Saturday, June 21, 2014

Thank You for the Days: Celebrating Ray Davies' 70th Birthday ... and the Kinks

It's been a rather note-worthy few days for celebrating birthdays of some of rock 'n roll's greatest living songwriters.

On June 18, Paul McCartney turned 72, and Brian Wilson did likewise on June 20.

Today, June 21, another of my all-time favorites--Ray Davies, chief songwriter and singer of The Kinks--turns 70.

(BTW, though I have invariably called him Ray 'Day-veez' over the years, multiple sources in recent years corroborate that 'Day-viz' is more accurate.)

I hope he celebrates by further rekindling his relationship with brother Dave--the band's lead guitarist--and finally reuniting the Kinks after years of publicly longing to (with the caveat that original bassist Pete Quaife passed in 2010).

On April 9, 1983, a show by the Kinks at Chicago's UIC Pavilion was just the second concert I attended without a parent (Sammy Hagar was the first, about a month prior).

I would see the Kinks twice more, in 1987 and 1993, and since 2006 have seen Ray in concert five times, all featuring a heavy dose of Kinks Klassics.

Though I can't precisely cite what first got me into the Kinks in the early '80s--I was born in 1968--I'm pretty sure it wasn't Van Halen's cover of "You Really Got Me" even if it may have made chronological sense. The first Kinks record I owned was the double-live album, One for the Road.

I must have gotten this not long after its 1980 release, as I know I had it before 1981's Give the People What They Want., which rates nine Kinks albums 5 or 4-1/2 stars (out of 5) only gives One for the Road 2-1/2.

Yet, while I have long since come to appreciate the depths of the Kinks' greatness far exceeds that live set, One for the Road was undoubtedly one of the cornerstone albums of my music-loving life.

Sure, I loved the early classics that album included--"You Really Got Me," "All Day and All of the Night," "Where Have All the Good Times Gone," "Till the End of the Day," "David Watts"--and, of course, "Lola," but I also relished such relatively recent (at the time) gems like "The Hard Way," "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," "Low Budget," "Wish I Could Fly Like Superman" and "Misfits."

Perhaps most of all, I loved--and still do--the ode to Golden Age Hollywood, "Celluloid Heroes," from which I first learned of Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Rudolph Valentino and Bela Lugosi.

Whether in the late '60s when they released four straight 5-star (per AllMusic) masterpieces yet were banned from touring the U.S., to 1983 when even with Top 10 single "Come Dancing" they played a 9,000-seat arena in Chicago, to recent years when Ray Davies has repeatedly played but failed to fill the 3,880-seat Chicago Theatre, the Kinks have never enjoyed popularity like their fellow British invasion icons The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who.

Paul McCartney and the Stones regularly fill outdoor stadiums around the world, and with just Townshend and Daltrey representing the original Who, their tours still sell out basketball arenas.

Though I would definitely attend a Kinks reunion show anywhere near me--besides seeing Ray, last year I saw a Dave Davies solo show--my suspicion is that if the Kinks did a U.S. reunion tour, they would be lucky to fill the UIC Pavilion again. And perhaps even if they brought along a reunited Jam, Smiths and Blur, the United Center arena might be about as big a place as they could sell out (and that's in Chicago; packing arenas in places like Louisville and Charlotte would be considerably harder).

Nonetheless, anyone I know who appreciates good music likes the Kinks. And most who like the Kinks love the Kinks. Though I own almost all of their albums on CD--including largely forgettable late career works like Think Visual and UK Jive--I would be considered a middling Kink-o-phile compared to some of my friends, and conceivably many among the online community.

Yet while they deserve the hardcore devotion of the truly Kinky, the band can be considered great on so many levels, even to relative neophytes.

Any overview of the Kinks usually begins with "You Really Got Me," one of the cornerstones of the British Invasion and often cited as the song that begat hard (power chord-driven) rock and even heavy metal. It was soon followed by the similar "All Day and All of the Night."

These songs definitely influenced Pete Townshend at the time (Chicago-born Shel Talmy was the producer of both the early Kinks and Who), and myriad others since.

Many people, perhaps around my age, quite likely came to know "Lola" as a staple of late '70s rock radio (though it was originally released in 1970) and paid attention to the band's subsequent singles and accompanying videos at the height of MTV: "Destroyer," "Come Dancing," "Do It Again," "Working at the Factory."

Those familiar with the amazing Kinks' 1966-1970 output may simply know some of the most prominent singles ("Sunny Afternoon," "A Well Respected Man," "Till the End of the Day," "Tired of Waiting For You"), those a bit deeper ("I'm Not Like Everybody Else," "Waterloo Sunset," "Apeman," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion"), even more so ("See My Friends," "Set Me Free," "David Watts," "Dead End Street," "Death of a Clown," the latter written by Dave), select full albums (perhaps Something Else and The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society) or, among the truly avid, every song on all of them.

Those who don't know the Kinks of the '60s are less likely to know their '70s oeuvre, but there are numerous gems like "20th Century Man," "Celluloid Heroes," "Sweet Lady Genevieve," "Juke Box Music," "Live Life," "Low Budget," "Catch Me Now I'm Falling," "Wish I Could Fly Like (Superman)" and undoubtedly several songs that I don't know or appreciate as much as I should.

The Kinks never had a #1 hit on the Billboard singles charts in the U.S., and only five songs in the Top 10. The highest any of their studio albums charted in America was 1979's Low Budget at #11.

So we can see it as though the Kinks were never as popular as they deserved to be--and therefore Ray Davies not as widely regarded as he merits as one rock's greatest geniuses--or that the band likely holds the highest fan reverence to mass popularity ratio of all-time, save for perhaps the Ramones (whose best-selling album hit #38).

While I won't dig for examples now, I've long seen the Kinks cited by bands and musicians as being among their foremost influences.

And even if there is some credence to the Kinks being both too Anglo and literate in the subject matter of their songs to become huge in America, a similar thread clearly ran through--and inspired--The Move, The Jam, The Smiths and Blur, who are also among my favorites though never substantively popular in America.

So I salute Ray Davies on his 70th birthday, not just because he is a great and (sadly, today, just somewhat) famous musician, whom I have loved for 3/4 of my life.

It is not hyperbole to say that very few musicians have enriched my existence to a similar extent.

So Happy Birthday, Ray.

And thank you for the "Days," Mr. Davies.

Since the Kinks are strangely under-represented on Spotify, I have put together this YouTube playlist of 20 of my favorite Kinks songs. It should not be construed as a ranking, as I tried to select songs representative of the band's various periods. The video below runs through all 20 clips, but if you would like to see individual videos--or just the list of my selections--you can see the playlist contents here.

While I enjoy Ray's 2006/07 solo albums, Other People's Lives and Working Man's Cafe, I did not include any of the songs here, but the links will take you to the full albums on Spotify. Also worthwhile are the Kinks' duets and choral albums Ray put together in recent years. And while I have not yet delved into his 2013 autobiography Americana, one of the more remarkable aspects of his amazing life is his surviving being shot in New Orleans in early 2004.

Enjoy the songs below--and some rather historic videos, though a few are audio-only--and if you like what you hear, by all means, kontinue the exploration. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You really should give the later albums another shot. Lots of gems on "U.K. Jive" and "Phobia" especially.