Saturday, February 13, 2016

The 50 Best Kinks Songs

The Kinks might be the most under-appreciated band in rock & roll history. And I'm guilty of overlooking them too. Sure, I had always enjoyed the Kinks but when I was growing up the classic rock cannon had been settled. The Mount Rushmore of British bands consisted of The Beatles, the Stones, the Who and Zeppelin. The Kinks, while perfectly enjoyable, seemed to occupy a lower rung. It was as if their role in rock history was to serve as musical bridge between the British Invasion and Punk Rock – from the Animals to the Jam. This is all wrong.

As a teenager, I owned a single Kink’s record, the live album, One for the Road.  I played it often. It’s not a bad record but, in a way, it was the wrong album to own. It captures the Kinks as a perfectly adequate arena rock band and about half the songs are from Low Budget, a perfectly adequate album. But the live album features only three songs from the Kink’s richest and most fruitful period – the six brilliant albums from Face to Face in 1966 through Muswell Hillbillies in 1971. Sure, it’s nice that the Kinks were able to reinvent themselves and survive the 1970s playing FM radio-friendly arena rock. But what made the Kinks great wasn’t the fist-pumping shout-alongs in hockey arenas, it was their song craft, their pop sensibilities, their social insight, their fragility and, to quote Pete Townshend, Ray Davies’ “gobsmacking genius.” Much of that gets lost on the live album.

But the Kinks were not dedicated followers of fashion. They didn’t care about the counter-culture. They didn’t play Woodstock or write about drugs or sing protest anthems. They sang about the world they knew. They didn’t conquer America and they weren’t conquered by it. Even though they were strongly influenced by American rhythm and blues (especially in the early years) and Ray Davies has lived in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans, his world view has always remained distinctly English.  And therein lies the genius of the Kinks. The best writers rarely set out to proclaim great truths – they describe the world around them by observing the particular.  And when they do it well – especially within 3 minutes of a brilliant pop song - they create entire worlds for the listener. Few have done it better than the Kinks.

Here are my top 50 favorite Kinks songs:

50.  Jukebox Music (Sleepwalker)

      With Sleepwalker, the Kinks abandoned their theatrical ambitions of the early 1970s and returned to a straight-forward rock sound. It came together nicely on” Jukebox Music” a song about a fan who believes the songs she hears on the jukebox are real. Well, aren’t they?

     49.  Nothing in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl (Kinda Kinks)

     This haunting blues song was used to great effect by Wes Anderson in Rushmore.

      48.  Powerman (Lola versus Powerman)

The Kinks take their shot at the music industry in this riff-driven number. Another favorite of Wes Anderson. But what a dreadful album title. The full name: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1.  Seriously? 

47.  Father Christmas (Come Dancing with the Kinks)

       One of the best of the contemporary Christmas songs. The Kinks introduce class consciousness and wicked humor in a now holiday classic about a store Santa Claus who is mugged for cash.

       46.  Some Mother's Son  (Arthur)

One of the Kink’s defining albums, Arthur is a concept album (or rock opera, if you prefer) about  a post-war England that had left its working class behind. The title character, based on Ray Davies brother-in-law, is a carpet layer who made the sacrifices of war demanded by his beloved empire, endured post-war austerity and is searching for the better life. An album about empire requires an anti-war song and "Some Mother's Son" delivers - it's as powerful an anti-war song as you'll ever hear. I don’t know if Bruce Springsteen listened to Arthur. But on Born in the USA, he asks the very same questions. What happened to the promise of my country? What happened to my birthright?

 45.  Catch Me Now I’m Falling (Low Budget)

Ray Davies didn’t limit his “decline and fall” narrative to the UK. On Low Budget, the Kinks recession rocker album, Ray turns his attention to the economic decline of the U.S. with “Catch Me Now I’m Falling.” (Though he does steal the guitar riff form the Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash").
      44.  See My Friends (Kinkdom)

      Ray’s psychedelic tribute to his older sister who died of a heart condition, the song is remarkable for its use of Indian music in 1965 – a full 6 months before the Beatles released Rubber Soul.

43.  Johnny Thunder (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

From the Kink’s finest album, here’s a song about the rebel in a static English world of conformity.  The catchy chorus may have influenced Pete Townshend’s writing of Tommy.  (Just listen to the la-la-la-la part).
      42.  Rock & Roll Fantasy (Misfits)

Ray Davies reflects on the relationship between fan and artist, observing that both may be living on the edge of reality. This was written the week after Elvis died and became a minor hit for the Kinks in their arena rock years.    

41.  Something Better Beginning (Kinda Kinks)
An early pop gem from the Kink’s second album.

40.  Autumn Almanac (The Kink Kronikles)

A terrific pop composition, released as a single in 1967, but far too "English" to become a hit in the U.S.

39.  God’s Children (Percy)

A lovely song - the standout track from a 1971 British comedy film.

 38.  Come Dancing (State of Confusion)

The Kink’s biggest hit of the 1980s featured a new keyboard sound, but a familiar Ray Davies theme – nostalgia

37.  Do You Remember Walter  (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

Nostalgia really is Ray Davies principal obsession. True nostalgia runs much deeper than sentiment. According to New York writer Pete Hamill, nostalgia "involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss." On Village Green, Davies writes about a particular English world that has vanished.

36.  Death of a Clown (Something Else by the Kinks)

With all due respect to the Gallagher boys of Oasis (or for that matter the Everly Brothers), rock and roll’s most enduring sibling rivalry belongs to the Davies brothers. But Dave was more than just the hard-partying guitarist who invented power chords. Here, you can hear the Bob Dylan influence.

35.  David Watts (Something Else by the Kinks)

A sing-along mod classic about that oh so perfect man.

34.  Big Sky (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

Along with the cup of tea, the croquet lawns and quiet pleasures of village life, Davies also muses on existential matters.

33.  Misfits (Misfits)

A poignant call to the outsider in all of us.

32.  Living on a Thin Line (Word of Mouth)

A Dave Davies number and possibly the best of the later Kinks songs.  It's a variation on brother Ray's familiar theme - the lost nation.  Dark and brooding, it worked well in The Sopranos.

31.  Sweet Lady Genevieve (Preservation Act 1) 

One of the most underrated Kink’s songs and the highlight of Ray Davies 1973 rock opera.

30.  Picture Book (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

Sadly, “Picture Book” is probably best known in the U.S. for providing the soundtrack to a Hewlett Packard commercial. 

29.  Set Me Free (Kinda Kinks)

Released as a single in 1965, "Set Me Free" was a Beatles-influenced hit with a great guitar sound.

28.  20th Century Man (Muswell Hillbillies)

Another familiar theme for Ray Davies: the individual vs. society the struggle with modernity, out of place and out of time.

27.  Dedicated Follower of Fashion (The Kink Kontroversy)

Ray Davies gift of satire is on full display as he mocks the fashionistas of the swinging sixties.

26.  Animal Farm (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

Another great track about the longing for a simpler pastoral life. The title is fitting in another respect. I’d say that Ray Davies and George Orwell were two of the 20th century’s most important writers working in the English language.

25.  Tired of Waiting For You (Kinda Kinks)

An early hit that combined Dave’s distorted guitar sound with Ray’s reflective and evolving songwriting.

24.  Better Things (Give the People What they Want)

A bit on the sentimental side, but the propulsive piano, the jangly guitar and Ray’s delivery make it work beautifully.

23.  Stop Your Sobbing (Kinks)

The Pretenders knew what they were doing when they recorded this pop nugget and made it their first single.

22.  Well Respected Man (Kinkdom)

By introducing class consciousness and drawing on the British music hall tradition, the Kinks made it evident early on that they were not just another British invasion band.     

21.  Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues (Muswell Hillbillies)

Muswell Hillbillies is another underrated album and something of a paradox. The album examines the changes facing a North London working class neighborhood but it’s also the Kink’s most American album, as heard in the New Orleans style brass backing on this delightful track. 

20.  Celluloid Heroes (Everybody’s in Show-Biz)

Ray moved to Lost Angeles in 1972 and on this lovely ballad he muses on the pursuit of fame.  

19.  Star Struck (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

The closest thing to a hit single off of Village Green Preservation Society, "Star Struck" is a catchy number on an album that, inexplicably, went straight to the bottom of the charts. 

18.  Get Back in Line (Lola versus Powerman)

Ray’s ode to the Working Man features one of his loveliest melodies with a great blend of hazy guitars, organ and harmonies. 

17.  I’m Not Like Everybody Else (The Great Lost Kinks Album)

With the distorted guitar anarchy of “You Really Got Me”, the Kinks pioneered a punk sound.  With “I’m not Like Everybody Else,” they pioneered punk attitude.  

16.  Where Have All the Good Times Gone (The Kink Kontroversy)

It says a lot about Ray Davies that he would write “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” at the tender age of 21.  

15.  This Time Tomorrow (Lola versus Powerman)

Nice job, Wes Anderson.  One the most memorable scenes of Darjeeling Limited, shows Adrien Brody in slow motion trying to catch the train to the soundtrack of this introspective, beautifully ephemeral song.

14.  Sunny Afternoon (Face to Face)

Ray Davies ascended to new heights as a songwriter with “Sunny Afternoon,” a musical hall-inspired number with a lovely melody, a memorable descending base line and witty social observation.  

13.  Til the End of the Day (The Kink Kontroversy)

Truly a band ahead of their time - this early hit combined elements of punk music and power-pop.

12.  Apeman  (Lola versus Powerman)

It wasn’t the first time that Ray Davies would sing about his disenchantment with modern life and it wouldn’t be his last.  But “Apeman” was one of his best and catchiest.

11.  Victoria (Arthur)

The Kinks kick off Arthur with this send-off to the Queen of Pax Britannica.  One mark of Davies excellence as a songwriter is his embrace of paradox -  he can lament the loss of the same things he lampoons.   

10.  Days (The Kink Kronikles)

An evocative pop gem that was originally released as a single in 1968.

9.  Dead End Street (The Kink Kronikles)

Class consciousness merges with sophisticated pop. Bleak and catchy at the same time, "Dead End Street" might have the best trombone in rock & roll history.  Klassic.   

8.  All Day and All of the Night (Kinks-Size)

Yes, it’s just “You Really Got Me” with a slight variation of the guitar riff. It's still awesome.  The Stones did a similar thing. They took the guitar part from their first big hit, “Satisfaction” and reworked the riff to come up with “Jumping Jack Flash.”

7.  Shangri-La (Arthur)

The standout-track on Arthur makes the emptiness of suburban contentment a masterpiece.   

6.  This is Where I Belong (The Kink Kronikles)

For me, this evocative power-pop love song has a transcendent and timeless quality.  For a treat, check out the Frank Black version

5.   The Village Green Preservation Society (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)

Why weren’t the Kinks bigger?  In 1968, while the Beatles were recording the White Album, the Stones were conquering America, the Who were inventing rock opera, and Jimi Hendrix was blowing people’s minds, the Kinks seemed to miss the late 1960s entirely. Woodstock?  Where’s that?  The Kinks were in England preserving custard pie, little shops, china cups and virginity. And it was brilliant.   

4.   Lola (Lola versus Powerman)

The iconic song that exposed me to the Kinks.  And yes, it has over-saturated the airwaves for years.  But it remains a perfect pop composition.

3.  Strangers (Lola versus Powerman)

Dave Davies at his best. There are two kinds of people in the world: 1) Those who get a bit choked up when they hear “Strangers” and, 2) heartless bastards.

2.  You Really Got Me (Kinks)

Rolling Stone magazine called the riff from "Satisfaction" the "rock & roll equivalent of the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth”.  I disagree.  That honor belongs to “You Really Got Me,” which exploded onto the airwaves a year earlier.  When had pop music ever heard a guitar riff that dirty and powerful? 

1.  Waterloo Sunset (Something Else by the Kinks)

I didn’t know “Waterloo Sunset” for many years - it wasn’t a staple of the rock radio I grew up with.  But once I heard it, I could not ever get it out of my head. Lyrically, it’s quintessential Ray Davies – the outsider who is inside, isolated and living in his head while taking in the bustling urban world around him. Musically, it’s a revelation.  Like the best art, it creates a feeling, colors and emotions that can’t really be explained or reduced to the song’s individual elements. A gorgeous symphony in three minutes.  

1 comment:

jwharding28 said...

Misfits not even in the top half of this list???!??!!?????? I don't even know what to say.