The Kinks released their sixth album, a deep dive into English nostalgia, in November of 1968.
“The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society” is an argument for conservatism in the classical sense of the term – the idea that societal norms should evolve slowly and only when they truly benefit its citizens. It is a musically adventurous album that sounds nothing like the mainstream rock and pop hits of its era. In what was surely in line with Ray’s intentions, the music takes you into a new world, a place that you long to visit that is filled with village greens, welcoming customs, and comforting familiarity. I love this album like I love my children.
The title and opening track sets the tone for the album, as a active appreciation for traditionalism – including custard pie, Donald Duck, Tudor houses. Skyscrapers rightfully receive condemnation. One of the reasons this song works so well is because its clever rather than preachy, smart instead of smug. Of course, having a strong melody helps as well.
Nicky Hopkins’ insistent piano playing underpins “Do You Remember Walter?,” Ray’s look at a childhood friendship that has drifted apart. In the end, Ray chooses not to mourn the loss of a friendship, but instead celebrate the memories it created. The vocal arrangements of “Picture Book” never fail to make my smile, with the double tracked vocals and Ray’s interjections of “na na na’s” and “scooby-dooby-doo.” This is the strongest traditional pop/rock song on the album and never fails to make me happy.
“Johnny Thunder” documents a character who lives on water and feeds on lightning. Whatever battles this character is fighting, the triumphant chorus lets you know that he’s on the winning side. “Last of the Steam Powered Train” is a musical return to traditional American blues, documenting a train that has been placed into a museum. The surging power of the music is a direct contrast to the frustration expressed in the lyrics. “Big Sky” reflects on how people find peace in a deity, even though He/She appears to be lousy at proactive intervention. Side one ends with “Sitting by the Riverside,” a crooning number about the joys of being outdoors which threatens to turn into “A Day in the Life” in a short bridge.
“Animal Farm” start side two with what I’ll call more pastoral pop. Here Ray dreams about being in a rural setting, surrounded by animals and “real people.” Lots of reverb on this one and I bet the guys in Oasis loved it. “Village Green,” not to be confused with the title track, is a masterpiece of baroque pop. Ray details what he misses about small town life – his first love, the buildings, “the morning dew, fresh air, and Sunday school.’ However,he also knows that fate drove him away from this idyllic spot. The orchestral arrangement is textbook. It doesn’t overwhelm the material; it just splashes bright colors into all the appropriate spots. “Starstruck,” perhaps the least notable song on the album, returns to traditional pop/rock with a lyric about a woman improperly lured by city lights, parties, and champagne.
If Lewis Carroll (of “Alice in Wonderland” fame) had been a 1960’s pop star, he might have written “Phenomenal Cat,” a wondrous marriage of a children’s song and playful psychedelia. The loping, comical “All of My Friends Were There” is a reminder that embarrassment is reinforced when our acquaintances see our worst moments. “Wicked Annabella,” with vocals by Dave Davies, sounds like a fairytale horror tale. Ray then takes us into a more lighthearted direction with the calypso inspired “Monica.” The album ends with “Picture Take Pictures of Each Other,” a look at extraneous and unnecessary photo taking in a society that was decades away from social media.
“The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society” is a landmark album, combing rich musical textures with lyrical themes that couldn’t have been more out of place for the pseudo-revolutionary late 1960s. With his desire to go back in time, Ray Davies created an album that is timeless in its quality and relevance.
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