The Kinks’ Music – Face To Face

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.

Face To Face is very much a transitional album for the Kinks. It was the first album to consist entirely of songs written by Ray Davies (though Dave Davies has claimed in the past to have written the opener, Party Line) and the band’s line-up was in transition. Pete Quaife had left the band between the recording of the Sunny Afternoon single and its release, though by the time the album was released he had rejoined. John Dalton, his temporary replacement for some of the sessions on the album, would replace Quaife after his second, permanent, exit in 1969.

It was also the first album where Davies fully explored the side of his songwriting that had been played with on Kwyet Kinks, and is infinitely better than its predecessors. This is the first Kinks album with no embarrassingly bad tracks — the worst track on here would have been among the best on any of the earlier albums. And the sound is different, too — there are more harpsichords than distorted guitars.

The problem is that this is so far ahead of the earlier albums as to effectively be by a different band, and so it doesn’t really invite comparisons with those, but with the albums immediately after it — and those albums are as far ahead of Face To Face as Face To Face is ahead of The Kink Kontroversy. The general standard of the album is very high — it’s the first Kinks album that makes a completely enjoyable listening experience from beginning to end — but not exceptionally so. There are very few truly outstanding songs here, even as there are no bad ones. In this way, Face To Face is probably close to the Beatles’ album of the previous year, Help!, a similarly transitional album and one where, like this, the band’s leader (Lennon in the case of the Beatles, Ray Davies in the case of the Kinks) was going through a severe mental breakdown from the opposing pressures of domesticity and pop stardom.

The Album

Party Line
Writer
: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

The album starts off with the song that, of all those on the album, sounds most like the Kinks of old. After the opening telephone ring (a remnant of an early concept for the album that would have the songs linked by sound effects [FOOTNOTE According to The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by Andy Miller, part of the 33 1/3 series of books) and “Hello, who is it?” (spoken by Grenville Collins, one of the three managers the band had at the time), the song goes into a fairly straightforward, bouncy, three-chord country rock song, much in the vein of the Beatles’ Carl Perkins pastiches, with a lusty Dave Davies vocal.

Lyrically, the song is a simple complaint about having to use a party line (a type of telephone service where several people would have to use the same line, and could, if they wished, listen to each other’s calls), though with a little nod towards the gender-ambiguity that the band had been playing with (“Is she big, is she small, is she a she at all, who’s on the other end?”).

Musically, it’s slightly more interesting. While the verse is straightforward — essentially a twelve-bar in G, but without the normal change to the IV on the fifth bar — and the first half of the middle section is just a shuffle between the I and V in D, the middle section then wanders between the keys of D and G for another nine bars in a rather disjointed way, coming in at seventeen bars total.

This is easily the best opener of any Kinks album so far.

Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A simple but effective song, featuring only five closely related chords and with a simple verse/chorus structure, this song works because of the emotional honesty behind it. The song is written about the Davies brothers’ elder sister Rose, who had emigrated with her husband Arthur (of whom more in a couple of albums’ time) to Australia two years earlier, and is a simple plea for her to come back at least for a visit if not to stay for good.

Musically, the main points of interest are the pseudo-baroque harpsichord part by Nicky Hopkins, and the way the vocal is doubled during the minor key chorus sections by what sounds like at least two guitars, the bass and possibly a piano faintly in the mix.

The whole is somewhat reminiscent of the Zombies, who had been having some success with similar keyboard-based minor-key songs, and points the way forward to the baroque pop sound of albums like Da Capo by Love.

Dandy
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The first of the ‘social comment’ songs on the album is a jaunty, bouncy part-attack part-celebration of a womaniser who is probably based on Dave Davies, and is catchy enough that it was a massive hit single in Europe, as well as a hit in the US and Canada in a soundalike cover by Herman’s Hermits. While Ray Davies sings the song with relish (especially the line “two girls are two many, three’s a crowd and four you’re dead!”) it’s a rather minor piece.

It is the first of several songs on this album and around this time, though, to feature sections with a descending scalar bassline under a held chord, something that becomes a minor compositional tic of Davies’. This probably either suggested, or was suggested by, the line “while the cat’s away the mice are gonna play”, as the bass melody under that section is reminiscent of Three Blind Mice. This subtle integration of music and lyrics is something that most listeners will never notice but which greatly adds to the sense of cohesion of the song, and is a sign of Davies’ increasing maturity as a songwriter even on a relatively slight song like this.

Too Much On My Mind
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

As a song, this is a return to the repetitive, simple style of Tired Of Waiting or See My Friend, but this rather lovely song about suffering from anxiety is saved from sounding like a throwback by the arrangement, with Nicky Hopkins’ skittering harpsichord perfectly evoking the feeling of unwanted thoughts running through the brain, while Rasa Davies adds beautiful high harmonies to her husband’s lead. A definite highlight of the album, even if there’s less to analyse than some of the other songs.

Session Man
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

An extraordinarily intricate piece of baroque harpsichord, very much in the style of Bach, links the previous track with this one (in fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover it was based on some minor work of Bach’s, though it doesn’t ring any bells and follows a similar progression to that of the rest of the song), before the band pay a backhanded tribute to its player, Nicky Hopkins. Lines like “No overtime, no favours done, he’s a session man” and “he’s not paid to think, just play” sound quite harsh, but given how much Hopkins’ keyboard contributes to this track, and how universally liked he was by the band, one has to assume they are mostly tongue in cheek.

Rainy Day In June
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Easily the strangest track on the album, this is quite unlike anything else Davies – or anyone else for that matter – was doing at the time. Starting with a peal of thunder (another of the leftovers from the linking sound effects idea), and keeping an A pedal in the bass throughout almost the entire song, this has a ponderous, depressing feel as the low A turns half the major cycle of fifths the song is built on into a sequence of minor chords.

The lyrics, though, are what makes this really different. This is a dark, impressionist series of glimpses of a fantasy world under some kind of attack – “The demon stretched its crinkled hand and snatched a butterfly/The elves and gnomes were hunched in fear too terrified to cry”. It’s utterly different from everything else on the album, and from everything else in 1966. One suspects it’s a picture of Davies’ mental state at the time.

A House In The Country
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Sung by Ray Davies in a hoarse voice that sounds almost more like his brother Dave than his normal singing voice, this is one of three songs on this album which appear to be about the same character (who may be at times a cruel caricature of how Davies saw himself at his worst), who is defined entirely by his possession of a large house.

Each of those songs are sung, though, from a different view point, and in this almost proto-punk attack, staying on three chords for almost the entire song, we have the character as seen from the viewpoint of an envious outsider who’s “gonna knock him off of his throne”.

Holiday In Waikiki
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

An amusing trifle, this simple ditty starts out with vaguely ‘Hawaiian’ sounding music (Sandy Nelson-esque drums, ocean sound effects) but soon becomes a typical Kinks track of the period, only the ‘Eastern’ bent notes on the lead guitar suggesting anything exotic.

Which makes sense, because the song itself is a satire about how the truly different has been packaged, neatened and commercialised, so a holiday in Waikiki now consists of PVC grass skirts, overpriced ukuleles, shacks selling Coke and hula girls from New York. Reducing the Hawaiian elements to a couple of signifiers but otherwise just ploughing ahead with a straightforward Kinks song makes perfect sense in this context.

This song is unfortunately rather spoiled by a bad mix — one of the few on this album that sounds like the bad mixes producer Shel Talmy had inflicted on the earlier albums — with the vocal almost inaudible.

Most Exclusive Residence For Sale
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The second of our looks at the owner of an expensive home is the weakest of the three. This time our stately homeowner has been bankrupted, turned to drink and been forced to sell the property, and we see him from a neutral perspective, neither attacking nor sympathising. While there’s not much to say about this song beyond that, and it’s one of the weaker songs on the album, it’s still head and shoulders above almost anything on the first three albums, showing just how much Davies’ songwriting had advanced.

Fancy
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A return to the pseudo-Indian sound of See My Friend, this has a hypnotic, dronelike effect thanks to the repetitive guitar part and sliding bass, and one of the best of Davies’ simple, repetitive melodies.

The lyrics are quite extraordinary, seeming to be simultaneously about longing for connection to other people (“if you believe in what I believe in then we will be the same always”) and pride in keeping distance from those same people (“they only see what’s in their own fancy”). This is wrapped up in the narrator’s mind with sexuality, of an ambiguous nature (“no-one can penetrate me” being the crucial line, but also “my love is like a ruby that no-one can see, only my fancy”).

It’s not a song that submits well to analysis, but it’s one of the most gorgeous, strange songs Davies ever wrote, fading a way on a haunting note that sounds like nothing so much as a didgeridoo.

Little Miss Queen Of Darkness
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another fairly minor track, but one that nonetheless shows the skill with which Davies was now able to blend fairly nuanced character studies with music of a wide variety of genres. In this case we have a rather poignant portrait of a woman with something missing in her life after the man she loved left and turning to hedonism, set to a pastiche of 1920s pop music.

The most interesting feature of the track is actually a mistake — in the instrumental break, the instruments fall in and out of sync with each other. Mick Avory has said [FOOTNOTE In an interview at http://kastoffkinks.co.uk/Mick%20Avory%20interview%20part%202.htm ] that this was because he recorded the drum part in the break as an overdub, and Shel Talmy wouldn’t let him do a second take, saying it was good enough. The sound of the band drifting out of sync, only to come back together before the next verse, is actually much more impressive than it would have been had Avory played the part as he intended.

You’re Lookin’ Fine
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

A rather dull, plodding track, the only one on the album that could easily have fit on the first three, this song is based on a bass riff half-way between Money and Peter Gunn, but not as catchy as either, and the only musical point of interest is a change to a VIIb where normally one would expect a V. The lyrics, meanwhile, are just about seeing a woman and telling her she’s looking fine.

Sunny Afternoon
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And tying all the themes of the album together, both musically and lyrically, we have this, one of the band’s biggest and best hits. Starting with a descending bass scale in D minor under two chords, recalling the more interesting use of bass in tracks like Rainy Day In June and (especially) Dandy, the track is in the style that rock music critics usually refer to as ‘music hall’, despite having absolutely no resemblance to actual music hall music, a sort of laid-back, loose-swinging feel based on strummed acoustic guitar and barrelhouse piano.

The lyrics once again refer to a rich man slowly becoming dissolute, though this time they’re sung from his point of view (and Davies is writing at least partly about himself and his newly-rich rock star peers), as he bemoans the taxman taking his yacht away (at the time the top marginal rate of income tax was 95%. This was not very popular with rock stars, who had generally been very poor until recently and didn’t like their money going now that they had some).

The song is wonderfully good-humoured and catchy, and Davies is self-aware enough that it is targeted more at Davies himself than at anyone else — the protagonist here is complaining, but knows he has no real problems. It deservedly got to number one, and is still one of the band’s most loved songs.

I’ll Remember
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Unfortunately, rather than end with Sunny Afternoon, which perfectly sums all the album’s themes, Face To Face ends with this track, which belies its name by being an utterly unmemorable piece of standard early-60s pop, a throwback to 1964 with a simple I-IV-V jangly verse. It’s not a bad track, but other than You’re Looking Fine it is the weakest, and it’s a bathetic closer.

Bonus Tracks

Dead End Street
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Musically very similar to Sunny Afternoon in style, this dark minor-key piece, with its prominent trombone part, could almost be the dark flip of the Beatles’ Penny Lane, but came out several months earlier than that track. A grim, haunting piece of social comment, it sadly still rings true today — lines like “I’m deep in debt now, it’s much too late/We both want to work so hard but we can’t get the chance” have only increased in relevance over the years.

Accentuating the feeling of helplessness and being stuck in a dead end, in the chorus the bass (played by Dave Davies on a standard bass and John Dalton on a Danelectro, a technique probably picked up from the records of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, both of whom did this on many occasions to have an especially thick bassline) keeps playing a four-note descending riff, but it starts on the third note, so it goes from F# down to F, jumps back up to A, then G, then repeats over and over, while the notes in the top of the chord stay essentially the same (the progression is D7/F#-F-Am-Am/G, so there’s an A and a C in the chord throughout the chorus). The feeling we get is of being stuck in one place, going round and round trying to find a way out but always ending up back at the start — a feeling only amplified by the fact that the entire last half of the song is made up of repetition of this musical material, with few words other than “dead end street”.

While Shel Talmy is the credited producer, Ray Davies actually produced this himself — unhappy with Talmy’s production of the single he took the band back into the studio and rerecorded it with a radically different arrangement. Reportedly when Talmy heard it he couldn’t tell the difference.

Remarkably for a song with such a grim message, this went to number five — and would probably have been even more successful had the BBC not refused to show the promo film for it. A pioneering example of music video, this was a wonderful mixture of Eisensteinian bleakness and broad pantomime comedy, apparently supervised by Ray Davies himself, which centred around a troupe of undertakers taking a corpse away from a terraced house. Some of the sketches Monty Python did about undertakers three years later bear more than a slight resemblance to this video.

By this point, the Kinks were at their peak — everything they released for the next four years or so would be wonderful.

Big Black Smoke
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side to Dead End Street, it shows how far the band had progressed that this was B-side material, as at any point before 1967 it would have been at least considered as a single. As it is, it’s a very good minor track, based around a bouncy country rhythm, with yet another descending chromatic bass-line with a stationary chord on top (this time the Em – Em/D# – Em/D – Em/C# – C7 that opens the verse and the Em – Em/D# – Em/D – Em/C# that ends it), and another bleak social commentary lyric, this time about the plight of homeless runaways. The subject of homelessness was clearly in the air at the time — I’d initially thought this was inspired by Cathy Come Home, but while researching this I found that Cathy Come Home was broadcast only two days before this song’s release.

The song begins and ends with another of the examples of musique concrete style effects that Davies had been experimenting with — church bells at the beginning, joined by the sound of town criers at the end.

This Is Where I Belong
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side to Mr. Pleasant, this sounds like an attempt to write in the style of Bob Dylan ca. Like A Rolling Stone – it’s a very harmonically simple song, built around guitar arpeggios and a Hammond part that sounds almost exactly like the arrangements Dylan was using, and Davies practically does a Dylan impression on the middle eight.

Lyrically, it’s just a simple, touching love song. Nothing hugely special, but easily good enough to have been many other bands’ A-side at the time.

She’s Got Everything
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

An unsuccessful attempt at a dance song, this is by no means bad as such, but it’s a throwback to their earlier work. The fact that even the band were unimpressed can be seen by its release history — while it was recorded during the Face To Face sessions, it was left off that album and the subsequent two, before being released as the B-side to Days two and a half years after it was recorded. Still better than most of the band’s 1964-65 work, it’s uninspired and uninspiring.

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3 Responses to The Kinks’ Music – Face To Face

  1. Tilt Araiza says:

    To my ears the intro of Session Man sounds like Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor but played in the major. That’s from my knowledge of Switched On Bach rather than Bach per se.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      It’s certainly very similar, and I’ll make a note of that when I bookify it, but it’s different enough that I wouldn’t say it’s the same piece. Almost certainly inspired by it though.

  2. Hal says:

    Excellent article. It’s great to hear an album where the makers have finally gotten to grips with making *an album*, something that has integrity and a cohesive quality rather than a disparate collection of songs, singles ‘n’ filler. The Beatles albums worked from the first because of the *excitement* around them though you couldn’t call them artistic statements then comes A Hard Day’s Night and even though it’s a collection of songs and what would later be called a soundtrack album it was of such quality that it satisfied as an album, whatever flaws Beatles for Sale and Help! have the better songs lend them a weird consistency and then comes Rubber Soul and Bam! We’re off to the races. Face to Face may not (arguably) be up to Rubber Soul standards but Davies and Co. have really figured out to put an album together and it’s a great feeling, it doesn’t hurt that Ray was becoming more consistently inspired. There’s a real pleasure to be taken by The Kinks finding a voice that could be maintained – more or less – over album length rather than single by single or on various B-sides. And it’s a pleasure that intensifies with the next album, the great Something Else by… Wow, that period when the Kinks were managing to create fine albums, A-sides, *and* B-sides was wonderful.
    Odd thing is I got into the Kinks originally through a Cathy Dennis cover of the fantastic Sunny Afternoon (c’mon she was/is cute!), a cover I still find quite charming.

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