Welcome to a special mini series of Delayed Perspective posts celebrating the brilliance of The Kinks and Ray Davies. When you think of The Kinks you probably think of Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset and You Really Got Me. The more avid music fan might be able to come up with additional titles like Days and Lola but there is more to The Kinks than these undoubtedly fantastic records, Shangri-La, Autumn Almanac, Some Mother’s Son, Dead End Street, Come Dancing to name but a few. They have an incredible depth of work and longevity that in terms of the public perception goes unnoticed. The unique feature of their longevity is that it is coupled with quality, Status Quo have longevity but their length of time together as a band does not equate to a string of quality records. The Kinks however continued to make relevant, diverse and top quality records until they split in 1996. That’s right 1996, another little known fact is that The Kinks didn’t split up until the 90’s, yet they were largely ignored and underappreciated in the UK. Ray Davies has continued to write brilliant lyrics, charting the lives of the marginalised and eccentric, or casting his acerbic eye over a particular subject. His 2007 solo album Working Man’s Café is a wonderful record, Davies voice still strong and distinctive and his song-writing as sharp as ever as typified on One More Time,
“Those economic vultures
Stole our dreams and told us tales
Then they towed away our culture
To their depot in south Wales
Corporations get the tax breaks
While the city gets the crime
The profit’s going somewhere
But it isn’t yours or mine”
Davies remains the perennial outsider an aloof spectator to the wants of celebrity but he is as relevant today as he ever was, if not more so. He is Britain’s true Poet Laureate, shining a light on the English character with warmth, a knowing wink and often a biting satire.
Another facet of The Kinks that tends to go unnoticed by the uninitiated is the “Americana Period”. The Kinks were banned from touring the US for four years and it seems that Davies and Co wanted to make up for lost time as they obsessively toured the States from about 1971-1984 and this period turned out to be incredibly successful. It saw them create three gold selling albums, Low Budget, Give The People What They Want and State Of Confusion, records that went virtually unnoticed in the UK, apart from the fantastically nostalgic but wonderfully crafted single Come Dancing.
Davies has recently released a book called Americana charting his relationship with America and his success there and I wanted to throw a critical glance over the music created by The Kinks in this period, starting with Low Budget;
“Excuse my shoes they don’t quite fit
They’re a special offer and they hurt me a bit
Even my trousers are giving me pain
They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn’t complain
They squeeze me so tight so I can’t take no more
They’re size 28 but I take 34″
These lyrics from the title track made me laugh, I laughed because they are funny but also because they embody Ray Davies’s sense of fun. There are a lot of laughs to be found on Low Budget and the whole record is a joy, put simply Low Budget is a great rock album with fantastic riffs, brilliant melodies, production and of course Ray Davies wonderful lyrics.
Low Budget was a big hit in America and didn’t chart in the UK, in fact no Kinks album after Something Else in 1967 has graced the UK album chart. Low Budget gives us a harder Kinks sound but as with all of Ray Davies’s work a lovely melody or a sly turn of phrase is never far away. Dave Davies is also in tremendous form, his lead is immense throughout, with a particularly lick-tastic solo appearing on National Health. That particular tune is typical of the band as only the Kinks could have a gold selling album in America and include a song about the National Health, a nod to the NHS in the UK.
The punky, thrash undercurrents are regularly drowned out by waves of melodic genius and the whole album is very catchy. One of the exciting things about listening to a Ray Davies song is that you are always anticipating the moment when Davies will pull the rug from under you, as typified by Little Bit of Emotion. It is a beautiful track undercut, especially on the chorus, by a sardonic delivery giving you a sense that Davies is in character or his meaning is not to be taken at face value.
“Look at that lady dancin’ around with no clothes
She’ll give you all her body
That’s if you’ve got the dough
She’ll let you see ‘most
Anything but there’s one thing
That she’ll never show
And that’s a little bit of real emotion”
So seek out Low Budget today, it is full of lyrical ingenuity yet is hard-edged. It weaves in elements of punk, metal and reggae yet it has all the sense of humour you would expect from a Kinks record. In short this is a classic Kinks album.
Join me later in the week when I will be looking at Give The People What They Want, which is hopefully what I will do.