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The Kinks’ Music – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on April 21, 2012

A revised version of this essay appears in Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964-1974, available in paperback , hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK) , and for all non-Kindle devices from Smashwords.

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is the album that is nearly universally acknowledged as The Kinks’ masterpiece, having a thematic and musical coherence greater than any of their earlier albums, while having stronger songs than any of the later ones. It’s all the more surprising, then, that such a coherent album had such a tortured genesis.

During the recording of the Face To Face album, Ray Davies had written, and the band recorded, a song called Village Green, with a nostalgic feel that was quite out of place with the satirical style of that album. He had discussed doing a solo concept album based around the song during the Something Else sessions, at the same time Dave Davies’ solo career seemed to be taking off, but after a chance remark that the Kinks’ music was about ‘preservation’, the concept for an album about nostalgia gelled, and Davies quickly wrote the title track.

However, the album still had a major hiccup — which is one reason why, happily, there are so many extra tracks from this period. Originally, Ray Davies compiled two albums, one for the European market entitled The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, with twelve tracks, and one for the US, Four More Respected Gentlemen, with eleven. But after masters had been created for these, and promotional copies sent out, Davies rethought the album. He wanted to make it into a double album, but the budget-conscious Pye records wouldn’t allow him to, and after pushing back the release date by months the final fifteen-song album was released in both the UK and the US.

The album sold pitifully, partly because of the lack of any hit singles on the album, partly because of the release date changing (so all the promotional work was done months before the album itself came out) and partly because the gentle, pastoral sound didn’t fit with the psychedelic hard rock that was having success at the time (though ‘getting our heads together in the country’ would soon become a favoured pastime for rock musicians, and this album now sounds ahead of its time, rather than behind it).

The Kinks would never have a UK charting album again, and this album marked the end of the hit-making team that had created their unbroken run of classic singles. It was the first album to be wholly produced by Ray Davies, rather than Shel Talmy, and it was the last album on which bassist Pete Quaife played, before he left the band forever in fairly acrimonious circumstances. It was also the last Kinks album to feature keyboard player Nicky Hopkins, whose mastery of a wide range of styles had added so much to the Kinks’ sound. Hopkins was enraged when the album came out to find that Ray Davies (who played a small amount of keyboards on the album) was credited as “guitarist, keyboard player and singer”, while Hopkins wasn’t even credited as among those who ‘contributed’. Hopkins refused ever to work with the band again, and claimed for the rest of his life that he’d never even been paid for his work on the album.

However, the album has in recent decades been critically reappraised, and it is now among a select group of albums (also including Forever Changes by Love and Odessey And Oracle by The Zombies) that are considered essential albums of the 60s even though they sold almost nothing on their release. The Kinks’ biggest flop up to that point now comfortably outsells the rest of their catalogue and regularly makes “best album of all time” lists.

It’s also the album that has had the most lavish reissue. All the Kinks’ 60s studio albums are currently available in double-CD versions with mono and stereo versions of the album plus bonus tracks, but The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is available as a three-CD set, and so there are more tracks for us to look at here than on any other Kinks album.

The Album

The Village Green Preservation Society
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The title track of the album was written and recorded fairly late in the album’s genesis, and seems to have been written quite quickly once Davies had the inspiration. The backing track is just I-V-IV-V chords throughout, first in C and then (from “We are the Sherlock Holmes English Speaking Vernacular”) in D, apart from a single change to III on the last line of the choruses, while the lyric seems to have been written with the aid of a thesaurus (every alternate line in the verses ends with a synonym for ‘society’, except the Sherlock Holmes line — clearly his thesaurus was rather unreliable).

That said, there’s a more serious point to be made by this song, and indeed by the whole album. 1968, the year of the album’s release, was a year of political ferment, though much less so in the UK, where people were able to take a somewhat detached view of proceedings, than in the USA, where young men were being sent off in their thousands to kill or be killed, or in Czechoslovakia, which had been invaded by the Soviet Union.

Youth culture generally was on the side of revolution, and while a few rock stars managed to sit on the fence about the idea (notably John Lennon with Revolution), most were expected to pay at least lip service to the idea. But the Kinks were an altogether more conservative band. Three weeks before this album was released, the White Panther Party had released their manifesto calling for “Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock ’n’ roll, dope and fucking in the streets.” The Kinks, on the other hand, were calling for vaudeville, draught beer and virginity.

The Kinks couldn’t have made a more blatant declaration of their irrelevance to the times they were living in if they’d tried, but by doing so they managed to create an album that is timeless.

Do You Remember Walter
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A beautiful, wistful song, summed up in its last line “People often change, but memories of people can remain”, this song is the heart of the album. Inspired by a real person, as so many of Davies’ songs are, this finds the universal in the specific. Almost everyone has had a close friend with whom they’ve fallen out of touch, and who they’ve later reunited with to find they have nothing in common, but Davies here uses the specifics of his friendship with Walter (“playing cricket in the thunder and the rain?” “We’d save up all our money and we’d buy a boat and sail away to sea”) to conjure up the bittersweet emotions of such a friendship far better than a more generic lyric ever could.

The music reinforces this ambiguity — the fondness for the friendship alongside the recognition that the friendship can never exist again — by floating between two keys, C and B-flat, a tone apart, meaning that while the song starts out in C, the chord sequence keeps gravitating towards the melancholy Cm7.

Picture Book
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the more minor songs on the album, Ray Davies thought highly enough of this that it was included on the line-ups of both the 12-song Village Green Preservation Society and of Four More Respected Gentlemen, unlike the two previous songs which were included on the former but not the latter.

Based around a fairly simple cycle-of-fifths chord sequence for the verses, with a chorus that’s just F and C, and a guitar riff that’s little more than an ascending chromatic scale, this is once again a song featuring real people from Davies’ life, this time describing photos of his parents and ‘fat old Uncle Charlie’ on holiday. The song’s jollity almost manages to hide the melancholy tinge that creeps in with lines like “when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago”. Certainly when HP used it in a commercial in 2004 they were not, one hopes, intending to imply that for their customers happiness would be a distant memory accessible only through photographs.

Johnny Thunder
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the weaker songs on the album, this play-in-a-day portrait of a rebel biker who rejects society but is nonetheless prayed for by one of the women in ‘the town’ (most of the songs on this album appear to take place in a common setting, a mythical English village that’s deliberately left ambiguous) was inspired by the belated release in Britain earlier that year of the 1953 film The Wild One, [FOOTNOTE Note that while Paul McCartney has claimed that the Beatles were named in part after the Beetles, one of the two gangs in this film, it would have been impossible for any of the Beatles to have seen it until many years after the band formed, as it was banned in the UK until late 1967, and first shown in the UK at a private screening in 1968.] and in particular the character Marlon Brando plays, Johnny Strabler, leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.

While the song’s central character is certainly an individualist, of a type celebrated by many of the songs on the album, the celebration here of a fairly clichéd biker type, rebelling in the most obvious manner, seems to lack subtlety when compared with the songs around it.

Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This was one of the last songs recorded for the album, being written and recorded after the original twelve-track Village Green Preservation Society was pulled from release, and it feels very different from the rest of the album musically, if not lyrically.

Musically, this points the way forward to the harder rock music the band would be doing on their next album, Arthur — the song is based around the riff to Howlin’ Wolf’s blues classic Smokestack Lightnin’ and has a long instrumental section that makes this the longest track the band had ever recorded to this point, at four minutes ten seconds.

Lyrically, however, the song fits the album perfectly, and helps tie together its twin themes of nostalgia and individualism. Davies takes the train blues (a standard form that was dying out in its home, the US, as the passenger railways were being replaced as a symbol of freedom with the car) and uses it as a basis for a song about remaining (or wishing to remain) working-class and eccentric as one’s friends become steadily more middle-class and conformist.

The central metaphor (the narrator comparing himself to a steam trains) is a telling one. Not only were steam trains a thing of the past (the last mainline steam train voyage in the UK having been in August 1968, and this track being recorded in October of that year), being replaced by electric or diesel trains (which don’t have the rhythms or horn sounds that inspired the train blues sound), but nostalgia for steam trains was, itself, out-of-date. A few years earlier there had been regular campaigns to save beloved steam trains from being scrapped, but these had stopped getting any publicity, as the replacement of steam had become inevitable.

So Davies here is presenting himself as someone so out-of-step with modern times that even his nostalgia was out-of-date, and as the last rebel in an increasingly conformist society. In fact, he was so out-of-step with the times that he was almost getting back into step, as the blues-rock style of this track would become the norm for many of the newer bands who were becoming popular as the 60s turned into the 70s, but even if it’s factually wrong, emotionally this track is enormously resonant. If Do You Remember Walter? is the best song on the album, and its emotional core, this is the thematic core of the album, and the basis on which their next one would be built.

Big Sky
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

While this was, along with Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains, one of the last songs recorded for the album, it was actually written some nine months earlier. Andy Miller, in his 33 1/3 book on this album, speculates that Davies wanted to keep it for the solo album he was still, in early 1968, half planning.

However, Miller’s other claim, that the song doesn’t fit the album particularly well thematically, is clearly balderdash. While the song isn’t especially about nostalgia or English village life, it is about an individual who feels cut off from the rest of society — in this case, about God himself. “Big Sky” in this context is just the ultimate outsider, like Monica or Wicked Annabella or the Phenomenal Cat, looking down dispassionately at the people he would like to care about but for whom he can’t be bothered to feel bad.

This dispassionate, objective attitude is seen in the song as something to aspire to, in the most beautiful melodic passage of what is a largely spoken song — “one day, we’ll be free, we won’t care, just you see”. In a world which has a God who doesn’t care, the best freedom we can hope for is to not care ourselves. Thus detachment from society, as idolised in the rest of the album, eventually becomes detachment from the self. Given that Davies had had a breakdown shortly before writing the song, one can sympathise with the wish to be free of the stresses of the world, even if in retrospect it looks itself like a symptom of the problems he was having.

Regardless, Big Sky is a lovely piece of music, one that actually manages to turn the hope of a future without feeling into a positive, comforting, sharing thought right now. One of the finest things on the album.

Sitting By The Riverside
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Side one of the album closes with one of the more minor pieces, and one that was recorded relatively early in the sessions for the album, but left off the initial tracklistings. This is a gentle, pastoral track based around piano and mellotron [FOOTNOTE a sort of primitive synthesiser, mellotrons were keyboard instruments that had a bank of tapes inside them, of different instruments playing every note. If you put it on, say, the flute setting and pressed middle C, a tape of a flute playing middle C would be heard. Mellotrons were very popular with British bands around this period, and probably the most famous example is the introduction to Strawberry Fields Forever by the Beatles.] on accordion setting. The most notable feature of the song is that it is the one nod toward psychedelia on the album — after the lines “I can close my eyes” and “like a willow tree” we get an instrumental freak-out section that sounds a little like the orchestral sections of the Beatles’ A Day In The Life redone on a budget of tuppence ha’penny, presumably meant to represent a dream state.

Even this, though, one of the least interesting tracks on the album, is only relatively so. The standard of this album as a whole is utterly astonishing, and we close side one without having had a single track that was less than excellent.

Animal Farm
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Side two opens with a song which was a favourite for all the band members, even though it caused a row between Pete Quaife and the Davies brothers (Quaife wanted the bass-line on the intro to double the piano intro, while the Davies brothers both wanted him to play the more mobile part that ended up on the record).

An absolutely joyous track, with layers of stacked vocals, treated guitar, tack piano and mellotron on a string setting, this is one of the musically simplest songs on the album — although the album as a whole has seen a retreat from the musical experimentation of tracks like Autumn Almanac, and most songs have a fairly straightforward verse/chorus structure and are based around chord changes of a fourth or a fifth — easy, poppy chords. This whole song is based around only four chords in total, E, G, A and D, and has no key changes or real harmonic movement, getting all its effects from changes in tempo and density of arrangement.

The subject of the song, a wish to return to nature and be away from civilisation, is one that Davies would return to throughout his career, but rarely so successfully as here.

On the subject of the title… the song has no connection with the Orwell novel of the same name, but Andy Miller, author of the 33 1/3 book on the album, has suggested that there are a number of parallels between this album and Orwell’s early novel Coming Up For Air, which would suggest that a link between Orwell’s work and this album would merit further investigation.

In truth, though, while there are some similarities — both men prized elements of working-class British life and seemed to seek out some form of authenticity in rejecting middle- and upper-class life even as they made their livings in the arts, both loved an imaginary England (and specifically England, not Britain) that never existed — Orwell would undoubtedly have been very critical of Davies’ work. Davies is, like Orwell, essentially slumming when he tries to be working class — his concerns are those of the rich, or, at the very least, those of the insecure middle classes. While he can write affectingly about poverty, he’s more likely to attack unions, high tax rates, the welfare state, and other aspects of life which he views as interfering in one’s ability to live a life free of others’ meddling. Davies’ combination of an instinctively libertarian politics with a reactionary worldview would not have been one that Orwell would have let go without comment, however much the two men’s aesthetics may seem superficially close.

Village Green
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

While this track was the inspiration for the entire album, it feels (sonically, if not lyrically) somewhat out of place here. The song is harmonically more mobile than anything else on the album, proceeding in a stately manner through all the major and minor triads in Cm, rather than the simpler sequences we’re used to with this album, and in the middle eight we have the old Face To Face era standby of having a bassline descending by semitones while we stay on one chord (Fm for four bars, then repeated on Cm for four bars).

The track is also somewhat tinnier than those surrounding it, possibly suggesting the hand of Shel Talmy in its production, though he is not credited on the album.

But the most striking feature of the track is its arrangement. Nicky Hopkins once again uses the baroque harpsichord style he had used to such great effect on several Face To Face tracks, and because this track was recorded when the band were at their commercial height, rather than on a downslide, Pye allowed the band to use a small orchestra.

And the orchestration is dazzling — David Whittaker uses a very small number of instruments to create a sound reminiscent of Purcell, combining an oboe part full of trills and ornamentation, sounding almost crumhorn-like, with a bassoon part that moves in parallel to the oboe before going its own way at points.

The song has a camp archness to it, especially evident in Davies’ vocal, that isn’t really present on the rest of the album, and for that reason if no other it’s a welcome reminder of Davies’ wit, otherwise not especially present on this most sincere of Kinks albums.

Starstruck
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And after a song that was recorded two years earlier, we come to a song that sounds like it was recorded during the height of the beat boom. Davies’ attempt at writing a soul track, this has a hook based on descending chords that sounds very Holland-Dozier-Holland, while the backing vocals on the chorus are a girl-group chant, but with a British band singing it, it inevitably sounds closer to the Beatles’ mid-sixties work than to actual soul music.

While this is a pleasant enough track, neither the music nor the lyrics (a warning to a woman who is possibly having too much of a good time, as well as being too impressed by Davies himself) really fit the tone of the rest of the album, so it’s quite surprising it was on the original twelve-track line-up of the album.

This was released as a single in the US and parts of Europe, the only single to be released from the album, and made number 13 in the Netherlands.

Phenomenal Cat
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the band’s very rare forays into psychedelia, this strange little nursery rhyme about a cat who “lived to eat, ’cause it kept him fat, and that’s how he wanted to stay” hits almost all the standard British psychedelic notes, from the whimsical childlike lyric to the mellotron on flute setting to Dave Davies’ varispeeded vocal (sounding uncannily like Bluebottle from the Goons) on the chorus. If they’d phased something or added a backwards guitar it would almost be the type example of British psychedelia ca. late 1967.

Fortunately, the track is still of interest even on what is otherwise a non-lysergic album. Nicky Hopkins’ mellotron part is quite exquisite, and while the story of the phenomenal cat may at first seem childish, it’s yet another song about an outsider looking dispassionately at the world around him. In particular, it’s notable that for Ray Davies, at least as far as this song goes, the main benefit of going on a pilgrimage and gaining spiritual insight is that if you gain the secret of eternal life you don’t have to diet any more. It’s precisely that kind of attitude that kept Davies’ feet on the ground as a songwriter, while all around him everyone else was writing songs about their great insights.

All Of My Friends Were There
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the very few Kinks songs to actually show the music-hall influence that lazy writers claim for most of Davies’ work, this is a genuinely funny comic song about what must be every performer’s nightmare (though it apparently actually happened to Davies) — turning up to do an important show, having a few too many drinks to steady the nerves (Davies is apparently very susceptible to alcohol, because of the pain medication he takes for his back), and going on and doing an horrific performance, only to discover that all your friends are sat in the audience watching.

The lurch from the upbeat, jaunty verse into the woozy, drunk, waltz-time chorus, with its descending stepwise bassline this time sounding like someone falling down very, very slowly, is one of the funniest moments in the Kinks’ catalogue, with the hyperbolic bathos of “All of my friends were there…not just my friends, but their best friends, too”.

This song was, like Sitting By The Riverside, recorded quite early in the making of the album but left off the initial tracklistings. It’s hard to see why, as it’s one of the most engaging tracks on the entire album.

Wicked Annabella
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

This spooky little story about a witch who lives out in the woods is one of the few opportunities on the album for someone other than Ray Davies or Nicky Hopkins to shine, and the rest of the band seize the opportunity with relish. A slow, heavy rocker, it starts with a prominent drum part by Mick Avory, which stays high in the mix throughout. Dave Davies not only gets to play the fuzz guitar riff but also to do a wonderfully sinister vocal, going from the creepy insinuation of the verses to the terror of the “I’ve seen her face” section, and Pete Quaife actually gets to play a short bass solo, where he shows off by playing a snatch of Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring in 4/4 time.

Not one of the best songs on the album, it is still a welcome burst of heaviness in an otherwise very light album side, and shows that however much this may seem like a Ray Davies solo project, the Kinks were still a band and every member was capable of pulling his weight.

Monica
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A simple three-chord cod-calypso song, once again featuring Ray Davies’ attempt at a Carribean accent (though thankfully toned down a bit compared to some of the horrors he would later inflict in this style), this is a love song written about a streetwalking prostitute.

I’m in several minds about the subject of this song, though I’ll keep it brief because an essay on the Kinks isn’t somewhere people go looking for critical theory. To start with, I think it’s a genuinely good thing that Davies would write a song about a prostitute which treats her as a human being, rather than purely as a sex object, but on the other hand, I think that there is an element here of what one might look at as the sex worker equivalent of the magical Negro — the prostitute who secretly understands all her clients but is saving her love for just one. On the gripping hand, though, no doubt there are such prostitutes out there…

Either way, the song has a light, enjoyable feel, and while it’s not a highlight of the album, it definitely deserves its place.

People Take Pictures Of Each Other
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And now we get a song that ties everything together, in a superficially jolly but utterly heartbreaking closing. Here we tie up all the themes — an outsider, looking back at ‘a time when [he] mattered to someone’, the lost happiness of youth, artifacts from the past persisting into a present where their context has changed irrevocably — with the simple plea “Don’t show me no more, please”.

For all its appeal, nostalgia is ultimately a deadly emotion, because it prevents one moving on, and here, in the closing song, we see an acknowledgement of the rot at the core of that emotion. The photos are only letting the narrator hold on to his bitterness — “you can’t picture love that you took from me” — and he recognises that no matter how unpleasant the present may be compared to the past, he still has to live in it.

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
is a remarkable, beautiful, astonishing work, one of the great albums of all time. But it’s not a particularly pleasant album, or a comforting one, despite the cozy nostalgia of the opening track. Rather, it’s an album that shows that an obsession with the past over the present eventually leads to becoming one of the loner characters that are dotted throughout the album, refusing to care about anything in the present day.

It’s undoubtedly a masterpiece, but it’s easy to see why it wasn’t a hit. At a time when childish whimsy was giving place to adolescent rebellion, a work as fundamentally adult as this never could be.

Bonus Tracks

Mr. Songbird
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A lovely little minor track that was on the original 12-song Village Green Preservation Society as well as Four More Respected Men, but pulled from the final lineup, this wistful, bouncy little mellotron-led track about the joys of music is perhaps not as substantial as much of the rest of the album. That said, it’s a sign of how good a band the Kinks were at this point that they could leave material as strong as this unreleased, though it would undoubtedly have made the tracklisting if the proposed double-album version had ever been made.

Days
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The last single the original line-up of the Kinks ever released was this astonishingly beautiful song, possibly the best thing Davies ever wrote.

The song, apparently about the end of an affair but also (or so Davies now claims) about the break-up of the original line-up of the band, is one of those simple songs that resist all analysis. All the strength of the song lies in its sentiment — a statement to a lover who has left that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, and that the happiness she gave was more than worth the sadness of her departure. It’s one of a very small number of songs that can regularly move me to tears, and it does so by underplaying, rather than exaggerating, the emotion. A line like “now I’m not frightened of the world, believe me” says volumes about the bravery of the man facing the night alone, about what the nameless person to whom the song is being sung meant to him, and about what his life is going to be like without her, without ever trying to tug on the heart-strings.

There’s some evidence that Ray Davies himself didn’t realise just how good this song was. Released as a single, it went to number twelve in the UK, but [FOOTNOTE According to Miller] it never entered the Kinks’ live set until twenty years later, after Kirsty MacColl had a hit with a cover version. Davies now dedicates the song to MacColl, and to Pete Quaife (who died in 2010) in live performances.

Certainly, while the song was included on the twelve-track version of Village Green Preservation Society and on Four More Respected Gentlemen, it was dropped from the final version of the album, and left as a single-only release, leaving Village Green Preservation Society as the only Kinks album of the 60s not to feature a UK hit single.

But now, the song is rightfully considered a pop classic. If the only two songs Ray Davies had ever written had been this and Waterloo Sunset, he would still have a good claim to be one of the great songwriters of the twentieth century.

Polly
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side to Wonderboy, it says something about how good the Kinks were at this point that a song as strong as this was relegated to a B-side.

Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, with its description of pastoral village life and cast of eccentrics, was a clear inspiration for Davies’ work around the time of Village Green Preservation Society, and here Davies takes the name (though nothing else) of one of the characters, Polly Garter, and puns with it on the Pretty Polly brand of tights (from which Thomas may have taken inspiration in the first place) to give himself a chorus, around which he builds another of his tales of a young girl who is corrupted by the big city (though here she goes back home to the chains of her family).

There’s nothing in this song that Davies hadn’t done elsewhere, and relatively recently, but it’s done exceptionally well here.

Wonderboy
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This was the Kinks’ first comparative flop since You Really Got Me, going only to number 36 in the UK charts. It’s hard now to see why, though, as the song itself, with its gentle message of reassurance, is easily as strong as all but the very best of the band’s singles to that point.

The song was reputedly John Lennon’s favourite Kinks song, with a story often being told that he insisted, on hearing the song while out (either at a club or a restaurant, depending who’s telling the story), on having the record played over and over again for the entire evening. It’s easy to see why — not only is the song’s lyrical message, telling someone who’s going through a difficult time that things will be OK, something that would have resonated with Lennon at the time (like Hey Jude, which is very similar in sentiment), but the lyric and vocals are Davies at his most Lennonesque (so much so that Oasis, a 90s rock band famed for attempting to sound like the Beatles and failing miserably, stole the “I see you and you see me” section of this song for their hit She’s Electric).

All that said, the band themselves apparently detested the track, Pete Quaife later calling it horrible, and Ray Davies saying it should never have been released. It’s a shame, because despite its lack of commercial success, this is another great single by a great singles band.

Berkeley Mews
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A very good song, loosely inspired by September In The Rain (the melody, as well as the lyric, on the line “The leaves of brown came falling through the view” is almost identical to “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember”, and the structure of the verses is similar), this tale of a one-night stand that ended badly is hamstrung by an overly-busy arrangement, going from honky-tonk piano to boogie bass to a parodic 50s rock ending. It was intended for Four More Respected Gentlemen, but whether because of the poor arrangement or because of fears of a copyright infringement lawsuit it remained unreleased until 1970, when it was released as the B-side to Lola.

Misty Water
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another song that was intended for Four More Respected Gentlemen but was left unreleased, this is another track that, while not quite up to the standards of the tracks that made it to the finished Village Green Preservation Society, nonetheless deserved better than the obscurity to which it was consigned.

A song about the pleasures of drunkenness, this works almost entirely in metaphor and allusion, from its opening line “By the town of Straight And Narrow”, with a town name worthy of Bunyan, to the title of the song itself, a reference to alcoholic drink.

Parts of the song bear some slight resemblance to some of the musical ideas in Shangri-La, from the band’s next album, but other than a brief release on the unauthorised compilation The Great Lost Kinks Album this remained unavailable until the release of the Village Green Preservation Society deluxe edition. A shame.

Easy Come, There You Went
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: None

An utterly unmemorable instrumental, this remained unreleased until the deluxe edition came out. No-one was missing anything much.

Did You See His Name
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Around the time of Village Green Preservation Society Ray Davies was writing songs, usually on topical subjects, for several TV shows. This one was written for At The Eleventh Hour, and was inspired by reading through the newspaper looking for ideas and coming across an obituary for Davies’ doctor.

One presumes, though, that the story told here bears little or no resemblance to that of Davies’ GP, as it tells a story of a man living in poverty who steals a tin of beans ‘from a cut-price grocery store’, is named-and-shamed in the newspaper, loses his job, and kills himself because he can’t live with the shame.

The song is obviously one that was written quickly, rather than crafted over a longer period, and some infelicities remain as a result (“his little job”, for example, is clearly just there to fill out the syllables), but it’s surprisingly good for a throwaway piece. Certainly Davies must have thought so — it’s the only song from his At The Eleventh Hour work that the Kinks recorded, and it was intended for release on Four More Respected Men, though it didn’t end up getting released until a US-only compilation in 1972.

Mick Avory’s Underpants
Writer:
Dave Davies
Lead Vocalist: None

A nondescript instrumental, with a prominent drum intro.

Lavender Hill
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A pleasant, mellotron-led track with a slight resemblance to some of the Zombies’ contemporaneous work, this is one of a very small number of Kinks tracks that could actually be called overproduced. The mellotron, the backwards-recorded backing vocals, the forwards backing vocals, the overly-busy bass line at the end, and the solo (which sounds like a guitar put through a wah-wah pedal and recorded backwards, to my ears) all have decent ideas in them, but clash with each other — and the tape-speed problems inherent in both backwards recording and in using a mellotron mean that everything sounds ever-so-slightly off-key compared to everything else.

There’s a nice idea for a song here — you can definitely tell what Davies was going for — but it doesn’t quite come off. This was briefly released on The Great Lost Kinks Album, but otherwise remained unavailable until the 2004 deluxe edition of Village Green Preservation Society.

Rosemary Rose
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A rather lovely little piece, based around an arpeggiated piano figure and rough harpsichord, this character piece (presumably written about memories of the Davies’ sister Rose) would have fit perfectly on Village Green Preservation Society. Oddly, it seems to have been inspired by You Really Got Me, as can be heard in the instrumental break, when the harpsichord plays a figure very similar to the You Really Got Me riff. Try singing the title of one over the other, and you’ll see what I mean. This was another one that was briefly available on The Great Lost Kinks Album but then remained unreleased until 2004.

Spotty Grotty Anna
Writer:
Dave Davies
Lead Vocalist: None

A dull instrumental blues jam, this was apparently named after a notorious groupie on the London scene.

Where Did My Spring Go?
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another song written for a TV show, this was written for the second episode of Where Was Spring?, a sketch show starring Eleanor Bron and John Fortune that was apparently one of the best things on TV at the time. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if it lived up to its reputation, because in the same act of cultural vandalism that led to the destruction of the tapes of the TV coverage of the moon landing and of the Beatles’ performances on Top Of The Pops among many others, the BBC in its wisdom decided to destroy all existing copies of the show to save space.

This recording is little more than a full-band demo, but sketches out a song that fits the mood of Village Green Preservation Society very well, even though it was recorded some months after the album’s release, with its narrator having been left by a lover who was just using him, and reflecting on his lost youth and health. While these sentiments may seem rather unusual for someone who was, as Davies was when recording this, only twenty-four, it should be remembered that Davies has had poor health for most of his life, so when he sings “Why ain’t my back straight? Why do my feet ache?” we can presume he knows what he’s talking about.

This is only a trifle, but even the trifles the band were recording at this point were better than many bands’ best work. Once again, this was released briefly on The Great Lost Kinks Album then stayed unavailable until 2004.

Groovy Movies
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

By rights, this should have been a bonus track on Arthur, having been recorded six months after Village Green Preservation Society was released, and it has little to do with the rest of the recordings here. An attempt at horn-driven Memphis soul, with Dave Davies turning in a rather sub-par vocal (more shouted than sung), this is a fairly straightforward track about Ray Davies’ desire to be a film director.

King Kong
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray and Dave Davies

This track, a return to the riff-driven rock of the band’s early days, was recorded either towards the end of the Village Green Preservation Society sessions or several months later — it sounds to me like the latter. A lumbering, distorted hard-rock track with little subtlety about it, but still somehow enjoyable, this was released as the B-side to Plastic Man.

4 Responses

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  1. Hal said, on April 22, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Nice review. Society is certainly one of the greatest British albums of the Sixties and indeed one of the greatest albums without qualification made up to the present day, even if I would prefer it if some of the songs that didn’t make it had in place of Phenomenal Cat, Wicked Annabella and Monica but that’s pickiness.
    It’s interesting that Picture Book and People Take Pictures Of Each Other though out-of-time songs in many ways chime perfectly with the modern obsession with social networking, FaceBook, Twitter, and the like. “Just to prove that they really existed” indeed.
    I think that one has to be careful when using the word “nostalgia” as there are legions of lazy-minded, conformist, conservative people who will dismiss an appreciation of *anything* from the past no matter how worthwhile or even vital as mere nostalgia whilst presenting such a simple-minded and at times dangerous attitude as somehow “elevated” and “enlightened”. There are doubtless those who would see an appreciation for the best of the Kinks as somehow nostalgic despite the idiocy of such a stance being comparable to dismissing Dickens or Hinchcliffe/Holmes Doctor Who or Seinfeld for the crime of being, to varying degrees, “old”. I find it fascinating that various not-so-good “modern” things and people are treated with ridiculous or even pathetic reverence, what is the word for a distorted enthusiasm for the new (neophilia?) no matter its true quality (that’s subjective I know) now *that* is dangerous. One cannot appreciate quality if one is nailed to the present. After all some people think the “Twilight Saga” is good , ahahaha. Ah, well, digression ends.

  2. PC said, on April 24, 2012 at 4:54 am

    My biggest quibble: “Mr. Songbird” is an utterly amazing classic-era Kinks recording, certainly equal to almost anything on VGPS – it should have been left on the album.

  3. Joachim said, on April 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    This album was edited in Mexico with some changes that made it very interesting. In the list appears Days in the first place of the side A, and She got evertything in the side B. By the other hand, Wicked Annabella and Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains were out of the album. According with eleven reviews (Mark Prindle, Starostin¨s, Alhoa Rock, Scaruffi, Wilson and Arloy¨s, Morten Vinberg, Roadkill, Reason to Rock, Amason, Rate Your Music, “La web de los Kinks”) has the higher average of all the Kinks albums, but only in four cases is considered the best album absolutly. For me, with the VGPS started my deep approach to the Kinks in the far 1967 and still continues. Very good review.

  4. cruth01 said, on September 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Berkeley Mews is the greatest. I love the way the verse keeps tumbling into the boogie-woogie part. For my ears it works very well, although it would be a weird song to fit on an album for some reason. I rate Lavender Hill pretty high too, minor high but in my lexicon “minor” doesn’t just mean “lesser” (although if you don’t get what I mean it would take some ‘splaining).

    I’m not sure that slotting Misty Water into place for Monica would have been a disaster. I like Monica but I disagree that Misty Water isn’t up to VGPS standards, Monica is a decent song but the low point of the album I think. When the harmonies come in on “morning ’til moonshine” is very nice, it must be admitted.

    I used to also think that Johnny Thunder was weak, but I have been unable to maintain that opinion. I think its biggest flaw is the vagueness of the lyrics, but the picture kind of fills in in the mind after a while. I think of sweet Helen [DuLanne?] as being kind of like Eva Marie Saint in On The Waterfront, the good, straight girl who prays for her leather-clad beau. She could also be a kindly Catholic spinster type, though.

    Another possible Monica maneuver would be to drop it, move PTPOEO up one, and close with Days. I think this would have strengthened the album also (not that it needs much strengthening).

    I think this is definitely the best Kinks album, no question. Animal Farm is probably the best song, the part that goes “she is by my side and the sky is wide” may be the highlight of the Kinks’ career. The title track gets number two for me, then either Walter or Village Green probably, although all these rankings are provisional.

    A lot of the online reviewers seem to like Arthur better, which I think is just nutso. I’d rank Arthur at best third, behind at least Something Else.


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