The Kinks’ Music 2 – Kinda Kinks

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.

While Kinda Kinks, the Kinks’ second album, is Ray Davies’ least favourite, and it shows clearly the signs of having been written and recorded in a hurry, with some sloppy double-tracking and less-than-stellar compositions, it is a clear step forward in ambition from the first album.

While Kinks had been pretty much a bog-standard Brit-blues album with few or no distinguishing features other than its one incredible single, Kinda Kinks draws from a much broader range of musical styles. In particular, we see the influences of the new folk finger-picking guitarists who were starting to become known on the London scene, people like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davy Graham. Within a year, these influences would become widespread in pop music, thanks to Donovan and Simon & Garfunkel, but Kinda Kinks is the first example I know of of this style in mainstream pop-rock.

On the other hand, we see an increasing influence from Motown here, especially Martha And The Vandellas, whose Dancing In The Streets is one of only two covers on this album. (Oddly, the other cover, Naggin’ Woman, is co-written by evil racist scumbag J.D. Miller, composer of I’m A Lover Not A Fighter from the previous album, under a pseudonym.)

But the shocking thing about Ray Davies’ songwriting at this time is just how much good material he was producing. While the album itself is patchy, there are some wonderful songs, included as demos on the deluxe edition, which were given to other performers, including some of Davies’ best work. Adding in the non-album singles and EP tracks included here leads to this being the first really essential collection by the Kinks, and the first real sign that they would soon become one of the greatest bands of all time.

The Album

Look For Me Baby
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The album opener is an unprepossessing track based on a two-chord I-V riff, with a melody owing a little to Watermelon Man and girl-group backing vocals. At times Davies rushes to get all his lyrics into the space he has, and the double-tracking is incredibly sloppy, but this is still more competent than most of what was on Kinks.

Got My Feet Off The Ground
Writer: Ray and Dave Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

A fun little country blues track, this is spoiled by Dave Davies’ lead vocals. Over the years he would become a fine, sensitive vocalist in his own right, but at this point he was just yelling. There’s some nice Chet Atkins-isms on the guitar solo though.

Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another blues-based song, this one uses a pentatonic riff reminiscent of much of Bert Jansch’s work of the time, one that works in cross-rhythm to the rest of the track (and in the intro seems to be completely metrically irregular – every time I try to break down the track into bars, before the entrance of the bass and drums, I get a different number). This is in many ways the most forward-looking of all the tracks on this album – songs sounding exactly like this would make up the bulk of Led Zeppelin III many years later.

A lovely, haunting, if rather slight song, this is easily the most interesting and mature thing the band had released to this point.

Naggin’ Woman
Writer: Jimmy Anderson & Jerry West
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

A cover of a blues classic, Naggin’, by bluesman Jimmy Anderson (oddly co-written by Anderson, a black man, and J.D. Miller, a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan), this has some fine blues playing – the best that the Kinks ever did in the genre – but is let down by a poor lead vocal from Dave Davies and a less-than-wonderful lyric.

I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

This track is a simple rewrite – one might almost say a cover version – of Can I Get A Witness by Marvin Gaye, whose simple piano riff had already become the basis of such tracks as The Boy From New York City by the Ad-Libs and Carl’s Big Chance by the Beach Boys. OK on its own, this doesn’t even begin to approach the quality of its inspiration.

Tired Of Waiting For You
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

According to Davies’ autobiography, X-Ray, this was actually written before All Day And All Of The Night and held back so that the more formulaic track could go first. In truth, while this seemed like a huge departure from the band’s formula, it’s based around a very similar two-chord riff to You Really Got Me, just slowed down, in the verses, with the bridge and middle eight being almost as simplistic.

However, melodically and lyrically this introduced a new element into the Kinks’ singles, one that was definitely not present on the earlier hits – there’s a yearning, wistful quality to this that would become a hallmark of Davies’ writing over the next few years. Supposedly about Davies’ longing for success to finally come (though quite how long he could have been waiting, given that You Really Got Me was released only a couple of months after his twentieth birthday, is debatable), there’s a deeper longing and melancholy in here, one that would become more pronounced as Davies’ songwriting progressed.

This, however, is the perfect point between the band’s early garage-rock and its later sophistication, and unsurprisingly became a number one hit in the UK, and the band’s biggest ever hit in the US at number six.

Dancing In The Street
Writer: Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter and Mickey Stevenson
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This, on the other hand, is just a horrible mess. A cover of Martha and The Vandellas’ hit of the previous year, this might have worked had any of the Kinks had a funky bone in their body, but their idea of dance music was primal aggression rather than soul, and they don’t even make a half-hearted attempt to copy the original’s distinctive riff or backing vocals.

To make matters worse, Ray Davies apparently seems not to have a clue what the melody is, and to be reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper with little thought as to their scansion. This is then double-tracked, so we have two mumbling Davieses, each unsure of what exactly they’re meant to be doing. Pitiful.

Don’t Ever Change
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the more musically interesting songs on the album, this has a somewhat amorphous structure, showing Davies experimenting with the type of non-traditional songwriting that would later lead to such masterpieces as Autumn Almanac. It’s also far more harmonically interesting than the band’s previous work – still keeping the same basic I-V type relationships that many of the band’s songs are built on (though introducing an element of harmonic ambiguity with the F chords that let us wonder if this is in G, as it originally appears, or C as is later implied), but using extended chords like sixths, ninths and thirteenths.

It doesn’t quite work – it’s pleasant enough, but it sounds awkward rather than sophisticated – but it’s an intriguing experiment and a sign of Davies’ restlessness with the formula he had only recently hit upon.

Come On Now
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

A simple three-chord garage-rocker, this is one of the catchier of the album tracks here, and is perfectly suited to Dave Davies’ raw, yelling voice. It has a catchy riff and good backing vocals, and is very danceable, but has few enough distinguishing features that it’s hard to discuss it at any great length.

So Long
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A rather lovely attempt at the folk fingerpicking style, this features a guitar part very similar to the instrumental line in Simon & Garfunkel’s later Leaves That Are Green (compare Paul Simon’s solo recording on The Paul Simon Songbook, recorded three months after this album’s release), and a very unusual structure.

It starts with a simple eight-bar three-chord chorus, much like many of the band’s other songs of the period, but then goes into a twenty-one-bar verse, which hovers between the keys of C and G, never quite resolving into either.

This folky style was a bit of a dead end for the Kinks, and was largely abandoned after this album, but the acoustic wistfulness of songs like this definitely informed much of the band’s later work.

You Shouldn’t Be Sad
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

An attempt at writing a Martha And The Vandellas style girl-group song, this track would be pleasant enough were it not for the truly horrible double-tracking of Ray Davies’ lead vocal. I keep going on about this on these early albums, but that’s because Shel Talmy’s decisions are often utterly incomprehensible. Double-tracking can help with a vocal when there’s a problem with pitch or timbre – neither of which are particular problems for Ray Davies, even this early on. On the other hand, he does have problems with his phrasing, often sounding hesitant and not coming in quite on the beat. Double-tracking a vocal like that is a recipe for disaster, and turns tracks like this, which would be perfectly reasonable pop records, into sloppy messes that are actively painful to listen to.

Something Better Beginning
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And the album proper ends with another exercise in stylistic pastiche, this time a strong attempt at a Phil Spector sound, combining elements of Spector’s Ronettes work (the Be My Baby rhythm) with the vaguely Latin feel of Spector’s earlier work with Leiber and Stoller (notably Spanish Harlem).

The band do remarkably well, given that they’re attempting to ape Spector’s style with only a standard rock-band lineup, and while Davies’ vocal is double-tracked in places, it’s done with a much lighter touch than on other tracks.

This is a solid, enjoyable closer to an album which, while far from perfect, is a giant step forward compared to the band’s earlier work.

Bonus Tracks

Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A non-album single, this sounds like an attempt at the sort of mildly R&B-flavoured pop that Manfred Mann or the Rolling Stones were recording around this time. Their lowest-charting single for some time, this ‘only’ reached number 11 in the charts, which is about right – it’s a decent enough track, but really should have been album filler rather than a single.

Who’ll Be The Next In Line
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side to Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy, this is similarly uninspiring stuff – it’s as simplistic as many of the early singles without being in any way interesting or exciting.

Set Me Free
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The follow-up single to Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy, this appears to have been written off the back of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night album, albeit with a return to the almost mantra-like simplicity of the band’s previous hits. Here Davies is consciously copying John Lennon, with the A minor key, repeated ‘little girl’s (something that was a regular feature of the Beatles’ lyrics at this time but not of the Kinks’) and the brief leap into falsetto for the line “You can do it if you try”. Merging these features with the style and structure of their previous biggest hit Tired Of Waiting For You would have seemed a sure recipe for commercial success, and so it proved, with the track making the top ten in the UK.

I Need You
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A crunchy, riffy track with a prominent tambourine part, this is a clear return to the sound of You Really Got Me and (especially) All Day And All Of The Night, combining a variant on the latter’s riff with the same dropping-out before the guitar solo that had worked so well on the former.

It’s clearly an attempt at writing to a formula, and not a particularly good one. It’s still better than many of the album tracks on Kinda Kinks, but it deserved no better than the B-side it got.

See My Friends
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The Kinks’ next single was a very brave departure. While this keeps to the simple, repetitive style of their earlier singles, it’s even more melancholy than Tired Of Waiting, and has a homoerotic subtext (“She is gone and now there’s no-one left to take her place/She is gone and now there’s no-one else/’cept my friends…”), but it’s also the first Western pop record to try to incorporate aspects of Indian music. Davies had heard chanting from river workers during a brief stay in India (hence the otherwise mysterious line about “playing ‘cross the river”) and had decided to try to write something like that.

The Davies brothers’ guitars, detuned and with feedback, are given a vaguely sitar-ish feel here, but it’s far from the overuse of the instrument that would become endemic within a year – this isn’t cultural appropriation or Orientalism, just an attempt to get a new sound out of their own instruments. As such, it’s less embarassing, and less dated, than most of the attempts at incorporating Indian sounds that followed it. The single reached number 10 in the UK.

Never Met A Girl Like You Before
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

While it starts with a little musical joke (the first couple of bars of Tired Of Waiting For You), this track quickly goes into an arrangement similar to that of the band’s version of Beautiful Delilah. The song itself is utterly nondescript, being based around a twelve-bar blues with repetitive lyrics, and is also utterly forgettable. It was the B-side to See My Friends.

A Well Respected Man
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And suddenly, the Kinks have turned into the Kinks.

This track and the three following it are from the Kwyet Kinks EP of acoustic-flavoured tracks, released in September 1965 (although this track was also released as a single in the US, reaching number 13) and this track in particular sounds like the work of a completely different band. While it’s no more sophisticated harmonically than any of the previous material (it’s mostly based around a single chord, but with a descending bassline turning that chord from C to C/B to Am – a trick Davies would use again quite often), Davies has learned the secret of writing melodies for his limited vocal range, and the harmonies by Dave Davies on the choruses are worlds away from his caterwauling on the first album.

But it’s the lyrics to this which suddenly take a sharp turn for the better. While previously the lyrics to Ray Davies’ songs would mostly consist of one or two sentences, repeated over and over, this is a biting, cynical pen-portrait of a member of the upper-middle (or lower-upper) classes, full of a joy at wordplay we’ve never seen from him before – “And he plays at stocks and shares, and he goes to the regatta/He adores the girl next door cos he’s dying to get at her”.

And here’s where Davies becomes a really good singer as well. He’s never been the most rangey or versatile of vocalists, but here he finally learns that he’s good at taking on personas and singing in different characters, and the contortions he makes some of the vowel sounds go through when mocking the accent of the ‘well-respected man’ are a wondrous thing to listen to.

This kind of sneering at the businessman in his suit and tie would quickly become tiresome, as every band of the time took it upon themselves to mock the squares, with their jobs and their houses and their responsibilities, and it would often mar Davies’ own later work, particularly when coupled with his increasing conservatism. But here it’s hard to even think about the negative side of this, as it’s such an amazing leap forward in ambition for Davies. While their next proper album would be something of a step back, this song shows what the band would be doing for the rest of the sixties.

Such A Shame
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another track from Kwyet Kinks, this one doesn’t really fit the ‘kwyet’ style of the EP, being another repetitive, electric-guitar, simple track. Not particularly inspiring.

Wait Till The Summer Comes Along
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

A gentle country track, the opening track of the Kwyet Kinks EP, this has a rather hesitant melody and structure, as if Ray Davies was having to hunt around for the shape of the track. Dave Davies turns in a better vocal here than most of his previous ones, but seems a little unsure about the song. This is another song that points the way forward in the band’s career, this time being in a style they would return to for the Muswell Hillbillies album.

Don’t You Fret
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The other highlight of Kwyet Kinks, this is a waltz-time folk-blues song very much in the style of the Odetta covers from the previous album, but this time the band have fully internalised the style and made it their own.

I Go To Sleep
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And here we have the best song Ray Davies ever wrote that the Kinks never recorded. This simple piano demo was used as the basis of a wonderful recording by Peggy Lee. Another waltz-time song, based on similar changes to A Well Respected Man, though more complex, this seems to have been an exercise in writing in the style of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (listen especially to the way the stresses on “imagine that you’re there” fall – that bit of melody could easily come from a Dionne Warwick record).

This isn’t a perfect song – the scansion on the verses is forced, and the middle eight is weak – but it’s an astonishingly sophisticated piece of music for a twenty-one-year-old who had only the previous year been writing You Really Got Me. It’s an absolutely lovely song, and has rightly become something of a standard, being recorded by everyone from Cher to The Pretenders.


Tell Me Now So I’ll Know
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another Ray Davies demo, featuring (like the previous and next tracks) Mitch Mitchell (later of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) on drums, this jazzy minor-chord piece has a vaguely Latin feel, and something of the same flavour as some of the Zombies’ tracks of the time, and definitely deserved to be taken further.

A Little Bit Of Sunlight
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another demo, this one sounds like something from an earlier era, like a song that could have been a hit for Adam Faith or Tommy Steele, although it also has a family resemblance to When I See That Girl Of Mine. While it’s catchy enough, it’s definitely easy to see why this one was discarded, and given to another band (The Majority, whose version sounds roughly four parts The Four Seasons to one part Joe Meek, and wasn’t a hit).

There’s A New World Just Opening For Me
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the very best of these demos, this combines the folk and Indian influences that Davies had been playing with at the time, using an Indian-style drone, but in much the same way as Scottish folk music does, and with some very impressive fingerstyle guitar playing. This song was given to American band The Cascades, but really this acoustic demo is a wonderful recording in its own right, seeming to come from some alternative universe where Davies would go on to join Pentangle.

This I Know
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another folk-influenced demo, this one uses those techniques in a much lighter, more cheerful way, to produce a breezy, romantic trifle. This demo is of fairly awful recording quality, but even here the song cuts through, and it’s a shame no professional-quality recording of this track exists.

This Strange Effect
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A song written by Davies for Dave Berry, patterned after Berry’s previous hit The Crying Game to a quite ridiculous extent, this BBC session for Top Of The Pops (the Brian Mathew-presented radio show, not the later TV series of the same name) is pretty much identical to Berry’s hit recording, minus the strings.

Hide And Seek
Writer: Paul Winley & Ethel Byrd
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another Top Of The Pops session rounds out the deluxe edition of Kinda Kinks, with this cover version of Big Joe Turner’s boogie-woogie classic. It works about as well as all the other covers of classic blues by the Kinks, which is to say not at all.

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One Response to The Kinks’ Music 2 – Kinda Kinks

  1. After all I said on Wednesday, I couldn’t agree more about Well Respected Man and I Go to Sleep

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