Listen to This, Not That: The Kinks

I was planning to write a mega Listen to This Not That for The British Invasion and include The Kinks, but I last minute decided to give them their own post because they had a lot of impact and were one of the biggest British Invasion groups and it would be disrespectful of me to just make them one paragraph when they deserve a whole dedicated post. If you want to learn more about The Kinks, what makes them special, and what you should listen to, this is the post for you! This is the last of the Big Four British Invasion bands I’ll be talking about in a dedicated post, but certainly not the least!

Who are The Kinks and why talk about them?

The Kinks were formed in the neighbourhood of Muswell Hill in London by brothers Ray and Dave Davies. If you’re an Oasis fan, you’ll know that these guys were like the precursors to Noel and Liam Gallagher. They banter and argue all the time and I don’t think they’re ever going to reunite. Like a lot of British Invasion groups, their sound was inspired by American rock and roll and R&B music. Later on though they experimented with other genres like British music hall, folk, and country.

What makes the Kinks special is Ray Davies’ songwriting obviously – considered the poet laureate of British rock and roll. And we can’t forget Dave’s contribution with his guitar sound that he came up with by taking a razor to a small green Elpico amp (Paul McCartney also has one just like it, he bought his when he was 14) to create that fuzzy sound – no effects pedals, just creativity and resourcefulness. The loudness of the guitars especially on that first album. Imagine it’s 1964 and “You Really Got Me” is playing on the radio and your mind is blown by that guitar riff. It’s clearly inspired by garage rock, but it pushed it heavier into proto-punk and a blueprint for power pop. It was the kind of song that a teenager would blast to annoy their parents and a song perfect for a house party. Like a crazy house party, the Kinks would have explosive live shows with fights, earning them a ban from touring the US from 1965-1969, which no doubt a blow to their career because it’s only the biggest music market, period. Without the ability to tour, it’s hard to promote singles. You thought it was only metal bands that were crazy on stage?

Still, The Kinks held on and released some great albums: Arthur and Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround. As someone who is bisexual, I am happy to say there is bisexual representation in the band’s lineup. Both Davies Brothers are bisexual and The Kinks have written multiple songs about LGBT people or with LGBT themes. These songs are thoughtfully written and aged quite well, showing that just because you’re a boomer doesn’t mean you are ignorant on social justice issues and equality. Young people need this kind of representation that tells them it’s okay to be you.

What made the Kinks stand out compared to their contemporaries was their unapologetic Britishness. Other bands would become more Americanised in their sound and songwriting themes, but The Kinks, they were proud of their country. And I think that ban from touring the US in the mid-late 60s definitely made them want to be even more aggressively British. Ray Davies is a songwriting genius and it’s only right to honour his work with a deep dive into the Kinks’ discography.

Not That! Popular Kinks Songs

Classic rock stations don’t overplay The Kinks like they do with bands like they play the Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, you know… The Kinks best known songs aren’t ones that I get “Ugh this again? They have better songs!” reactions to like The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” or Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)”. I’ll gladly blast the following songs because they’re absolute bops! These were songs that got me into classic rock.

  • “You Really Got Me” (#1 UK, #7 US)
  • “All Day and All of The Night” (#2 UK, #7 US)
  • “Tired of Waiting For You” (#1 UK, #6 US)
  • “Set Me Free” (#9 UK, #23 US)
  • “See My Friends” (#10 UK)
  • “A Well Respected Man” (#13 US) – Surprisingly not released as a single in the UK
  • “Sunny Afternoon  (#1 UK, #14 US)
  • “Waterloo Sunset” (#2 UK) – I love this one in particular, it’s one of the most beautiful classic rock songs ever in my opinion.
  • “Death of a Clown (#3 UK)
  • “Days” (#12 UK)
  • “Lola” (#2 UK, #9 US) – Not the first song about trans people, but an important song in trans pop culture history
  • “Apeman” (#5 UK, #45 US)
  • “Supersonic Rocket Ship” (#16 UK, #111 US)
  • “Destroyer” (#3 US Mainstream Rock charts)
  • “Come Dancing” (#12 UK, #6 US)

Listen to This: Beyond The Kinks hits

This will be the first time I will be amending the rules for what I’m including in the “Listen to This” portion of the blog post. As with the other blog posts in this series, any song that was a top 20 hit is a no-no, but I won’t be considering if a song is on a best of compilation, as I don’t think The Kinks are overplayed on radio to the extent that The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Who are. It’s my blog and I make the rules! I will be organising the songs by year since I think that makes the most sense.

Kinks (1964)

The Kinks’ debut album is definitely one of my favourite debut albums ever from the classic rock era. It’s an energetic R&B/mod/beat album. Like with a lot of British Invasion groups, quite a few songs on this album are covers and The Kinks do them well and pay tribute to the musicians who inspired them. If you’re only stopping at the hit: “You Really Got Me”, you’re really missing out on this album. Keep in mind how young the band are – Dave Davies was only 17 when the band released this album and the rest of the band were 20-21. Did you know that Jimmy Page and Jon Lord played on this album?

Personally I love “Beautiful Delilah” (Chuck Berry cover), “So Mystifying”, the Beatle-esque “I Just Can’t Go to Sleep”, the catchy “I Took My Baby Home”, “Cadillac” (Bo Diddley cover), “Revenge” (the instrumental precursor to Jimmy Page’s “She Just Satisfies”), and the calmer relationship song “Stop Your Sobbing”.

There are some bonus tracks that are worth listening to like “You Still Want Me”, “I Gotta Move”, and “I Gotta Go Now”

Kinda Kinks and The Kink Kontroversy (1965)

On their sophomore album, “Tired of Waiting For You” was the big hit, but “Everybody’s Going to Be Happy” was a top 20 hit in the UK and “Set Me Free” reached the top 10 in the UK. If you want to try something different try “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”, “Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight”, and their version of “Dancing in the Street”. Bonus tracks: “I Need You” (great b-side that has that “You Really Got Me”/”All Day and All of the Night” sound), and “Never Met a Girl Like You Before”.

In my opinion, this album isn’t as good as their first, but there are a few gems – generally I’d say skip this one. There are more originals on this album, but the band get better after this one with their originals.

The only hit from The Kink Kontroversy (doing alliteration with their name before the Kardashians, we stan innovators) was “Till The End of the Day”, which reached #8 in the UK and #50 in the US. The title of the album is in reference to their reputation for being a rowdy band, which led them to getting banned from the US, as I said earlier. You can hear heavier blues influences on “Milk Cow Blues” and “Gotta Get the First Plane Home”. “When I See That Girl of Mine” is my favourite on the album and I’m surprised it wasn’t released as a single. Another strong track is the b-side “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” – makes subtle references to The Beatles’ hits “Yesterday” and “Help!”.

Face to Face (1966)

Admittedly, Face to Face isn’t an album I’ve listened to in its entirety and that was a mistake. Lots of great tracks on this album besides “Sunny Afternoon” like “Party Line”, “Dandy” which is supposedly about Dave Davies’ lifestyle and surprisingly never released as a single in the UK, “Session Man”, “House in the Country”, “Most Exclusive Residence For Sale”, and “Little Miss Queen of Darkness”.

“Rosy Won’t You Please Come Home” is a song that is in a way a pre-cursor to the album, Arthur, which is based on Ray and Dave Davies’ sister, Rose moving far away to Australia with her husband Arthur. The two brothers were sad about their sister moving so far away.

One song that was from this year, but not on the album, but was the B-side of “Sunny Afternoon” is “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, a song that Dave Davies sang lead vocals on this anti-conformist song. This is one of my favourite Kinks songs, way under appreciated. It’s an anthem for me.

Overall, this is an album I would recommend to listen to in its entirety. This is an album that you can see a real evolution and growth from their early work. No awkward transitional “trying to find themselves” sound here.

Something Else (1967)

Something Else was the album that brought you the favourites “Waterloo Sunset” and “Death of a Clown”. There are other good songs on this album like “David Watts”, “Harry Rag”, “Tin Soldier Man”, “Love Me Till The Sun Shines”, and “Afternoon Tea”. While the album wasn’t commercially successful because it was released around the same time as compilation albums of the Kinks’ earlier songs and they were still banned from touring the US, it’s still a worthy listen. Dave Davies makes some great songwriting contributions on this album.

The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

This collection of songs that made up this concept album of sorts about old fashioned British life and memories, mostly inspired by their time spent in rural areas like in Devon.

The album was released on the same day as The Beatles’ White Album – which probably hurt album sales – and we all know that got more attention than this one, but critics pretty much unanimously gave it positive reviews. In my blog, I like to focus on the stuff that people aren’t paying as much attention to and bring it to your attention so you can give it another chance. An album doesn’t need a hit single to be good and this album is one of the best “flops”. You won’t hear this album on classic rock radio, making this the perfect “listen to this”. I’m including the whole album in the “Listen to This, Not That” playlist, but I think the shining stars are the title opening track, “Picture Book”, the bluesy “Last of the Steam Powered Trains” (lifted the sound of “Smokestack Lightning”), the psychedelic “Big Sky”, the escapist “Animal Farm” (less appreciated than “Supersonic Rocket Ship” and “Apeman”), “Village Green”, “Starstruck” (released as a single, but didn’t chart anywhere but the Netherlands, where it reached #13), and the funny and tragic based on a true story “All of My Friends Were There”.

While it didn’t have a lot of fame, this is The Kinks’ Sgt Pepper moment or Their Satanic Majesties’ Request moment. It’s a masterpiece and very well loved by fans and considered one of their best albums. Don’t just take it from me, Pete Townshend is a big fan of the album even using the opening riff of “Johnny Thunder” in Tommy!

Arthur (1969)

The Kinks did it again, creating another great album, but like Village Green Preservation Society, the sales weren’t great but the critics and fans loved it and it’s considered one of their best albums and it’s one of my favourites of theirs. There’s more of a narrative storyline in this album and it’s the next step up in a way and shows that The Kinks can make compelling concept albums. It’s a very British album so perhaps Americans may not understand this one, but it’s a great learning opportunity.

The album opens with the diss track to the monarchy “Victoria” – it’s one of the most popular songs on the album, but I don’t think it’s overplayed, therefore I’m including it on the playlist. Surprisingly it only peaked at #62 in the US and #33 in the UK. But it was much loved in Canada, a country mentioned in the song in the lightning round of places that were colonised. Some even think in this song Ray Davies sang “From the west to the east, from the rich to the poor, Victoria fucked them all” – even if the lyric is officially “loved” and not fucked, it’s sarcasm. The Victorian days were not a good time to be poor. But neither is today.

Throughout the album, you’ll hear criticism of hierarchies, authoritarianism, and war, like in “Yes Sir, No Sir” – a song that tells the story of the titular Arthur who fought in the war. At the time the album was released, what was going on? The Vietnam War so it links history with the present. In “Some Mother’s Son”, Arthur’s brother, Eddie dies in WWI and he names his son in honour of him. Similar to his uncle Eddie, little Eddie died in the Korean War – one of the most destructive conflicts of the modern era, with a larger proportional civilian death toll than WWII or Vietnam. The UK was involved in Korea, but not Vietnam. “Drivin'” is an escapist song that talks about driving away from your troubles and who wouldn’t want to do that right now? “Brainwashed” is one of my favourite tracks on the album, as it has a be a freethinker message.

In “Australia”, Arthur’s son, Derek, convinces him to go to the beautiful wonderland of Australia for better opportunities and weather – idealising it. During the 20th century there was a huge wave of immigration from the British Isles to Australia – members of bands like AC/DC and The Easybeats were part of that. “Shangri-La” is a song with commentary on class, consumerism, and is about Arthur feeling proud of his home that he considers his paradise that he worked so hard to get. It’s one of the masterpieces of the album. “Mr Churchill Says” is about WWII and its affect on the UK and incorporates an air raid siren sound and chanting/cheering.

“She Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina’s” is an observational song about common people looking up to monarchs and fantasising about living like royals to escape their humdrum lives. Spending their money on looking stylish to impress people, but not having much to their names.

The album is tied together nicely with the title track that sums up what the album is all about and who the main character is.

Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround (1970)

Once again, The Kinks made another concept album of sorts, but this time one that is a little less British. In this case, it’s a satire on the music industry and based on the story of The Kinks trying to make it as musicians. Like any musician from a working class background, the protagonists in the story want to move up in society and work a job that fulfils them, not one that is soul sucking like construction work, cleaning, or being a politician. They get signed a recording deal on Denmark Street, where all the music publishers are located. The old fogey head honchos there don’t like the band’s look, but they sign them anyway because they don’t want to have regrets.

The band make their big break on “Top of the Pops” and they rise up the charts, making themselves and their families proud, changing the course of their lives. However, all this fame doesn’t mean riches for the band, but rather enriching others and this side of the music industry is told in “The Moneygoround” and “Powerman”. Like pretty much every band of the 60s, the Kinks were screwed over too by these predatory contracts. What can you do when you’re a young man just thinking about fame, women, and jet setting? If they sue, by the time they get their money, the best years of their lives are over and they’re now old and grey, if they even make it to old age. “This Time Tomorrow” is an idealistic, pensive song that is going through your head as you fly from place to place as a rock star. As you get rich, you start to forget who you are and where you came from and give into consumerism and keeping up with your rich friends and “A Long Way from Home” is about that. The album concludes with the protagonist getting his freedom from the corporate, conformist music industry in “Got to Be Free”.

By this point, The Kinks were free to tour America again and could make their comeback, and by how they did with the single “Lola”, even though in some places the song was banned for being about a trans woman. The band were proud of that song though. Go past the hits and you have lots of gems like “Strangers”, “Denmark Street”, “Get Back in Line”, “Top of the Pops”, “The Moneygoround”, “This Time Tomorrow” (popularised in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited), “Rats”, the blunt and hard-hitting “Powerman”, and the closer “Got to Be Free”.

Percy and Muswell Hillbillies (1971)

This is a deep dive into The Kinks discography and I’m looking at everything and one of the most forgotten albums is Percy, which is a soundtrack album to the film of the same name. I actually had no idea that The Kinks made a soundtrack album for a movie until I wrote this blog post. The album was a sales flop in most countries, but did better in Australia and New Zealand. The album got poor reviews, but there are some good songs on here like “God’s Children” and a bluesy-instrumental version of “Lola” a decent, but short instrumental “Whip Lady”, and “Dreams”. “Animals in the Zoo” has a pro-animal rights message but it isn’t their best. This is definitely an album you can skip for the most part unless you’re a die hard Kinks fan. Interesting trivia: “Willesden Green” is the only Kinks song not sung by a Davies brother; bassist John Dalton sings on this one in an Elvis-like voice.

This year wasn’t all bad for The Kinks because Muswell Hillbillies (named after the neighbourhood they’re from) came out that year. To sum it up, this was basically their country/dixieland/vaudeville/music hall inspired album. That’s what I love about The Kinks, they didn’t just stay put and do one thing and that’s it. Ray Davies writes songs that make you think and they tell stories. I can particularly relate to the opening track, “20th Century Man”, which is about someone who loves the past and wants freedom. Other great songs are “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoid Blues”, “Skin and Bone”, “Here Come the People in Grey”, the very British (with a side of yeehaw) “Have a Cuppa Tea”, the political “Uncle Son”, and “Muswell Hillbilly”.

The Kink Kronikles and Everybody’s in Show-Biz (1972)

The Kink Kronikles is a compilation album with a bunch of singles from between 1966 and 1971. Most of these singles weren’t on albums. Some highlights from it include: “This is Where I Belong”, “King Kong” (b-side to “Plastic Man”), “Mister Pleasant”, and “She’s Got Everything”.

Everybody’s in Show Biz is a double album with the first part of it being a silly, campy concept album about the monotonous, not so glamorous realities of a touring rock star and the second part being a live album recorded at Carnegie Hall (I don’t review live albums in this series so I won’t be talking about part 2). The standout is the big hit “Supersonic Rocket Ship”, besides that, you might want to listen to “Sitting in My Hotel”, the campy country “Motorway”, “You Don’t Know My Name”, and “Celluloid Heroes”.

Preservation Act 1 (1973)

Ray Davies’ ambitious rock opera about social revolution and this time there is a very long part 2 (unlike with Lola Versus Powerman, with a part 1 in the title). In this album, the characters of anti hero Mr Flash is introduced and in concerts, Ray Davies would dress up as him and play him. His ultra purist/conservative rival, Mr Black, was played by Dave Davies. This era of the band is considered their theatrical era, and it wasn’t well received by critics. The rest of the 70s were a lull for The Kinks as far as chart hits. They didn’t get a major chart hit between 1973 and 1979.

There are some worthwhile songs though like “Sweet Lady Genevieve” – considered a forgotten gem as it didn’t make a dent in the charts, “One of the Survivors”, “Money and Corruption”, and “Sitting in the Midday Sun”.

It’s important to note that in this period, a lot of personal stuff was going on in Ray Davies’ life and he was depressed and that worsened with the Kinks’ decline in popularity. In one concert, he announced to the audience that he was sick of everything. He also collapsed after overdosing and was taken to hospital.

I think the fans felt alienated by this move to theatric concept albums and wanted more radio friendly hits and the music industry and rock fans were moving on to new things: glam rock, prog rock, punk rock, hard rock, disco, funk, etc. There’s a reason best of albums kinda ignore the band’s later work – it’s not awful, it’s just not their best work. It’s not the best rock opera out there. There are better ones.

1974-1980s: Later Kinks songs worth listening to

I gave Preservation Act 2 a listen – not something I would replay, but there are interesting political themes explored in it, which sadly apply to today’s political climate, especially in the US. The standout tracks for me are “Money Talks” and “Nobody Gives”. This might be a better album to have seen performed live with the theatre elements rather than listened to as an album.

Soap Opera and Schoolboys in Disgrace can be skipped altogether. The latter is a prequel that talks about Mr Flash’s childhood. These concept albums were such a flop that they were dropped by their label.

Sleepwalker is better and more listenable than the last two, which made me frustrated. I like “Life On the Road”, “Sleepwalker”, “Juke Box Music”, “Stormy Sky”, and “Life Goes On”. This is more like The Kinks I know and love! With this move back to slick production rock and roll, they started to bounce back again, albeit not to the extent of popularity as they had before. Misfits has some good songs like the satirical “Black Messiah”, “Permanent Waves”, and “Live Life”. Low Budget’s strongest moments are “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” and “Misery”. Give the People What They Want had a hit with “Destroyer”, which references “Lola” – if you want to go beyond that, listen to “Around the Dial” and “Better Things”. From Word of Mouth, I like “Do It Again”, “Living On a Thin Line”, and “Sold Me Out”. After that album, there isn’t much else worth listening to.

Here’s the whole Listen to This Not That: The Kinks playlist:

So that’s my deep dive into The Kinks discography. Did I miss a favourite deep cut? What are your favourite hidden gems? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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