Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Kinks Book Now Out!

Posted in books by Andrew Hickey on August 27, 2012

The book on the Kinks I’ve been serialising here, Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964-1974, is now available in paperback, hardback and PDF formats from lulu.com . Versions for ereaders should be up tomorrow when I finish formatting them.

For those who don’t know what my music books are like, this is a collection of the essays I’ve been posting here about the Kinks, with some mild revision (copy-editing, factual corrections, removals of most of the uses of the word ‘paean’, which I used far too much in the last few essays, that sort of thing), notes on three songs from The Great Lost Kinks Album that aren’t on any of the album CDs, and two indexes. You’re more than welcome to just read the essays on the blog and you’re not going to miss much by doing that, but they *have* been improved for the book.

(For those who think the price is a little high, that’s an unfortunate factor of working with POD publishers — I’ve priced them so that when sold through Amazon, I will get £1 per sale after Amazon and Lulu take their cuts. The ebooks will be priced much more reasonably).

If you like those posts, please buy the book and let other people know about it — and let me know. These books take a lot of time and effort to write, and getting feedback is always useful.

The Kinks’ Music: Preservation Act II

Posted in politics by Andrew Hickey on August 12, 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.

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.

Money Talks
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.

He’s Evil
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.

Nobody Gives
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.

Utterly pointless.

Flash’s Confession
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.

Artificial Man
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.

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.

Scrapheap City
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.

Salvation Road
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.

Bonus Tracks

Slum Kids
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.

The Kinks’ Music: Preservation Act One

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on July 11, 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.

Preservation Act One is an incredibly difficult album to write about. Hearing the Kinks’ albums in sequence, it sounds like something of a return to form, a return to more complex structures and interesting melodies after a long run of rock albums based on simple three-chord songs. The band’s musical palette expands again, with the Kinks and their horn section (now minus Mike Cotton) joined by a backing vocal chorus, and with many songs featuring strings and more complex keyboard parts.

But in fact it’s the last gasp of that kind of songwriting from Ray Davies, and from this point on the Kinks are a rock band, as opposed to a pop one.

Partly, Preservation Act One gives a misleading impression because it was never intended to be heard in this form. Originally, Preservation was intended as a single piece — a narrative work based on, and expanding upon, the themes of Village Green Preservation Society as well as the material about the destruction of communities in Muswell Hillbillies, but the album took much longer to complete than originally intended, after Ray Davies scrapped the initial sessions, and so it was released in two sections.

Act One, as a result, just introduces us to the characters who will take part in the narrative (and to some who won’t be heard of again), with the actual story relegated to the double album Act Two. Anyone who’s ever heard a concept album will immediately see the problem here.

The recording of Preservation Act One was also the culmination of many of the problems in Ray Davies’ life. In the middle of the recording, on Davies’ twenty-ninth birthday, his wife Rasa left him, taking their two daughters with her, and for a while it looked as if the Kinks themselves were going to split up.

The band pulled through — and eventually both Davies brothers became much more stable — but as they moved first to concept albums and then to arena rock, Preservation , and especially Preservation Act One, is the last point at which the Kinks sound like their mid-60s peak.

Preservation (Non-Album single)
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This song is misplaced on the CD, and both song and album suffer for it. This track was actually a single, released several months after Preservation Act Two, which sums up the plot of the entire piece in one three-and-a-half-minute hard rock track.

For what it is, this is decent enough — it’s a three-chord glam stomper that wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on 70s rock radio, with a catchy guitar riff — but the lyrics are just a giant infodump rather than being particularly clever or moving.

More importantly, though, the album itself is quite cleverly, and deliberately, structured, moving from the quiet of Morning Song to the loud rock of Demolition, and by starting the CD with a song in the style of the last track, that structure is ruined.

Morning Song
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Chorus

The actual album opener is this utterly gorgeous little piece, which sounds like it features none of the Kinks at all. Rather, it is a piece for strings, woodwind and wordless vocals, building up from a single violin and a humming bass vocal, singing something that is halfway between Paul Robeson’s version of Shenandoah and the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony (the piece which this most resembles). Slowly a choral backing is added, along with a second, female lead vocalist, who sings along with the violin in a manner similar to Vaughan William’s Sinfonia Antarctica, creating an almost theremin-like effect, before ending with a massed choral chord.

It’s utterly unlike anything else in the Kinks’ catalogue, but a perfect opener to the album.

Daylight
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Chorus)

The scene-setter for the album, this song starts with a simple three-chord acoustic guitar and organ based verse, with a constant D pedal note giving it a vaguely Indian feel, while the backing chorus singing the word “daylight” has almost a gospel air.

After twenty bars of this, the song changes key, up a fifth, for the next passage (the line “another night has gone away and here comes yet another day” is a transitional passage I’m choosing to include with the verse). We’re suddenly in a totally different musical world — the brass band style music here evoking park bandstands — as the melody keeps ascending, with two Ray Davieses overlapping with each other as they go up the scale (starting on the fourth of the scale, making what Davies is singing a Lydian mode scale).

The second time through this scale it continues up past the high fourth and onto the seventh, which then becomes the fourth of B — another key change up a fifth. We repeat the scale twice more in the new key, before, on the line “feel that daylight”, moving back to the original key of D via an implied change to E.

These changes up a fifth are both natural key changes for this kind of music — brass band music makes much use of fifths because they’re easy to play on brass instruments — but the continuous rising feel of the song also evokes the sun rising and the sky getting brighter quite beautifully.

If you hadn’t heard Lola vs Powerman, Percy, Muswell Hillbillies or Everybody’s In Showbiz, this would be what you’d expect a new Kinks track to sound like.

Lyrically, it’s less interesting, just painting a picture of the world we’re going to explore over this album and the next, but taking the albums in order it sounds like the band reversing out of a dead end, after they’d pushed the simple rock style as far as it could go, and going back to their old style to find another way forward.

Sweet Lady Genevieve
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as The Tramp)

Both the most heartbreaking, and in many ways the cleverest, song on the album, this non-charting single was Ray Davies’ attempt to reach out to his estranged wife Rasa, begging for forgiveness, and may be the last truly great Kinks song.

In some ways, it’s a reversion back to the style of the last few albums — it’s based around strummed guitar chords and huffed harmonica, and while there’s a little tonal ambiguity (it’s mostly in A, but hints at the key of E on occasion), the chords are all play-in-a-day simplicity and the arrangement is straightforward, with no interesting instrumental parts. The only really different thing about the song musically is its utter metrical irregularity — there’s a regular tic-toc rhythm in the drums, but the melody line and chord changes seem almost to ignore the bar lines.

But what makes this song so great is that even though it’s clearly one of Davies’ most emotionally honest songs, it’s a song written from the point of view of a dishonest man. It’s a song that had to be sung in character, and Davies makes the character seem utterly in the wrong — not only is he a liar, a cheat, and an alcoholic, he undercuts his own promises to change.

He wants her back, he promises to ‘take away all your sadness [if you] put your trust in me’, but both he and the listener know that he’ll never change and she’ll never come back. He even laughs a little at the very thought that she’ll return.

To be so artistically honest as to sabotage any possibility of reconciliation in the very song written to attempt to rebuild a marriage is something very few people could do. As a portrait of a failed relationship, and of a character who’s half-deluding himself but is honest enough to see through his own delusions, this is almost on a par with Frank Sinatra’s Watertown. This song does not make Davies look good at all, but I can think of few braver artistic works.

There’s A Change In The Weather
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Working Class Man, Middle Class Man and Upper Class Man)

One of the stronger songs on the album, this manages to blend the harder rock sound the band had been producing on recent albums very effectively with the more orchestrated feel of the music on the rest of this album, giving the best of both.

The song starts with a funk riff on guitar, with a hammond pad and soulful horns, as Davies takes on three characters — a worker, a middle-class southerner, and an upper-class idiot. As the music repeats the same simple changes (with a key change up a fourth for the third repeat, as the upper-class man introduces himself), these three introduce themselves in a manner reminiscent of the “I know my place” sketch from The Frost Report, and we’re told “there’s trouble brewing”. Then dropping back down to the original key, we get one more time through the changes as the three sing in unison about how “there’s a change in the weather/we’ve got to learn to stick together”.

And then we get a total change of instrumentation, dropping down to tuba, trombone and piano for two bars of common-time bridging material before going into a brass-band section in 6/8 (with a bar of 4/4 thrown in on “it will brighten”). Moving up a fourth, the song changes completely, and becomes about a positive, rather than a negative, change, as Davies sings in a light, mannered voice over a female backing singer ‘la la’ing in a joyful manner.

But then after this extended section, we go back to the original musical material, but here all hope and all funkiness has left — instead we have a ponderous, thudding, heavy metal beat with squealing atonal horns as multiple Ray Davieses sing “See the holocaust risin’ over the horizon/Gonna see a manifestation, total chaos, devastation” and similar portents of doom.

After this material repeats in C then back in G, we once again drop into the cheerful section, here sounding more like a music-hall performance than a brass band, thanks to the more prominent piano part. Davies here sounds even more mannered, and we fade on a hopeful note from the brass. And all this comes in at less than three minutes.

There’s a change coming, but whether it’s a good one or not, we’ll have to wait for the next album to see, when the story really gets going.

Where Are They Now?
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as The Tramp)

One of two really weak songs on the album, unfortunately programmed back to back, this sounds like an outtake from Everybody’s In Showbiz. A nostalgic track looking back on the past, it was presumably meant to evoke similar emotions to some of the songs from Village Green Preservation Society, but rather than looking back on some mythical golden age of the past, it’s only looking back at the late 50s and early 60s, and has nothing to say about that time, just lists a bunch of people (Mary Quant, Christine Keeler, Keith Waterhouse) and fictional characters (Jimmy Porter) who were quite well-known at that time and slightly less-well known a decade later, and asks “where are they now?”, over a plodding background that sounds like Like A Rolling Stone on barbituates.

One Of The Survivors
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Johnny Thunder)

The other bad song on the album, this revisits Johnny Thunder from Village Green Preservation Society, finding him now heavier and greying, but still listening to the music he listened to when he was young.

Much like the previous song, this is about nostalgia for the (then-)very recent past, and consists almost entirely of lists of things, in this case 50s rock songs and performers (with an emphasis on slick white doo-wop like Dion & The Belmonts and Danny & The Juniors). It’s the musical equivalent of TV programmes of the I Love 1983 type. It wins over the previous track in that it has some energy, but then extends what amounts to a minute or so worth of mediocre musical material to four and a half minutes, losing all goodwill along the way.

Cricket
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as The Vicar)

Side two of the album opens with this absolutely delightful track. A more coherent musical cousin of Look A Little On The Sunny Side, this features possibly the most real character Davies ever created — the Vicar.

The lyrics are a parody of a particular kind of Church of England sermon, the muscular, sporty, patriotic equivalent of Alan Bennett’s Beyond The Fringe sermon (“Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key”), an extended metaphor about how the devil will “try to L.B.W. and bowl a maiden over”, and “He’ll baffle you with googlies/with leg breaks and offspin”, but “keep a straight bat at all times, let the Bible be your guide, and you’ll get by”.

It’s an absolutely perfect bit of observational comedy — he gets the speech patterns of this kind of vicar down exactly — and made all the funnier by the fact that Davies is clearly exaggerating something he genuinely thinks himself (he’s well-known as a lover of cricket, and one can imagine him at least half agreeing that it’s God’s game because “It has honour, it has character and it’s British”).

This is possibly the most laugh-out-loud-funny thing the band ever did, and it’s musically enjoyable as well. After two dull lists, the album has returned to a level of quality not seen since Arthur.

Money And Corruption/I Am Your Man
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as Mr Black) and chorus

And here we start to see the overarching story of the Preservation project come together. This is a medley of two songs, which put together have a very disturbing message.

We start with a song in the style of a traditional English folk-song — a pentatonic melody, in waltz time, over a quickly-strummed guitar, as a chorus of ordinary people sing about how “money and corruption are ruining the land/wicked politicians betray the working man” and “we’re tired of hearing promises we know they’ll never keep”.

On its own, this would be just a better-than average example of the anti-politics theme that runs through much of Davies’ work at this time. Politicians, yeah? They’re all liars, right? Yeah…

But then the chorus sings “Show us a man who’ll be our saviour and will lead us…” and we get the introduction of Mr Black, one of the two rival political leaders who dominate the next album.

The second of these songs, I Am Your Man , is sung by Mr Black, and is set to the most powerful music on the entire album. A gorgeous, sweeping ballad, with the return of the ever-descending chromatic basslines Davies used so much in the late 60s, this is soft, gentle, reassuring music that makes you think “yes, everything’s going to be all right”.

And over the top, Mr. Black persuades you to endorse a totalitarian dictatorship.

At first glance, Black’s programme doesn’t sound so different from that of the Labour party of the time, recently returned to power — nationalisation of major industries, slum clearances, support of unions, redistribution of wealth — but the clue is in the chorus. “Workers of the nation unite.”

Not the internationalism of Marx and Engels — “Workers of all nations unite”, but nationalism. And then you notice other things. The mention of a “five year plan”. The mention of a “Fatherland”.

This is almost as scathing a self-critique as Sweet Lady Genevieve, in other words. Davies has looked at the anti-politics mood of his then-recent albums, and seen that when people think that way, when they are disenchanted by politicians on all sides, is precisely when nationalism and extremism can sneak in in the guise of utopianism.

A miniature masterpiece.

Here Comes Flash
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies (as Chorus, with Scared Housewives)

And the other villain of the piece is now introduced — Mr Flash, the glamorous, slimy, showbiz politician who is opposed to Black.

This is an absolutely wonderful uptempo pop-rock song which manages to combine within its two minutes and forty-one seconds more different styles than many bands manage in a career. Starting with a Who-style clang of guitars, it moves into Dick Dale territory — very fast, heavily reverbed, staccato surf guitar, playing a vaguely Arabic sounding melody.

Then the voices enter, and they’re singing pseudo-operatic falsetto, with very fast, tumbling lyrics, and suddenly it’s the previously-unconceived middle ground between Dick Dale and W.S. Gilbert, and to emphasise the end of every line we have the most cavernous drum sound I’ve ever heard.

And then the orchestra and female chorus come in and add a baroque element, before the song finishes in a flourish with a theatrical fanfare.

Combining hard rock, pop, surf music and opera in one ridiculously exciting song, this is everything Queen ever wanted to be.

Sitting In The Midday Sun
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies (as The Tramp)

One of the catchiest things on the album, this was one of the first things the band recorded for the project (and probably the first song they recorded in Konk, their own studio), and was recorded before the start of the personal turmoil in Ray Davies’ life that caused the darker tone of much of the songwriting on this album.

It’s enjoyable and pretty, and was quite rightly released as the first single from the album, as it’s definitely the most commercial-sounding thing on the record, echoing back to a mid-sixties summer pop sound and at times almost sounding like the Beach Boys. But it’s ultimately a lightweight track — it’s musically simplistic, and the lyrics, a paen to laziness and unemployment, are slight — so it’s unfortunately easy to see why it didn’t chart.

And a personal peeve of mine, which I accept most people won’t share — in the chorus, the rhyme of ‘midday sun’ with ‘currant bun’ gets on my nerves (because ‘currant bun’ only works because it’s rhyming slang for sun, so he’s just saying ‘sun’ twice in effect), and then rhyming ‘reason’ with sun and bun really doesn’t work.

Demolition
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies and Dave Davies (as chorus and Flash)

And the closing track is, unfortunately, one of the weaker songs on the album. Very much like the track Preservation itself, this seems to have been written as a deliberate attempt at aping the sound of the Who, but with extra female backing vocals.

Musically, it sounds like an outtake from Tommy, but the lyrics are about Davies’ old bugbear of compulsory purchase, and urban areas being regenerated into ‘a row of identical boxes’.

Unfortunately, much as I’m not a fan of property developers in general, the combination of bludgeoning, riffy, hard rock and town planning is not one that works very well, and Dave Davies’ impassioned scream of “Whaaa! Specifically designed for modern-day living!” may well be the most bathetic moment in the band’s catalogue up to this point.

Nonetheless, it sort-of works, mostly thanks to Dave Davies’ guitar playing, and it works as a bridge between act one and the much…odder…act two.

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