Mid-Period Kinks

"20th Century Man"

The Kinks got a second shot with "Arthur", but it failed.  "Victoria" got a good amount of airplay on New York underground FM radio for about a month, was a recurrent for another thirty days and then was gone.

"Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One" was a cutout within seeming minutes.  And the Kinks were gone from Warner Brothers.

I recommend searching out "Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One", not only for the legendary title track, "Lola", the hit that wasn’t, but "Apeman", "Get Back In Line" and my personal favorite, "Top Of The Pops".  The story of making it hasn’t changed.

But the Kinks didn’t make it.  There was no part two to the Moneygoround.  The band left Warner for RCA, famous for Elvis and Jefferson Airplane.  The old joke…  The son of a shah…  Well, I’m not going to tell the whole thing.  It’s just the punch line is that what the kid wants most, after visiting Disneyland, is a Mickey Mouse outfit.  So his dad buys him RCA Records.  But that first RCA Records release, "Muswell Hillbillies", was a gem.  And still is.  Actually, it’s one of the few albums that has gotten BETTER with time.  When rock was getting heavier, the Kinks had gone rootsy.  There wasn’t sheen, but rough edges.  Listen to the first side today, the run from "Acute Schizophrenia Blues" to "Holiday" to "Skin And Bone" to "Alcohol".  Oh, to see Ray and the boys back then.  "Skin And Bone" was an audience participation number.  Kind of like Simon Says.  With Ray touching his knees and chest and elbows, and the fans following along.  "Alcohol" had the sadness that too many rock and roll travails don’t.  Demon alcohol is fun, for a while, then it messes up your head, life gets very dark.  There’s no fun in the Kinks’ "Alcohol", just desperation.

But the key to "Muswell Hillbillies", the reason I’m writing this tonight, is the opening track, "20th Century Man".

It couldn’t start off any quieter.  Just a few strums of the guitar, a musician finding his way.  Then, fully fifteen seconds in, the groove is found.  The riff is played on an ACOUSTIC GUITAR!  There’s an unexpected change, a basic drum kit comes in, sans bass, and Ray starts to sing…

The first two verses are quality, beyond anything any hack from Diane Warren to Max Martin can write.  But it’s the third stanza, a kind of bridge/chorus, that truly resonates.

Ain’t got no ambition, I’m just disillusioned
I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t wanna be here

I understand that today’s college graduates have plans, they’re on the road to success.  But I barely arrived at the finish line.  I didn’t even WANT to go to college.  I went because it was expected of me.  And I wasn’t enough of a self-starter to find my own way.  Life was supposed to be one big adventure, but I had many more questions than answers.  The only thing that spoke to me was music.

My mama said she can’t understand me
She can’t see my motivation
Just give me some security
I’m a paranoid schizoid product of the twentieth century

It only gets better.  The song starts to rock out.  The organ starts to wail.  And Ray is singing MY story.

He’s not a scum of the earth rocker.  He’s an educated guy.  But he just can’t make sense of the world.

You keep all your smart modern writers
Give me William Shakespeare
You keep all your smart modern painters
I’ll take Rembrandt, Titian, Da Vinci and Gainsborough

I guess it’s the twenty first century.  But I don’t like the modern sound.  I want something akin to Ray and Dave and the boys.  Speaking not only to my dick, but my mind.

"Everybody’s In Show-Biz, Everybody’s A Star"

For a band banned by the union from touring the U.S., the Kinks made up for their absence by INCESSANT road work at the advent of the new decade.  And the second record of this two-disc set is a decent document of their live show.  But not a great one.

And the first disc, one of all new studio material, is not memorable, except for the CLASSIC!

"Celluloid Heroes".  You know it, you need it.

I knew the song, but it wasn’t until I moved to L.A. and literally SAW the stars in the street that I finally got it.

"Sitting In The Midday Sun"

Maybe the only track you need from "Preservation Act 1"

"Money Talks"

I DID graduate from college.  My mama and papa couldn’t understand me.  All I wanted to do was stay up all night and read "Creem" and other rock magazines.  I used to get in the Country Squire at midnight and drive to the newsstand on Main Street in the hellhole Bridgeport, Connecticut, just looking for another hit of music information.

And I believe it WAS "Creem" that gave a good review to the Kinks’ "Preservation Act 2".  So I bought it.  And got hooked.

"Preservation Act 2" had NO impact in America.  Zilch.  Nada.  Zero.  And when that happens today, that usually means the record is shite.  But "Preservation Act 2" was curiously good.  Satisfying.  A story with interesting lyrics and good melodies.  I taped it and took it along with me for my cross-country trip the day after Labor Day 1974.

The absolute best track is "Money Talks".  A rollicking gem.  With a piano like a waterfall, thundering bass, blitzkrieg guitar and Ray Davies somewhere in the mix, singing the best lyrics about mazuma I’ve EVER heard.

Show me a man who says he can live without bread
And I’ll show you a man who’s a liar and in debt
There’s no one alive who can’t be purchased or enticed
There’s no man alive who wouldn’t sell for a price
Money talks and we’re the living proof
There ain’t no limit to what money can do
Money talks, money talks

If the Beatles cut "Money Talks", it would be quoted every day.

I love the story songs, the Broadway style numbers that serve as exposition, like "When A Solution Comes".

"Shepherds Of The Nation" has got the kind of changes you never hear on a rock record.

"He’s Evil" purely ROCKS!

And the closer, "Salvation Road", has got a pied piper vibe sans cheese.  You want to play it over and over again.  It makes you feel GOOD!

And while living in L.A. that fall, I purchased a ticket to see the Kinks at the Santa Monica Civic.  To hear them perform "Preservation".  Acts 1 & 2.  From beginning to end.  They left out a couple of numbers, but nothing necessary.  For a long time I quoted it as one of the best rock shows I ever saw.  You had to be there.  With Ray in that multicolored jacket, working the audience, not by stuffing his pants with tissue, but by extending his arms, IMPLORING US to come along, experience his vision.

"I’m In Disgrace"

You can forget "Soap Opera", except maybe for "Everybody’s A Star (Starmaker)".

And although "Schoolboys In Disgrace" was a bit better, all these years later you don’t need much more than "I’m In Disgrace".

You see now the records were just vehicles, for Ray’s live extravaganzas.  Which always delivered to the cult.  But the band was stuck in a rut.  And moved on to Arista.

"Life Goes On"

Supposedly Clive told Ray to can the concept albums.  To just write songs.  To try to have hits.

Clive is LEGENDARY for fucking with rock acts.  Draining their essence in search of a radio-friendly track.  Every legendary act that signed to his label soon wanted off.  Like Lou Reed.  But somehow Clive engineered a Kinks comeback.  The Arista stuff was better than anything the Kinks had done since "Muswell Hillbillies".  But "Sleepwalker" did not include a hit.  The title track stalled.

But the album contains a masterpiece, "Life Goes On".

The track’s GOT a going on feel.  Like a jaunt.  The song marches on, like time.

There’s an acoustic guitar intro akin to "20th Century Man".  But Ray is up front and center.  The keyboard and Dave’s guitar are in the background.

Then, deep minutes into the number, long after the bridge, after the instrumental, the song breaks down.

My bank went broke and my well ran dry
It was almost enough to contemplate suicide
I turned on the gas, but I soon realized
I hadn’t settled my bill so they cut off my supply
No matter how I try, it seems I’m too young to die
Life goes on and on and on
Life goes on and on and on

Oh, Ray’s sad.  But then he realizes, you’ve just got to keep marching on.

That’s the story, isn’t it?

And the fact that he didn’t change "settled" to "paid" for the American market made us love the Kinks even more.  This music held no compromises.  This is a band you could believe in, be PROUD you were a fan of.

"Juke Box Music"

The forgotten track.  Oh, I hear it on XM every once in a while, but I only heard it on FM once or twice back in the day.

This is Ray and the boys doing Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople’s act BETTER!  The guitar stings.  The break is transcendent.  If you love Mott’s "One Of The Boys", you’re gonna think this is great.

"A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy"

Hello you, hello me, hello people we used to be
Isn’t it strange, we never changed
We’ve been through it all yet we’re still the same

I did go to law school.  I even got married.

And that’s about as straight as I ever played it.

If you know me, you know I’m the same guy.  As I ever was.  I’m locked in my college uniform.  You’ll know me.  I’m the guy in the non-designer jeans, polo shirt and Nikes.  To wear anything else makes me uncomfortable.  If I ever speak at some charity dinner, that’s what I’ll be wearing.  But because that’s what I wear, because that’s who I am, I’ll never be invited to speak.  Because you see I’m a fan.  And fans exist in the background.

There’s a guy in my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night
And when he feels down he puts some rock ‘n’ roll on
And it makes him feel alright
And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high

"A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy" is the best song ever written about being a rock fan.  Being a rock fan is to be alienated, to feel alone, to have music as the only thing that can get you through.  When you’re engineering your marketing plan, think about this.

The song ends on a bittersweet note.  Ray doesn’t want to end up living his life in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy.  Ray keeps thinking the world is passing him by.  While he’s playing this rock ‘n’ roll.

But Ray Davies is now past sixty.  And I’ve pushed past fifty.  He’s still doing it.  I tried to go straight for a minute there.  Like I told you, I went to law school.  It didn’t take.

Is rock and roll a reasonable raison d’etre?

I don’t know.  But it’s mine.

"Permanent Waves"

Just before it stopped meaning anything, "Rolling Stone" called "Misfits" one of the two best albums of the year.

It doesn’t hold up.

But I loved listening to "Hay Fever".  And "Black Messiah".  And when I hear that intro to "Permanent Waves" I still get a smile on my face.

"Low Budget"

How did things go so horribly wrong?

Ray stole a riff, added some disco elements, and came up with "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman".  With this track and "Catch Me Now I’m Falling" and "A Gallon Of Gas", the Kinks finally came back.

Oh, these three tracks are pretty good.  But suddenly Ray was playing to the back row.  Of ARENAS!

Yes, the Kinks became one of the biggest road bands, a decade after the Beatles broke up, long after their original British Invasion hits.

Suddenly, all of America woke up.  To the fact that the band was FUN!  That they put on a live show nonpareil.

You can hear this era documented on the double live album "One For The Road".  It includes the famous intro to "Lola", albeit abbreviated.  From the time it was cut, in EVERY show, Ray would play a bit of the riff from "Lola", the audience would erupt, and then he’d say they weren’t going to play that number tonight.  And then, further into the show, he’d play it again, and say the audience wasn’t ready.  He would never mention the track by name, the riff was enough.  FINALLY, when newbies had just about given up, he’d strike up the band, go past the intro riff, start to sing and the place would EXPLODE!

"Give The People What They Want"

And that’s exactly what they did.  Some good numbers, like "Destroyer", but I can’t listen to the record anymore.

"Come Dancing"

And then the band truly DID have a hit.
In the era of MTV, "Come Dancing" was a monster.

"Living On A Thin Line"

You can’t follow up a left field hit.  Because you don’t exactly know how you did it to begin with.

"Word Of Mouth" was the Arista swan song.  "Do It Again" got some airplay, and then the album sank.

But one track from the record lives on.  Ironically, not a Ray Davies number, but one by his brother Dave.  Whose only memorable contribution previously had been "Death Of A Clown".  We weren’t prepared for "Living On A Thin Line".  It was every bit as good as Ray’s masterpieces.

The "Sopranos" resurrected "Living On A Thin Line".  One of the top five uses of music on television’s greatest drama ever.  Superseded only by Ray’s "I’m Not Like Everybody Else".

I could write on and on about "Living On A Thin Line", but it’s something you HEAR!  It SOUNDS like the lyrics.  While George Bush acts with unfounded confidence, the rest of us live on a thin line.  We don’t feel confident, we feel SCARED!

"The Video Shop"

The Kinks moved on to MCA.

The band delivered a TRUE follow-up to "Come Dancing".   But without the hokiness and faux-sentimentality of the predecessor number.

At the height of video rental mania, "Video Shop" was a natural.

But nobody’s heard it.

If you want to escape, I can rent you a tape
To relieve your situation
If you feel a bit low, I got a good peep show
‘Cause everybody knows almost anything goes

The WORDPLAY!  The changes, the horns.  An off the cuff MASTERPIECE!

Check out the complete lyrics at: The Video Shop

"To The Bone"

Forget what came after.  Except for this.

The band rerecorded its hits.  Live.  And tacked on this original.  With the vibe, the essence of the greatness of "Sleepwalker" and "Misfits".

The pure sound, the melody and the LYRICS!

In the back of a record rack
There’s an old double pack
Twelve inches and black
With an old crumpled cover
But every track is stacked

Could it be the Chicago Transit Authority debut?  A double album on Columbia with a black cover?

This is the indie store culture that the owners of all the still standing stores say they’re providing.

It’s just that now those stores are in the minority.  Serving a coterie of baby boomers with a lot more money than sense trying to get another hit, relive who they used to be.  And that scene is dead.  To the degree music still lives, it lives online.

You see the record store was a haven.  It was where it was happening.  If you KNEW!  And not EVERYBODY knew.  But you did.

Now the store is passe.

And it takes me back
To the one who caused this melancholy mood
And every single groove
Cuts me to the bone
Yeah, she rocks me to the bone

You’re driving down the boulevard.  Maybe with the sunroof open.  Maybe stuck in traffic.

And you hear a song that reminds you of her.  Or him.

All the memories come flowing back.  It’s almost as if they’re riding shotgun.  But they’re long gone.  So why are the memories so VIVID?

I took her back to my bachelor flat
While the stereo played for two
She unwrapped her gift
And played me a riff
And said, ‘this old record was just made for you’

You had to find a girlfriend who got it.  Who understood the music.

If you didn’t, you were lost.

She didn’t need to know it when you got involved, it helped if she was an expert, but she had to agree to get infected, to become diseased.  She had to like sitting on the couch in the waning light of the day as the sound poured out of the JBL L100’s or Advents or KLH’s along the living room wall.

Then we danced to songs of passion and
The singer’s velvet tones
On the gramophone
While the record played
She rocks me to the bone
Knocks me to the bone

The music was an elixir.  Upon consumption it loosened not only lips but personalities.  It lubricated interaction.

In my back room there’s an old 45
That we played all summer long
Shakin’ the beams so loud it covered up the screams
When lover’s harmony went oh so wrong

But that was yesterday.
And now she’s gone.
But the music, and the memories.  They still exist.

And now I’m just a prisoner
In that stereo hi-fi jail
The needle pierced just like a nail
As she rocks me to the bone
Knocks me to the bone

I used to think the music was enough.

But you need the woman in this song.  You eventually have to cross over, to connect with a romantic partner.

Some people got married, sold their vinyl, play soft jazz while suburban neighbors come over to eat the latest Jamie Oliver concoction.

I never went that far.

I can’t go that far.

Maybe Mick Jagger can dine with princes and captains of industry, but I don’t think Ray Davies does.

Because Ray doesn’t fit in.

He played to the back row for a minute there, but it didn’t take, it didn’t stick.

It takes a special kind of person to proclaim himself the leader of the greatest rock and roll band in the whole world.

I guess I never wanted the greatest.  I just wanted the most meaningful.  The one who touched my soul.

When I listen to these great Kinks tracks, I think they were made just for me.  By someone who also doesn’t fit in.

I guess that’s how the world divides up.  Into those who wear leisure suits and those too uncomfortable to follow fashion.

I’m not stuck in the past.  It’s just that I don’t make a move on impulse, I don’t need to be a member of the group.  Music means too much to me to say something is good just because it sells, because it’s popular.  Because I remember when the music was more than popular, when it made the difference, when it was all that mattered.

The miracle of YouTube allows one to hear "To The Bone".  Go to: The Kinks – To the Bone.  I’ve never seen this video before.  I advise listening, but not watching.  "To The Bone" is the kind of song you should listen to alone, in the dark, as your life flashes through your mind’s eye.  Never forget that video not only killed careers, it helped kill rock and roll, by stripping it of its magic.

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