Ray Davies – circa 1975
“I’m a paranoid, schizoid product of the twentieth century” – ‘20th Century Man’ (Ray Davies)
It’s 1965 and Ray Davies, leader of the British rock band The Kinks, is running down a street. He is ‘bearded, sleepless’ and stressed-out over problems with both the band’s management and their song publishing. Ray has all his money in his sock. He is travelling from London’s Muswell Hill to Denmark Street. On arrival, he takes a swing at his publicist, runs out and is ‘finally chased down a street by his manager and a doctor in a taxi.’ It’s a little slice of madness from a colourful career. Well they are called The Kinks, not The Straight-Forwards.
Raymond Douglas Davies is born on 21 June 1944 at 6 Denmark Terrace, Fortis Green, Muswell Hill, North London, England. He is the seventh of eight children. Ray has six older sisters, but it is his younger sibling, his brother Dave Davies (born 5 February 1947), who will be most relevant to this story. “We always had a piano in the house,” Ray recalls. “Everybody did a turn at Christmas.” One of Ray’s older sisters immigrates to Canada. She sends records back to the U.K. for Ray and Dave. These are early rock ‘n’ roll discs like ‘Hound Dog’ by Elvis Presley and some of Chuck Berry’s songs. This is the Davies boys’ introduction to rock ‘n’ roll.
From 1962 to 1963 Ray Davies is an art student at Hornsey College of Art in London. Meantime, young Dave Davies decides to form his own rock ‘n’ roll band. Joining him is his big brother, Ray, who confirms, “[It] was my brother’s band.” Completing the group are Mick Avory (born 15 February 1944), who played drums in July 1962 with an early version of what would become The Rolling Stones, and Peter Quaife (31 December 1943 – 23 June 2010) who, having been born in Tavistock, Devon, is the only one of the quartet who is not a native Londoner. They call themselves The Ravens and their line-up is: Ray Davies (vocals, guitar), Dave Davies (guitar, vocals), Peter Quaife (bass) and Mick Avory (drums).
The Ravens spend ‘much of 1963 playing in and around London – [at] clubs, town halls, [and] private parties’, before signing a recording contract with Pye Records in January 1964. Their manager, Larry Page, tries to come up with an image for his young charges. He finds inspiration in an unlikely place, the British television series ‘The Avengers’ (1961 – 1969). This series’ blend of English eccentricity, swinging 1960s style and espionage drama inspires Page to have the band attired in red hunting jackets as though they are about to slip out for a spot of jolly old fox hunting. Larry Page overhears a comment about the band’s ‘kinky clothes’ during the photo-shoot and decides to dub the group The Kinks. He does not consult the young musicians. Thus they are as surprised as anyone to see their new designation on the mock-up of the advertisement for their first single.
Released on 7 February 1964, that single is a cover version of Little Richard’s 1956 hit ‘Long Tall Sally’ backed with an original composition, ‘I Took My Baby Home’. Although one of Little Richard’s shows was the first rock concert Ray Davies attended, The Kinks’ version of the song ‘flops’. More interesting is the flipside. Ray moans about the object of his affections: “She had some pile-driver kisses / They really knocked me out / They knocked me oh-oh-over.” It is Ray Davies first songwriting credit.
Ray Davies relates that “I decided to write my own songs” because the cover versions they were asked to perform were so awful. In the beginning, Ray’s goal is “I want to make people dance.” To achieve this, he practices “the art of simplicity.” The Kinks’ earliest recordings are so uncluttered as to be almost primitive. This is their charm. There is a brutish obviousness about the songs and an inevitability to the arrangements.
The Kinks’ second single, issued on 17 April 1964, consists of a pair of Ray Davies originals: ‘You Still Want Me’ b/w ‘You Do Something To Me’. Rather unjustly, this too fails to distinguish itself, reportedly selling a meagre one hundred and twenty-seven copies. Larry Page writes to a BBC radio executive, enclosing a copy of ‘You Still Want Me’, “which I am sure you will agree is good listening.”
It comes as a surprise when The Kinks next single, released on 9 August 1964, is ‘a hit around the world.’ ‘You Really Got Me’ (UK no. 1, US no. 7, AUS no. 2) b/w ‘It’s Alright’ establishes The Kinks’ style. ‘You Really Got Me’ ‘is commonly regarded as the foundation stone of heavy metal.’ The chords owe something to The Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’ from earlier in 1964 (itself a cover of Richard Berry’s rhythm and blues hit), but it is the sheer abrasiveness of The Kinks song that makes it so startling. To achieve the dirty, fuzzy guitar sound, Dave Davies uses a razor blade to slash the speaker cone in his Elpico amplifier. Legend has it that future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page (no relation to Kinks manager Larry Page) plays on the song. This is true, but it is Dave Davies on lead guitar; Page plays Ray Davies rhythm guitar part because Ray didn’t want to sing and play at the same time. Alongside the sledgehammer riff, Ray sings “Girl, you really got me going / You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing.” Overwhelmed, he bellows, “You really got me / So I can’t sleep at night.”
The Kinks are part of a ‘British Invasion’ of the U.S. singles charts in 1964 by acts like The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals and The Rolling Stones.
Pye Records are keen to capitalise on The Kinks’ success and hustle them into the recording studio with American-born producer Shel Talmy, despite Ray Davies’ protests that “I expect to have only five or six songs ready.” Padded out with some cover versions, the result is ‘The Kinks’ (1964) (UK no. 3), released in October. Aside from ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘I Took My Baby Home’, perhaps the most impressive of the originals is ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. “It is time for you to laugh instead of crying,” asserts Ray to his teary paramour. As well as Jimmy Page there are some other interesting contributors from outside The Kinks. Jon Lord, later of Deep Purple, plays Hammond organ; with the exception of ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, Bobby Graham plays drums on the whole album; and Ray’s girlfriend, Rasa Dicpetri, provides backing vocals.
On 23 October 1964 The Kinks release their follow-up single to ‘You Really Got Me’. ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ (UK no. 2, US no. 7, AUS no. 18) b/w ‘I Gotta Move’ is another hit. ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ is rather similar to its forerunner, but nobody complains. “I think one of my favourite records is ‘All Day And All Of The Night’,” offers Ray Davies. “It really was one of the first heavy metal [songs with its] power chords.” The lyrics to this piece are a bit more sinister and lascivious: “I’m not content to be with you in the daytime / Girl, I want to be with you all the time.”
An EP, ‘Kinksize Sessions’, is issued on 27 October 1964. The four tracks on the disc are The Kinks own version of Richard Berry’s ‘Louie Louie’, the song that influenced ‘You Really Got Me’, and three Ray Davies originals: ‘I Gotta Go Now’, ‘Things Are Getting Better’ (probably the pick of the bunch), and ‘I’ve Got That Feeling’.
Rasa Dicpetri may have been Ray Davies’ girlfriend in August 1964, when most of ‘The Kinks’ was recorded, but on 12 November 1964 she becomes his wife. “I got married really young,” Ray notes [He was 20]. “I stayed home, wrote songs.” Ray and Rasa go on to have two daughters, Louisa and Victoria.
March 1965 brings the band’s second album, ‘Kinda Kinks’ (1965) (UK no. 3), which includes their next single, ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ (UK no. 1, US no. 6, AUS no. 24). Like ‘All Day And All Of The Night’, this only slightly modifies ‘You Really Got Me’. In this case, ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ slows down the familiar riff to emphasise the weariness of the song’s theme.
If there are suspicions that The Kinks output is wearing thin due to a lack of variation, the next single tries to address the problem. ‘Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy’ (UK no. 11) is peppered with handclaps and moves along on a shuttling rhythm. The flipside, ‘Who’ll Be The Next In Line?’ has a similar rhythm but a more dark and brooding attitude. This single, also issued in March 1965, is less successful, suggesting that even if The Kinks are feeling the desire to stretch out a bit, the record-buying public are not inclined to sponsor such an attempt.
On 30 April 1965 The Kinks begin their first U.K. tour as a headlining act. Always a fractious unit, The Kinks’ shows are sometimes jaw-dropping for the wrong reasons. In Cardiff, guitarist Dave Davies tells Mick Avory “Your drumming’s s*** – they’d sound better if you played them with your c**k!” Mick’s carefully reasoned response is to hurl a cymbal like a Frisbee at Dave’s head, threatening him with decapitation – but failing. When Dave’s not fighting with Mick, he’s rowing with Ray. “It gets pretty bad with him [Dave],” Ray admits. “I’m the most shy man in the world…’Cos I’ve got a gap in my [front] teeth…They [the media] are more interested in my brother,” claims Ray. On 25 May the rest of the U.K. tour is cancelled after Dave ‘is knocked unconscious when he careens into drummer Mick Avory’s cymbal during a London concert.’
On 17 June 1965, The Kinks arrive in New York City to kick-off a U.S. tour. Their reputation precedes them though. The Kinks complete the tour, but the American Federation of Musicians makes it difficult for them to return. They are not impressed by their ‘frequent boozing and fisticuffs onstage.’
Another 1965 single, ‘Set Me Free’ (UK no. 9, US no. 23), brings The Kinks back towards the template of ‘You Really Got Me’, though in its discontent it is perhaps spiritually closer to ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’. ‘I Need You’, the song on the reverse side, is rather more assertive.
‘See My Friend’ (UK no. 10, US no. 111), the next 1965 single, is a curious piece. Described as ‘an early example of drone’, this almost hypnotic take on the usual Kinks riff is said to have been ‘written after the band stopped off in India’, implying that it has a meditative element to it in the fashion of some Indian spiritual music. Others see the song as ‘sexually ambiguous’ because Ray Davies sings lines like ‘She is gone and now there’s no one left / Except my friend.”
In September 1965 see the release of the EP ‘Kwyet Kinks’. It marks a significant change. As the title indicates, the band turns down the volume. However, this does not mean the songs have less impact. ‘A Well Respected Man’ (US no. 13, AUS no. 18) skewers the conservatives to the sound of acoustic guitars and a communal sing-a-long: “’Cos his world is built ‘round punctuality / It never fails / ‘Cos he’s oh so good / He’s oh so fine / And he’s oh so healthy in his body and his mind / He’s a well respected man about town / Doing the best things so conservatively.”
‘The Kinks Kontroversy’ (1965) (UK no. 9), released in November, is a transitional work. The single from the album, ‘Till The End Of The Day’ (UK no. 8, US no. 50) b/w ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’, represents the two sides of The Kinks output. ‘Till The End Of The Day’ can be seen as the last of the cycle begun with ‘You Really Got Me’. Yet even here there is a strange poignancy. “You and me we’re free / We do as we please / From morning / Till the end of the day” may seem, on the surface, a declaration of liberation. Yet it’s just as much a squawk about being bored and directionless when viewed from a different angle. ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’ is not the standard rock star ode to partying. Instead it sympathises with parents and earlier generations and finds ‘Swinging London’ rather empty and unsatisfying. “Will this depression last for long?” Ray Davies asks rhetorically in the lyric. This is songwriting on a far different scale than trying to “make people dance.”
Up to this point, Reprise Records in the United States have been reformatting The Kinks output into U.S. editions. For the record, The Kinks U.S. only albums are: ‘You Really Got Me’ (1964) (US no. 29), ‘Kinks-Size’ (1965) (US no. 13), ‘Kinda Kinks’ (1965) (US no. 60), ‘Kinks Kinkdom’ (1965) (US no. 47) and ‘The Kinks Kontroversy’ (1966) (US no. 95). From here on out the U.K. and U.S. editions are the same.
The 1966 single ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’ (UK no. 4, US no. 36) finds The Kinks, emboldened by reaction to ‘A Well Respected Man’, making another scathing satire. However, this time, rather than a soft target like the conservatives, they turn their sights on the “Carnabetian Army”, those who shop in London’s trendy Carnaby Street. In other words, they are attacking their own fanbase. It’s a measure of their skill that The Kinks don’t alienate those fans. Instead, everyone – young and old – laughs at images like “When he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight / He feels a dedicated follower of fashion.”
If ‘The Kinks Kontroversy’ is transitional, ‘Face To Face’ (1966) (UK no. 12, US no. 136) is clearly of a new era. Released in October, the album includes ‘Dandy’, a song made into a hit by Herman’s Hermits in the same year. It’s a portrait of a handsome young man, but Ray Davies lyrics sway between admiration of the subject and criticism of his roguish manners. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (UK no. 1, US no. 14, AUS no. 12) again takes a stick to the landed gentry: “The taxman’s taken all my dough / And left me in my stately home / Lazing on a sunny afternoon.” This ‘poor’ man is so hard done by that “All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon.”
“From ‘Sunny Afternoon’ on,” Ray Davies explains, “I was trying to make records my parents would like.” An unusual goal when most rock music centres on teenage rebellion against the parental units. “My Dad said the secret is to write something people can sing in a pub.” Charming as these anecdotes are, Ray is also quoted as saying he decided “to stop writing for other people and start writing for myself.” There is probably some truth to this claim as well. The main difference is that Ray is no longer trying “to make people dance”; he is writing more introspective material.
Ray Davies becomes a great character actor in his songs. He may put on the guise of another person (i.e. the upper class wastrel of ‘Sunny Afternoon’), but it always seems clear what his own attitude is in such matters. Ray’s singing voice similarly varies from a pinched, tight tone to a broader slapstick.
The Kinks’ compositions begin to borrow from the traditions of the English music hall. Roughly analogous to vaudeville in the United States, the music hall is the forum for all-around entertainers. This is where song-and-dance men also ply the rowdy audiences with amusing stories and jokes. When writing about serious topics, Ray Davies says to “always lace it with a bit of humour.”
In a way, The Kinks virtually self-imposed exile from the United States market helps their development. Their music and lyrics become increasingly British. While other ‘British Invasion’ era bands are chasing the Yankee dollar, The Kinks are heading in the other direction, chronicling the quirks and eccentricities of their homeland in loving, minute detail. “That’s what I wrote about,” Ray Davies states, “the immense smallness of life.”
‘Dead End Street’ (UK no. 5, US no. 73), another 1966 single, is described as a ‘modern depression song.’ In this context, that means it is a song about economic hard times, rather than an ode to sadness – though the latter is often associated with the former.
With The Kinks less committed to touring, in 1967 Dave Davies toys with a solo career. Elder brother Ray co-writes the psycho-circus of ‘Death Of A Clown’ (UK no. 3, AUS no. 34) and The Kinks all play on the track, though it is released as a solo song attributed to Dave Davies. This song and its lovely flipside, ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’ (written by Ray), are both included on The Kinks’ next album. Dave Davies issues another single under his own name in 1967, ‘Susannah’s Still Alive’ (UK no. 20), though this too is a Ray Davies composition.
‘Something Else By The Kinks’ (1967) (UK no. 35, US no. 153) is the band’s best individual album. This ‘brilliant’ disc, released in September, is the last Kinks album produced by Shel Talmy who has served the group from their first album. As well as the songs from the Dave Davies’ single, ‘Death Of A Clown’ and ‘Love Me Till The Sun Shines’, the set includes ‘David Watts’. This is a yelping schoolboy version of ‘Dandy’ with Ray Davies caught between saluting “The head-boy at the school / He is the captain of the team” and spitting “And I wish I could have all he has got.” Like ‘See My Friend’, some listeners interpret this as a ‘teasing homoerotic tale.’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 6) is described as ‘the most beautiful song in the English language.’ If that is a bit of an exaggeration, it is still the most beautiful song in The Kinks catalogue. “’Waterloo Sunset’ was written from a dream,” Ray Davies testifies. In the scenario described in the song “Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night.” Then “Terry and Julie cross over the river where they feel safe and sound.” Gloriously, amid cooing backing vocals and plaintive acoustic guitar, it is noted that “As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset / They are in paradise.” The names ‘Terry and Julie’ are inspired by British actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie who were a romantic couple in real life at the time. Yet the whole scene is sketched out by a voyeuristic observer (Ray himself?). The song states “Every day I look at the world from my window,” adding a layer of lonely pathos to the situation. Terry and Julie may have each other, but the narrator can only bask in the reflected glow of their love while existing in isolation. The piano ballad ‘End Of The Season’ is less concerned with the change to winter (though that is metaphorically invoked) than the arch-conservative narrator (not Ray) bemoaning that “Labor is in” as the winds of political fortune change direction. ‘Two Sisters’ contrasts ‘a harried housewife and her trendy sibling.’
October 1967 brings another single, ‘Autumn Almanac’ (UK no. 3). This is a touching – and funny – look at a suburban gardener: “Breeze blows leaves of a musty (mustard?) coloured yellow / So I sweep them in my sack.” The cool autumn prompts the reflection, “Tea and toasted, buttered current buns / Can’t compensate for lack of sun / Because the summer’s all gone.” In the U.K. ‘Mr Pleasant’ is the flipside of ‘Autumn Almanac’, but it is released as a single in its own right in the U.S.A. and Europe. ‘Mr Pleasant’ is a kind of grown-up ‘David Watts’; an annoying successful and…well, pleasant…chap: “Mr Pleasant is good / Mr Pleasant is kind / Mr Pleasant’s okay / Mr Pleasant don’t mind.”
Ray Davies creativity shows no signs of flagging in 1968. This year yields the day-dreaming single ‘Wonderboy’ (UK no. 36) and the more sober and moving ‘Days’ (UK no. 12) b/w ‘She’s Got Everything’, an ‘ebullient garage pop nugget.’ ‘Days’ is included on the European edition of the album the band issues in November, ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society’ (1968). The disc’s lack of instant commercial success is countered by this being ‘one of their loveliest and most cohesive albums.’ This is a concept album dedicated to the England that was, awash in waves of nostalgia for a simpler era. “It’s the most successful failure of all time,” says Ray. “It was not meant to be commercial” and, indeed, it does not chart at the time. This set introduces the character of Mr Flash. The album’s best known song, ‘Starstruck’, is somewhat atypical of the rest of the album. ‘Starstruck’ is a gentle riposte to a fan who is overly besotted with the narrator (probably Ray Davies playing the role of himself). ‘Starstruck’ is feather-light; a far cry from the hammering proto-heavy metal with which The Kinks first gained attention. Ray Davies takes over production duties with ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society’.
The March 1969 single, ‘Plastic Man’ (UK no. 31), is one of the most humorous songs by The Kinks. The band attacks the ridiculously catchy tune as though they are playing an advertising jingle. In a flat, confidential tone, Ray Davies tells of the man who “Lives at the corner of the street” and though “His neighbours think he’s helpful and he’s sweet”, Ray reveals “No one knows he really is a plastic man.” With the air of a naughty schoolboy, Ray delights in singing “He’s got plastic legs that reach up to his / Plastic bum”, and the band dutifully harmonise. “He’s got a plastic wife who wears a plastic mac [a ‘mackintosh’ or raincoat] / And his children want to be plastic like their dad,” warns the singer.
On 6 April 1969 Peter Quaife leaves The Kinks, sundering the band’s classic line-up. Replacing him on bass is John Dalton (born 21 May 1943).
Released in October, ‘Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire)’ (1969) (US no. 105) was originally commissioned as a television soundtrack. Like its predecessor, this too is an elegy for England’s past, but the narrative is even more closely woven through the project. ‘Shangri-La’ is a sour look at domesticity. More interesting is ‘Victoria’ (UK no. 33, US no. 62, AUS no. 57), a song about England’s ultra-conservative monarch who ruled when “Long ago, life was clean / Sex was bad and obscene.” Ray Davies looks back at “Stately homes for the Lords / Croquet lawns, village greens / Victoria was my Queen.” Although ‘Victoria’ is as witty as any of Ray’s works, it is notable more because Dave Davies turns in a more aggressive lead guitar performance than he has for some time. The Kinks are blending their earlier sledgehammer style with their later, more nuanced approach.
This shift in manner coincides with The Kinks undertaking their first U.S. tour in years, having resolved their problems with the American Federation of Musicians. “It wasn’t that we didn’t want to come back,” Ray Davies says as the tour begins on 17 October 1969.
The Kinks’ next album, ‘Lola Versus Powerman And The Money-Go-Round’ (1970) (US no. 35), holds two of their best singles. ‘Lola’ (UK no. 2, US no. 9, AUS no. 4), like ‘Victoria’, successfully balances wit and power. “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls / It’s a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world,” Ray Davies shrugs in his tale of a transvestite with “A dark brown voice.” Ray achieves a high-point in ambiguity with the line “I’m not the world’s most passionate man, but I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man / And so is Lola.” The vocalist has to overdub a version so a reference to “coca cola” becomes “cherry cola” to get around the prohibition against advertising and secure airplay on BBC radio in the U.K. A similar problem afflicts ‘Apeman’ (UK no. 5, US no. 45, AUS no. 5) which requires clarification of the diction on the line “The air pollution is a-foggin’ up my eyes” because it sounds too much like “a-f***in’”. ‘Apeman’ is a gentler, kooky track that finds The Kinks leader proclaiming “Give me half a chance and I’ll be taking off my clothes and living in the jungle” while telling his lady friend “I’ll be your Tarzan / You’ll be my Jane / I’ll keep you warm / And you’ll keep me sane.” Elsewhere, the album offers ‘some acid comments on the operation of power in the pop music industry.’
The Kinks’ final album for Pye Records is the ‘Percy (Soundtrack)’ (1971) released in March. It may be a ‘dreadful’ film ‘about a penis transplant’, but the song ‘God’s Children’ (AUS no. 53) is quite graceful and considered.
Moving to RCA Records for ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ (1971) (US no. 100) in November, The Kinks title the album with a pun on the birthplace of the Davies brothers, Muswell Hill. The Kinks membership expands significantly with not only a keyboards player, John Gosling (born 6 February 1948), but a three-piece brass section consisting of Laurie Brown (trumpet), Alan Holmes (saxophone) and John Beecham (trombone). This album includes Ray Davies’ refutation of today’s world in ‘20th Century Man’ (US no. 106, AUS no. 89), where he prefers the pleasures of the past. The set also hosts ‘Skin And Bone’ and ‘Alcohol’.
After years of being marginalised in the U.S.A. while lionised in the U.K., The Kinks find the pendulum now swinging the other way as America picks up on them while their home crowd deserts them. “America happened despite ourselves,” Ray Davies notes. “I think a lot of people like The Kinks [in the U.S.A.] because of our Englishness.”
‘Everybody’s In Show Biz – Everybody’s A Star’ (1972) (US no. 70) is a double album, the second disc of which is a live recording of a Kinks concert. Amongst the new material on the first disc is ‘Supersonic Rocketship’ (UK no. 16, US no. 111) which basically reverses the theme of ‘Apeman’ to a similarly quaint tune. In this instance, instead of abandoning civilisation for the jungle, the narrator abandons earthly civilisation for outer space. For ‘Celluloid Heroes’, Ray Davies explains “I was inspired by a piece of geography…The stars on [Hollywood] Boulevard.” This swaying semi-acoustic number refers to such stars as Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo and Bette Davis. Here, escape is sought in a “Non-stop Hollywood movie show.” A line from ‘Celluloid Heroes’ also provides this album’s title.
In 1973 Ray Davies marriage to Rasa Dicpetri comes to an end.
The character of Mr Flash, who first appears in ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society’, is brought back for a three record saga. ‘Preservation – Part 1’ (1973) (US no. 177) is released in November 1973 and the double-album ‘Preservation – Part 2’ (1974) (US no. 114) follows in May 1974. These albums act as ‘soundtracks for elaborate stage shows’ with ‘a chorus of actor-singers’ but ‘almost inevitably show Davies stretching his ideas too thinly.’
In 1974 The Kinks launch Konk Records, their own label. The Kinks’ own work never appears on Konk. The label exists to spare other artists some of the problems The Kinks have experienced. Konk artists include Claire Hammill and Café Society.
On 1 November 1974 Ray Davies marries his second wife, Yvonne Gunnar, a teacher.
‘Soap Opera’ (1975) (US no. 51) in May is followed by a dramatization of Mr Flash’s adolescence for ‘Schoolboys In Disgrace’ (1975) (US no. 45) in November. The latter features the driving ‘Hardway’. These are The Kinks final albums for RCA. Their time on this label ‘wasn’t an unqualified success.’
In 1976 The Kinks sign with Arista Records. In the process they lose the horn section, the backing vocalists, the elaborate theatrical stage shows and bassist John Dalton. Andy Pyle (born 1946) assumes the role of bass player. ‘Sleepwalker’ (1977) (US no. 21) is the band’s first release for Arista and the title track, ‘Sleepwalker’ (US no. 48) is issued as a single.
‘Misfits’ (1978) (US no. 40) finds Jim Rodford (born 7 July 1941) replace Andy Pyle whose tenure as bass player for The Kinks is relatively brief. In addition, Gordon Edwards takes over keyboards from John Gosling. ‘Misfits’ is a gentler, more thoughtful album. It seems like Ray Davies’ target in the song ‘Misfits’ is himself. ‘A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy’ (US no. 30) is similarly downbeat. When most rock bands write about rock music, they pen celebratory tributes. Yet, in this song, all The Kinks seem to find is a yawning black hole at the centre of the whole circus.
‘Low Budget’ (1979) (US no. 11) is probably the best of The Kinks’ latter-day albums. The Kinks are touring a lot through the U.S.A. and the songs reflect this with tight arrangements and a more hard rock approach. They do have some limitations imposed on the band, as the album title reflects. “We’re all on our uppers / All going skint / I used to suck cigars / Now I suck polo mints,” Ray Davies admits in the addictive title track, ‘Low Budget’. “[The song] ‘Low Budget’ is sung in a cockney vaudeville accent,” Ray explains. ‘(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman’ (US no. 41, AUS no. 71) has the narrator describe himself as “A nine stone weakling with knobbly knees” who ruefully states “I’d like to fly but I can’t even swim.” Superman is not the only costumed hero named on the album; Captain America gets a mention in ‘Catch Me Now I’m Falling’. Ray Davies devilish sense of humour also pervades ‘National Health’, while ‘Attitude’ and ‘Pressure’ read like self-help tracts set to an electric guitar accompaniment. ‘Low Budget’ also introduces Ian Gibbons as the new keyboardist for The Kinks in place of Gordon Edwards.
Ray Davies’ marriage to Yvonne Gunnar is crumbling. Chrissie Hynde, the American-born leader of a group of British new wave rockers called The Pretenders in 1979 expresses her admiration for Ray Davies as a songwriter by having The Pretenders cut a cover version of The Kinks’ 1964 song ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. Soon she meets Ray and they begin a volatile romantic relationship. Ray Davies and Yvonne Gunnar divorce in 1981. In 1983 Chrissie Hynde gives birth to Ray Davies’ daughter, Natalie. Davies and Hynde do not marry and soon go their separate ways. Ray Marries Pat Crosby in 1983, a dancer with the Irish National Ballet. She too bears him a daughter, Eva.
In the midst of all this romantic drama, The Kinks release ‘Give The People What They Want’ (1981) (US no. 15). It is a measure of the difference in their esteem between the U.S. and U.K. that the album is released five months later, in January 1982, in the United Kingdom. This album is home to the optimistic and ‘splendid’ ‘Better Things’ (UK no. 46, US no. 92).
‘State Of Confusion’ (1983) (US no. 12) brings with it a pair of interesting singles. ‘Come Dancing’ (UK no. 12, US no. 6, AUS no. 36) appears to be dedicated to one of the elder sisters of the Davies boys. Ray Davies characterises his vocal performance on this song as “being sung by an East End barrow boy [i.e. a spruiker at a market stall]”, but this seems at odds with the song’s personal nature. ‘Come Dancing’ sports a cheesy – but catchy – keyboard motif. Still on the subject of dancing (apparently, new love Pat Crosby’s profession is uppermost in the author’s mind), is ‘Don’t Forget To Dance’ (UK no. 58, US no. 29). However the tone of this song is very different. ‘Come Dancing’ is a bit of a laugh, but ‘Don’t Forget To Dance’ is an ‘elegant’ piece urging the woman being serenaded to maintain her dignity, keep her chin up, and forget her troubles for a while.
Founding member Mick Avory quits in 1984, so it is new drummer Bob Henrit (born 2 May 1944) who appears on The Kinks’ final album for Arista, ‘Word Of Mouth’ (1984) (US no. 57). Again the disc has at least a pair of noteworthy tracks. The riff-based ‘Do It Again’ (US no. 41) may exhibit some boredom with their lot, but The Kinks are still professional enough to perform it with verve. ‘Walking On A Thin Line’ is a bit more experimental for the group, a stately piece of atmospherics that has a lasting impact.
The Kinks move to MCA Records for another three albums: ‘Think Visual’ (1986) (US no. 81), ‘U.K. Jive’ (1989) (US no. 122) and ‘Phobia’ (1993) (US no. 166). Mark Haley assumes keyboard duties from 1990 as Ian Gibbons exits. Ray Davies and Pat Crosby divorce in 1993. The Kinks disband in 1996.
Ray Davies and Dave Davies both fitfully release solo albums and write books. The Kast Off Kinks is a low-key pastime for a shifting cast of the other musicians who worked with the Davies siblings. A notable exception to this loose-knit brotherhood is Peter Quaife who dies of kidney failure on 23 June 2010.
The Kinks had a long and (dare it be said?) kinky history. There were many colourful characters and incidents along the way. Their early, almost heavy metal recordings (1964 – 1965) still hold up well and the golden songs of their ‘kwyeter’ era (1965 – 1970) are classics. In retrospect, after The Kinks left Pye Records, their output became patchier. ‘Perhaps the most British of the beat-boom groups, The Kinks relied heavily on the keenly observed songwriting of frontman Ray Davies.’ ‘Ray Davies [is] one of the most important figures in the history of British pop music.’
- ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, 1982 article reproduced on kinkakinksnet./misc/articles/resurge
- wikipedia.org as at 15 April 2013
- celebrityradio.co.uk, Ray Davies interview conducted by Alex Belfield (23 February 2013)
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 71, 101, 102, 103, 157, 163, 173, 178
- ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 129
- ‘Kinks – The Ultimate Collection’ – Sleeve notes by David Wells, April 2002 (Sanctuary Records Group Ltd, 2002) p. 2, 5, 6, 8
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 61
- ‘7.30 Report’ (Australian television program, ABC Network) Ray Davies interview conducted by Tracee Hutchison (20 March 2008)
- Letter from Larry Page’s Denmark Productions Ltd (dated 14 April 1964) reproduced in (14) below, p. 8
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 66
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 124, 243
- songfacts.com as at 8 May 2013
- ‘X-Ray’ (1994) by Ray Davies, quoted in (14) below, p. 2
- ‘The Kinks’ (1964) – Sleeve notes by Pete Doggett (Castle Communication Plc, 1998 reissue) p. 3, 4
- Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 16 April 2013
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) review of ‘You Really Got Me: The Story Of The Kinks’ by Nick Hasted (guardian.co.uk – 30 September 2011)
- clashmusic.com – Ray Davies interview (26 October 2010)
- lyricsfreak.com as at 8 May 2012
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Kinks’ by Ken Emerson (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 391, 393, 394
- ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 59, 60
- Robert Christgau, rock music critic and historian, quoted in (19) above, p. 393
- bigtakeover.com, Ray Davies interview (12 July 2012)
- ‘Total Film’ magazine no. 204 (April 2013) p. 46
- ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society’ (1968) – Sleeve notes by Andy Miller (Sanctuary Records Group Ltd, 2004 reissue) p. 3
- ‘People’ magazine (people.com) article (6 July 1987)
Song lyrics copyright Carlin Music Corp. with the exceptions of ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, ‘All Day And All Of The Night’, ‘See My Friends’ and ‘A Well Respected Man’ (all Edward Kassner Music Co. Ltd.)
Last revised 4 September 2014