do You Remember Walter, Deadend Street, and Autumn Almanac, for example, he was able to compress more detail, more nuance, than any other writer in the history of pop music. That's a strong statement, but it's true. Not one of his contemporaries, and that includes people like Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman, can touch him in terms of his ear for the essential pathos of everyday life. Why, then, was "Arthur" such a success, and his later attempt at broadening his scope, "Preservation Act Two," such a boring failure?
I think the reason lies in the way the works were put together. Ray is essentially a miniaturist, but with "Arthur" the TV play the songs were written for never got beyond the stage of a broad plot outline; it was never...
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"Schoolboys in Disgrace" is, without any doubt, the most impressive and enjoyable album that Ray Davies has written and produced since those halcyon days when the Kinks delivered that essential series of records which includes "Face To Face," "Something Else," "Village Green" and "Arthur."
Davies' recent work, particularly the ambitious "Preservation" trilogy, has not been entirely without its memorable moments, but all too often his vision has lacked that spectacular clarity which characterised many of his earlier compositions.
This album is a celebration of those qualities one admired so completely in Davies as a writer. He's not fully recovered his impressive facility for evocative, commercial melodies, but the majority of the songs contained in this collection have a similar, articulate, affectionate sense of nostalgia about them, which anyone at all familiar with that sequence of albums will immediately recognise. Davies has … rehabilitated himself as a writer….
The essential concept of "Schoolboys" is an elaboration of a theme tentatively expressed as far back as "David Watts"—the opening shot of "Something Else." It examines the predicament of an adolescent confronting the pressures of an educational system which confuses rather than informs, and increases the pressures of living in a conformist society.
These are themes which Davies has explored more recently in the...
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Linda J. Frederick
[Looking through my collection of the Kinks's] early Reprise albums, I was struck by how very many Kinks songs deal with the wish to be somewhere, sometime, someone, or even something else (King Kong is a good example). Long before it became fashionable in rock, Ray Davies was a master at creating a nostalgic mood…. And, now that it's once again out of vogue (for which mercy God be praised), Ray has returned to this genre [on "Schoolboys in Disgrace"], if indeed he ever left it. Even given all that, the last thing in the world I expected now was an album full of yearnings for "those happiest days of your life" as a carefree student. I've always regarded Ray as, among other things, unalterably opposed to conformity, regimentation, intellectual repression, and all such dehumanizing horrors, which are the main things I remember from my school days. Yet, here we find him (well, technically it's Mr. Flash, arch-villain of the "Preservation" saga) claiming he'd gladly return to them "if only I could find a way." Things like that confuse me: have I totally misread the man? How disconcerting….
"Schoolboys" seems intended as some sort of joke, and perhaps I've missed the punch line simply because I'm still more sympathetic to Chuck Berry's view of Schooldays as something one longs to escape, not re-experience. Like most recent Kinks material, all this probably makes a great stage vehicle for Ray and the crew, but...
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The Kinks and their mainspring, Raymond Douglas Davies, are presented [in "The Kinks' Greatest Celluloid Heroes"] in a ragtag collection of material dating as far back as 1972. Davies, who writes, produces, and arranges the group's material, seems to be making a lifelong career out of cheeky irreverence. Sometimes it works, as it does in Muswell Hillbilly, and sometimes it is woefully inappropriate, as it is in Alcohol—there's nothing really funny about that subject if you've read any of the new statistics on teenage (or any-age) alcoholism. But most of the time, as in Everybody's a Star and Celluloid Heroes, it comes across as a creaky bore. Somehow the Seventies have made a lot of pop irreverence seem more like sour brattiness than healthy fun. (pp. 100, 104)
Peter Reilly, "Popular Discs and Tapes: 'The Kinks' Greatest Celluloid Heroes'," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1976 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 37, No. 5, November, 1976, pp. 100, 104.
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["Sleepwalker"] emphatically testifies to the dramatic artistic revival of Raymond Douglas Davies, whose supreme talents as a writer have been so distressingly overlooked during the first half of this decade.
Davies' restless imagination and determination to pursue, over the last six years, a unique musical course which paid no homage to prevailing fashions and ideas, undoubtedly cost the Kinks the praise of the popular audience they deserved and the commercial success that would have justified their leader's uncompromising idiosyncrasies in the face of often universal critical disdain and popular indifference.
But their achievements have been no less entertaining during this time, and those who persevered with Davies will argue that the Preservation trilogy, though flawed and inconsistent on record, provided the basis for one of the few successful fusions of rock and theatre when it was transferred to the stage.
Similarly, the Kinks' last album for RCA, "Schoolboys in Disgrace", a retrospective scenario featuring the characters from the previous trilogy, was, in performance, a tour de force of lunatic drama.
Moreover, that album suggested that Davies was successfully returning to the precise writing style that had characterised his compositions of the mid-Sixties, when he produced such pop masterpieces as "Dead End Street", "Waterloo Sunset" and "Autumn Almanac".
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Even as a staunch Kinks supporter, I was beginning to have my doubts. Although the band's following has grown steadily since they made it into the Seventies (by the skin of their teeth) with "Lola," they seemed to have peaked with Muswell Hillbillies. Ray Davies seemed hopelessly stuck on a thematic dead-end street (perhaps he had started believing all those notices about personifying the "voice of the little people"). But Sleepwalker … is a clear-cut triumph both for Davies and the band.
A few of these songs smack of the self-righteousness that's hindered Davies' recent writing; but the beautiful "Stormy Sky," in which clouds become a symbol for romantic conflict, and "Full Moon," a scary tune about madness and loss of self-recognition, are among his best efforts. The recurrent themes are fear, depression and failed utopianism; in "Life Goes On," we are warned that "life'll hit you when you least expect it." Yet in the end, there always remains a faint glimmer of hope…. "Juke Box Music," which seems strangely set apart from the rest, is the best song here, a rocker about a woman whose entire life is spent living inside the story lines of her favorite records. It should be a pathetic song, yet Davies has us tapping our feet, singing along.
Billy Altman, "'Sleepwalker'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1977; all rights reserved; reprinted by...
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Raymond Douglas Davies is a metaphorical continent, removed from the archetypal macho-monster breathing blood and venom upon his audience as he carves a violent passage through their collective consciousness. Rather, he has the breezy bravado of a comic turn in an end-of-the-pier revue….
Raymond Douglas Davies is unique….
The Kinks' third single … was an event of some significance: the raw power and indefatigable exuberance of "You Really Got Me" … virtually introduced the genre of heavy metal in one devastating three-minute explosion of rabid sexual energy.
Ray Davies followed "You Really Got Me" with a further seven singles cast principally in the same basic fashion. These singles, as pertinently as any by the Beatles, provided an evocative soundtrack for mid-Sixties adolescents, tentatively exploiting their independence and investigating preliminary sexual activities….
Ray Davies was, and this perhaps was the most immediate impression, no more extraordinary than any other confused and perplexed individual: he seemed to suffer the same mundane anxieties and expressed his concern with a casual honesty that refused to elevate the artist to the role of suffering martyr.
I remember the Kinks often performing on television in those days; decked out in their sublimely ridiculous red hunting jackets with frilled shirts, they seemed to gently parody the various...
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The Brothers Davies—better known as the Kinks—have survived a decade and a half of the rock wars. As Ray puts it in "A Rock and Roll Fantasy," "it's a miracle we're still here." Last year's Sleepwalker was the debut on their third label, Arista, and made the biggest impression in the charts of any Kinks LP yet. Considering the brilliance of their recorded output, it's about time [the Kinks had a commercial success].
On the evidence of Misfits, perhaps Ray Davies thinks so too, and decided to hasten the band's attainment of the commercial success they so richly deserve by doing what he could to homogenize the music for mass acceptance. Or maybe, after having worked on the album so long …, his judgement in selecting the best tracks was impaired. Whatever the reason (and don't tell me it's because they're old farts), Misfits is the first Kinks album I've found to be fairly bland, unexciting and, well, ordinary.
Not completely ordinary—how many hard-rockers do you find singing about "Hay Fever"? And there's also an embarrassing number called "Black Messiah," about which the less said the better. But—and talk about embarrassing—who wants to say much about the Kinks' almost-disco track ("Get Up")? And go figure "Out of the Wardrobe," the touching story of a transvestite who reverses roles with his wife and they live happily ever after?
Yet the unique personal touch of Ray...
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After twenty-odd albums, either you follow the Kinks or you don't. If you don't ("Gently pity those you can't persuade," as Jonathan Swift put it), it's unlikely you'll acquire the habit with Misfits, especially since none of the songs sounds like an immediate hit single. But if you do, this LP can make you cry. Not because Misfits is a bad record—on the contrary, it's the Kinks' best since, at the very least, 1974's underrated Preservation Act 2. No, what makes it heart-rending is its candor bordering on cruelty. And both the victim and the victor are Ray Davies.
It's as if the voice that has probably whispered for years inside Ray Davies' head, murmuring, "Come out, come out, wherever you are," has swollen into a scream that can no longer be stifled. No more hide-and-seek with the dramatis personae of the theatrical RCA albums or the metaphors of the last LP, Sleepwalker…. No more peekaboo behind cute ambiguity ("… I'm glad I'm a man / And so is Lola") or the disingenuous exhibitionism of drunkenness. Out of the closet, out of the Kinks even, and into the fire—not of damnation but, what's more excruciating, of irresolution. For sometimes, coming out isn't as difficult as it's cracked up to be: discovering where you are is often the hard part. That's why Davies, rather than answering the scream in kind, responds with a sigh that is desolating but that also speaks of a peace—a sadder but wiser...
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With the Era of Lowered Expectations upon us like a toxic thermal inversion, the Kinks are suddenly topical again. Ray Davies's pragmatic yet romantic pessimism—which he's maintained for 15 years—seems reasonable now, no longer a minority outlook. So when he names an album after the refrain "low budget," he doesn't sound petty or mundane; he sounds tough-minded, resonant, inspired. "Low Budget" (the song) lives up to its title; it's a monologue from a character who's forced to sacrifice quality for economy, a nigh-universal predicament. You don't have to be a Davies cultist or an expert on the English working class to know what he's singing about—and that shot of reality is exactly what the Kinks have needed.
They've been a cult band for too long. Because Davies has written so many brilliant songs since 1964—from "You Really Got Me" to "Victoria" to "Lola" to "Ducks on the Wall," with lots of stops in between—he has a hardcore following that will sustain the Kinks through any folly as long as they can hear the oldies in concert…. But Davies's fans are so adoring they don't give him any clear sense of his strengths and weaknesses, encouraging filler-packed albums, sentimentality, and solipsism. In "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" on 1978's Misfits, where Davies makes it seem that he's soldiering on unwillingly for the fan who "lives for our music," the bathos is overwhelming. If I never hear another Kinks song about...
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[If you doubt that Low Budget's] unifying idea is modern urban malaise à la Davies, you may have a bit of trouble accounting for the claustrophobic outlook of "In a Space," the dancing whore and babbling street loon who meet Ray's compassionate eye in "Little Bit of Emotion," his view of Captain America as a helpless giant in "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," the disco arrangement of "Superman," and the very existence of a song called "Pressure"—all on the same record. As the Kinks enter the '80s Ray's idealized village green is long gone, having been formally razed on Preservation, and perhaps even Arthur's suburban haunt may well have grown a little dirtier and more impersonal in the decade since 1969, as the world around it got a bit nastier year by year.
Not that the Kinks are ready to lay down and die. If "Rock and Roll Fantasy" and the title cut from Misfits limned Ray's internal struggle between intermittent self-doubt and self-affirmation, Low Budget shows the latter tendency winning out. In "Attitude" Raymond Douglas Davies the affirmer (or somebody) rebukes Raymond Douglas Davies the doubter for his defeatist attitude, perhaps with some prodding from the new wave, setting the stage for a record of tough—but in the Kinks tradition, almost invariably fun—rock and roll.
On the negative side, the choice of Low Budget, a so-so, sort of heavy-handed rocker, as title cut, is...
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At first I thought the biggest problem [in being stranded on a desert island with just one record] would be one of acoustics, but then I thought again. No friends. No enemies. No Christmas shoppers, but no Christmas presents, either. No way to start a stamp collection. No date at the movies. Hold the phone—no movies at all! Or books! Or talk shows! Or magazines (except for one yellowing copy of People, with Gregg and Cher and Baby Elijah on the cover)! Or records! No records!
Hah. One record, and—this being something of a trumped-up dilemma—all the time in the world to choose it. The final selection process didn't take me anywhere near that long: Something Else by the Kinks, and there's no second choice. If I couldn't pack that, I'd have to make other travel plans. (p. 100)
[There] are certain things about this situation that make it the Kinks' cup of tea. For one thing, they'd be invaluable tour guides, having made this same journey themselves any number of times. Yes, it may have started out as something of a joke—in "I'm on an Island," on The Kink Kontroversy, Ray Davies sang, to a beat midway between rock and cha-cha, of being literally left high and dry because he'd lost his girl. The trip had made him nothing if not cheerfully redundant: "I'm on an island / And I've got nowhere to run / Because I'm the only one / Who's on the island."
That was in 1965....
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[The] Kinks have never really matched the top British groups in terms of mass success, and the reasons seem to be twofold. First, Ray Davies, the band leader, is too anarchic to conform to the rules and regulations of rock careerism. Rock may seem like an arena of wild men to outside observers. But it has its own rules, too, and for all their apparent eccentricity and iconoclasm, stars like Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend obey those rules.
The other reason is that the distinction of the Kinks's songs has to do more with Mr. Davies's lyrics and his charisma than with any purely musical virtues. This makes him the darling of some rock writers, the kind that fastens first on the words instead of the music, and responds more to personality than to artistic abstraction. But a lack of consistently strong, memorable music has precluded the wider success that the Kinks might otherwise enjoy.
John Rockwell, "Is British Rock More Hip than American?" in The New York Times (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 18, 1980, p. 12.
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What [the live album] One for the Road shows so well is how vital the Kinks are as we enter the '80s. After years on the fringe of mainstream rock, unwilling to compromise themselves for the sake of trendiness, it's no accident that the Kinks are currently more popular than at any time since the mid-'60s. Rock has come back to the Kinks' way of thinking, and for the first time in a while the group is in a position to reap the benefits. If the Jam can have an English hit with "David Watts," and the Pretenders score with "Stop Your Sobbing" why shouldn't the Kinks restore both to their set? Why shouldn't the Kinks, who fooled around with calypso in the early '70s ("Apeman," "Supersonic Rocket Ship"), concoct a sterling ska arrangement for the venerable "'Til the End of the Day"? The answer is simple: they should. And it's all here.
Maybe it's a sign of growth that the Kinks are able to reconcile past with present so neatly. When they were doing their theatrical concept shows, the Kinks' run-through of old hits always seemed a bit uncomfortable and obligatory; now old meshes seamlessly with new, emphasized by the inclusion of six Low Budget songs (all of side three, the album's low-point).
Low Budget's simple approach has carried over to the band's stage show. They sound more youthful here than they have in years, especially on "Pressure" (which somehow suggests manic Buzzcocks more than Kinks). As...
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There's been a lot of talk about "dinosaurs" these past few years. It's gotten to the point where many longtime rock fans … might reluctantly vote in favor of banishing some of their aging heroes to a remote cave. (p. 63)
The Kinks, however, are one "Sixties" act that has never had to face the dilemma of living up to (or living down) an identity forged from teen anthems … Following several rewrites of his first youthful power-popper, "You Really Got Me," Ray Davies grew up almost overnight. Most of the understated narratives he penned in the latter half of the Sixties are not only timeless but ageless…. Davies might well have soldiered on into the next century, writing and singing such wry and poignant ditties as "Waterloo Sunset," "Autumn Almanac" and "Days," and nobody would have ever called him a dinosaur.
Yet now that he's actually approaching that age when people tend to grow partial to sweeping leaves into a sack, pasting snap shots in the family picture book or just sitting by the fire in their Shangri-La's, the songwriter who once immortalized these small pleasures has regressed into a second rock & roll childhood. (pp. 63-4)
Despite what he sings in one of his catchy new compositions, "Predictable" was always the last word anyone would have used to describe Ray Davies. His late-Seventies metamorphosis, however, was no mere kinky whim but, rather, a conscious determination to, uh,...
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