Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Give The Kinks their due
The other day, I was talking to a youthful music writer (one who shall remain nameless) and mentioned my excitement that Ray Davies is coming to town. The response was, "who?"
I mean, that makes me rather sad, actually - not just because it reminds me that I'm getting old, but because it suggests that Davies' name is nowhere as known nowadays as it should be. Personally, I consider Ray Davies a better songwriter than Pete Townshend, or the teams of Jagger and Richards and Lennon and McCartney; I certainly care more about the songs of The Kinks than those of The Who, Stones, or Beatles. Starting with Something Else, in 1967 (or maybe even Face to Face, in '66) the band released a string of albums seldom equalled for pop craftsmanship anywhere, building to what I consider the single best rock album to come from Britain, ever, Muswell Hillbillies. Every song on that album is brilliant - but check out "Holiday" if you want a sample; or, if you're a tea drinker, try this. (These are two of the more playful songs, bear in mind, and really should be heard in the context of the album as a cohesive whole; they are NOT singles). And while another local music personality (who will also go nameless) quipped in conversation that Davies hasn't really done anything significant since 1971, when Muswell Hillbillies came out, I beg to differ. There are great songs throughout The Kinks' '70's and '80's material, even as the band entered their arena rock phase. Check out, for instance, "The Hard Way" and "No More Looking Back," from 1975's Schoolboys in Disgrace; granted, the album as a whole is nowhere as consistently brilliant as their streak from 1966/7-1971, but there's still a lot of charm to it, even on its lesser cuts. The same is true with Misfits (title track here - a bit maudlin, but sometimes maudlin is what you want); or Low Budget (check out "A Little Bit of Emotion" on that one). For more consistent brilliance, I'd direct listeners to 1981's Give the People What They Want, with songs ranging from the quasi-punk tongue-clucking of "Add It Up" to the painfully insightful "Yo Yo" to the downright creepy "Art Lover," sung from the point of view of a somewhat civilized pedophile in a park. Songs like "Better Things" are doing everything in 1981 that the Replacements would get recognition for from the next generation in 1985; to my eyes that tune sounds as fresh today as it did then (and speaking of the 'placemats, compare "Around the Dial" with "Left of the Dial"). And not many songs about domestic violence equal "A Little Bit of Abuse." Things do start go downhill after 1981, with annoying hit pop hits like "Come Dancin'," but even on that album, there's the great title track, "State of Confusion." Part of my love for The Kinks no doubt has to do with the fact that they always had a kind of underdog status, compared to the Who/ Beatles/ Stones, and part of it may have something to do with the fact that their songs (besides "Lola" and "You Really Got Me" and a few of their early singles, which truth be known I have little interest in) never got that much airplay, keeping them fresh and safe from the radio syndrome of repeating the same goddamn handful of songs over and over and over... but I also just think these are absolutely terrific pieces of pop craftsmanship. This is true, too, of Davies' recent solo stuff; check out "The Morphine Song" off Working Man's Cafe for an example. I don't see any members of the Stones/ Who or any surviving Beatles writing anything that strong, these days, or any other old timers. In fact - I can say this without hyperbole - I'm as excited to see Ray Davies as I am to see Neil Young; maybe even moreso, since tickets are about a quarter of the price, for a far more intimate venue. Even though Davies' last couple of albums have been less interesting, buying time and recycling Kinks classics in different formats, with choral accompaniment, on one, and with various musical guests on the most recent (ranging from the sensible, like Alex Chilton, to the embarrassing, like "You Really Got Me" with Metallica), Davies is a God of pop, and Vancouverites should be more excited that they're getting another chance to see him, July 13th at the Vogue. It'll be my first time seeing Davies sing any of these songs since I saw The Kinks on the Give the People What They Want tour at the Pacific Coliseum, when I was 13. I've missed a few of Davies' Vancouver performances since then, out of sheer neglectfulness, but I won't be missing this one.
By the way: RIP Pete Quaife. (I didn't note his passing in 2010 but it only seems right to mention it now).