KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

THE KINKS Part 4 – Hillbillies And Heroes

The Kinks Photo (circa 1971)The four releases I’ll be discussing here were among the least-played Kinks titles in my collection until this past week, even though I’ve owned all but one of them for many years. This was the beginning of a period in their career when they had essentially become a cult band in both the U.S. and their native England. Sure, they had a couple of FM radio hits during this time, and they rebuilt their audience in America after a 4-year ban from live performances with the massive success of “Lola.” Unfortunately, they were also becoming known for erratic, alcohol-fueled concerts that kept them from more mainstream acceptance and their slow progression away from straight-forward rock & roll and towards a more “musical theater” approach didn’t help their commercial fortunes. I’m getting slightly ahead of myself here since that change wouldn’t come to full fruition until the albums I’ll be discussing in my next post, but I wanted to explain why this era was a transitional one for them. That doesn’t mean these records should be overlooked, as they’re filled with plenty of great songs. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way after reading this post, if you’re not already familiar with them.

Their final release on longtime label Pye Records was Percy (1971), the soundtrack to a British comedy about the world’s first penis transplant (yes, you read that correctly…and no, I have not seen the film). Recorded by the 5-piece lineup which would remain together for most of the The Kinks - Percydecade (lead singer/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Ray Davies, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Dave Davies, drummer Mick Avory, bassist John Dalton and keyboardist John Gosling), this album consists of 13 tracks written by Ray, 6 of which are instrumentals. On first listen last week it seemed to be mostly incidental music and lesser-quality songs, but I’m glad I stuck with it because there are a number of excellent songs which have become new favorites. Percy was mostly a forgotten album for many years, especially in the U.S. where their label (Reprise Records) never released it, but it has since become a word-of-mouth keeper. It’s not the place to start your Kinks collection but don’t let its semi-obscurity scare you away.

The Essentials:

♪     “God’s Children” – One of Ray’s prettiest songs, featuring chiming guitar, shimmering piano & sweeping strings. It has a spiritual feel, both musically & lyrically, and an uplifting melody as he pleads that “we gotta go back, the way the good Lord made us all.”

♪     “Dreams” – Begins as a tender ballad with fingerpicked & strummed acoustic guitar and piano before moving through several distinct sections in less than 4 minutes. It rocks harder at “I could be a king or a football star” then shifts to a half-time groove leading into “Dreeeeam….I’m far away.” One of their most cinematic numbers.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Lola (Instrumental)” – There’s something about the funky groove (love that drumming from Avory), fuzzy rhythm & fiery lead guitars and the cheesy organ carrying the vocal melody that drew me in. It could come across as a parody but I think it’s really good.
  • “Completely (Instrumental)” – They’ve played the blues before, but never a slow 12-bar blues like this one. Features strong lead guitar, harmonica & organ.
  • “Moments” – Not the catchiest song they’ve done, with no verse/chorus structure, but the subtle arrangement won me over. I love the tasty, George Harrison-esque lead guitar.
  • “Animals In The Zoo” – Blues-based but not a straight blues tune, with a loose, slightly ragged groove. Strong social commentary about how “the good guys lose & the bad guys win, that’s why you’re looking out and I’m looking in.” Has a great hook at “You look at me and I look at you.” Similar to “Apeman” but slower.
  • “Helga (Instrumental)” – I love the haunting acoustic (nylon string?) guitar, tinkling piano & wordless vocals.
  • “Willesden Green” – Not really one of my favorites, but notable for being the only Kinks song not sung by someone named Davies. John Dalton handles the Elvis Presley-inspired vocals on this fun yet inessential country-blues shuffle.

The Kinks - Muswell HillbilliesTheir first release after signing a new worldwide contract with RCA Records was Muswell Hillbillies (1971), possibly their most American sounding album even though the lyrics are still based in England (the title is a nod to the London suburb where they grew up, Muswell Hill). I’ve always enjoyed this record whenever I played it, yet the majority of the songs never stuck with me. The overall vibe was warm & inviting but it took until this week to realize it’s another fantastic record that ranks up there with their best. The addition of a horn section headed up by trumpeter Mike Cotton is notable, since they would play a major part in The Kinks’ live performances over the next few years. There’s actually not a bad song here, but I’m leaving a handful of them off my lists of highlighted songs because I didn’t think they measured up to the others.

The Essentials:

♪     “20th Century Man” – Probably the most well-known song from the album, and also the longest. In nearly 6 minutes, Ray bemoans the state of the modern world (“the age of machinery…too much aggravation”) as he sings in a slightly detached semi-mumble. Country elements mingle with bluesy rock, and Dave delivers some nice slide guitar work. The steady, stomping arrangement is deceiving, as this is one of their most complex songs, as well as a statement of intent: “I’m a 20th century man but I don’t want to be here/die here.”

♪     “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues” – I’m not sure why he pronounces it as “skits-o-freena,” but the loose New Orleans-style horn arrangement & his conspiracy theory lyrical content eventually helped this boozy barroom blues to burrow under my skin. Reminds me a bit of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” with lines like, “The milkman’s a spy & the grocer keeps following me.”

♪     “Skin And Bone” – A stomping rockabilly blues that sounds at times like John Lee Hooker covering the old standard, “Shortnin’ Bread.” I love the guitar work (lead & slide) as well as the funny story about “Fat Flabby Annie” who loses so much weight that “you can’t see her walk by.”

♪     “Muswell Hillbilly” – The brilliant chiming circular lead guitar pattern is the key to this song’s greatness, as are Ray’s strong lead vocals. Focuses on the plight of the working class in modern England, with a Brit dreaming of America (“I’m a Muswell hillbilly boy, but my heart lies in old West Virginia”). This album closer forms a perfect pair of bookends with “20th Century Man,” the two longest & strongest songs here.

The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies (Gatefold Sleeve) Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Holiday” – An acoustic-based blues shuffle with Ray singing in a muffled & slightly affected voice. Reminds me of some early Tom Waits songs. Nice piano, accordion & mandolin.
  • “Alcohol” – A dramatic, slow & sparse blues with Ray singing faster in the verses & slower in the choruses (“Oh, demon alcohol, sad memories I cannot recall”). The Music Hall influence, which has pervaded so many Kinks songs, returns here in boozier form. I like the sparse percussion & New Orleans funereal horns.
  • “Have a Cuppa Tea” – A sing-songy Music Hall tune with lovely piano. Catchy at “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah Rosie Lea.” It’s bouncy & fun, and does for tea what “Harry Rag” did for cigarettes.
  • “Holloway Jail” – A dark folk-blues (about someone whose woman led a life of crime & ends up in prison) with stellar fingerpicked acoustic guitar. The band kicks the song into a higher gear at the second verse but it retains its classic blues structure (with cool electric guitar vamping).
  • “Oklahoma U.S.A.” – A pretty ballad about a woman dreaming of a fantasy Hollywood life, with just acoustic guitar, accordion & keyboards. Points to the incredible “Celluloid Heroes,” to be discussed shortly.
  • “Uncle Son” – Clearly influenced by The Band, with a slow semi-shuffle groove, loose harmonies, pretty acoustic guitars & organ mirroring the vocal melody.

For their next release, Everybody’s In Show-Biz (1972), they paired 10 new studio recordings with a selection of performances from two nights at Carnegie Hall in March ’72, originally issued as a 2-LP set but now available on a single CD. The majority of the new songs have always been overshadowed by “Celluloid Heroes,” which The Kinks - Everybody's In Show-BizI’ll discuss more below, so it took until this week to finally get acquainted with them. It’s fitting that a collection of songs addressing the various downsides of life on the road would be combined with a live record that showcases them as a tight-but-loose rock & roll machine. Nearly half of the 11 live songs are from Muswell Hillbillies, and based on the audience reaction throughout the performance, that album was already a fan favorite. It’s worth noting that Ray was becoming more animated on stage at the time, opting to be a performer as much as a singer & musician. In his own way, he was embracing the glam rock trend (which was hot at the time) without altering the band’s musical style. Of the live tracks, “Brainwashed” (originally from the Arthur LP) benefits from the beefed up arrangement, with rumbling bass, chunky riffs, rolling drums & blasting horns. “Top Of The Pops” has them sounding like a ‘70s arena rock band, years before they would actually become one. The 5-song Muswell Hillbillies “suite” is broken up by an impromptu version of “Banana Boat Song,” with Ray getting the crowd to participate in the call-and-response of “Day-O” that would become one of his trademarks. I like how he introduces his brother as “Dave ‘Death Of A Clown’ Davies” (in a nod to Dave’s hit single that didn’t lead to his expected solo career), and the way he adopts an American accent to impersonate Johnny Cash. It’s nice to hear him being so playful, so even though many of his songs about rock stardom focus on the negative aspects, he could still shine while he was on stage. Here are my highlights from the studio portion of Everybody’s In Show-Biz

The Essentials:

♪     “Celluloid Heroes” – A contender for best Kinks song of all time, and for many years it was my undisputed favorite (it’s still in my Top 5). A maudlin yet upbeat tale of old Hollywood royalty, as observed on the Walk Of Fame “along Hollywood Boulevard.” Gorgeous music, affecting vocals & a brilliant melody make its 6:20 running time fly by.

♪     “Sitting In My Hotel” – A slow, mournful piano ballad with tender high vocals addressing his feelings of isolation as a rock star. I love the up & down melody at “If my friends could see me now I know they would smile” as well as the vocals in the chorus (“Seven stories high, looking at the world go by”). After the full band joins in, Mike Cotton’s soaring trumpet plays a similar role to the flugelhorn on The Beatles’ “Penny Lane.”

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Here Comes Yet Another Day” – A funky song with a blasting horn arrangement that’s similar to the work The Band did with Allen Toussaint earlier that year. About the tedium of being on the road: “Here comes a new day/a new stage, tune up start to play, just like any other day.”
  • “Unreal Reality (The Real Thing)” – After a 45-second fanfare intro, it turns into a straightforward rocker with piano & horns. Seems to be about the strange feelings associated with rock stardom (“That house is so big that it reaches right up to the clouds”; “Look at that lady she got silver all over her face, Is she a human being or a creature from outer space?”)
  • “Hot Potatoes” – A slow acoustic bluesy shuffle, with Ray & Dave alternating lead vocal lines & harmonizing with each other. Silly lyrics but a catchy tune (“La la-la-la la la, potatoes, boiled, French fried, any old way…”).
  • “Motorway” – A fast, country-tinged song about terrible rest-stop food. Although it becomes more electric in the second half, the chorus (“Oh, that motorway livin’”) is straight-up country music. It’s nice to hear them doing this kind of song.
  • “You Don’t Know My Name” – Dave wrote & sang this country-rock tune that fits in nicely with the overall theme of the album. The flute line was a strange but pleasant surprise.

The Kinks Photo (Live, circa 1972)During their banishment from American stages, The Kinks’ star lost some of its luster here, and many of their best songs (both singles & worthwhile album tracks) were mostly unknown to U.S. fans. The majority of those songs eventually appeared on CD reissues, but for many years there was only one place to find them: The Kink Kronikles (1972). This 28-song, 2-LP set gathered the cream of the crop from their 1966-1970 output, and has been an essential part of my Kinks collection even in the The Kinks - The Kink Kroniklesyears since I acquired these songs elsewhere. Any Kinks collection that includes “Victoria,” “The Village Green Preservation Society,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “David Watts,” “Autumn Almanac,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “Apeman,” “Lola” and “Days” could easily be mistaken for a “greatest hits” but the intention of Reprise Records at the time was to expose these under-heard gems along with some actual rarities like single-only releases and b-sides. Anyone who owns the most recent expanded CD reissues could probably skip The Kink Kronikles, although they would be missing a handful of excellent songs (5 of these tracks don’t appear on any other CDs I own, 3 of which I’ll discuss below). Also, the 8 pages of detailed & informative liner notes by John Mendelsohn are the perfect accompaniment to all this amazing music.

The Essential:

♪     “She’s Got Everything” – Sounds like a throwback to their earlier beat group sound, and I love those “doo-doo-doo” backing vocals, splashy cymbals & that awesome drum-free guitar riff. It’s bright & fun (“I got a girl who’s oh so good…”) and includes an absolutely scorching guitar solo from Dave.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “King Kong” – Now available as a bonus track on the expanded Arthur CD (which I don’t own…yet). It’s a stomping, psychedelic rocker with a funky cowbell-heavy groove and lyrics about wanting to be someone else (“Little man’s weak and big man’s strong, everyone wants to be King Kong, oh yeah”).
  • “Mindless Child Of Motherhood” – Also an Arthur bonus track, this one is sung by Dave on top of a rumbling bass line & chugging guitars. His voice occasionally sounds strained but it’s an effective way of conveying the pleading nature of the lyrics (“How long must I travel on, to be just where you are?”).

The Kinks Photo (circa 1972)You know an artist is special when even their transitional periods yield a bumper crop of memorable songs, and after spending a lot of time with these four releases this past week I have an even greater respect & admiration for everything The Kinks accomplished during this era. It helped confirm my main reason for starting this blog: getting to know the lesser-played albums in my collection. Not all of them will be classics, but in the process of learning all of these long-forgotten songs it allows me to become a bigger fan. Hopefully my enthusiasm helps to lead some of my readers towards new discoveries as well. Please let me know what you think of these albums, whether they’re brand new to you or you’ve owned them for years. Thanks.

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27 comments on “THE KINKS Part 4 – Hillbillies And Heroes

  1. ianbalentine
    February 5, 2014

    Celluloid Heroes was my favorite for decades, but has been bumped by a couple since I rediscovered those wonderful ’60’s discs! Waterloo Sunset sits proudly at #1 now, but CH is still a cherished number.
    The new deluxe edition of Muswell Hillbillies sounds fantastic. Funny you mention that it is their most “American sounding” album. Listening to it the other day I was thinking it sounds like the Kinks doing their best Rolling Stones imitation. That may sound like a slight, but I don’t intend it as such. It’s a very loose sounding album and, to my ears, one of their best.

    Great post, excellent series so far. Can’t wait for the next installment!

    Like

    • Hi Ian. When you describe Muswell Hillbillies as The Kinks doing The Stones, I assume you’re referring to the rootsier stuff The Stones had done on albums like Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed & Sticky Fingers, right? I guess there were always similarities between the two bands, but Ray’s songwriting set them apart and usually made them sound distinctly British (although that’s not the case with MH). I only have the original CD pressing, so I’ll have to get my hands on the recently released Deluxe Edition. I’ll probably upgrade after I complete this series. Glad you’re enjoying it, and thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts on their music. It’s always fun talking music with you.

      Like

  2. thomasjford
    February 6, 2014

    I love Muswell Hillbillies, I think it’s an awesome album! I’ve never dived into the other albums you mention though Rich, although I have got a BBC Sessions album with Celluloid Heroes on it.

    Like

    • Hey Tom. Glad you agree about Muswell Hillbillies. So glad I finally gave it the attention it deserves. I need to get my hands on the recently released deluxe edition after I wrap up this series. I also have that BBC Sessions CD which I’ll be writing about in a later post. I’ve heard several versions of “Celluloid Heroes,” including the one they played the only time I saw them in concert (in ’85), and the song never ceases to amaze me.

      Like

  3. Frank Lima
    February 6, 2014

    The KinKs the greatest band there ever was, is or ever will be lead by the undisputed world champion of songwriters; R.D.D.

    Like

    • I love your enthusiasm, Frank. Of course, it’s not surprising coming from the guy who runs The Kinks’ online forum and Facebook fan page (haha0. I’m sure there are people who might dispute your claim, but it’s hard to argue that they’re one of the greatest & most important/influential bands of all time. I’m already a bigger fan than I ever was just by revisiting the albums I’ve covered here so far. Thanks for stopping by.

      Rich

      Like

      • Frank Lima
        February 6, 2014

        Thanks Rich, but are you saying that just because I have seen 300+ KinKs shows since 1969, over 250 solo Ray shows and about 80 solo Dave shows and that I ran/run the Kinks & Ray Davies Preservation Society US fan clubs going back to 1971 and that Ray refers to me as Dan that I am bias? LOL!

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      • Not biased…just passionate. And I love it. So now I know where “KinksDanTheFan” comes from. Have you ever tried to figure out why he doesn’t remember your name?

        Like

  4. Frank Lima
    February 6, 2014

    Ray knows my name, we know each other very well; and keep in touch…

    Like

    • So “Dan” is an affectionate nickname? Nice to hear that you’re close with Ray. I’ve heard good things about him as a person. A friend of mine used to live in the same building as him in Manhattan, and he initiated a couple of conversations with her. A lot of famous people would just ignore us commoners, but not a class act like R.D.D.

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      • Frank Lima
        February 6, 2014

        Yes that is the kind of person Ray is, he is a good person who I have come to love and care about like family…btw I also know someone still living in Ray’s old building who is still good friends with him and who he visits with there when he is in town…

        Like

      • Thanks for confirming what a good guy Ray is. The person you know in his old building isn’t the same one I know, since she moved to the suburbs several years ago.

        Like

      • Frank Lima
        February 6, 2014

        Correct the person I know still resides there however also has a place in the suburbs in upstate NY…hope to see you at a Ray show sometime later this year.

        Like

      • Is Ray touring this year? I was hoping (along with most Kinks fans, I’m sure) for a 50th anniversary reunion in 2014, but that doesn’t appear to be materializing. What a shame.

        Like

      • Frank Lima
        February 6, 2014

        Ray should be here sometime later this year after some test shows in the UK this Spring of his new version of his Storyteller shows based on his book that came out a few months ago AMERICANA…not exactly sure when USA shows will be though. as for the reunion I personally don’t think it will happen for many reasons and obstacles, at best we might got an anniversary cd with a couple of new songs that Ray and Dave collaborate on, but only time will tell.

        Like

      • I’ll keep an eye out for any upcoming Ray shows. I loved his autobiography, which I read about 10-12 years ago. If I had more time for reading I would get the new one, but it would take me 10-12 years to get through it (haha). It’s really a shame that they can’t put a reunion together. They’re fortunate that 3/4 of the original lineup are still alive, and considering all the things they’ve been through in recent years (shootings, stroke), they’re lucky to have the ability to perform together.

        By the way, thanks for letting me indulge in some self-promotion at your FB page & fan forum. It’s all about sharing the joy I’m experiencing from discovering & re-discovering their music, and having conversations with fellow fans. I appreciate you stopping by & giving your feedback.

        Like

  5. Craig
    February 8, 2014

    I finally got around to “Show-Biz” I like it, I previously only had the cuts off the Celuloid Heroes comp, so now I hear the picture in full. I’ve yet to fully digest all the new tracks aside from the aforementioned CH, but the live side is a stonker.

    The Sanctuary cd of Arthur is pretty good, thats where I have Motherless Child. Glad you covered this here. Thats all I have to say about this period, I do think MH is a fantastic album, I am looking forward to checking out the Deluxe edition. I have one of those Japanese cardboard LP replica jobs, and the Mastering is very muddy but I like the packaging. I may have to check out Percy, but maybe I should get around to those first two domestic Kinks you covered in the first edition first.

    Oh well. Onward… the Broadway albums.

    Like

    • Hi Craig, Glad you gave Show-Biz a shot, and hopefully it’ll grow on you even more after playing it several times. I know that’s what happened to me.

      I’m glad you pointed out “Motherless Child…” last week. I always pay attention to every song, but I gave that one extra consideration based on your enthusiasm for it. Thanks again for that.

      I wonder if the muddy sound you’re hearing on that Japanese pressing of MH is actually the mastering or just the nature of that album’s production. I always assumed it was recorded that way based on the CD I own, and since most Japanese remasters are known to have better sound quality than their American or UK counterparts, it must be an issue with that album. Guess we’ll find out whenever we get the Deluxe Edition.

      I’ll be splitting up the “Broadway” albums into two posts, since Preservation Acts 1 & 2 has over 2 hours of music and I want to include The Great Lost Kinks Album in that post to continue the chronology of their catalog. Soap Opera, Schoolboys, etc will be in the following post.

      Like

  6. Craig
    February 9, 2014

    I’m glad you are touching on the comps here, a lot of them them are now rendered moot by these awesome deluxe editions. If I get the MH Deluxe I’ll not dump my other version until I can A/B them.

    Thats cool about Mindless Child, that one just grabbed me for some reason. Dave is certainly no slouch in the writing department.

    Like

    • I’ll be including any comps I own in this series. They come in handy for me since I don’t own all of the deluxe editions. I’m sure I’ll miss out on discussing certain rarities & alternate versions, but by the time I wrap things up I will have covered nearly everything they’re officially released.

      Good idea to not get rid of your original MH until you can A/B against the deluxe version. Hopefully it’ll be an adequate replacement. If you’re like me, storage space is at a premium, and I’ll avoid keeping multiple versions of a particular album unless absolutely necessary.

      Like

  7. Craig
    February 10, 2014

    I recycle fairly well, got so much stuff from working at the store that I find myself just not being all that interested in keeping cut outs that I rarely listen to. Also, I have more box sets now so I’ve gotten rid of dupes, which cleared a lot of space as well. I’m just not as keen anymore to keep stuff that I no longer listen to.

    Like

    • Nice to know that, like me, you’re a good music recycler. I wasn’t always that way, but at some point you have to do a little trimming of the collection, and now I make it a point to do that periodically. I love those “Complete Albums” box sets that allow me to replace the original CDs (all in jewel cases) and take up half the space or less. It just bugs me when they don’t include all of the original packaging elements in the box set. After all, I know it doesn’t cost much more to include a booklet with lyrics, photos, etc.

      Like

      • Craig
        February 10, 2014

        Like the Rush Atlantic set? hah.

        Like

      • Yep, that’s one example, although I was pleased to find that they at least included the lyrics to every song (the Sector boxes were much more impressive). Why they couldn’t add a few pages for original album credits and photos is beyond me. The gold standard for these “Complete Albums” sets is the Billy Joel box. They reproduced every original packaging element, including the 4-panel insert from Songs In The Attic. And since many of the reprinted lyrics & credits were hard to read, they were reproduced in a very thick booklet. A lot of companies are going the cheaper route with thinner replica sleeves, no booklets & flimsy boxes, but of course they’re charging a lot less too. I own over 200 box sets, and I’ve seen them range from spectacular to head-scratchingly bad. But I’m a sucker for them, especially when they help save me shelf space.

        Like

  8. Phil Obbard
    February 10, 2014

    MUSWELL HILLBILLIES is my favorite Kinks’ record overall; it’s overflowing with ideas and great arrangements – I don’t think there’s another song in the Kinks’ catalog quite like “Oklahoma USA”, for example.

    The recent deluxe version of MH gives us a few songs that didn’t make the cut but easily could have: the gorgeous “Kentucky Moon”, the fun “Mountain Woman”, and this fantastic “Waterloo Sunset”-derived romp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb5O17DojS0. It’s stunning to me that a track this great was in the vaults for 40+ years, and makes me think Ray’s got a lot more goodies hidden away.

    Like

    • Hi Phil. Thanks so much for sharing that clip of “Lavender Lane.” Hopefully some of my readers will scroll down through these comments & check it out.

      I’m not sure yet if MH is my favorite Kinks album, but it’s definitely part of the golden era that began with Face To Face. Everyone seems to have a favorite from that period (right now I would go with Something Else), but no one argues that The Kinks were on quite a roll at the time.

      After I wrap up this series, I’ll be sure to fill in the gaps in my Kinks collection, and the deluxe version of MH is at the top of my list. I wonder if there’s a connection between “Lavender Lane” and “Lavender Hill,” which shows up on The Great Lost Kinks album that I’ll be discussing in my next post.

      I really appreciate you stopping by & sharing your thoughts on MH as well as that clip.

      Cheers.
      Rich

      Like

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