Sunday, 14 April 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 23 Something Else

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 23 
Something Else - The Kinks

If anyone asks me that threadbare identifying question from the sixties: "The Beatles or The Stones?", my response is "The Kinks." A much harder question is what Kinks album to put into this list. Face To Face; The Muswell Hillbillies; The Village Green Preservation Society; Arthur....

Well, as you've probably guessed from the title at the top of this post I went for Something Else. It always astonishes me that this album was a flop: "It made number 35 on the LP charts for 2 weeks in the UK and barely scraped 153 in the USA for 1 week." It starts and ends with masterclasses in how good songs can be: David Watts and Waterloo Sunset, and the 'filler' is pretty fine, too. This is not a 'concept' album but it does really move the idea of Englishness into an even more central place in The Kinks worldview, something that would reach its apotheosis on Village Green Preservation Society.

For me Ray Davies has never been topped as the poet of the quotidian, writing of lives that are marked by mortgages and dead end jobs, cups of tea, frying pans and washing machines. He manages to locate pathos but also resilience and the humour that is such a big part of resilience. "I curse myself for the life I've led, and roll myself a Harry Rag and put myself to bed."

Davies' can write throwaway songs but they are often about the fact that the things we throwaway most lightly are the most important. In trying to live up to the expectations of others it's easy to lose sight of ourselves. In Situation Vacant "Suzy and Johnny were happy / Earned enough to pay the rent / But Johnny's mother-in-law had too much ambition" and Johnny loses everything trying to live up to the expectations of someone who never liked him.

Davies always retains an outsiders viewpoint and he could be the laureate of envy and jealousy. David Watts is a case in point - "And when I lie on my pillow at night / I dream I could fight like David Watts / Lead the school team to victory / And take my exams and pass the lot." In Two Sisters the envy is (for a change) resolved when one sister's jealousy for her single sister's carefree life leads her to strain to have all her sister has before coming to the conclusion she is happy as she is:
"She threw away her dirty dishes just to be free again
Her women's weekly magazines just to be free again
And put the children in the nursery just to be free again
Percilla saw her little children
And then decided she was better off
Than the wayward lass that her sister had been
No longer jealous of her sister
So she ran 'round the house with her curlers on
No longer jealous of her sister"
This seems a barely disguised version of the two Davies brothers as Ray struggled to keep his marriage and family together while Dave lived the rock 'n' roll life. Unfortunately Ray never managed to embrace his inner rollers completely. If you are interested he wrote one of the most interesting rock biographies - which I reviewed here - X Ray.

Another string to Davies bow is his ability to write songs of the sort that might have been sung by Bing Crosby in the forties and End of the Season and Lazy Old Sun, in particular, have the feel of being standards from a time already past.

It's not all about Ray, though. Dave Davies wrote or co-wrote three songs on Something Else, including the classic Death of a Clown.

There are many other delights in the grooves of this album but rather than go on and on I'll just say why not listen yourself?

In my ongoing and intermittent series which places the blame for one of my own songs on a classic by someone else I would like to blame David Watts for 'inspiring' my own Schoolyard Star.


  1. I"ve never owned a Kinks album besides compilations.
    Waterloo Sunset is on my top '10 songs ever written' list.
    Maybe I should start here...

    1. It's well worth digging beneath the 'compilation' songs, Trevor. This is a good starting point. And the re-releases have enough bonus material to keep anyone happy - or annoyed! There are mono and stereo mixes, stand alone singles, b-sides, alternative versions etc.

  2. Ay, sometimes there's too much choice. I've just order a copy of Dave Brubeck's 'Take 5' that is two CDs, a mono and stereo version...
    That said I love the recent triple CD of Dylan in mono... sometimes you can have too much hifi/seperation. Not sure that I want to know or hear the ingredients of that 'mercury sound'... it's not a sound to envelop you, it should just hit you between the eyes.
    The recent remastering of the Beatles had a strange effect; you could suddenly hear the details but that sometimes took your eye away from the joy of the cacophony...

  3. I'm like Trev never really dug below the singles. Thought I'd better start with Village Green as that is the one that seems to always pop up in he those Q/Mojo/Uncut type lists

    1. Well, it is a great album but I had years of loving this under my belt before I got Village Green. Had it got them the other way round, who knows?

  4. Fine selection, sir. I'm completely with with you on the '60s question. If I had a list like yours going this one would probably be beaten by Village Green... but it would be a very tough call. The band didn't get its due here in America. I wasn't around for all of that, but I have a feeling compared to the Beatles they were hard on the eyes, less polished and just too bloody British. That stuff doesn't matter now, and I feel like those of us here in our late 30s and 40s appreciate the band much more than our parents did.

    Oh, and this is a good time to plug X-Ray, Davies' fascinating "autobiography."

    1. Yes, I noticed that Ray has a new book coming out about his relationship with America. Should be interesting.

  5. Ooh, I didn't know about the new book. I'll look into that. Thanks.

  6. Yes indeed. One of the musical pinnacles of my youth. I wish I could fight like David Watts.

    1. Only when you're not leading the school team to victory, of course.

  7. From Face To Face (1966) to Muswell Hillbillies (1971), you cannot miss--whichever of the six studio albums you choose. My advice---get all 6!! Fill in the gaps with The Kink Kronikles and The Great Lost Kinks album. It just doesn't get any better than that. And, unlike some of the post-Revolver Beatles, it NEVER SOUNDS DATED. True, the sound quality might be a a bit primitive on Face To Face, but the quality of the songs seldom wanes.

    1. Sounds like sound advice. Have yet to get a couple of these but all I do have are cracking albums.