My latest ‘cloudcast’ — a Christmas special. As it’s Christmas music, this one is more straightforward than my normal ones, but I hope it still manages to have plenty of music you won’t have heard before, while still having a few familiar ones to keep things appropriately Christmassy.
Stew — Xmas Again
The Free Design — Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas)
Blake Jones And The Trike Shop — Christmas Sale
Elvis Presley — The First Noel
Neil Innes — Tinsel And String
Waterson:Carthy — On Christmas Day It Happened So
Mary Margaret O’Hara — What Are You Doin’ New Years Eve?
They Might Be Giants — Santa Claus
Pete Seeger — What Child Is This?
Frank Sidebottom — Christmas Is Really Fantastic
Brian Wilson — Joy To The World
Peggy Lee — Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Paul Simon — The Star Carol
Dean Martin — Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Margo Guryan — I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You
The Muppets — It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
The Knickerbockers — I Want A Girl For Christmas
Jake Thackray — Joseph
Ray Charles — Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer
Martin Newell — Christmas In Suburbia
The Monkees — White Christmas
Half Man Half Biscuit — It’s Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas
The Beach Boys — Winter Symphony
Bert Jansch — In The Bleak Midwinter
In which I continue to try to find the right balance between tuneful pop songs full of harmony and electronic burblings that go skree skronk bloop bleep. This week’s show includes the Monkees, Sun Ra, the theme from Horror Express, the Beach Boys, Gershwin played on the Moog, Waterson:Carthy and Van Dyke Parks, plus much more.
Can be found here.
Incidentally, sorry for the lack of replies to comments recently. My health is currently in a state where I can either write or comment, but not both. Unfortunately, all the writing I’ve been doing is for the novel, rather than stuff that can go on here. Bear with me.
That was either the best or the second best gig I’ve ever been to (the other contender was Brian Wilson at the Manchester Apollo in 2002).
The show on Friday seems likely to have been the last ever proper Beach Boys show (although despite press reports, Mike Love has not ‘fired’ the other members — the reunion tour was a specifically bounded thing that always had an end date), but there was no funereal atmosphere. Rather it was, as all the tour so far has been, a celebration of the band’s whole career.
The night before at the Albert Hall, they’d performed sixty-one songs, and when I spoke with Nelson Bragg, the band’s percussionist, before the show, he said that was the plan for this show as well. Unfortunately, there was a curfew at Wembley, which meant they ‘only’ did fifty-six songs — Scott Totten, the co-musical director, was actually apologetic about this.
Truth be told, for most of the audience that was probably slightly too much. In the last half hour of the show there was a steady stream of people leaving as it got too late for them — many had clearly waited to hear their favourite song before leaving. The band are in their 70s now, and their audience aren’t much younger.
Everyone was on top form. I’d been a bit worried about Mike Love’s voice after some fairly poor radio and TV performances at the start of the week, but he’d clearly just been a bit rusty after a couple of weeks off — this show he was in great voice. Al Jardine is *always* in great voice — the only difference between his vocals now and in 1965 is that now his voice sounds stronger and richer. And Brian Wilson was the happiest I’ve ever seen him, clearly loving playing this music with these people. The only one who wasn’t singing perfectly was Bruce, who was even huskier than normal, but as he only had two leads that was OK.
The backing band, as always, were spectacular, from Probyn Gregory (who as well as being a wonderful musician is also a lovely man, and who got me a backstage pass for the show, which let me embarass myself by being a gushing fanboy towards several band members) playing every instrument under the sun to John Cowsill still being the best drummer I’ve ever seen — the interplay between Cowsill’s power on the drum kit and Nelson Bragg’s skill on percussion is a joy to watch and listen to. I’d go and see this band without the Beach Boys — they’re good enough to carry the show by themselves.
It’s hard to overstate how good this show was. Even the cornier aspects of Mike Love’s stage presence were toned down, because the sheer number of songs performed meant he had to cut out some of his more rehearsed bits. But the whole reunion has been far better than we could expect — while I don’t care all that much for That’s Why God Made The Radio, it’s still the band’s best album since at least LA (Light Album), and the tour has, with a couple of hitches, been carried off with great dignity. And who’d have thought *that* would be a word that could be applied to this band any more? It’s certainly not been applicable since before I was born.
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d see a Beach Boys tour with all five surviving members, where they actually appeared to get on with each other, and where they did a set that included three songs from Sunflower, two from Holland, five from Pet Sounds, and three from a new album that was their biggest hit since 1965, I’d have said you were utterly mad. But that’s what we’ve seen on this tour.
I’ll post a tracklisting and thoughts on individual songs below, but someone very kindly filmed the whole show from the audience and uploaded it to YouTube, so I’ll embed that here and you can listen along:
Brian Wilson — vocals, keyboard, bass
Mike Love — vocals
Al Jardine — vocals, guitar
Bruce Johnston — vocals, keyboard
David Marks — vocals, guitar
Jeff Foskett — vocals, guitar, mandolin
Scott Totten — vocals, guitar, ukulele, musical direction
Probyn Gregory — vocals, guitar, bass, tannerin, French horn, trumpet
Mike D’Amico — vocals, bass, percussion, drums
Nelson Bragg — vocals, percussion
John Cowsill — vocals, drums, percussion
Scott Bennett — vocals, keyboards, percussion
Darian Sahanaja — vocals, keyboards, percussion
Paul Mertens — sax, flute, harmonica, musical director
The show started with the usual set of surf songs with Mike Love on lead, the same songs in the same order that Mike always uses in his own shows:
Do it again
Catch a wave
Don’t back down
Surfer girl — Brian took the middle eight, and the entire audience went wild. He sounded glorious.
Please let me wonder
This whole world — I could have gone home happy after hearing those two songs sung by Brian back to back. Two of the best songs they’ve ever done.
Wendy — Bruce on lead, a little weak
Getcha back — David Marks’ only lead vocal — and only audible vocal — of the show
Then I kissed her — Al sang the second line twice rather than sing the first line (he did the same in Milan), but then made up for it by singing the first line a capella at the end of the song.
You’re so good to me — The crowd *loved* this, obviously all knowing the song from hits collections even though it was never a hit.
Kiss me baby — this was just astonishing. I had to let out a gasp at this. Brian took the lead, even though Mike sang it on the record.
Isn’t it time — it’s a silly piece of nothing, but it’s an enjoyable piece of nothing, and works better now they’ve got rid of Foskett’s part in the middle eight (it was just out of his range) and replaced it with a descending part from Mike. Catchy and fun.
Come go with me
Why do fools fall in love
When I grow up to be a man
Dance dance dance — all as you’d expect
Darlin — Darian on lead. Wonderful.
Disney girls — Jeff played the mandolin part on the intro. When the massed backing vocals came in on the word “love” it was one of the best moments of the show.
It’s ok — Brian really loved singing the “find a ride” parts here.
Cotton fields — Al pointed at Mike on the line “a nice old man, he had a hat on”.
Be true to your school
Ballad Of Ol’ Betsy Scott Totten sang lead on this, very well
Don’t worry baby — Foskett on lead, just gorgeous.
And the first half finished with the normal car song medley:
Little deuce coupe
I get around
After the intermission, there was a brief snatch of the James Bond theme, going into
Pet sounds — Dave Marks’ big solo spot
Add some music — all the Beach Boys clustered round the piano, passing hand-held mics around. Funny to hear when Bruce passed the mic to Al, and the vocals went from whispery to dominating the whole stadium.
Sail on sailor — Brian really got into this, growling “DAMN the thunder!”
Heroes and villains — as good as music gets
I just wasn’t made for these times — spectacular. Al took the answering phrase on the chorus, and sang “HE just wasn’t made…” at the end.
California dreamin It shows how much Brian was getting into the show that he decided to sing the answering phrases on the first verse, even though the Beach Boys’ arrangement doesn’t normally have them. And he was great on his lead on the second verse.
In my room
All this is that — Jeff Foskett sounded eerily like Carl on this one at the end. Lovely.
That’s why god made the radio — never been a huge fan of this one, but it definitely gets the crowd going.
Summer’s gone — only the second time they ever played this live. Works far better live than on record, though it’ll never be a favourite of mine.
God only knows — these two used videos of Dennis and Carl Wilson, with their recorded lead vocals, while the band backed them.
Sloop john b
Wouldn’t it be nice
All summer long
Help me Rhonda
Rock and roll music
Do you wanna dance
Surfin USA — all as you’d expect. Some great performances, especially Wouldn’t It Be Nice, but no surprises. Scott Bennett surfed on Brian’s grand piano during Surfin’ USA.
Kokomo — the only real misstep of the show, this saps all the energy when played at this point of the show in the UK, because no-one here knows it except the big fans, and they don’t generally like it. It worked better on the Mike/Bruce/David 2008 tour, when they played it coming out of the obscure tracks and into the last run of hits.
Fun fun fun
And with Bruce Johnston’s falsetto “away”s, the Beach Boys’ career as a touring entity may have ended. Mike & Bruce’s band (Love, Johnston, Totten, Cowsill and Tim Bonhomme, Randell Kirsch and Christian Love) are already back on the road — they played a charity show in Mexico last night, and apparenly raised a million dollars for a children’s hospital — but it’s unknown whether the five surviving Beach Boys will ever perform together again.
If they don’t, I can’t really imagine a better way to end their career. The band have suffered a lot of self-inflicted wounds over the years, but other than Johnston’s unwise comments about ‘socialist assholes’, and the storm-in-a-teacup whipped up by the media about the end of the tour, they haven’t put a foot wrong this year. I feel privileged to have been at that show, and to have met up with a few of the band members before and after it, and I look forward to whatever the people on that stage do next, together or separately.
A little streaming music show I put together, because I’ve got insomnia. If the embed doesn’t work, tough — I’m tired enough to sleep now.
This will be the last of these Kinks posts. In a couple of weeks a revised version of these posts, along with a new introduction and a brief section covering a couple of songs that only appeared on compilations, will be released as a book titled Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964 – 1974. What reaction this book gets will determine how many more of these music books I do, so do let me know if you like it (I assume anyone reading this who doesn’t like these posts won’t buy it…)
And so we finish our look at the Kinks from 1964 to 1974 with this, the double-album sequel to Preservation Act One. Whereas Act One was mostly made up of songs that worked completely apart from their context, and had a whole cast of interesting characters, Act Two is about its plot.
Preservation is, as a whole, Ray Davies’ attempt at writing a political musical along the lines of Brecht and Weill’s work. Unfortunately, though, while Bertolt Brecht based his work on rigorous theories about both politics and aesthetics, coming up with works whose form perfectly fits their content (precisely because Brecht was trying to destroy normal unities of form and content), Ray Davies is not a particularly deep or original thinker.
That’s not to deny his worth as an artist, of course — anyone who has read these essays will know that I think Ray Davies one of the greatest and most important songwriters of his generation — but Davies’ work works on a primarily emotional level, and doesn’t really suit being welded to a drama about the clash of political ideas.
Which isn’t to say there is nothing of worth here. There are at least half-a-dozen fine songs on this double album, and apparently when pared down to a ninety-minute stage show, the Preservation albums became a riveting theatrical experience. But triple concept albums with spoken narration were never a great idea, and this is not an exception to the rule.
The plot is simply not strong enough to hold an album together without any truly great songs. It’s an expression of Davies’ political views, which from the evidence of this are a mixture of Libertarianism, Burkean Conservatism and small-government Liberalism, mixed with a heavy dose of anti-politics. The evil Capitalist dictator, Mr Flash, who wants to destroy everything good and traditional to replace it with flashy, exciting, modern things that will make him more money so he can have a good time, is defeated by the evil Socialist dictator Mr Black, a Puritan who wants to destroy everything good and traditional to replace it with efficient uniformity and conformity. It’s essentially the 1066 And All That version of the Civil War (“Romantic But Wrong” versus “Repulsive But Right”) reworked more cynically, so both sides are equally corrupt.
Other than Flash and his “floozies” and Black and his “do-gooders”, the only other character here is the Tramp, the authorial mouthpiece of the first album now turned almost omniscient narrator, though we also have various between-track “Announcement”s from a newsreader (played by the actor Christopher Timothy, whose father had been a BBC announcer in the 1950s).
There is merit here, but very little to suggest that this is the same band that had created masterpieces like Waterloo Sunset or Days only a few years earlier. Many of the songs here are almost impossible to talk about as standalone songs — they exist to move the narrative forward rather than for any aesthetic merit they may have — so my treatment of them here will be necessarily brief.
Introduction To Solution
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as The Tramp)
A simple rock song, in the style of The Who, based around a descending/ascending three-chord pattern (E-D-C-D-E), with the only change being a brief diversion to B and F#m on the line “But me, I’m only standing here”.
The lyrics set the scene for the album — Mr Flash and his cronies are living the high life, drinking champagne, while there’s rioting in the streets and Mr Black is planning to overthrow them, and meanwhile the Tramp is watching it all and wishing things were different.
When A Solution Comes
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Black)
A song that definitely sounds of its time, this has the cocaine-infused sheen that was common to pretty much all mainstream rock of the mid-70s. Here Mr Black, “in an attic, somewhere in suburbia”, dreams of his future revolution — he’s been sitting on the sidelines, watching the collapse of civilisation, knowing that sooner or later people will turn to a strong leader, and then he can introduce his “final solution”.
Not an especially subtle song, but largely accurate, I think, as to the psychology of fascism.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Flash)
The first song on the album to sound like it might have been written primarily as a song, rather than as a narrative device, this is a four-chord glam rock song, seemingly very loosely based on Joe Tex’s classic soul single Show Me. With a soul-style female backing chorus alternately doubling or echoing Davies’ voice, this sounds like nothing so much as Marc Bolan’s later work. It’s one of the catchiest things on the album.
Lyrically, it’s just a description of Flash’s ‘philosophy’ — that no-one is incorruptible and that anyone will do anything for enough money.
Shepherds Of The Nation
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Black)
This is possibly the most interesting song on the whole album, as Davies seems, at least in part, to be examining the ways in which his own thinking can be twisted toward evil. (For all that I’ve occasionally cricticised the way that Davies’ politics seem simplistic, that doesn’t mean that he’s unaware of his own limitations, and the self-examination in his work is often painfully honest).
A parodic rewrite of The Village Green Preservation Society, arranged in a pseudo-medieval style (with horns sounding almost like crumhorns and with vocals somewhere between madrigals and Gregorian chant), this is the dark side of “preserving the old ways from being abused/protecting the new ways for me and for you”.
Fascism always looks to a golden age in the past (this is the main difference between fascism and totalitarian Communism — Communism looks to a golden age in the future instead), as much of Davies’ work does, and usually combines that with some level of sexual puritanism, using that repression to motivate people to follow the great leader. And so here Mr Black uses rhetoric that isn’t at all far from that used by people like the Festival Of Light or the National Viewers And Listeners Association — groups of religious fundamentalists that were becoming briefly popular in the mid-70s, as a reaction to the perceived excesses of the ‘sexual revolution’ and feminism, and who were essentially calling for an end to post-Enlightenment civilisation.
Black here lumps together supposed social evils like drugs and pornography with the basic human emotions that cause those things to be popular, so he calls for an end not only to pot and heroin, but to lust and lechery, to homosexuality, even to the existence of pubic hair.
And this is all wrapped up in the standard authoritarian demands for tougher punishment — the return of capital punishment, public flogging and the stocks.
Davies’ politics, as expressed in his music, may be confused, and he may be all too keen to eulogise a past golden age, but when it comes down to a straight choice between homosexuals, dope smokers and pornographers on one side and authoritarians who want those people flogged and executed on the other, he knows which side he’s on, and it’s not the authoritarian one.
Scum Of The Earth
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies as Mr Flash
This is the cleverest song on the album, as well as possibly the best. Much of Preservation, as previously mentioned, is influenced by Brecht & Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, and this song more so than anything else on the album.
Much as the previous song was a rewrite and critique of Davies’ own The Village Green Preservation Society, this is a rewrite and critique of What Keeps Mankind Alive?, the best song by far from The Threepenny Opera. What Keeps Mankind Alive? is the most political song in the opera, and is an attack on capitalist moralisers, who keep the poor in poverty and then feign horror when they behave in an uncouth manner.
In the Preservation worldview, however, moralising (and ‘do-gooding’ generally) is the sin, not of capitalists, but of socialists. In Davies’ eyes, a capitalist will destroy everything of value in the world for his own short-term benefit, while a socialist will destroy it all and claim it’s for your benefit.
And so here, to a melody that is close enough to that of What Keeps Mankind Alive? that one is surprised the Weill estate never sued, Mr Flash defends himself against the attacks on him from Mr Black, using the same kind of argument that Macheath in the Threepenny Opera used to defend himself. He can’t help being the way he is — society made him that way, and is it his fault society made him an unscrupulous exploiter? “if they could see deep inside me/They’d see a heart that once was pure/Before it touched the evils of the world”. He quotes Shylock — “For if I cut myself I bleed, and if I catch a cold I sneeze/Have I not eyes to help me see? Have I not lungs to help me breathe” — in an attempt to emphasise the common humanity of the exploiter and the exploited.
It’s a fairly decent point in some ways — if society is to blame for the faults of the poor, then surely it’s equally to blame for the faults of the rich? — but of course it’s an utterly self-serving one. The rich, unlike the poor, are in a position to do something to change things. Flash’s crime isn’t being ‘only human’, but being selfish and amoral.
Second-Hand Car Spiv
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Spiv)
This is a hard song to criticise, because while it’s not much of a song as a song, as a piece of characterisation it’s rather good.
Here Davies takes on the persona of a proto-Thatcherite ‘entrepreneur’, who started out on the dole (complete with standard Davies jab at the Welfare State, though here put into the voice of an unsympathetic character), and then worked his way up through being a second-hand car dealer to eventually becoming the owner of a multinational company and one of the most important people in the country.
The characterisation is perfect, right down to the accent — Davies sounds at times quite scarily like Lord Sugar — and is rather ahead of its time. This kind of figure would become a stereotype in the 1980s (think Loadsamoney or Del Trotter), but didn’t really feature much in popular culture at the time. For all the banality of the story Davies is attempting to tell, his characters are all real types.
Musically, though, this is nothing interesting — the rock equivalent of those lesser Gilbert & Sullivan pieces where Sullivan just rum-tums through on autopilot because Gilbert has a lot of exposition to dump, except that Davies doesn’t have anything like Gilbert’s facility with language. Fast keyboard runs up and down the scale, and a brief musical quote from Here Comes Flash, aren’t enough to bring this one to life.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Black)
One of the catchier songs on the album, this is supposedly a party political broadcast by Mr Black, attacking Mr Flash, but it seems more to be just a warning to a specific woman that Flash uses women, drags them down to his level, and throws them aside. (Yes, it’s supposed also to be a metaphor for how he’s treating the country, but it’s rather too literal for the metaphorical aspect to work particularly well).
Musically, this is sort of proto-disco, with Mick Avory providing a straight four-on-the-floor bass drum and crotchets on the hi-hat in the intro (before settling down into a more conventional rock part, for much of the song, only returning to the disco feel for the instrumental break), and the track sounds at first like nothing so much as ABBA’s Money, Money, Money, while later sounding more like ELO or one of the other bands who straddled the pop/prog/disco divide.
The verses are, like much of the material in Preservation, just Davies reciting lyrics over a simple backing track (to the same rhythm as the similar verses of Demolition and Preservation), but the choruses (where a cycle of fifths gets diverted by a brief change to the relative minor, so the changes go I-V-II-iv-VI rather than the expected I-V-II-VI) and the bridge (with a nice little Davies descending-semitones bassline is counterpointed by a rising female backing vocal) show a level of attention to the music that is absent from many of the songs on the album.
Mirror Of Love
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Belle, Flash’s Special Floosie)
The first single from the album, this is actually on the CD in two versions — the single version and the album version, which differ in a few points of arrangement and vocal performance, but are very similar.
Here Davies takes on the persona of Belle, Mr Flash’s ‘special floosie’, an abused woman who can see that her boyfriend is unsuitable but sticks by him anyway. While it fits with the previous song, neither of them seem to have much of anything to do with the story, and one is again left with the impression that this would have been a much more coherent album had Davies got rid of the concept altogether and just released a single album of good songs rather than try to tie them to a flimsy narrative.
Musically, the song is a rather good effort at trad jazz — not at Dixieland, but specifically at trad, the British 1950s revival of the style, which had as much influence from jug band music and skiffle as from jazz. As a result it could almost be the work of a British equivalent of the Lovin’ Spoonful or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, while still retaining some of the between-the-wars feel of some of the better material on the album.
The song is mostly driven by the horn section, who had built their career on this kind of material, and so carry it off with panache. It alternates between two sections — a simple major-key three-chord chorus in D (with lyrics about how Flash is OK seen ‘through the mirror of love’), and a slinky, more ambiguous verse. The verse lyrics alternate almost line-for-line between complaints and praise (“You’re a crude and a rude lover/But I would have no other”), and the musical material is similarly ambiguous, starting out in Bm (the relative minor of the chorus’ home key, a depressing key to be in) but slowly drifting into the key of A major (the fifth of the chorus’ home key, a very happy key to go to).
It’s a simple but effective song, and Davies’ vocals are probably his best on the album, with some wonderful jumps into a trilling falsetto a la Rudy Valee. The result is easily the best track on the album.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as the Tramp)
And this song, more than any other, shows why I characterise Ray Davies’ political views, as expressed through his songs, as being overly simplistic.
I can largely agree with his assessment that both untrammeled greed-driven capitalism and the kind of socialism that sees government control as an end in itself are evils — Mr Black and Mr Flash both do represent real types, the degenerate cases of two political philosophies that can, in the extreme, be harmful.
But the problem is, Davies doesn’t seem to have gone any further in his thinking than an anti-politics shrug of “Well, they’re all as bad as each other”. And that leads to absurdities like this.
Because in this song, Davies (in character as the Tramp, who usually expressed Davies’ opinions) complains that human nature is such that people fight over problems and take sides, rather than sitting down and talking problems over. He illustrates this with two examples of extremism, one from the left and one from the right.
The left-wing example he chooses is the General Strike of 1926, a strike that had more than a million people taking part, caused by attempts to cut the wages of miners, and which many people feared would lead to an actual revolution.
The right-wing example is the Nazi party, the Holocaust and the Second World War.
This is such a muddled piece of thinking that one doesn’t really know where to start. The only thing the General Strike had in common with the Nazi dictatorship was that Winston Churchill was firmly opposed to both. One was a nine-day period of, admittedly quite extreme, industrial action attempting to prevent a drop in miners’ wages, the other was twelve years of the worst horrors in human history, leading to the violent deaths of tens of millions of people. That’s not the kind of comparison where “you’re all as bad as each other” is really appropriate.
And this is the problem with having moderation as a principle. Sometimes one will end up taking a moderate position between two extrremes because it happens to be the right position, but often one side clearly is worse than the other, and in those situations “you’re all as bad as each other” is effectively the same thing as siding with the worse of the two sides.
One can quite easily set up left/right dichotomies where both sides are roughly equivalent. Had Davies compared Hitler with Stalin, he would have had a point. Likewise, had he compared the General Strike with, say, the three-day week that the Conservative government had introduced a few months before this album came out, he would have seemed relatively fair.
But faced with such a massively uneven balance, the song becomes absurd. Yes, the General Strike would possibly have been avoidable had all interested parties been willing to negotiate more. That’s a fair criticism. On the other hand, one can’t really imagine all the interested parties sitting down to negotiate a compromise between Hitler’s aims and those of his enemies. The false equivalence here is so jarring that this one song pretty much single-handedly destroys any claim this album might have to be the serious work of political art that Davies intended.
Musically, the song is of little interest, being ridiculously overlong at 6:33, and bombastic with it.
Oh Where Oh Where Is Love?
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as The Tramp) and Marianne Price (as the do-gooders)
A pretty little tune, alternating between a 6/8 folk style (sounding much like the kind of thing the Pogues would do a few years later) and a waltz-time section (the pulse only shifts slightly — one could easily transcribe both in 6/8, but it seems stylistically to be better understood as a waltz) in a vaguely European style that once again conjures up thoughts of Weill. We also see the return of the Davies descending bass-line, adding some harmonic interest to an otherwise fairly conventional structure.
Here for the first time we have a duet with Marianne Price, who takes lead vocals on several other songs on the album. Her voice is an intriguing one, having an untrained sound that is reminiscent of Rasa Davies’, but singing in a lower range. Her slightly off-pitch, amateurish quality sounds a lot like Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground, or the similar singing styles used by many waifish indie vocalists in more recent years, but is very different from the popular styles of the time. It’s a gentle, sensitive performance, and the technical imperfections only add to that.
Lyrically, the song is the complaint of every reactionary, that things ain’t what they used to be, and that people used to be nice and friendly and love each other and read fairytales, but now they’re all rapists and murderers. But it’s so clearly intended from the heart, and performed so well, that the track works anyway.
Flash’s Dream (The Final Elbow)
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: none
Not really a song at all, but a four minute spoken dialogue between Mr Flash (played by Ray Davies in a bizarre, lisping accent that veers randomly between Cockney, comedy Jewish, Australian, South African, and what sounds like a prescient parody of the speaking voice of the singer Rufus Wainwright, often on a syllable-by-syllable basis) and his conscience, occasionally backed with snippets of There’s A Change In The Weather, then going into a montage of vocal parts from songs from the first album, backed with a drum beat, and ending with a fanfare.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Flash)
Melodically, this is a variation on Here Comes Flash, with some slight musical differences, but reharmonised to fit a chord sequence very similar to that of Introduction To Solution. Davies has clearly tried to repeat motifs throughout the album, but the motifs he’s reused (the fast patter lyrics in rhyming couplets over four-chord vamps, for example) have tended not to be among the more interesting ones and have sounded more like a lack of ideas than an attempt at thematic unity — here, though, we can tell that this song is a summing up and closure of Flash’s story, as he confesses his sins as he knows he’s about to die.
This is one of the more startlingly modern sounding tracks on the album, as it sounds scarily like Bowie’s Berlin period and some of the post-punk and new romantic bands influenced by those records.
As a song, it’s not very good at all — it’s another track that exists to fill in a gap in the story, rather than to be an enjoyable piece of music — but the production is interesting enough that it is not in the very lowest level of songs on the album.
Nothing Lasts Forever
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Flash) and Marianne Price (as Belle)
An absolutely lovely song, which was almost certainly inspired by Davies’ marriage breakup. If in Sweet Lady Genevieve he still had some hope that his wife would return to him, here he knows that’s not going to happen. In a heartbreaking duet, a resigned Mr Flash accepts that his relationship with Belle must end, but while she says it’s for the best, he thinks otherwise.
It’s impossible not to read lines like “I know that you’ll survive/ And you’ll get by/ Whatever/Though you say goodbye/ My love will never die/ It will last forever” as a message to his ex-wife, and it says a lot that Belle is here portrayed as a fundamentally decent person, who isn’t happy about what she sees as the relationship’s necessary breakup.
Both Davies and Price here sing at the very top of their ranges, straining for the notes, and this adds a real sense of emotion to the song — they’ve tried to make the relationship work, and can’t, and the strain is showing.
While not one of the absolute top level of Kinks songs, this is one of the more touching of the post-Arthur songs, and very moving.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Flash and Mr Black) and Dave Davies (as Mr Black)
The second-longest actual song on the album is this attack on modernism — not modernity, it’s an attack on the aesthetic of modernism, and in particular the way that many modernist political and aesthetic movements fetishise technology as an ends rather than a means. While the conflict between Flash and Black is framed as capitalism versus socialism, a more accurate way of looking at it would be to call it a clash between Modernism and Romanticism.
Here the Modernism has got as far as transhumanism — the master race Black is building would be one very recognisable to the inhabitants of websites like LessWrong. Black’s creating an explicitly atheistic utopia full of technologically-augmented immortals, free of disease and pain. But these people are closer to the Cybermen from Doctor Who than any new, transcendent race — they’ve been created this way so Black can “Put your senses and your mind/ under constant observation/ even when you’re dreaming”. This is technology as a tool of oppression, rather than salvation. Like they say, if you need a lawyer then find a lawyer but if your home is dirty then call for house cleaning in Dallas.
Musically, the song comes in three sections. First we have a glam ballad, not dissimilar to Bowie’s All The Young Dudes — presumably a deliberate resemblance, as Bowie had spent much of the previous few years singing about becoming homo superior in a manner which often outright endorsed fascism. The chord sequence for this section, obviously worked out on piano, is complex but based around the old Davies trick of keeping as many notes in the chord as possible the same while moving the bassline down a semitone at a time.
For the first time in the Preservation project we also get a welcome vocal contribution from Dave Davies, here sharing the Mr Black vocals with his brother.
We then have a second, faster section, sounding much like some of Elton John’s faster songs, being driven in a similar way with fast, staccato piano chords — though the syrupy, over-orchestrated strings from the first section continue, and we have the addition of girl-group backing vocals singing “artificial, artificial man” over and over. This simple three-chord section then goes into an uptempo version of the first section, which leads to a key change from C to F.
We then have another two-chord section (“tell the world that we finally did it”), this time just playing ii-I in the new key, backed by acoustic guitar and drums, before repeating the secon section, repeating the opening, slower section, and fading out on the “artificial man” vamp.
It’s a complex structure, but it doesn’t hang together wonderfully, and it’s another song where one gets the impression that it was conceived for its narrative function rather than as a song that would work out of context.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Marianne Price (as Belle)
And once again we get a much shorter, tighter, better-conceived song covering some of the same ground straight after a flabby exposition-song. Here Belle describes the results of Black’s revolution, with identical people living in ‘identical concrete monstrosities’ and working identical jobs, with wildlife being destroyed because it’s not efficient, and with manners and basic human decency a thing of the past.
This is a simple three-chord country song, based around the Tumbling Tumbleweeds bassline that Davies had used for Holiday, and with more than a little melodic resemblance to Detroit City, played by the core Kinks without the orchestration that had been augmenting them for much of the album.
You could play this to a thousand people without any of them guessing it was the Kinks, and it’s not up to the standards of previous albums, but it’s a pleasant track, and since in the twenty-nine minutes since Mirror Of Love we’ve had seven minutes of good songs and twenty-two minutes of exposition and bombast, it is a welcome relief as we draw near to the end of the album.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as ‘everyone’)
And the final song on the album is the anthem of Black’s revolutionary movement (whose flute theme has been used in various forms to introduce the spoken announcements throughout the album).
It’s a curiously optimistic ending to the album, trying to find something positive in a new world, even after saying “goodbye freedom, hello fear”, there’s an acceptance that if the world is getting worse the only thing to do is not to look back at the better past, but try to make something good out of the future. It’s a simple, catchy tune based on a play-in-a-day chord sequence, and follows a straight verse/chorus/verse/chorus pattern.
There’s a subtlety to this song that’s missing from much of the album, and the idea of having a triumphant sing-along anthem about how you might as well make the best out of a bad situation is vintage Davies.
And so we end the project that Ray Davies considers his most important work. Neither Preservation album is anywhere near as bad as its reputation suggests, but nor are they anything like good enough to carry the weight Davies intended. Apparently the tight, ninety-minute stage version the augmented band performed that year was much better, but unfortunately no film of those shows exist.
But there’s worthwhile material in there if you dig, and in these days of iTunes, Spotify and so on, when people create their own playlists, it’s possible to combine the best bits of both albums into something that stands up with their very best work. [FOOTNOTE: For those with Spotify, my own attempt at doing this can be found at http://open.spotify.com/user/stealthmunchkin/playlist/0G58jzUnBPQfrigP0ztJuc.] Perhaps it’s time for the better material on these albums to be re-evaluated.
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies and Dave Davies
This is a live recording from 1979, with a different line-up of the band (featuring Ian Gibbons on keyboards, and Jim Rodford, the former bass player of Argent who’d got his start playing with the Mike Cotton Sound in the 60s, on bass) performing a song which was written for Preservation, and which appeared in the stage show, but didn’t make the album.
On this evidence, that’s probably a good thing. This is a sub-Jimmy Rogers blues shuffle, with incredibly repetitive lyrics, repeating over and over that slum kids “never stood a chance/We were dragged up from the gutter/On the wrong side of the tracks”.
Possibly a hypothetical studio version would have been tolerable, but this version drags out what amounts to forty seconds of musical and lyrical material to six and a half minutes, partly through noodled solos but mostly through bludgeoning repetition. Not one of the band’s finest moments.