Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
By the time The Kinks released their third album, The Kink Kontroversy (1965), all was not well in Kinks-land. Tensions between drummer Mick Avory & guitarist Dave Davies led to Avory only appearing on 3 of the album’s 12 songs (noted session drummer Clem Cattini filled in admirably). Non-stop touring commitments pushed singer/guitarist/main songwriter Ray Davies to the brink of a nervous breakdown, and a particularly tumultuous tour of the U.S. in the summer of ’65 got them banned from performing in the States until 1969. Considering all of this, along with the fact that the oldest member of the band (bassist Pete Quaife) was still only 21 when the album…which was recorded in just over a week…was released, it would be understandable if The Kink Kontroversy was a complete mess. But it’s not, although it’s also not quite a classic, acting as more of a transitional record between their earlier blues-influenced British Invasion sound and the more sophisticated & distinctly British songwriting that was just around the corner. Other than album opener “Milk Cow Blues,” a cover of an old Sleepy John Estes blues tune, the record consists of originals (mostly by Ray) that crossed the line between the old & the new. I only consider a couple of these songs as being among their best work, but with a half dozen other worthwhile tracks it’s an album that shouldn’t be overlooked.
♪ “Till The End Of The Day” – A riff-based tune like their earlier hits, but not simply a copy of those. It’s an exuberant love song with great soaring harmonies and an awesome guitar solo. This must have sounded amazing blasting from a radio back then (since it still gets me going whenever I hear it).
♪ “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” – Ray combines his penchant for nostalgia with a cynical tone on this instant classic (especially that amazing chorus featuring high harmonies at “Won’t you tell me…”). Van Halen may have popularized this song again in 1982, but the original is still a blast of loose, ragged perfection.
[The Kinks – “Till The End Of The Day”]
Other Notable Tracks:
The reissued CD version of The Kink Kontroversy doesn’t have as many bonus tracks as most of the other reissues, but two of them are up there with the best work they’ve ever done. It’s hard to imagine a time when such great singles weren’t even included on the subsequent album.
The Essential Bonus Tracks:
♪ “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” – Ray’s wry, sarcastic, funny and super-catchy “attack” on those who followed fashion trends in Swingin’ London. It’s equal parts English Music Hall and folk-rock, and I especially love the bouncy rhythm guitar and the call-and-response vocals at “Oh yes he is.”
♪ “Sittin’ On My Sofa” – It may have been relegated to the b-side of the “Dedicated Follower…” single, but this fun little song has a slightly funky groove and I love the low-end guitar pattern. It has a great vibe and a perfectly loose rhythm track.
The band, and Ray in particular, took a huge leap forward with Face To Face (1966). The psychedelic cover art is a bit misleading (apparently Ray was not pleased with it), as the songs are mostly grounded in Ray’s unique brand of storytelling (he wrote all 14 tracks). Although I don’t consider this a flat-out classic, the fact that nearly every song is worth noting proves that this is probably the first Kinks album that rewards listeners all the way through (with only a couple of lesser tracks). Pete Quaife briefly left the group around the time of recording, with future Kinks bassist John Dalton filling in. For some reason Dalton only appears on one song, but I thought it was worth noting since he’ll be discussed in future posts after Quaife’s permanent exit from the group.
♪ “Too Much On My Mind” – A hidden gem in their catalog. I love the interplay between the plucked guitar & bass, and the addition of harpsichord adds an ethereal quality. Lyrically, it’s hard to escape Ray’s despair (“My thoughts just weigh me down & drag me to the ground”)
♪ “Fancy” – A sparse & swirling psychedelic tune with droning bass and Middle Eastern-influenced guitar. This was a new sound for them, and opened up all kinds of possibilities for their music going forward.
♪ “Little Miss Queen Of Darkness” – A playful little folk-tinged pop song with subtle brush work from Avory & strong fingerpicked guitar (from Dave, I assume). I love the “Dancing, dancing on” vocal at the end of the chorus, and the dramatic instrumental break after the second chorus.
♪ “Sunny Afternoon” – The most well-known song from this album, and one of their best-loved hits. There’s that great descending pattern, lovely “ooh” backing vocals, and a perfect musical arrangement. Like The Beatles’ “Taxman,” they’re bemoaning the high taxes imposed by the British government, all set to beautiful melodies, most notably at “And I love to live so pleasantly, live this life of luxury.”
♪ “I’ll Remember” – Initially this sounded like album filler to me, but I liked it more each time I played the album. It sounds like their take on a lost Buddy Holly song, via The Beatles. The guitar melody is a killer and Ray’s vocal performance is particularly strong (“I’ll remember everything you said to me”).
Other Notable Tracks:
The Essential Bonus Tracks:
♪ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – The b-side of “Sunny Afternoon.” Features a subtle yet memorable riff in the verses and a simple chorus (the title repeated numerous times). Dave’s raw vocals give it a bluesy quality.
♪ “Dead End Street” – Another in a long line of Kinks songs influenced by English Music Hall, but this one has other charms up its sleeve. I love those trombone highlights, and they even point years ahead to glam rock & punk with those yelled “dead end” backing vocals. Only The Kinks could pull off these kinds of songs and make each one unique.
Their first four albums are all excellent, and each features a number of songs that would have to be included on a career-spanning anthology, but to me they didn’t release a top-to-bottom classic until album #5, Something Else By The Kinks (1967). The monochromatic retro cover design is a perfect match for these 13 original songs (10 by Ray & 3 by Dave), which cover a wide variety of styles (as always) but still form a cohesive whole unlike anything they had previously released. Perhaps it had something to do with Ray co-producing the album with their longtime producer Shel Talmy. There’s certainly a focus to the lyrics & music, and the band is firing on all cylinders. You know an album is special when only one song fails to make it onto my lists of key tracks.
♪ “David Watts” – Ray’s wry observation of a classmate who may or may not be as perfect as he appears, all set to a steady beat, rollicking piano, an insanely catchy melody & a killer chorus with those excellent “Wish I could be-e-e-e” backing vocals. It was later faithfully covered by The Jam.
♪ “Death Of A Clown” – Mostly written by Dave, with assistance from Ray, and initially released as a Dave Davies solo single. It was a big hit which pointed to a possible solo career that wouldn’t materialize until many years later. It’s by far the best song to feature Dave’s vocals up to that point. I like the folk/country vibe and those haunting “la-la-la” female backing vocals.
♪ “Harry Rag” – Some fans might find the oom-pah military rhythm to be too quirky, but I’ve always enjoyed this homage to cigarettes (even though I’ve never been a smoker). It could be an update of an old British folk song, but only Ray Davies could write about poor folks who are “so content because they got a harry rag.”
♪ “Lazy Old Sun” – Definitely the strangest song here, but it’s also one of my favorites. I love the weary, slightly dissonant music and the unexpected vocal shift from “Sunny ray, shine my way” to “Kiss me with one ray of light from your lazy old sun.” I imagine this is the most divisive track on the album amongst fans.
♪ “Afternoon Tea” – Another one of Ray’s character study vignettes. I really like the 3-note bass riff in the verses, and the call-and-response at “I’ll take afternoon tea (afternoon tea).” Dave delivers some tasty blues licks.
♪ “Waterloo Sunset” – Do pop songs get any better than this? It certainly has to be in the discussion of best songs of the last 50 years, and certainly of its era. The lilting melody is a perfect match for Ray’s nostalgic yet upbeat homage to his hometown (“As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise”). It’s hard to put into words how perfectly they capture the mood of Ray’s lyrics, and I can’t imagine anyone not being drawn in by that descending guitar motif and the all-around gorgeous backing vocals. I think the word “perfection” sums this one up.
Other Notable Tracks:
The Essential Bonus Track:
♪ “Autumn Almanac” – Another in a long line of Ray’s uniquely British slice-of-life observations. Love those high harmonies, and the chorus is among the best they’ve ever recorded (“Yes, yes, yes, it’s my autumn almanac”). This single-only release would have been a perfect addition to the album.
Other Notable Bonus Tracks:
This was an incredibly fun batch of albums to spend time with. I enjoyed following their development during such a short period of time, progressing from good to great to classic. Next time I’ll be talking about a handful of albums that are almost unanimously described as the pinnacle of their career. I know those records relatively well so I already agree with the critical consensus, but there are still a number of songs I don’t recall, and now it’s time to get to know them once & for all. Until then, please let me know if you agree with my assessments of The Kink Kontroversy, Face To Face and Something Else By The Kinks. I look forward to discussing them with you.
[One additional note: I usually highlight songs that aren’t quite as well known as each artist’s biggest hits, since most people reading these posts are likely already aware of those, but occasionally it’s worth including one just as a reminder of how great it is…and that certainly applies to “Waterloo Sunset.” Enjoy it.]