Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: THE KINKS
Album: THINK VISUAL
The Kinks were an important band for me during my teenage years, which coincided with their late-‘70s/early-‘80s arena rock resurrection via albums like Low Budget, Give The People What They Want, Come Dancing and the double-live One For The Road. I also loved many of their classic ‘60s & ‘70s recordings but by the mid-‘80s my interest in The Kinks was starting to wane. It wasn’t until I spent two glorious months in 2011 revisiting every record they released that I was reminded how much I loved them, and this enthusiasm was on display throughout my 9-part series on their discography. One of the most pleasant surprises was my re-discovery of Think Visual, a gem of a record that sounded a whole lot better to me in 2011 than it did back in 1986. For anyone who previously overlooked or dismissed it, I strongly recommend giving it a shot. Here’s what I wrote about it in Part 8 of my Kinks series:
By the time their first album for MCA Records was released, Think Visual (1986), I was still interested in hearing what they were doing but not nearly as excited as I had been a few years earlier. I always liked the two songs that received airplay at the time (“Working At The Factory” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cities”) but after playing the album a couple of times I moved on and rarely returned to it. I’m happy to report that, after playing it 5-6 times this week, it’s one of those records that holds up extremely well, and a couple of songs I had previously overlooked have become new favorites. Once again they occasionally succumbed to the prevailing production trends of that time, but in most cases those sounds weren’t obtrusive and in fact even added to the album’s charm. If you’ve never heard Think Visual, or wrote it off like I did and neglected it all these years, I recommend giving it another chance (especially the “essential” songs discussed below). Hopefully you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
♪ “Working At The Factory” – On the surface it seems like a song about factory workers, but it’s really a criticism of the record industry and how the life of a working musician had become an assembly line (“Never wanted to be like everybody else, but now there are so many like me sitting on the shelf”). The melody is especially gorgeous at, “They sold us a dream but in reality it was just another factory.” This is another song that got significant radio play at the time of its release but has since been forgotten. It deserves to be re-discovered.
♪ “Lost And Found” – Although the melody might be a little too close to The Four Tops’ “It’s The Same Old Song,” that didn’t distract me from this lovely ballad. It’s subtle but still upbeat, and the chorus immediately gets stuck in your head.
♪ “How Are You” – This is one of those hidden gems that you hope to find when digging deep into an artist’s discography. It’s simply stunning, with that chiming guitar motif & Ray’s pleading vocals (“It’s been a while, I haven’t seen you for at least a year or more”). He’s imagining that he’s bumped into an old lover on the street, and even though he’s trying to remain positive you can hear the sadness in the lyrics and his vocal delivery (“How are the nights? Are they still lonely? Are you still struggling the way that I am?”).
Other Notable Tracks:
* “Welcome To Sleazy Town” – A slow jazz/blues song that could be the theme to a private eye movie. Ray half-speaks many of the lyrics, but the inventive arrangement is a winner and the music manages to swing and rock. I like the raw harmonica & tasty lead guitar. This could be a later-years Van Morrison song.
* “The Video Shop” – The most ‘80s sounding song on the album. With those synth horns and the synthetic reggae vibe, this could be UB40. I’ve never been a fan of that band, and I guess I don’t love this song but it does work for the style. Apparently this was originally part of a concept Ray wanted to try for the whole album (about a bootleg video store owner who gets special powers…or something like that), but MCA nixed that idea.
* “Rock ‘N’ Roll Cities” – A generic rocker written & sung by Dave about life on the road. It sounded better to me in the ‘80s than it does now (it could be a Georgia Satellites song), but it’s worth noting for the fact that it got significant FM radio play.
* “Killing Time” – This very nearly made my list of essentials, but it didn’t quite measure up. There’s a nice melody in the verses with Ray’s voice moving up & down, and some cool hooks in the chorus with call & response between “It’s the killing time” and “From now ‘til then/not knowing when.” I love the melody at “Is that all life’s meant to be? Commercials full of luxuries.”
* “When You Were A Child” – This might be the least Kinks-sounding song the band ever recorded. Written & sung by Dave in an almost unrecognizable voice, it’s a very good propulsive ‘80s rocker that could almost be the work of a band like A-ha. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing. Obviously I did because it’s a song I enjoyed each time I heard it, and it’s perfectly placed as the final track on the CD.
I would love to hear from other fans about this album, which is one of the dark horses in their catalog. Here are a few examples of why I like it so much. These songs show that Ray Davies’ songwriting genius was undiminished more than two decades into their career, and three additional decades later this music still resonates.
Great Post, Kramer. The Kinks was also a great influence in my teenager times. Interesting it includes all the record you listed.I probably include “Misfits” as well. Lost and Found and How are you are great songs. Ray Daves is a genius. Dave Davies is also a great riff maker.
Thanks for the feedback, Alvaro. I’m glad we feel the same way about The Kinks, and both songs you mentioned from Think Visual are among Ray’s best. I also agree that Dave is one of the best riff makers of all time.
I’m trying to grow a Kinks collection. I love this band but have painfully little!
I know you usually prefer to hear individual albums first (remastered with bonus tracks, of course), but many of The Kinks’ albums are hit-and-miss so you might be best served by some compilations of the various eras of their career. Or you could just read my 9-part series and pick the albums that sound the most appealing. I’m sure you’ll find a lot to love in their discography.
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Oh I’ve read that! Let’s just say there are about ten albums I’d like to own.
That sounds about right. There are probably 8-10 classics and near-classics in The Kinks’ discography. The only problem is you’ll be missing at least a handful of classics on any albums you don’t check out, which is why you might be better served with a few compilations.
I love myself some “arena rock” Kinks. One For The Road was my first Kinks album, so that was the era that I was introduced to and feel most attached to. It would be many years later that I would discover the classic stuff. By 1986, however, they had fallen far off my map, and I don’t even remember this album being released. Word Of Mouth was the last album I bought. I did listen to this album a few months ago and loved “Working At The Factory.” but the rest of it sort of went in one ear and out the other.
Sounds like we had similar experiences with The Kinks’ catalog, Kevin. I came to them via Low Budget and my next purchase was One For The Road, both of which made me a big fan. I understand how you feel about Think Visual but I highly recommend checking out the other two songs I highlighted in this post. They’re among Ray’s best songs, in my opinion.
I’ve never heard this one, Rich – might need to hit the streaming services! I had a few early Kinks albums that I enjoyed, but I didn’t really venture much beyond that – dip in consistency was too much of a gamble!
Although Think Visual is a surprisingly good…and overlooked album, there are numerous others I would recommend you check out before this one. Many of their albums are hit-and-miss which is what might have scared you off the rest of their catalog beyond the early years, but there are a number of classics in their catalog. Feel free to skim through my 9-part Kinks series for some recommendations.
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Will do, Rich!