Friday, May 2, 2008

Getting 'The Kinks' Out

Let’s all raise a glass, to the rock stars of the past. Those that made it, those that faded, those that never even made the grade. Those that we thought would never last.
Singers come and go, and stars fade away. They vanish in the haze, and they’re never seen again.
But you can’t stop the music playing on.


-- Ray Davies, The Kinks, ‘You Can’t Stop the Music’, from A Soap Opera - 1975

For the first ‘Featured Artist’ in this fledgling blog, I am happy to present one of my favorite bands as well as one of the greatest rock bands of all time, The Kinks. Often overshadowed by the other members of that ‘Big Four’ (Beatles, Stones, and The Who) of 60’s British Invasion Bands, The Kinks were every bit as good, talented, and influential as the rest of that lot, but due to their own quirky musical directions, they never were as popular. The musical legacy left behind by the Kinks is amazing, and they have been important influences on everything from hard rock, heavy metal, punk rock, progressive rock, country rock, alternative country, rock opera, and even musical theater and show tunes. But most important was the music itself. Never taking an easy path, The Kinks always went their own way, creating a diversity of styles and sounds (and often alienating previous fans in the process), but always maintaining a characteristic ‘Kinkness’ to their music. Started in 1963, lead by Ray Davies as songwriter/lead vocalist/rhythm guitar/keyboards, his brother Dave Davies on lead guitar/backing vocals, Mick Avory on drums, and Pete Quaiffe on bass, The Kinks burst on the music scene in a big way in 1964 when Dave stroked that power guitar riff heard ‘round the world, marking the opening to ‘You Really Got Me’, and The Kinks were off and running. Probably more so than most artists, The Kinks musical career is usually divided into several distinct periods: from their early success as a British Invasion Band (1964-1965); their glory years of pop creativity and diversity (1966-1972); their much maligned theatrical incarnation (1973-1976), in which they expanded to an eight-piece band with horns, clarinets, etc. and produced and staged elaborate pop operas; their return to rock, commercial success, and sold-out arena shows (1977-1985), and then the inevitable years of declining fan interest (1986-1996).

It appears that the Kinks are currently undergoing one of those periodic ‘resurgences’ in popularity. Recently there’s been more press and interest (and blog rantings) for this 45-yr-old band than would be expected. This is most likely due to the usual causes in this day and age, namely, 1) one of their old songs has turned up in a hit Movie Soundtrack (In this case, ‘Juno’), and 2) their music is featured in one or more TV commercials (actually, several). Sadly, the third option, 3) that the group is reforming and touring again or releasing a new album, is not happening (yet), but Ray Davies, the musical mastermind behind the Kinks is touring and has recently released a new album, Working Man’s Cafe including some very ‘Kink-sounding’ songs). And all this is great, as it exposes new people and a new generation to the great music of The Kinks, and renews interest in those that knew their music but somehow ‘forgot’ about it. So, great, let’s have more Kinks revival stuff. However, what has irked me to some, is that in all the new talk and discussion of the Kinks and their music, the same old biases and misinformation has been propagated and spread around all over again. What I mean, and what I keep hearing and seeing, is the notion that, yes, the Kinks were a great ‘60’s band’, with a catalog of songs that rival anyone from that period. However, as one blogger wrote, if you really want to like the Kinks, you must not listen to any of their music made after 1972. That is, they were only ‘great’ from 1966-1972. Of course, this is total nonsense. This was a great band all through their career. Ray Davies is certainly one of the greatest rock-era composers, and the Kinks produced great music at all stages of their career. True, they did make a few albums that were relatively much weaker than others, but even these always contained at least a few great songs. They may have veered away from mainstream popular music, and certainly rock, at various times in their career, but they always produced interesting quality music. Although band personnel changed over the years, Ray and Dave were always at the core of the group and despite some intense personal struggles between them, always kept the group moving forward. Many of the later albums, including Sleepwalker, Misfits, Low Budget, State of Confusion, Word of Mouth, and even Think Visual, were all excellent albums, and the live reworking of their catalog of songs on To The Bone (1996), the last Kinks album, showed that they still had it after all those years.

So, we are celebrating the Kinks all this month (and forever, really). In various posts on this blog, you can find downloads of Classic Kinks concerts from the ‘60’s to the ‘80’s, information and commentary on the band, some tips on assembling your own library of Kinks music, a guide to the various Kinks albums, and my own version of the ideal Kinks compilation collection – a top 100 of all the best Kinks songs throughout their career. So, I hope this will be helpful to newcomers to The Kinks music, and of interest to the dedicated fans, too. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into The Kinks, and through it can explore their music more fully.

To purchase albums by The Kinks, or just to get more information on titles available for purchase, click here for Amazon.com, or some other authorized sales site.

For more information on The Kinks discography, songs, lyrics, and all Kinds of other things about The Kinks, visit the excellent unofficial Kinks Web site at http://kinks.it.rit.edu/ , run by Dave Emlen.


If you have time, please comment on what I have here, let me know what you think, of the Kinks, your favorite Kinks songs, of the blog (so far), and my commentary. Was any of this helpful in any way? I would appreciate any comments, discussion, or disputes you may have with my opinions and choices here.

Building your own Kinks Collection

Over the Thirty-plus years (1963-1996) The Kinks were active, they recorded ~30 albums, including 5 live albums and a couple soundtracks, but that doesn’t include the numerous compilations, collections, and greatest hits packages that have been assembled covering various parts of their career. So, where does someone start if they want to get some of this great Kinks music (after listening to the live concerts available through this site)? Because of the several different record labels The Kinks recorded for over the years, these collections each tend to cover only the specific albums and years from that label. Thus, it can be very frustrating and confusing when there are several ‘Best of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ collections that each have different songs, and may or may not have any of the ‘hits’ you were looking for. There is only one collection that even attempts to cover the entire recording career of The Kinks, the 2-CD, 44-track compilation titled The Ultimate Collection (TUC), released in 2002, and this is a great place for newcomers to The Kinks music to start. TUC does a great job of covering the early years of the Kinks, including virtually all of the most essential tracks from 1964 to about 1967 (covering the first 5 albums and singles from this period, with 27 of the 44 tracks taken from this period). The collection is somewhat less successful in compiling the next few years (1968-1972), with a total of only 11 tracks coming from their next 6 albums (which included some of the band’s best, including Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, and Muswell Hillbillies). But where the collection completely falls apart is in the supposed inclusion of the rest of the band’s career. Only 6 tracks are included from 1973-1984 (including none from the 6 albums between 1973-1978, a period which covers two of the band’s best albums, Sleepwalker and Misfits), one from Low Budget (1979), and the rest (5) from the early eighties albums (Give The People, State of Confusion, Word of Mouth), when The Kinks rediscovered commercial success. Of course, with a long, rich career like The Kinks, one 2-CD compilation cannot possibly contain all the best songs. However, I think the compilers of TUC would have been better off including a few more songs from the best albums of the 1968-1972 period, which are grossly underrepresented, and not even attempting to include the later material, because it is such a poor representation that it really diminishes their later work. One of the problems with most compilations is that they tend to be overly concerned with which songs were ‘hits’, rather than compiling all the best songs. And really now, here in 2008, some 30-40 years after most of this music was made, does it really matter which songs were hits and which were not? VGPS and Arthur are widely heralded as the best albums of the Kinks careers, as is to a lesser degree Muswell Hillbillies, however, they were commercial failures at the time they were released, thus did not have any ‘hits’ associated with them, just some of the best music the Kinks made. Likewise, for the ‘70’s albums Sleepwalker, Misfits, and others, there were no ‘hits’, but still contained great Kinks music. Anyway, despite these lapses, TUC is still a great collection (just not very complete), and is excellent for compiling all the best stuff from the early years in one package.
So, if you like what you here on TUC, I would next suggest supplementing it with what are arguably the band’s two best albums (and are underrepresented on TUC), The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (VGPS), 1968, and Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire), 1969. Both these albums are filled with great, quirky songs that are a delight to hear within the full context of the albums (these were concept albums after all, but the ‘concepts’ actually enhance the songs and don’t get in the way of the enjoyment of the music).
Next, it would be appropriate to get a better sample from the missing years from the TUC compilation. Fortunately, TUC can be supplemented with two separate compilations, Celluloid Heroes: Kinks Greatest covering the years 1971-1976 (RCA years), and Come Dancing With The Kinks (1977-1984), which covers the Arista years. Celluloid Heroes is a great album to get a representative cross-section of the best tracks from the RCA years (1971-1976). Although this period is generally considered to contain some of the weakest albums of the Kinks career, it is nonetheless filled with great individual songs and some great albums, too, and this collection does a great job of including most of the best songs, providing 3 songs from each of the 6 albums (there are a few complaints, in that it is a bit too egalitarian because some of the better albums (Muswell Hillbillies, Everybody’s in Showbiz) deserve more than 3 songs (the excellent ‘Holiday’ and ‘Skin and Bones’ from Muswell Hillbilles are missing), while a lesser album (like Preservation Act 2 ) doesn’t have 3 great songs to include. This collection is also a great addition to TUC, because only one song (‘Celluloid Heroes’) is duplicated, so these are all new acquisitions, and can essentially replace the need for buying most of the albums from this period. As for the Come Dancing collection, which contains 19 songs from the Arista years, it is a bit less successful in compiling the best of the later Kinks, but still does include some great music from this period. Although a nice collection of their most popular songs (the ‘hits’) from this era, some of the best songs are not included. For example, I consider the first two Arista albums, Sleepwalker and Misfits, to be great albums, and among the best of the Kinks, each having 4-5 what I would call essential tracks. However, only 2 tracks from each album are included in this collection, leaving out some of my favorites. Undoubtedly, this is because these albums were not the commercial successes the following albums were, and they save the bulk of tracks for those eighties albums that were very successful (Low Budget, State of Confusion, Word of Mouth). Unfortunately, these tracks duplicate the 6 tracks from this period already included on TUC, with only a few new additions (one welcome addition, however, is the inclusion of the single ‘Father Christmas’ which is delightful and not included on any other compilation). As an added incentive to get both Celluloid Heroes and Come Dancing, they are also available together in a package deal (called The Kinks Greatest (1971-1984) that also includes a bonus DVD of a live concert (from One for the Road album) from 1980, which is also excellent. Thus, for just a handful more dollars than the single compilation CD, you can get both Celluloid Heroes and Come Dancing, and the bonus concert DVD.
For the next round of purchases, I would recommend filling in some of these gaps, most notably, Sleepwalker and/or Misfits. Also worthwhile to get the whole albums of would be Muswell Hillbillies, Everybody’s in Showbiz, and Word of Mouth. As for the other earlier albums, Face To Face and Something Else are also excellent, but if you already have TUC, really, most of the best tracks are already included. If you don’t have TUC, another compilation from this period (1966-1970), The Kinks Kronikles, a 2-CD 28-track compilation, is also very good, and includes several songs from this period not included on TUC. Also worthwhile, but not essential, would be State of Confusion, Think Visual, To The Bone, and One For the Road. Now, Don’t get me wrong, I think all of the Kinks albums (especially the reissue CDs containing generous bonus tracks that compile all the songs from that time period) are worth having, but the purpose of this list was to try and assemble a good representation of Kinks music quickly and easily, without having to buy all the albums. Thus, it is possible to build a respectable Kinks library with just a few purchases. Here is the shorthand version:

Building your Kinks Collection:
1. The Ultimate Collection
2. Village Green Preservation Society3. Arthur
4. Celluloid Heroes/Come Dancing Combination package
5. Supplement collection with any or all of these additional quality albums that have numerous additional great songs not already included in the collection so far (my order preference: Sleepwalker, Muswell Hillbillies, Misfits, Everybody’s in Showbiz, Word of Mouth, and State of Confusion. Then if want to explore still further, Face To Face, Think Visual, To The Bone, Schoolboys in Disguise, One for the Road, etc.

Important Note: All of the original albums have been reissued on updated CDs (released in 1998 and 2004) that include numerous bonus tracks. These are especially crucial for the early albums, because now these albums for the first time also include all of the singles and EPs from their respective time periods, which make them much more desirable. However, these albums are also still available as the original CD issues, without bonus tracks. So, if you are purchasing the CDs used, by mail order, or over the internet, make sure you are getting the reissued versions with bonus tracks, as it greatly enhances the listening experience. Also, even some of the compilations, such as Celluloid Heroes and Come Dancing have been issued in a couple different versions, and the original early versions contain fewer tracks, and some different titles than the later reissues. For the most part, you want the later reissues to get all the bonus tracks.

For my own compilation list of all the greatest Kinks songs from all their albums, refer to the post on BBKron’s Komprehensive Klassik Kinks Kollection, elsewhere in this blog.