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Vinyl Heroes: Mike Nessing on the Kinks RCA Years

Everybody’s in Showbiz/Everybody’s A Star can and is typically dismissed as a stopgap release compiled of Muswell Hillbillies leftovers and a live bonus disc. You could certainly listen to the songs and feel that way. Other than the obvious classic “Celluloid Heroes” there is nothing here that could even approach the mantle of what you’d call classic Kinks.

So I’m approaching this thing with the apathetic reputation that precedes it and thinking, “How am I going to write about THIS?” Just looking at my old dilapidated vinyl copy with that extra thick RCA Victor cardboard sleeve is bringing me down. Plus the record is slightly warped so I have to employ an old childhood trick of balancing a couple of pennies on the head of the stylus just so I can get the first track to play.

Track one, “Here Comes Yet Another Day” sounds like any song on “Muswell” , but sped up to 45 RPM. Not that it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks or anything, but it’s almost as if it was written as a dirge, but played at a faster pace. It’s a snappy little number but when listening you can’t shake the feeling that it’s being written by a borderline psychotic. I give Ray credit here though, because he’s using the discontentment and monotony of life on the road as a vehicle for his songs. Just like they say in Creative Writing 101, write about what you know.

That’s what Ray does throughout the entire record. “Maximum Consumption” , “Motorway” and “Sitting In My Hotel” and others all basically bemoan life on the road and bad take out food. “Hotel” has a pretty decent Davies melody, but honestly very few of these tunes are really all that memorable, and that’s the underlying issue here.

Repeated listenings do however provide rewards. The two tunes sung by Dave Davies, “Hot Potatoes” and “You Don’t Know My Name” are both rollicking rave-ups. “Hot Potatoes” in particular has that homage to food rap down so pat it would be a tune Brian Wilson would have loved to have written during his “Gettin’ Hungry” period.

Lastly, we have “Celluloid Heroes”. If there are any sins committed over the course of this LP, this tune forgives them all in spades. Moreover, when list compilers and their ilk start giving us “best of this and best of that” for the rock era, this tune is almost always conspicuously absent. It really shouldn’t be because in many cases it trumps them all.

This tune regretfully falls victim to what I call the “dismissed on account of greatness” theory. Everyone KNOWS it’s great, so there’s no need to hip anybody to it. So it just gets forgotten.

I don’t like to quote lyrics when I write about songs for two reasons. One, people who are not familiar with the tune have no idea what you’re talking about, and two, the ones that have heard it, well it’s like preaching to the converted. Suffice to say , that when I listened to “Celluloid Heroes” really closely a couple of weeks ago, it’s greatness lyrically, as well as musically really bowled me over. I had forgotten how truly special it was. I would implore you to do the same.

The second disc is a live offering which gives us a great historical glimpse of the “Muswell Hillbillies” tour from Carnegie Hall, complete with horn section and Ray Davies possibly on the brink of insanity. We have among other standouts, a live version of “Alcohol” that cuts so close to the bone, vocals delivered in such a desperate “help me” fashion, it could very well be the definitive version of the tune. Dave Davies’s live guitar work here is also terrific, as is Mick Avory’s drums and the entire band.

Released in 1972, both the album and the single, “Celluloid Heroes” failed to chart, both in the US and the UK. “Supersonic Rocket Ship” however, was a modest hit in the UK.

Next up is Preservation, which holds a special place in my heart. I love it unashamedly, but while doing so understand all too well why some people don’t. Here is where the filthy phrase “concept album” starts to rear it’s ugly head, and The Kinks are doing it bigger and more in a more theatrical vein than anybody else at the time. Watch this space in the next couple of weeks for a piece that I hope will give these criminally underrated works their proper due.

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