The Kinks were probably the most original British band of their time with
the Rolling Stones and the Who. Unlike everybody else, the Kinks played
simple melodic songs but not easy-listening a` la Merseybeat.
The Kinks were purveyors of
the melodic miniature, but with a much stronger emphasis on the riff than
the Beatles ever dreamed of.
was sophisticated and full of wit, a fact which turned each song into a
realistic vignette of middle-class life. They were by far the band most rooted
in the British tradition, with a keen awareness of history and British values.
In fact, the young Ray Davies sang about himself and his generation and
the adult Ray Davies would sing about the British nation, his goal consistently
Homeric in creating myth out of public history and social memory.
Ray Davies may well be the greatest bard of nostalgy in the history of rock
They also invented the most famous
riff of all times, You Really Got Me, and therefore single-handedly
invented garage-rock, hard-rock and heavy-metal. They are also among the
inventors of the concept album and the most prolific writers of rock operas
ever. All in all, not a small feat.
(Translated from my old
Italian text by DommeDamian, Stefano Iardella and DeepL)
The Kinks never went beyond the ditty, but, compared
to commercial ensembles of their era such as the Beatles, they interpreted the
song-form in an original way. Theirs were not songs,
they were vignettes of everyday life (and not just teenage life, thus expanding
the rock canon enunciated by Chuck Berry).
The Kinks rarely set their songs simply on facile
melodies. Their music was not pop music; it was a mixture of musichall, rock and roll, blues, and folk. Above all, it
was original in its rhythm, cadence, and pace, which colored the lyrics not
only with rock arrogance but also with small-town theatrical irony.
Pushing that idea to the extreme, the Kinks' songs
sported a modest but decisive use of the guitar. In this sense, the Kinks
helped invent a genre (garage-rock) that would know no boundaries.
Within their canon, a special place holds You Really
Got Me, the most aggressive song of their career and one of the most aggressive
of all time. The rumble of that riff can still be heard on almost every rock
If we take into account that the Kinks also effectively
invented the concept album and the rock opera in the world of songwriting, Ray
Davies (born 1944) can be counted among the greatest composers of rock music,
and probably the greatest of the Merseybeat era
(1964-67, the peak of the Kinks). His songs were refined and intelligent. But
perhaps Davies composed more than songs. Those songs were little frescoes,
often caricatures, of British social life. And perhaps because they were hardly
"adolescent," the group never achieved the idolization of the masses.
Far from being a mere Mersey-beat band, the Kinks were
a small institution of British society, whose centuries-old tradition of
self-criticism they basically continued. Ray Davies, tireless packager of
minute transcriptions and humorous vignettes, was a
Balzac and a Dickens of rock, satirical and sentimental, comic and melancholy,
nostalgic and affectionate.
The Kinks, who grew up in the Muswell
Hill neighborhood, were not at all in tune with their times and their city. The
"beat" of the Kinks drew more on musichall
and light music than on the rhythm and blues of the other London groups. At the
same time, he avoided the cloying excesses of the Beatles, which were obviously
aimed at the more immature, conservative and incompetent public. The sound of
the Kinks thus marked a "third way" to rock and roll, progressive but
without resorting to the harmonic experiments of American musicians, and
harmonically conservative, but without ever being trite. Their sound was clear
and simple (compared to the dirty and twisted one of the Rolling Stones),
peaceful and catchy (compared to the violent and angular one of the Who), far
from youthful lusts and frustrations, but also far from pop music. Each track
was peppered with an unusual arrangement or rhythm, but more importantly, it
had a "theme". This kind of frivolous song-sketch actually continued
the work of a Buddy Holly.
In the early days (1964-5) the
influence of Chicago blues was still being felt. Their typical song is
often composed of a riff of a few elementary chords repeated endlessly in an
obsessive way by Ray's nasal voice and by the pounding sob of Dave Davies'
guitar (only seventeen).The masterpiece of this period is You Really
Got Me (August 1964), the first breathtaking classic of hard sound,
the riff with which they virtually invented hard-rock (and garage-rock), a
nervous spurt lasting two minutes.The same ferocious cadence marks the group's
other two "hard" classics, All Day And All of The Night (October
1964) and Till The End of The Day (November 1965), with even
more lashing, elaborate guitar riffs. The season of brutality, also dotted
with tumultuous performances, however ended with Set Me Free (May
1965) and Tired of Waiting For You (January
1965). See My Friends (July 1965), written during a tour in
India has the first Indian-like drone of rock music history.
The first album, the self-titled The Kinks (Pye, 1964), contained rhythm and blues classics but
also Stop Your Sobbing , a "domestic" song that
suggested a different nature from You Really Got Me . The album You
Really Got Me was released in the USA with some differences in the tracklisting.
Similarly the second album, Kinda
Kinks (1965), has the thoughtful Something Better Beginning which
differs markedly from Tired of Waiting For You. Melancholy
also peeks out from Where Have All The Good Times Gone , the most meditated (but no
less agitated) piece from Kinks Kontroversy (december 1965), perhaps the best album of the first period.
The melodic refrain decisively took over in 1966.
Davies' thesis Merseybeat combines the parodic and ritualistic atmosphere of the musichall with situations drawn from everyday life. The
first sign of renewal was A Well Respected Man (sep 1965), a satire of the middle class, which steals Dylanísstoryteller-tone,
but with the spirit of a street tramp. Where the light-hearted attitude of
variety spreads without more hesitation is in Dedicated Follower of Fashion , a
satire on the dictatorship of fashions in Swinging London. The masterpiece
of that period is Sunny Afternoon(June 1966), a poetic mid-tempo
blues on the cynicism of the wealthy bourgeois, which resorts to the accents of
the French existential song and those of the most passionate rhythm and
blues. The climate of the 1950s, with boogie piano and swinging trumpet
and a smoky suburban club pace, breaks out in Dead End Street (november 1966), on the bitter fate of the thugs. The
formula, as it matures, welcomes contributions from the most disparate musical
The album that takes stock of the situation at the end
of 1966 is Face To Face (1966), the group's first mini-classic
album. In addition to the singles, Too Much On My Mind , Holiday
In Waikiki , Fancy Stand Out .
The Kinks border on formal perfection in Waterloo
Sunset (May 1967, the subtle story of two lovers who manage to be
happy even in the midst of squalor) and Autumn Almanac (October
1967, with trombone and piano), not only catchy but also elegant, all sign of
an essential preciousness that blends geometric and airy vocal harmonies with
linear melodies and precise and accurate instrumental interventions.
Starting with the album Something Else (Reprise,
September 1967), which also contains David Watts , Situation Vacant and Death
of A Clown (written by Dave), Davies' project became more and more
ambitious and complex: humor becomes satire and portraits become wall
frescoes. Davies seems completely indifferent to temporary albums like Sgt
Pepper, psychedelia and everything that was
climbing the British charts that year.
The masterpiece of this period is The Village Green
Preservation Society (Pye, 1968), a concept
album if not also a rock opera. The goal is now the social history and
customs of Muswel Hill, behind whose miseries and
whose splendors hide the rise and fall of the British Empire. The result
is that their work acquires in depth what it loses in innocence.
The Village Green Preservation Society (1968), Arthur (1969), Lola (1970), Kronikles (Reprise, 1972) are documentaries, photo albums, tender memories of the past, family sagas and social diaries,
piquant commentaries by an affectionate chronicler, ironic and severe. Songs
of ordinary people, soft, humble and kind, blend admirably with Daviesian elegance and "wit".
Each piece is dedicated to a speck, a place, a
tradition. The English "village" comes to life in the witty and
sometimes emotional refrains that follow one another as in a long melodic
fantasy, each finished with a different instrumental taste (the western ballad
Johnny Thunder , the blues-rock epic of Animal Farm , the classical Village
Green , the vaudeville All of My Friends , the
surreal elegy of Phenominal Cat ,
to name only the best of Village Green). The fact that the
melodies are taken from military marches, goliardic hymns, variety shows,
lullabies and nursery rhymes, carillons and street organs, country festivals
and religious functions, completely ignoring the upheavals of the rest of the
rock music adds a flavor of authenticity, artistry and intimacy.
Arthur (1969), perhaps their best articulated concept, could not contrast
more vividly with the bombast of the Who's Tommy . Shangri-La and Victoria are
the most elegant examples.
Lola (1969) is the theme of Lola Versus Powerman
And TheMoneyground (1970),
the rock opera dealing with the misfortunes of a "transvestite", and
one of their most memorable refrains. The homosexual theme was highly
transgressive at the time: homosexuality was still illegal in Great Britain and
in much of the world. The album also features Get Back In Line and A
Long Way From Home . Another
jewel of the time is the clown calypso of Apeman .
Davies' undisputed narrative ability clashes with the
brilliant and synthetic sound of the early years. Eloquence makes the gags
of their clowning lose effectiveness and forces the music to fall back on
However, thanks to these convoluted extravagances and
a natural propensity for investigation into the English social microcosm, the
Kinks have become the group par excellence for concept albums and rock operas,
even if at the same time compromising the quality of their music considerably. Muswell Hillbillies (RCA, 1971)
nonetheless contains the melodic jewels of Alcohol , Holiday (with
tuba, trumpet and clarinet) and Here Come The People In Gray ,
as well as some songs that betray the charm of American country and blues
( Oklahoma USA , Holloway Jail , Muswell Hillbilly ); and
especially 20th Century Man .
Celluloid Heroes is the gem of Everybody's In Showbiz (1972).
The story of Mr. Flash, the protagonist of Village
Green, was revived in a triple rock opera, Preservation (1973-74),
which is only the most relevant example of corruption of their style, where the
extravagant eclecticism of the composer no longer backed by the terse wit of
yore. Sweet Lady Genevieve and Sitting In The Midday
Sun are saved . Davies' music had
drifted closer and closer to vaudeville and further and further away from rock
Soap Opera (1975), the most organic of their rock operas, tells the story of a
common man's normal day ( Rush Hour
Blues , Nine To Five , When Work Is Over ). HoweverDavies'
ideas, diluted in these long stories, lose musical grace and bite.
Schoolboys In Disgrace (1975) is a last nostalgic look at youth ( Schooldays ), which in fact is played
with the bare style of their early rock and roll.
Davies quietly continued his candid craftsmanship,
indifferent to fashions and to the increase or decrease in sales, even reaching
unpredictable heights of success with the ditties of the last period:
Juke-box Music , and rock and roll ŗ la
Who, taken from Sleepwalker (Arista, 1977), Rock And
Roll Fantasy , taken from Misfits (Arista,
1978), Superman and Low Budget , a grim
southerner boogie, taken from Low Budget (1979), Destroyer ,
their typical refrain on All 's hard riff Day and Better
Things , a return to the old, taken fromGive
People What They Want (1982), Come Dancing , a breezy
reggae-vaudeville steel band, taken from State Of Confusion (1983), Do
It Again , another hard choral rock and roll, taken from Word
Of Mouth (1984 ), Lost And Found (1987), a bitter
ballad with traces of Springsteen's proletarian melodrama.
Think Visual (MCA, 1987) however seems to be the record of a group of hard-rock
imitators of the Kinks. UK Jive (MCA, 1989) instead seems to
be the record of a pop group imitating the rock operas of the Kinks. Phobia (Columbia,
1993), featuring Did Ya , was the only album of the 1990s.
Dave Davies has recorded two solo albums, AFL1-3603 (1980)
and Bug (Koch, 2002).
Golden Hour vol.1 (Pye, 1971) is an anthology of the first period. Come
Dancing (Arista, 1986) is an anthology up to the 1980s.
Relocating to New Orleans, Ray Davies released his first solo album,
Other People's Lives (2006), followed by Working Man's Cafe (New West, 2008). They are both irrelevant.
After staging the musical "Sunny Afternoon" in London, Davies recorded
his first album of new material in a decade, in which,
accompanied by the Jayhawks,
Britain's most famous social satirist
revealed his fascination with the former British colonies, notably in
The Great Highway.