Kinks (Pye, 1964)
Kinks-Size (Reprise, 1965)
Kinda Kinks (Reprise, 1965)
Kinkdom (Reprise, 1965)
The Kink Kontroversy (Reprise, 1966)
Face to Face (Reprise, 1966)
Something Else By the Kinks (Reprise, 1967)
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (Reprise, 1968)
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Lola vs. Powerman and the Money Go Round (Reprise, 1970)
Percy (Castle, 1971)
Muswell Hillbillies (RCA, 1971)
The Kink Kronikles (Reprise, 1972)
Everybody's in Showbiz (RCA, 1972)
The Great Lost Kinks Album (Reprise, 1973)
Preservation: Act I (RCA, 1973)
Preservation: Act 2 (RCA, 1974)
The Kinks Present a Soap Opera (RCA, 1975)
Schoolboys in Disgrace (RCA, 1975)
Sleepwalker (Arista, 1977)
Misfits (Arista, 1978)
Low Budget (Arista, 1979)
One for the Road (MCA, 1980)
Give the People What They Want (Arista, 1981)
State of Confusion (Arista, 1983)
Word of Mouth (Arista, 1984)
Think Visual (MCA, 1986)
Come Dancing (Arista, 1986)
U.K. Jive (MCA, 1989)
Kinks Live: The Road (MCA, 1990)
Lost and Found (MCA, 1991)
Phobia (Columbia, 1993)
To the Bone (Grapevine, 1994)
BBC Sessions 1964-1977 (Sanctuary, 2001)
Singles Collection (Sanctuary, 2004)
Picture Book (Sanctuary, 2008)
In the Kinks' most beautiful song, "The Way Love Used to Be," Ray Davies warbles sadly about two misfits finding each other in the midst of the London crowd, and wandering off to some secret place where they both belong. It's a fantasy he could realize only in music, with the ache of the melody and his gawky, delicate voice underscoring how far out of reach the dream was. Nobody sang about loneliness the way Ray Davies did; a London version of Brian Wilson who'd never seen the beach, he retreated into the beauty he heard in his painfully lavish reveries of the past. The most deeply Brit of all the Sixties rockers, he sang about the day-to-day dreams and defeats of ordinary English eccentrics with a tender pathos that barely masked what a creep he could be. The Kinks stuck around so long that they obscured their early achievements a bit, like a great pitcher who doesn't retire until too many years of mop-up relief pushes his career ERA over five. But the Kinks' Sixties work, alternately gentle and brutal, still has a strange emotional power.
The Kinks began as the toughest of the British Invasion bands, a North London Mod quartet pitting Davies' whine against his younger, brasher, and better-looking brother Dave's guitar aggression. You could hear how much they hated each other—the Davies brothers would go on to a long history of onstage punch-ups—as they scrapped on top of Mick Avory's amazingly violent drums. Dave practically invented the modern noise-guitar solo in "You Really Got Me," although as with most of the Kinks' innovations, the Who would soon come along behind them and take the lion's share of the credit. The Kink Kontroversy has the searing "Till the End of the Day" and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?"; Kinda Kinks has the hopeful ballad "Something Better Beginning" and the more typically downbeat "Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl."
The Kinks became more tuneful and reflective with "Set Me Free," "Tired of Waiting for You," "So Long," the seething "I Need You," Dave's plaintive acoustic solo turn "Wait Till the Summer Comes Along," and an early sign of Ray's morbid side, the droning, depressive, and deeply weird 1965 hit "See My Friends." Ray also began to make his name as a social satirist, in hits like "A Well Respected Man" (about the British class system) and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" (about frilly nylon panties). BBC Sessions captures the early Kinks' live power. But the breakthrough came with 1966's Face to Face, one of the great albums of the Sixties. Davies refines his obsessions into his own private world, with nostalgic music-hall piano ("Sunny Afternoon"), brooding acoustic ballads ("Fancy," "Rainy Day in June," "Too Much on My Mind"), and swinging London rock ("Most Exclusive Residence for Sale"), as he tells his ruefully witty tales of English losers and outsiders, himself included. "My poor demented mind is slowly going," Davies sings in "Too Much on My Mind," and it's the capper to a relentlessly dark album, even if the finale is the sweet "I'll Remember." The Castle reissue adds a few essential bonus tracks full of urban malaise: "Dead End Street," "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," and "Big Black Smoke."
Something Else went even further, with Davies' gentle compassion for his characters inspiring his loveliest melodies; only Lou Reed has written about city squalor with such an unabashedly romantic eye for beauty. "David Watts" is a peppy curse on childhood, setting up melancholy ballads such as "Afternoon Tea," "End of the Season," and the bossa nova "No Return," as well as Dave's haunting "Death of a Clown" and the harpsichord sibling-rivalry ditty "Two Sisters." (One of the sisters is a swinging socialite, the other a housewife in curlers: Ray, of course, roots for the housewife in curlers.) The climax is "Waterloo Sunset," the ballad of a recluse living near a dreary London train station, watching lovers from his window, making up names and stories for them. "But I don't feel afraid," he sings to himself, with gorgeous guitars and sha-la-la harmonies welling up all around.
The Village Green Preservation Society was Davies' pastoral retreat, with mostly acoustic guitars, high harmonies, and self-consciously quaint small-town sentiments leaving the mad rushing crowds of the city far behind. Song for song, it might be the Kinks' strongest, although Kinks fans will never get sick of arguing over whether that honor goes to Face to Face or Something Else instead. It has the lonesome regret of "Picture Book" and "People Take Pictures of Each Other," the rustic escapism of "Animal Farm" and "Sitting by the Riverside," the nasty wit of "Starstruck," and the almost mystical resignation of "Big Sky," which transplants "Waterloo Sunset" to an equally unforgiving country locale.
The Kinks then made Arthur, an ambitious soundtrack to a British TV drama about a working-class family, a "rock opera" that put the Who's more famous Tommy to shame. It doesn't quite hold together, with Davies straining too hard and starting to value his concepts higher than his individual songs, but it does have great moments such as "She Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina," "Young and Innocent Days," and the fantastic rocker "Victoria," his sharpest political song. (It's still the funniest song about Ronald Reagan ever, even if it predated his presidency by over a decade.) The Kinks followed Arthur with the 1970 single "Lola," their biggest hit in years and one of their best, a rowdy sing-along about the perverse delights that await runaway farmboys in the dark corners of old Soho. Somehow the BBC censors missed the lines, "I'm not the world's most masculine man / But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man / And so is Lola."
The rest of Lola, unfortunately, was a tired concept album about the music business. Davies' pomposity and self-pity had begun to strangle his sense of humor, even ruining the pretty ballad "Get Back In Line." The nostalgic Muswell Hillbillies was a last gasp. But the Kinks lost their touch in overblown concept jobs such as Preservation and Soap Opera; now a veteran rock crank, Davies was hard at work thinking thoughts, not an area of expertise for him, as his music went dry and his audience dwindled. Later in the Seventies, the Kinks straightened out and had their biggest U.S. success yet as a mainstream arena band, dumbing down for macho hard-rock hits like Misfits and Low Budget. Davies could still write great songs—"Sleepwalker," "Better Things," "Around the Dial"—but he couldn't even try to hide his contempt for the Americans who were falling for this shit. While the U.K. punk upstarts were taking inspiration from the Kinks' classic period (the Jam had a hit with "David Watts," while the Pretenders did "Stop Your Sobbing") the band itself was lumbering on as an irrelevant dinosaur. The last of their good songs, along with quite a few terrible ones, are on Give the People What They Want; "Come Dancing" was a fluke MTV hit in 1983. But by the time the final breakup came, hardly anyone noticed.
Since then, Davies has toured as a solo singer/songwriter, putting on inspired "Storytellers"-style shows or rocking out with his awful backup band; he and his brother Dave both published books about the rock life. There are many overlapping Kinks anthologies, most focusing on the original Sixties hits; Come Dancing collects the late U.S. hits, including embarrassing novelties like "A Gallon of Gas" and "Catch Me Now I'm Falling." The briefly available Great Lost Kinks Album has essential cult items like "The Way Love Used to Be," "Rosemary Rose," and a shocking satire of British anti-Semitism, "When I Turn Out the Living Room Light." (It is satire, right? But then, one of the things about prime Kinks is that you're never exactly sure enough to feel safe.)
Picture Book is a somewhat confusing six-disc box; it covers the band's whole career and tosses in rarities, but several selections are piffle—who needs a half-finished rehearsal version of "Come on Now"? Even though it's missing "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," the best anthology is still the classic Kink Kronikles, a 1972 collection of early rockers ("She's Got Everything," "This Is Where I Belong"), hits ("Lola," "Victoria," "Waterloo Sunset"), and weird character studies ("Big Black Smoke," "Mindless Child of Motherhood," "Autumn Almanac"), as well as Dave's greatest song ever, "Susannah's Still Alive." It's a two-disc set that could easily fit on one, if you just prune away annoyances like "Mr. Pleasant" or "Holiday in Waikiki," but it's still an ideal introduction to the Kinks' world.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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