The Hudson Guide to the Kinks

It’s hard to believe that after 40 years of recording, Kinks leader Ray Davies has finally released his first solo album. Although Other People’s Lives is a bit more subdued than one might expect from a fan of his former band, it’s still his strongest set of songs in almost twenty years…and hopefully will direct plenty of people to check out the great music he recorded as a member of the most underrated band of all time.
It’s a true crime that the Kinks aren’t generally mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Who. Ray’s songs stand strong next to the great moments of Lennon and McCartney, and the band’s live presence was every bit as powerful as anybody who came out of the mid-60’s British Invasion.
Much of the blame must be placed on the band, though. Poor business decisions have plagued their entire career, and an American musician’s union ban kept them from capitalizing on their early success. They have also jumped from label to label throughout their career, often releasing their worst albums at the beginning or end of their tenure with a record company.
Because of these problems, collecting the band’s catalog can be an adventure. Albums come and go out of print, particularly their early material which has been cut and pasted into a ton of different releases. For the purpose of this comprehensive look at their career, I’m sticking to the original releases. In recent years, most of these albums have been re-released with plenty of bonus tracks and improved sound quality.

The Early Years (1964-66)

Like all of the great British Invasion acts, the Kinks were initially a singles band. Albums were an afterthought, comprised of a handful of singles and tons of filler. One would be better suited to pick up a hits compilation of this era than albums such as Kinks, You Really Got Me, and Kinks-Size.
The recent reissue of Kinda Kinks, however, is a great primer of the era. While the album itself, recorded in less than a week, is probably no better than those previously mentioned, the ten bonus tracks (culled from singles and EP’s recorded around the same time) showcase just how quickly the band moved from a one-trick pony to one of the most well-rounded bands of the time.

The Glory Years (1966-1970)

By late 1966, Ray Davies was hitting his stride as a songwriter. While the band was still releasing exquisite singles (“Waterloo Sunset”, “Dead End Street”, etc.), Davies was beginning to use the album format as an outlet for songs that were more personal (and at times more biting) than what British radio would tolerate.
Face to Face was the first Kinks album that was great from start to finish. As the Rolling Stone Record Guide stated in calling this record “one of the great albums of the ‘60’s”, “Davies refines his obsessions into his own private world…as he tells his ruefully witty tales of English losers and outsiders, himself included.”
Something Else is arguably even better than Face to Face, as Davies became more confident in his writing and arranging. Producer Shel Talmy present in name only, giving Davies free reign in running the sessions.
Although it was considered a commercial and artistic failure at the time, The Village Green Preservation Society has emerged over time as the band’s true classic album. Initially conceived as a solo album (Davies had a nervous breakdown shortly before sessions commenced), the record is a look back at Ray’s childhood and the quaint characters that were now just a memory. (Hardcore fans should pay the big bucks for 2004’s three disc import of pretty much everything put down on tape during sessions for this release.)
After this trio of releases, it’s only natural that there would be a bit of a letdown on the next couple of albums. Both Arthur and Lola Vs. Powerman have their share of strong tracks, but the high-tech concepts driving these albums seem forced and the sense of humor that had saved Davies’ self-pity in the past was rapidly approaching self-parody. Despite the so-so nature of the album, though, “Lola” was the band’s biggest American hit in close to five years.

The Troubled Years (1971-78)

With the commercial breakthrough in America with “Lola”, the band once again began touring the country (a controversial ban had kept them from our country for most of the late ‘60’s). Unfortunately, drugs and drink were becoming a problem for most band members, and relations between Ray and Dave were at an all-time low.
The result was some of the worst albums of the band’s career. Muswell Hillbillies, a country-ish sequel of sorts to Village Green, had it’s moments but the subsequent albums (Everybody’s in Showbiz, Soap Opera, Preservation, Act. 1 and Act. 2, Schoolboys in Disgrace) were virtually unlistenable then and now. The overblown concepts behind these albums were hampered by weak tracks that struggled to keep the storylines flowing.
These years on the road did have some benefits, however. Musically, they were becoming stronger, and by the middle of the decade they were sounding better than they had in years. Sleepwalker and Misfits dropped the pretentious idea of conceptual storylines, and they’re much the better for it. “Jukebox Music” highlights Sleepwalker, while the title track and “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” are the best songs the band had released in five or six years.

Mid-Life Resurgence (1979-1984)

Heavy metal and punk rock may have been opposing figures in the late 70’s, but there was at least one band they both looked up to – the Kinks. With tons of punk acts touting and covering the band, along with Van Halen’s hit cover of “Your Really Got Me”, the time was right for a commercial comeback.
Critics have never been kind to the albums of this era, but each of these albums are worthy of owning. Sure, they’re not as revolutionary as Face to Face or Village Green, and the musical backing is a bit arena-rock friendly, but Ray’s sarcastic with has returned and Dave’s guitar playing is as biting as it was a full decade before.
Low Budget is generally considered the classic of the bunch, but the aptly-titled Give the People What They Want is just as great. The pseudo-disco of Low Budget’s “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” is a better parody of disco than the Stones’ “Miss You”, and “Gallon of Gas” is probably more apt today than it was at the time. Give the People What They Want are highlighted by the title track, the hard-rocking “Destroyer”, and the wishful thinking ballad, “Better Things”.
State of Confusion isn’t as rocking, but does feature some great songs – “Come Dancing” was the big MTV hit, but “Don’t Forget to Dance” and “Long Distance” are better songs. Word of Mouth ably attempted to mimic the hit-making formula of State of Confusion, but with slightly inferior results.

Limping to the Finish Line (1985-1994)

The less said of albums such as Think Visual, U.K. Jive, and Lost and Found, the better. Signed to another new label (MCA), these albums had flashes of quality surrounded by tons of dross. By the ‘90’s, the Kinks were a band in name only. Phobia, released in 1993, was a bit of an improvement, but it was clear that their days were numbered. Their final release as a band, To the Bone, was a low-key “unplugged” live album that featured only one song under the age of 15.

Compilations

Because they recorded for so many labels, finding a great career retrospective is not an easy task. Every era has a disc that compiles the highlights of the time – Rhino’s Greatest Hits does the beset job at featuring their early hits along with some strong b-sides; The Kink Kronikles does the same for the latter half of the decade. The Kinks Greatest Celluloid Heroes performs the thankless task of cherry-picking the best material of their disastrous concept album period of the early ‘70’s, while Come Dancing is hampered by questionable song choices.
Until the inevitable box set appears (rumor is that Ray is in the process of putting one together), the only comprehensive greatest hits compilation is a surprisingly cheap import entitled The Ultimate Collection. Although there is no rhyme or reason for the track order, these two discs cover most of the tracks that one would desire from such a collection, including a few songs made famous by other act’s cover versions.

Live Albums

Although there are plenty of live releases to choose from, there are only two that should be considered. The BBC Sessions is a two disc compilation of the band’s many appearances on British radio, and features mainly revved-up versions of not only their greatest hits but obscure album tracks.
One For the Road documents their late ‘70’s Low Budget-era comeback and mixes album tracks from that era with many of their greatest hits. While the sing-a-long version of “Lola” is a bit tedious, the rest of the album is a great primer for those wondering how this little band could be covered by bands as far apart as Van Halen and the Jam.

Comments

scottrngr said…
I see they are using "do it again" in the theatrical trailer for the new adam sandler movie, but they didnt use it in the tv version.

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