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My Life and the Kinks

Part 1

As I poke through my music collection I sometimes wonder why some particular act  ended up in there, and what compelled me to give them a shot.  The music in my life that has arguably fit into my story at more and more varied times than any is that of the Kinks.  These goofy lads from England with their sometimes clunky songs and career stumbles were past their prime artistically and commercially when I first became a fan in the mid-late 80’s, and were certainly out of step with not only general pop culture but especially the (lite) metal, classic rock, and postpunk/college rock camps that I was dabbling in at the time. And yet, twenty years later, band led by brothers Ray and Dave Davies are one of the few acts whose material has remained relatively constant in the soundtrack of my life and for whom my respect has only increased over time.

My initial introduction to the Kinks was likely through FM radio, hearing “You Really Got Me” and “Lola” on classic rock and oldies stations.  It was around this time that the band had their first top twenty hit in years, the infectious “Come Dancing”.  I was nine when the single came out in 1983.  Still, I had a brother who was just starting to get interested in music, and we soon had in our room the K-Tel Record Dancing Madness which led off with that single.  I know I was dancing around the room to that whole record in pre-adolescent glee soon, but obviously the depth of the music was lost on me save for its being a tool for release.  Soon, as my brother developed as a musician and music collector, our house was always filled with the music we were discovering as kids.  Much of it was inane 80’s pop, mind you, but we were starting to dig up some deeper stuff even at an early age.

Before long we were not only listening to weekly Top 40 countdowns (and jotting down their chart order every week on an old legal pad) but also had a Sunday morning favorite that played on WECM, later WHDQ out of Claremont, NH. Every Sunday morning they carried the syndicated show Reelin in the Years, hosted by George Taylor Morris.  RITY was billed as an oldies show, but was really much more than that.  Each week the show had a theme or spotlight artist, and while the era was generally well-covered by classic rock radio (60’s-70’s), Morris dug deeper than the singles and pulled out album cuts, rarities, and under-heard artists on a regular basis.   Incidentally he has since gone on to develop and act as program director for the XM Deep Tracks station.

It was through RITY that I began to listen to so much more meaningful music than the standard pop fare of the time, and that I got to hear the Kinks less-played music.  This batch of songs from the mid-late 60’s, including “Sunny Afternoon,” “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” “David Watts”, and “Apeman” offered a little more than the simple teenage-motif of “YRGM”.  Granted, I was still just a kid, maybe ten or eleven, but this music hung over like a cloud to remind me that there was something serious beyond the Huey Lewis, Michael Jackson, and Matthew Wilder we were listening to at the time.

It wasn’t long before the Kinks released their live album The Road, whose title track actually got a fair amount of airplay on WFRD, 99.3 from Dartmouth/Hanover NH.  The autobiographical track seems a bit derivative and thrown together now, but to me in 1987 it was like a holy grail, this rock star singing about the ups and downs in his life (I even chose the song as a poem to explicate in 10th grade English class, like it takes any deep explaining).  Add to the rock star fascination that I was coming into it as a goofy, awkward teenager, and Ray’s admission and airing of personal issues struck a chord in me that was going to really develop as I picked up my next piece from their catalog.


By the time I was fourteen or so I had been tipped off to this band of misfits; goofy looking guys who talked funny and wrote songs about how crappy their life is, yet were okay with it.  I had by now gotten Come Dancing with the Kinks, their best-of collection from their years on the Arista label.   This set opened up a whole new world to me.   You see I was a goofy teenager, and at the time thought I was such an outcast with the associated baggage and insecurities that come with it. I wasn’t good at sports, was pretty gawky, smart and on the debate team (not a way to impress the girls).  I was uncomfortable with my home life on a nearly failing dairy farm without a lot of money around. (Of course I now realize that my insecurities were normal teenage stuff, but they felt pretty heavy to me at the time.) Add to this that I was dealing with the loss of what I thought was a great friendship I had with an older guy who was heading down a very bad path and I thought I was a mess inside. I didn’t really talk about my fears much, so when along came Ray  Davies telling me through my headphones that everything was going to be okay for us weirdos, I listened.   The Arista collection has its share of  straight-ahead semi-metal rockers which the group cranked out during this period, pushing themselves right up the classic rock charts in the process (“Juke Box Music”, “YRGM (live)”, “Destroyer”).  But the bulk of the collection is made up of more introspective material. Take “Misfits,” for example:

You’re a misfit, afraid of yourself so you run away and hide,
You’ve been a misfit all your life
Why don’t you join the crowd and come inside
You wander around this town like you’ve lost your way
You had your chance in your day
Yet you through it all away
But you know what they say
Every dog has its day…

MisfitsMP3

“Misfits” really spoke to me, so I started to collect the albums from which the best-of collection was pulled from.   For some reason, even in the day of cassettes, I started to paw around for vinyl releases which were pretty easy to come by.  I had collected most all of the Arista releases and had found some more gems, including the great ray of hope “Better Things” from the album Give the People What They Want:

Here’s wishing you the bluest skies
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme
And the very best of choruses too
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on the way….

BetterThingsMP3

As was typical of Ray Davies’ songwriting at the time, these introspective tales were mixed with mid-level rockers and admittedly some filler.  The harder songs allowed me to play the records as true rock albums without wallowing in the moodier stuff. I didn’t say I was a depressed kid, mind you, so the balance was a good one.

Amongst the records I collected was the Twentieth Anniversary best-of which focused more on the earlier garagey material (but not to the extent of the harder to find stuff I dug up much later). Even early on Ray was airing his insecurities, especially regarding his bad luck with the ladies (“Stop Your Sobbing”, “Set Me Free”,”Tired of Waiting”).  One track in particular hit a nerve in me, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”:

I won't take all that they hand me down,
And make out a smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won't take it all lying down,
'Cause once I get started I go to town.

'Cause I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else,
I'm not like everybody else….

I also came across a couple of MCA records including Schoolboys in Disgrace, Soap Opera, and even Muswell Hillbillies. Save for the last one I was now touching on what was arguably the least vital period in the Kinks history when Ray was concentrating on rock operas.  At this point I was feeling like I had found what I needed to, neglecting of course their ‘Golden Era’ releases which were hard to find and which I would only discover another dozen years later.

 

On To Part 2

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All sound samples are of a crappy quality for a reason.   You should listen, learn, and buy the damned albums.  Don't be cheap!

 

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All material Copyright Terence Bradshaw 2006-2013

terryb at lostmeadowvt dot com