(When rock nyc started out it was more of a blog than it is now, aware nobody was reading us, Helen Bach, Mike Nessing and I were free to go wherever we wanted. Here Mike and I discuss one of our favorite albums? Nice and smooth… -IL)
MN: Listening now…Mick Avory is a beast. The songwriting is so incredible. If the kinks had a “white” album this was it as far as that back to basics “spirit” goes. But then again werren’t they always like this? Released September 1967-There is just something about siblings singing together. It is the greatest sound in rock
IL: The year was 1967 but there is nothing “psychedelic with the possiible exception of “Lazy Old Sun”. Although they are dressed like follows of fashions, they come across like timeless rule Brittania Victorian nostalgists. No sure about the White album -it is all of a piece for the most part.
MN: It has the “back to basics” vibe all the other bands would be employing in the near future.
But for the kinks, it’s just business as usual.”two sisters” has such a visual descriptive vibe, more of a short story than a song”No Return” is this little shuffling gem. “Harry Rag” and “Tin Soldier Man” are just drunken bar songs. “Situation Vacant” is more Davies storytelling. Is there anybody better than him at this?
IL: I saw Ray Davies play the Brit vaudeville “Harry Rag” in a solo concert. You underestimate it as a “drinking song”. It’s a cockney nose thumber about the joys of nicotine (“Harry Rag” rhymes with fag = cigarette) set to an English sneer at the Wilson government for the shits and giggles (he echoes Harrison’s same year “Taxman”: “bless you taxman, bless your heart, you may take some but you won’t take it all” -smo much for paradise regained). I point to this song but I could point to a lot others. It is a brother to the following years Village Green. It is seeped in melancholy and nostalgia completely out of step with Carnaby Street cool Britannia. In the States you don’t see that?
MN: I meant it as a compliment
IL Ha ha – well, can we agree upon the Chekovian short story to Davies songs. It’s a small step from “Two Sisters” to Soap Opera?
MN: Dave kicks off side 2 with “Love Me Till The Sun Shines” right? His stuff is such a rollicking contrast to Ray. He’s like the original “Replacement”. Lots of sneer,attitude and just enough sloppiness.
IL: and the second track on side two “Death Of A Clown”, a big hit in England. The opening of the album “nice and smooth” ray sez opening the album with a flat out masterpiece “David Watts”. It is such a strange half beat rock song and I hate that Watts guy with a passion…
MN: yeh, “clown” was so big there was supposed to be a Dave solo album. But it never materialized. Yeah “watts” is awesome-Mick Avory again- laying down a groove and a half – Makes sense that you’d hate the guy, everything falls into his lap-we all know someone like this-Ray is so great at painting pictures with sound. No video necessary. Pete Quaife with that galloping chunka-chunka bass line. Very country/western.
IL: What’s interesting after thinking so much about the California 60s and session ment is this is a single unit making this sound. Like Wyman/Watts Quaife/Avory are a secret society anchoring Davies flight of fancy and Dave’s tough ass lead…
MN: Bass and Drums…Thats where the real magic happens. Nicky Hopkins in all likelihood is on keys-Ray used him a lot and even wrote a song about him. “Session Man” on Face To Face. “Anchoring” is a good choice of words
IL: It doesn’t rock rock, it isn’t quite ballads (except for the exquisite “Waterloo Sunset”) but there is a sustained edge of melancholia. It’s not just David Watts but a world filled with Watts and Davies is a mess. In “Afternoon Tea” he sings “They said that Donna walked away, You’d think at least she might have stayed,To drink her afternoon tea”. Everything is changing and leaving and breaking down and he finds solace in the past on “Autumn Almanac” – a song as great as “Sunset”) and in sound though by the very next album he is yearning for the Victorian age. Ray was twenty three years old at the time. The mind boggles. What was wrong with him?
MN: Ray was a pretty sensitive cat from what i could gather-he had two older sisters which were a tremendous influence on him, At least thats what I read in his AutoBi-“X Ray” “Autumn Almanac” is unique in that it has FIVE distinct sections, at least by my count. It’s gotta be one of the most glorious things ever written. On some days, i’d even rate it higher than “waterloo” which probably has a better overall “feel” to it, tho. “Almanac” sounds like five different ideas strung together. Not that theres anything wrong with that.
IL: You mentioned the album reminds you of the white album. Do you feel the album is all over the map musically. That it is unsettled?
MN: No, I think it’s a pretty concise statement. I think it’s the spirit or back to basics “feel” of the white album. very quiet stuff like “No Return” and even the most popular tracks have a restrained atmosphere. There is’nt a lot of overdubbing or shit polishing. Sounds like everything was worked on fairly quickly. No psychedelia or pandering to the trends and fashions of the day. But it seems The Kinks have always done their own thing. It sounds like a band. Which is what The Beatles were trying to get back to a year and a half doen the road from this release.
IL: It’s a transitional album between the collection of songs Face To Face and the Britannia in decline The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, it has the gluey songs he perfected earlier like “Sunny Afternoon” and the hardcore stories that would eventually lead to Arthur like “Village Green” but it is neither. It is a collection of mid-tempo rock songs with an English almost Vaudevillian veneer. But, like the dead clown in the second song, it is masking itself; it is drowing its sorrows. In the middle of the summer of love it is aghast at the state of the world. Ray Davies is in a state of shock. Or do I overstate?
MN: One of the reasons he’s one of my favorite songwriters is because he’s so hard to pin down. I don’t know if you overstate, but it seems this guy drank pretty heavy and cried a lot.These were more or less the songs he had at the time, and being thrust into the producers role for the first time, I think he did a really good job of presenting a unified feel to the album.
The vaudevillian or cabaret thing is what i’m trying to play up in my analysis of the RCA years. I think it’s an understated major influence on him. Dance hall music. He wrote about his sisters going to the palais some 20 years later with “Come Dancing”. Show tunes were a major influence here too, which could be why he can write so visually. One things for sure, there was lots of different kinds of music being played in the famous front room of the Davies house. Ray ingested it all, and as a result painted with a very colorful palate.
IL: which leaves us with “Waterloo Sunset”. A lonely man watches a couple meet up at the train station every friday night before they cross the river where they feel safe and sound. The rolling drums that open it like the train arriving and Ray’s wife’s gorgeous background vocals… “dirty old river…” so romantic and so lonely. It’s an act of creative empathy. What does it mean to say he’s in paradise. Only watching life pass him by and Terry and Julie “feel safe and sound”. And they don’t need a friend… the young couple, the lonely old man, the dirty old river and the rumbling train. One of the greatest songs in the rock and roll era…
MN: The opening intro DOES sound like a train! Nice call there, never noticed that.I dunno Iman, I have a difficult time stringing together words that do the tune justice.We know what it describes, but it’s the feeling that pulls at you. Solemn resignation maybe, in lieu of actual contentment. An old man sees young love and laments upon his own past, his accomplishments, his regrets, his eventual demise?
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