I’ve been listening to The Kinks since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. The exact meaning of that phrase eludes me, but it scans well.
My true Kinks love is Muswell Hillbillies. I attended high school in Athens, Greece for the first semester of my sophomore year. I bought my first copy of my favorite Kinks album in Athens. My friend Paul Kinney and I spent hours listening to and discussing this great album. We lost touch long ago. Hopefully, he’ll read this and leave a comment. It’s happened before with another long-lost friend so it could happen again. Odd things happen to Kinks fans.
I’m particularly fond of Seventies era Kinks. That’s when I saw them in concert the most. It’s one reason two of their concept albums Soap Opera and Schoolboys In Disgrace have a special place in my heart. I saw both tours and was blown away as I was by the Sleepwalker and Misfits tours. I even went to San Jose, California for the latter. It was not one of the tech capitols of the world in those days. It was a sleepy mid-sized city jealous of its sophisticated older sister, San Francisco.
I’m a hardcore Kinks fan who doesn’t deride the so-called arena era. I like the albums and they were still great live. There was something special about the creative tension between Ray and Dave Davies. It was sibling rivalry in its purest form. That’s why I’m always skeptical when reunion rumors are floated. Been there, done that.
Another reason I dig latter day Kinks is Dave’s evolution as a lead guitar player. He went from being bumped in favor of Jimmy Page on early recording sessions to being introduced mockingly by Ray as Dave “Death of a Clown” Davies to being an instrumental force to be reckoned with.
Some readers are convinced the Page story is apocryphal. It’s the one I’ve always heard. It’s hard to tell because of many people’s extreme pro-Ray or pro-Dave biases. Another thing that makes the band so interesting. They’re folk heroes not just a rock band.
For first timers to the Sunday Dozen, I always begin with 30+ songs before winnowing. My tendency is to skip the biggest radio hits and concert warhorses and dig into the back catalog for lesser-known numbers. Trust me, I love Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon, Picture Book, Victoria, Lola, Celluloid Heroes, and Do It Again as much as the next Kinks fan. The hardest cut for me was one of the band’s zaniest tunes, Ducks On The Wall. The dozens are about making difficult choices for no particular reason.
In mulling over the songs, I focused on which tunes summed up the band’s life and times best. The Kinks have always felt like outsiders and outliers. That’s what attracts so many of us to Ray’s lyrics and music. Plus, they’re a great rock and roll band.
As always, the songs are arranged in chronological order and reflect my own personal taste.
It’s time to rock, sleepwalk, shed our phobias, and try to stay out of disgrace.
I’m Not Like Everybody Else is the outsider’s anthem. It began as a B-side then took on a life of its own. The live version from To The Bone is introduced by Ray as follows: “It’s a song that kind of sums up everything we’re about, The Kinks. Because everybody’s expecting us to do wonderful things and then we mess it up.”
Someone with a thick Scottish (an educated guess) accent in the crowd yells, “Oh, no you don’t.”
I concur as does David Chase who used several Kinks klassics in The Sopranos including this one.
20th Century Man is one of the best opening album tracks in rock history. It really grabs me to paraphrase another Kinks song.
Schooldays is one of Ray’s loveliest and most poignant songs. I get verklempt just thinking about it. The cover image makes me nervous, who wants to have a sore ass? That lad did it the hard way.
One of the Survivors is another excellent summation of The Kinks’ outsider ethos. I doubt if an old-school rocker like Johnny Thunder would use such ornate language.
Some think that this song is a pro-rocker counterpoint to the mods in The Who’s Quadrophenia. I promise to stop sounding like an academic. This is The Kinks Dozen, not Kinksology 101.
I used Life Goes On in a post dedicated to a friend who was having a rough time during the lockdown. He’s still with us so I hope it helped.
Misfits is the Kinkiest song title ever. That’s kinkiest in the Davies brothers sense of the word, not the naughty sense. Get your minds out of the gutter, you misfits.
Give The People What They Want is the title track of the one of the band’s finest albums. Ray uses vivid imagery to make his point about mindless teevee violence:
Well, it’s been said before, the world is a stage
A different performance with every age
Open the history book to any old page
Bring on the lions and open the cage”
It’s even better live:
Give The People What They Want is a dark album that ends with one of Ray’s most optimistic songs, Better Things. I too hope tomorrow brings you better things.
It’s time for one of kid brother Dave’s finest songs. Living On A Thin Line was featured in The Sopranos episode University. It’s perhaps the best use of music in the entire series.
I suspect that only hardcore Kinks fans have ever heard Welcome To Sleazy Town. It came from an album that flopped: Think Visual. Its obscurity is as good a reason as any for its inclusion in The Kinks dozen. Besides, it’s a swell song with sardonic and biting lyrics.
Speaking of sibling rivalry, Hatred (A Duet) sets the Davies brother’s lifelong quarrel to music. It rocks like crazy as the brothers trade insults: “Hatred is the only thing that lasts forever.”
Finally, perhaps my favorite Kinks song. Scattered was written from the heart by Ray in honor of the deaths of his mother and sister.
Scattered is the final song on the final Kinks album, so it’s fitting that it’s the last song of The Kinks Dozen.
The Kinks have released eleventy billion albums. Let’s boil it down to a half-dozen. This time rated in order of preference. I’m sure many will disagree but it’s my list: neener, neener, neener.
- Muswell Hillbillies
- Give The People What They Want
- Village Green Preservation Society
I expect to get shit about omitting Something Else. It was actually harder to skip Schoolboys In Disgrace. I guess I’m in disgrace with some of you lot.
I don’t know about you but I’m always ready for some lagniappe. This week, it’s three of my favorite Kinks covers by The Smithereens, NOLA’s own Ingrid Lucia, and Southern Culture On The Skids.
The last word goes to the brothers Davies from the Schoolboys In Disgrace tour: