The Kinks Play “Victoria”

The Kinks VictoriaListen to this track by Anglocentric, conceptually-minded Brit-pop forseers The Kinks. It’s “Victoria”, a single as taken from their 1969 album Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire). After a distinguished purple patch of singles, and a slight dip, this was a return to the Billboard charts.

In many ways, The Kinks are the forefathers of Brit-pop more so than the Beatles. Like their ’90s progeny, they dealt in decidedly British themes and presented material through an English cultural lens at a time when gaining an American following was so vital, and so very expected of every rock band coming out of England in the early-to-mid 1960s. Many would get there in varying degrees. The Kinks would, too – eventually. But, the Beatles/Stones/Who triumvirate would shut them out of the top three places in the minds of record buyers in North America at the time.

Arguably, this was down to a Kinks ban in America at just the wrong time; from 1965 until the end of the decade when the American charts were the most receptive to British bands, and just when their classic line-up (with Pete Quaife on bass) was active.  There are a number of theories as to the reasons for the ban, ranging from the alienation of prominent promoters, to their volatile on-stage behaviour (before Oasis, there was the Kinks …), to not paying dues to the appropriate American unions.

So how did they survive, and actually thrive, under these conditions?
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The Kinks Perform ‘You Really Got Me’

kinksthekinksListen to this song by Muswell Hill Londoners and first-tier British Invasionists The Kinks, and a vital, dare I say important, track to the trajectory of rock music it is.  It’s their smash breakthrough hit “You Really Got Me”, a slice of proto-metal R&B that changed the way rock music sounded forever.

This song is a towering titan of a single, one of those tunes you’d submit to an alien civilization to give them an idea of what rock n roll is.  Everything about it screams danger, celebration, and carnality, all of which are all key ingredients in any rock song.  It was released as a single in the UK,  the group’s third, where it scored the number 1 spot in August 1964.  Later, the song made a significant impact in North America too, reaching number 7 on the charts.  It was added to the band’s debut album, the Kinks.

For such a high-profile hit single,  there has been a lot of mystery surrounding who played on it and how the sheer ferocity of the sound was achieved.  For years, it was surmised that the scorching, string-bending guitar solo, one of the greatest solos ever recorded in my opinion, was played by one Jimmy Page.

It’s true that Page was an active session player at the time, and had played on a number of singles contemporary of this one.  It’s true too that session players had sat in on Kinks sessions before.  But, that solo was played by seventeen year old Dave Davies, brother of songwriter and lead singer Ray Davies.   Page himself insisted that he didn’t play the solo, only to be disbelieved.  Maybe the solo sounds too “Pagey” for aficionados to have believed anything otherwise.  Or maybe it’s too incredible that a seventeen year old could play such a perfect, even if not technically great, solo.  It still gives me chills every time I hear it.

And as for that crunchy guitar sound, which is a far cry from what most guitars sounded like in 1964, it came about in a rock n roll fashion even before anyone hit a note.  Dave Davies vandalized his amp, slicing a speaking cone with a razor, and poking a pin through it, to see how the sound would change.  And hence, was the distortion effect created, one that would arguably influence the way the guitar was approached and understood by both listeners and players.

Since the Kinks cut this tune, it’s been heavily covered by acts like the 13th Floor Elevators,  Mott the Hoople, and Robert Palmer, not to mention the thousands of garage bands, wedding bands, high-school bands, whoever, who took this song and made it a part of their repertiore.  Van Halen recorded this song, along with another Kinks favourite “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”.  And for years, many music fans in seeing Ray Davies perform the song solo, would congratulate him on his version of the ‘Van Halen song’, much to his amusement.

I don’t think this song can be overestimated in its importance to the evolution of rock music.  After this song, the mannered element in a lot of rock music made in Britain was a thing of the past.   This song activated a requirement for texture in rock, of greater force in attack, and with a more dangerous sound.  From here, there was no turning back.

For more information about the Kinks, check out TheKinks.Org

Enjoy!

The Kinks Sing “Sunny Afternoon” from 1966

The Kinks Face to FaceHere’s a clip of the Kinks performing their 1966 hit, “Sunny Afternoon”, a tale of a rich man who finds himself poor in spirit. The song is taken from the album Face to Face.

The concept of the debauched rock star is a pretty new idea, historically speaking. And this is one of the earliest examples I can think of in pop music. In this tune, we’ve got the central figure of the rich, spoilt rock star left to his own devices when his girlfriend leaves to return home to her parents, “telling tales of drunkeness and cruelty”. Yet, this is of little concern to him, “sipping at my ice cold beer/lazing on a sunny afternoon in the summertime”. This is a classic Ray Davies character study, which can be viewed as a snapshot of British upper-middle class life, or as a commentary on the burgeoning ‘rock lifestyle‘ which would soon come to be synonymous with the life of professional musicians – monetary prosperity at the cost of a stable home life.

Stylistically, the Kinks at this point were beginning to branch out from the British beat combo sound. From here, British Music Hall textures begin to make their presence known, which established Ray Davies as a master of his own sound. This would be a general shift, influencing releases from contemporaries as well – both The Who Sell Out, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, both from 1967, would borrow from Davies’ approach.

Reunions: Yea or Nay?

The Kinks It’s just come down the pipe that the original line-up of the Kinks will be reforming this year; Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Mick Avory, and Pete Quaife. The original line-up of the band that brought you “You Really Got Me”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “Victoria”, “Sunny Afternoon”, and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” (among others) haven’t played together since 1969.

What is driving this sudden glut of reunions? They all seem to be happening in a very short space of time, as if they put something in the water in 2007 – The Police, Led Zeppelin, The Stooges, Van Halen, The ‘pop’ line-up of Genesis, and Crowded House all reformed last year with varied results. Even the Spice Girls got back together! I suppose the cynical answer, and maybe the most obvious, is the money to be made by sticking to a brand. In some cases, the brand is more compelling when it’s the original recipe. I suppose on this level, I should be suspicious of the motives behind reunion gigs. But as it is, I’m not. This is because I think I know the score.

Genesis - Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony  BanksVan Halen 2007Robert Plant of Led ZeppelinIggy Pop of the Stooges

It seems to me that once rock artists age, they are in a no-win situation. They either get criticized for continuing so long in their respective outfits (see the Rolling Stones), or get criticized for getting the bands back together. And there is a certain embarrassment factor which music fans feel to see their heroes complete with the ravages of age; it reminds them of their mortality, perhaps, instead of their youth. There are many other music fans who are concerned with the tarnishing of legacies – that reunion tours and album somehow impact the quality of tours and albums of the past. Whether this has any validity or not is not really the point. We’re dealing with perceptions here. With rock music and rock fandom, the histories of the bands are intertwined with those of their fans. That’s another burden carried by the aging rock star.

Crowded HouseFor me, I like to think of reunion shows without cynicism. I saw the Police this year and Crowded House too. Admittedly, I was a target audience in more than one way. They are two of my favourite bands, both of which I never thought to see live and jumped at the chance to do so. I am a demographic, a cash-cow for promoters everywhere, I guess. Yet, what I get out of it, and got out of it, was not a revisit to my youth or some vain attempt to travel back in time. What I saw were shows put on by guys who were clearly having a ball playing music. I didn’t get the impression that I, or they, were attempting to get back to the past at all. For me, the appeal was all about the present, about how the musicians were interacting on stage, about the energy shifting and dancing between musicians and audience. In short, I saw two great shows. And to me that’s the point.

As for the Kinks, who knows what is driving them to get back together; money or a legitimate intention to create something new together? It doesn’t matter. The proof will be in the pudding.

Take a look at this footage of Led Zeppelin playing their 1975 classic “Kashmir” at their recent reunion show in London’s 02 Centre. Hover over the symbols below, and click the ‘play’ button. To make the window a bit bigger, click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right hand corner. Enjoy!

Led Zeppelin four symbols