Search This Blog

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Kinks: The Kink Kontroversy


1) Milk Cow Blues; 2) Ring The Bells; 3) Gotta Get The First Plane Home; 4) When I See That Girl Of Mine; 5) I Am Free; 6) Till The End Of The Day; 7) The World Keeps Going Round; 8) I'm On An Island; 9) Where Have All The Good Times Gone; 10) It's Too Late; 11) What's In Store For Me; 12) You Can't Win; 13*) Dedicated Follower Of Fashion; 14*) Sittin' On My Sofa; 15*) When I See That Girl Of Mine (demo); 16*) Dedicated Follower Of Fashion (stereo mix).

The base keeps getting solidified, yet by the end of 1965, The Kinks had still not quite entered their golden era. What they did was mature to the point where their next album would be, if not completely free of filler, then at least completely free of embarrassments. For one thing, they have not yet fully abandoned R&B covers — but instead of sounding like a silly Jimmy Reed parody on ʽNaggin' Womanʼ, they sound vicious and nasty on ʽMilk Cow Bluesʼ, a song they probably learned not from Sleepy John Estes, but from Elvis, who had originally turned this slow blues into sinful rockabilly. Now they go one step further, turning the song's mood from playful into threatening, and for all I know, this is the very first time that brother Dave's vocals actually seem impressive: all it took was change his image from «cocky macho» to «vicious thug», and voilà, the Kinks show that they can be as tough as the Stones if they really want to. The whole song is just one relentless bull-charge; no wonder that it became a live favorite for a while, since, after all, Ray's brilliant, but tender hits could hardly charge up a live rock'n'roll audience in quite the same way as Dave's growling "well I've tried everything..." menace and histrionic guitar breaks. A fitting and triumphant end to their career as an R&B cover act.

At the same time, Ray is still largely operating in «2-3 minute love song» mode, and it is beco­ming more and more clear that it is not the perfect mode for him. A song like ʽWhen I See That Girl Of Mineʼ, with its harmonious verse structure and neat vocal tricks (such as extending the word ʽsighʼ to several «sighing» bars), would be hailed as a masterpiece if any twee-pop outfit came out with it today, but by the standards of 1965, with its shallow theme and barebones pro­duction, it could be perceived as dull. ʽRing The Bellsʼ is very pretty folk-pop, but on the level of The Searchers — a sweet serenade, nothing more. And while I like both ʽIt's Too Lateʼ and ʽYou Can't Winʼ and their «reproach-rock» vibe, (a) they are both based on the exact same rhythm chord sequence and (b) neither of them has a great riff as such, making them notably inferior to 1965's true masterpiece of that genre, ʽThe Last Timeʼ.

It is only when they add a special edge to their love song that the results become outstanding: ʽTill The End Of The Dayʼ is so haunting and brilliant because it's got a real minor feel to it, de­spite all the lyrics about feeling good "'cause my life has begun". You look at those lyrics and you think that the song should sound triumphant — yet it sounds absolutely tragic, almost desperately so, culminating in Dave's shrillest guitar break yet and crashing down with "till the end of the day!" sounding like "till the end of the world" and that end is coming right now. Where that song really belongs is in a Bonnie-and-Clyde type musical — or, at least, in a Dickens-based show on the desperate life of England's lower classes, right next to ʽDead End Streetʼ. No simple three-minute love song on the pop market had ever sounded that way before, which explains why it has become a lasting classic where ʽWhen I See That Girl Of Mineʼ has not.

And that attitude actually puts it well in line with that other type of songs that Ray had only begun getting into — the non-aggressively pessimistic / ironic dissections of the hardships of everyday life. Released as an A-side, ʽTill The End Of The Dayʼ has quite an organic bind with its B-side: ʽWhere Have All The Good Times Goneʼ is kinda like that same character, only twenty years later, and now his youthful desperate enthusiasm has turned to bitter cynicism and disillusionment. This is the first — and oh so far from the last — time that Ray decides to up­grade the past instead of the future: "Let it be like yesterday" is hardly the kind of slogan you'd expect to hear from a respectable pop band in 1965, but for the moment, The Kinks were still able to get away with it... first, because it was a B-side, and second, because, with its long-winded verse lines and socially relevant overtones, it sounded a bit like Dylan, and who cares if you're being asked whether you can crawl out your window or where have all the good times gone, if you're being asked in such a delightfully sneering tone? Oh, and besides, who could resist the brilliancy of lines like "Daddy didn't have no toys / Mummy didn't need no boys" — let alone actually identifying with these lines (provided you were a boy)?

Of a slightly less caliber, but almost on the same level of acuteness (and catchiness) are ʽThe World Keeps Going Roundʼ (whose chorus actually creates the illusion of a spinning globe) and ʽI'm On An Islandʼ, Ray's first leave-me-alone, defensive-yet-defenseless anthem to isolationism, which I believe he sings with a slightly pseudo-Caribbean accent (not surprising, considering the man was a fan of Harry Belafonte and occasionally cover ʽDay-Oʼ in concert). Again, the former song tries to prop you up with a little forced optimism, while the latter just tells you to fuck it; so, naturally, the former quickly disappeared off the radar (though it's really good) and the latter stayed on for some time as a live show staple, even though its quiet acoustic shuffling was the farthest thing from common in a rock'n'roll show environment.

So, in the end, it is quite a mixed bag — a «transitional» album, as it is frequently called; but for the first time, a Kinks LP is every bit as good as contemporary singles, not least because it actual­ly incorporates contemporary singles (ʽTill The End Of The Dayʼ), and also because it's got at least a couple major songs that were not singles at all. The expanded CD edition, in contrast with the previous two, has few contemporary goodies to add — the most notable of these being the early 1966 single ʽDedicated Follower Of Fashionʼ, Ray's first sarcastic ode to the unnamed heroes of Swinging London that, melody-wise, is essentially a catchier re-write of ʽA Well Res­pected Manʼ; but, funny enough, where the titular bourgeois hero of ʽWell Respected Manʼ did garner a bit of pitiful empathy from the songwriter, the proto-hipster of ʽDedicated Follower Of Fashionʼ garners absolutely nothing but scorn and derision. That the song went to No. 4 on the UK charts must only mean that the young buyers never got through the irony — or, perhaps, on the contrary, that they were not above an ironic look at themselves.

In any case, The Kink Kontroversy, kwite un-kontroversially, gets its thumbs up. Only a few months prior to its release, The Kinks were banned from live performing in the States — for their alleged «rowdy behavior» on stage (it's a good thing The Who never got to America before 1967), and while this had little bearing on the album, it might be argued that Ray's full-scale «conver­sion» to the early mode of Britpop the next year was influenced by this unjust ostracism. But for now, Kontroversy gives us a landscape that nicely balances between American and British influences and succeeds in beauty just as fine as it does in aggression.


  1. While the less important songs here might be viewed as a typical Kinks filler I'm still amazed by how effortless they sound as if Ray'd written them in a single creative 'take'. Then look at the hits and try to realize how many great pop songs he'd come up in just a year.

    I'm not the one to wail on how bland today's music is, on the contrary. But I can't remember a single artist in last 10 years, who could match the creative growth and productivity of Ray Davies in 1965—1969 (him being not the only example). And this is the only thing I really miss in today's music compared to the 60s' one.

  2. I think "Ring the Bells" sounds particularly gorgeous when placed right after "Milk Cow Blues". The deep contrast between Dave's aggressive yelling in MCB versus Ray's contemplative "whispering" of RTB is what makes it ten times better than as a stand-alone song.