Question About The Forthcoming Kinks Book

EDIT – Please read this first, visitors from
For those of you who don’t know me, one of the many things I do is write critical essays, analysing the music of various bands, track-by-track. I post these essays to this blog, and then revise them and turn them into books, both paper and ebooks, which I publish myself. So far I’ve done books on The Beatles, The Monkees, and the first of a three-volume set on The Beach Boys.
If you click on the ‘the kinks’ tag at the bottom of this post, you can read the essays I’ve done so far for the Kinks book. If you click on the relevant tags at the side, or on the “buy my books” links, you can see some of the other ones.
Please only reply to this post if you’ve had a look at some of those and have some interest in the Kinks book — I’m getting a bit swamped with comments that for one reason or another don’t apply to what I’m doing.
Thank you for your interest. If you’re interested in the book, it’ll be out in a couple of months (if I just do the first ten years) or before the end of the year (if I cover the band’s whole career). I post the essays approximately once a week, so please come back and read them if you like what you see.
And incidentally, if any Kinks fans want to volunteer to read the finished draft copy of the book and see if they can spot any factual errors, I’d be very grateful.
And now back to the original post…

Where do you want me to stop?

Currently, I’ve covered the Kinks’ complete 60s output, and it comes to about the length of my Seven Soldiers book (rather coincidentally, as there are seven 60s Kinks studio albums), so I’m starting to think about how I should do the book.

My original intention, and what I’ll still probably go with, is to cover every studio album the band made. The problem with this is that the band’s career is extremely skewed — they spent ten years making records that varied from OK to great, then twenty years making records that varied from OK to horribly racist. None of the albums past the point I’ve got to have any significant bonus tracks, so their entries will be much shorter than the ones I’ve already done, but it could still lead to a lot of entries basically saying “I’ve got nothing to say about this song because the song itself has nothing to say”. It might also skew the book to make it look like I don’t like the Kinks, when in fact they’re one of my favourite bands.

So there are a few different options, and I thought I’d put them to the people who are reading these posts, to see what sounds best to you:

The Kinks’ Music – the original plan, and what I’ll still probably do. Cover all the studio albums.
The Kinks In The 60s – just put out what I’ve got now, reworked with an introduction and something about the Live At Kelvin Hall album.
The Kinks – The Pye Years – everything on their first record label. Covers the next two albums, including the last two big UK hits (Lola and Apeman), but misses out their last really good album, Muswell Hillbillies. Or
The Kinks – The First Ten Years Covers everything up to Preservation Act 2, the first Kinks album that most people argue is actively bad, and the breakdown Ray Davies had which many people argue his songwriting talent never recovered from. This would cover the next six albums.

What would you like to read? I’m genuinely curious here — the question basically boils down to whether people want a comprehensive book or one that just covers the artistically interesting stuff.

(Another factor — and I won’t pretend this doesn’t bother me — is the reaction of American readers. I have had some very poor reviews of some of my music books on Amazon US because people disagree with my assessment of some songs and don’t know the difference between “I disagree with this” and “this is bad” (which is not to say my books are not also bad, just that those reviews don’t make a case for that). The albums I’m likely to be most unkind to are precisely those which were most commercially successful in the US, and I can already see the bad reviews as a result. That said, that’s not enough by itself to stop me writing that stuff — if I let Amazon reviewers put me off I’d never have got as far as my second book.)

FURTHER EDIT I shall not be letting any further comments about the song Black Messiah through — your point has almost certainly been made by someone in the thread already. This is not because I want to shut down debate, or because my mind is closed on the matter, but because I’m currently rather unwell and am finding the discussion quite stressful — I don’t want my death certificate to read “cause of death — popped a blood vessel because of a sidetracked internet discussion”. I’ve not taken offence at anything anyone has said, even those who have disagreed with me, and you’re all welcome to stay around and comment further on any other subject, but the discussion about racism in Black Messiah is over.

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68 Responses to Question About The Forthcoming Kinks Book

  1. I think Muswell HIllbillies is a must, so whatever option eventually leads to you writing about that, I’m in favor of.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah — Muswell Hillbillies is the last of their truly great albums (though one can make an argument for Everybody’s In Showbiz).

  2. Gerard van Calcar says:

    i am frantically fan of all the albums, so i am a bit biased… Why don’t you write about the albums you think are great (which probably includes Percy and Muswell Hillbillies) and refer to the others as totally not your cup of tea and quote the song of Arthur “Nothing To Say” about them since you don’t want to offend?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Because it would be intellectually dishonest (not to mention unsatisfying for the reader) to do a book that claims to discuss all the Kinks’ albums, and then not discuss the latter half of their career for fear of causing offence. I’ll either cover all of them, or stop at an appropriate cut-off point and not mention the rest at all. But thanks for the suggestion.

      • Gerard van Calcar says:

        Allright, i didn’t know that it already claimed all Kinks’ albums. Then in my opinion there is no cut-off point at all. There are enough gems on the latter albums to discuss, so that should be no problem, even when it’s way shorter then the first decade. Good luck.

  3. Martin Kalin says:

    Racist? The Kinks? I have been a fan of this band my entire life (I’m in my 40’s) and I’ve never heard anyone accuse Ray of being racist in his songwriting. Don’t wait for your book to be published. Justify this outrageous accusation here and now.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      It’s quite simple, really — the song Black Messiah is one of the most vilely racist pieces of filth I’ve ever heard in my life. Lyrics like “Everybody talk about racial equality
      But I’m the only honky living on an all black street
      They knock me down ‘cos they brown and I white
      Like you wouldn’t believe it” and

      “Everybody talking about racial equality
      You hear everybody talking about equal rights
      But white’s white, black’s black and that’s that
      And that’s the way you should leave it”

      Those simply *are* racist — practically the textbook definition of the term. There are worrying aspects in a number of his other songs, too (I know that a number of black people have taken offence at the song Apeman, with its mock-Carribean accent singing about being an ape and saying “I’m a voodoo man”), though they’re all individually defensible, but when Black Messiah came out there was an upswell of support for fascist groups like the National Front in Britain. Some musicians, like Davies’ erstwhile protege Tom Robinson, chose to form organisations like Rock Against Racism in order to combat racism, but Ray Davies chose instead to sing about how we should shut up about racial equality and how the black people were beating him up.

      That’s not to say Davies is himself generally racist (he has or had a mixed-race niece who he apparently adored, and has certainly not made any racist comments in the last few decades, and it would not be fair or right to hold him to opinions he had more than half his life ago), but saying songs like Black Messiah are racist isn’t something that needs justification.

      • Dave Quayle says:

        It’s not a great song but It’s a character song on an album called ‘Misfits’. It deals with knee jerk reactions like yours and the PC notion that racism is the sole province of white people, that somehow the Black Muslim ideology, for example, was not a problem. It features a reggae beat and New Orleans traditional brass section – both black musics. It also has a last verse calling for everyone to work it out and sort it out.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          And the solution proposed in the song for these ‘problems’ (as opposed to the rather more pressing problems at the time of racist skinhead thugs regularly beating up and killing black and Asian people) is for black people to know their place and stay separate from white people.
          It’s a racist song, pure and simple.

          • Dave Quayle says:

            If only life were that simple. How do you turn
            “Everybody got to show a little give and take
            Everybody got to live with a little less hate
            Everybody gotta work it out, we gotta sort it out”
            into a defence of white supremacism? That’s a rhetorical question.

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              I try to choose my words carefully — the song is racist but is not white supremacist. Rather, it uses the same kind of ‘separate but equal’ language that was used to justify segregation in the US and apartheid in South Africa. If I thought the song advocated white supremacy I would have said as much.

              • Dave Quayle says:

                So you believed those politicians in the Southern States and the apartheid regime when they said that? To get back to where I came in: it’s a character song. I would venture the verse I quoted is an RDD authorial intervention. Where we do agree is that it is hardly a crucial song in the canon, like at least half of ‘Misfits’, though I do think ‘Live life’ is a brilliant piece of work.

                • Andrew Hickey says:

                  I believe that whatever the intentions or honesty of the people saying it, the problem with “separate but equal” is not the “but equal” but the “separate”. I also think that, sadly, we’ve already spent more time discussing a tenth-rate song than Ray Davies spent writing it :-/

                  • Gentlemen: Recognize that Ray is an observer and has said may time before that he writes what he sees and interprets what is sees as being “his” fact of life. Admittedly, the song, Misfits, clearly hits an emotional cord on racism, but his words are crafted to show both sides of this ongoing issue that is not going away any time soon. You both are saying what is real, your interpretations of his words. But I am sure if you spoke to Ray directly, you would understand Ray is absolutely not a racist…but a chronicler of everyday life. That said, delighted to learn that another observation of The Kinks vast catalog is being provided to us fans. That there are “brilliant” songs on every Kinks album. Some albums, there are many more “genius” tracks than on others [i.e. Village Green, Muswell Hillbillies, Sleepwalker as examples] versus great rock tracks albums [i.e. Kink Kontroversary, School Boys, Lola Vs Powerman, etc]. Continue the banter, it is healthy. But Ray is not a racists. And observer, yes.

                    • Andrew Hickey says:

                      I’m certainly not claiming that Ray Davies ‘is’ a racist — just that he once, more than thirty years ago, wrote a single racist song. I don’t know him, and he’s not made any racist comments in any interviews I’ve read in the ensuing decades, and I’m certainly not going to hold anyone to stupid opinions they may have held decades ago.

      • Michael Booth says:

        If I remember rightly it also includes the lin’Everybody’s equal in the Good Lord’s eyes’. Surely that can’t be racist,though the word Honky is racist towards white people

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          That line, of course, being attributed to the people talking about equality, and being said so he can spend the entire rest of the song refuting it.

  4. Sean says:

    It’s strange to me how many Kinks fans don’t like the “commerically successful” Kinks songs and albums. Doesn’t commerically successful mean a lot of people liked it? I love all the Kinks work from the 60s to the 90s and absolutely love the Arista years. I would put a song like Better Things up there with Days any day of the week. Same goes for Come Dancing, Misfits, Rock and Roll Fantasy – the list goes on.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      The later stuff was more commercially successful in the US, but not over here. I tend to like the music that was successful in the UK — songs like Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset, Days and so on.

  5. Rick says:

    All the albums please. Some of my favorite Kinks albums are from the 70s and 80s.

  6. Larry says:

    I’m one of your American readers, and I have loved all of your music writing, even on the Monkees, a band I have not gotten deeper into past an old vinyl compilation. I have not yet purchased your tomes on the Beatles and the Beach Boys (because of unemployment issues-aarrgghh) but I fully intend to when the wallet is a bit more flush. Honestly, I never thought I’d be interested in purchasing a book on the Fabs or the Boys again, but your writing is wonderful, and has consistently resulted in my thinking anew about the albums you discuss – even when I don’t always agree with your opinion. I would love to read your words about all of the Kinks studio albums, and the monster BBC sessions box I just saw yesterday on Amazon UK listed for pre-release. I myself own no Kinks albums past “Low Budget” (i.e., nothing past 1979), but I would love to read your appraisals of all of them, even the ones I have never heard.

    Now, are you a Donovan fan? Just asking…

    Larry sojka

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you so much for saying that — and comments like that are more important than people actually buying the books. That’s absolutely made my day
      I almost certainly won’t deal with the BBC box, because it will have few or no songs I won’t have dealt with elsewhere — if it has any otherwise-unreleased songs I’ll deal with them in a brief appendix — but so long as people want to read what I have to say about the music and won’t take offence if I disagree, I’ll continue.
      I do like quite a bit of Donovan’s music (especially the jazzier stuff like Sunny Goodge Street) but don’t know it well enough to write about. Plus, after the Kinks book, I’m planning on doing the second volume on the Beach Boys, a book on solo George Harrison, a third Beach Boys volume… I shouldn’t even think about any more bands or musicians right now ;)

      • Larry says:

        I understand what you mean about the BBC box – makes perfect sense. Now I find out that you are planning a book on George H’s solo albums – Jeez! I’m a huge fan of his post-Beatles work, I’d love to read what you have to say about”That’s The Way It Goes”, one of my fave songs of his, in addition to all fifteen of the official albums. Please continue to do what you do, as long as you can, and ignore the naysayers. I really need to find a job, you’re gonna have, like, six books on bands/artists I love. It must also be said that you are a brave man for even thinking of writing a book discussing those last few Beach Boys albums; but I do feel that well written, informed and honest evaluations on those recordings are certainly warranted.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Don’t worry about the job — almost everything will be posted here first, as it always is.
          As for the third Beach Boys book, it’ll also cover Brian’s solo career (plus Al’s one studio solo album), and archival stuff like the Smile box and Endless Harmony, so it’ll have a good mix of levels of quality in it. I *was* hioping that the new album would give it a nice one to cap it off, but given the little snippet that came out on YouTube yesterday, I’m wondering if we have another Summer In Paradise on our hands :-/

  7. Joachim says:

    There are enough books about The Kinks. ¿Another one? ¿For What?. And remember my friend: the musicians are more important than you and the other critic musics.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      There are far fewer books about the Kinks than about many of their contemporaries — off the top of my head I can think of maybe five that are actually worth reading, and another two or three that aren’t. The reason for another one is that,, as you can see from the comments above, some people think that I have interesting things to say about the music. And I don’t think any one person is more important than any other — but certainly the Kinks’ music is more important than my book about it (if nothing else because the book wouldn’t exist without it) and I’ve never said otherwise.

      Your comment is remarkably angry-sounding given that all I’m doing is asking for opinions from people who are interested in a book you’re apparently not interested in.

  8. Pepe says:

    Supongo que no lees español, pero podrás usar el traductor de Google. A mi no me interesa discutir sobre los Kinks, pero sí me interesa señalar que en ocasiones los críticos de música pretenden estar por encima de los músicos. También me interesa mencionar que noto muy distintas las críticas hechas por músicos y las que nos presentan intelectuales o diletantes. Éstas me parecen en general muy vanidosas y arrogantes. Además, tengo la impresión que de muchas críticas son formuladas por sujetos en estado de ebriedad.

    EDIT by Andrew:
    Google translation – “I guess you do not read Spanish, but you can use the Google translator. I do not want to discuss about the Kinks, but I want to point out that sometimes music critics claim to be above the musicians. I also want to mention that I feel very different criticisms made by musicians and we have intellectual or dilettantes. They seem generally very vain and arrogant. Also, I have the impression that many criticisms are made ​​by individuals while intoxicated.”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Well, if those are your concerns, you’ll be glad to know that I don’t think I am above anybody. I don’t know if I would call myself a musician as opposed to an intellectual (neither would be my first choice as a description of myself), but I am a songwriter, I have made music which other people have enjoyed, I studied music at university and I can play three instruments competently and four others tolerably. So I think my criticism comes from the perspective of a musician who knows what he’s talking about, rather than that of someone who is a music critic and nothing else.
      As for being intoxicated, the strongest drug I ever use is caffeine, and I limit myself to two cups of that a day ;)

      That said, we’re rather wandering from the point here — even if I had little technical musical knowledge, I still think that criticism can be in itself a valid form of creative work. Some of the best writing I’ve ever read, from Bernard Shaw’s music criticism to Orwell writing about Tolstoy writing about Shakespeare, to some of Andrew Rilstone’s work about CS Lewis or Watchmen, is criticism, and my life would be poorer without their writing. Not that I’m claiming to be as good as Shaw or Orwell or Rilstone, of course, but I hope that my work has some value (and judging by the comments I get, others think it does).

      So this post rather takes as read the idea that criticism (when practiced properly) is a valid thing to do, and is only asking the opinion of those who are interested in reading it…

  9. Fred says:

    American Kinks fan here, also with a devotion to large parts of the 80’s and 90s output. “Animal” is, imo, one of the most catchy Kinks songs ever. So I suggest covering ALL the albums, plus adding some of your ideas about why British and American audiences seem to have different preferences. I’d read that.

  10. Hal says:

    Andrew, I think that The Kinks:The First Ten Years would be the best idea but that’s purely *my* view, unsurprisingly! I feel that Preservation: Act 2 is the perfect endpoint because it’s the record in which at last it’s all concept and virtually nothing else. Ray Davies’s psychological travails of the time didn’t help nor did the requirements for Preservation that led it to be split in two but this was really the period in which Ray’s artistic well ran dry. Now, I know that the Kinks’ “arena rock” era saw them enjoy success in America but it would be hard for *me* and I suspect *you* to make too many great claims for those works. It’s far better for you to concentrate on the decade in which – I would argue – their greatest, most important, most interesting, and most enjoyable music was recorded than it is for you to try to analyse later works that don’t appeal to you. You are also totally correct in your theorizing that any distaste for or heavy criticism of the mediocre or bad later stuff will lead to some assuming that you hate the band despite the weight of evidence to the contrary. Of course some of the comments here suggest that any criticism is unwelcome, quite why those who are anti-criticism are reading *critical essays* I do not know. Keep up the good work.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      To be fair to those people, my blog’s been linked by a couple of Kinks fan sites, and presumably they’ve come here not knowing what kind of thing I do (and also a number of them are not primarily English speakers). It is making me lean more to a “first ten years” thing, even though a numer of people have said they’d like more. I’ll probably decide when I actually get to Preservation Act II… the last thing I want to do is to get into endless debates about whether Black Messiah is racist or Prince Of The Punks homophobic or whatever, when I frankly don’t think those songs worth the time the argument would take.

      That said, though, there has been no full-length critical study of all the Kinks’ music, and it would be nice to have one out there.

  11. Rick Larder says:

    I bought my first Kinks “Best Of” LP back in 1966 and have been a fan since You Really Got Me in 1964 or so. I would love to read a comprehensive history of the Kinks with the highs and lows. I have most of their albums and have enjoyed all, even those that many would dismiss. From my jaded perspective, being biased, Ray Davies is bar none the best chronicler of social life in the 20th & 21st century. Long live the Kinks! Ray, keep making music, we need you!

  12. Hal says:

    I see your point but your comment on the likely fall out of an innocuous trouncing of those songs and others wouldn’t be worth the hassle. It’s fascinating, I’m a fan of Bowie but I like reading fair criticism of his work (though I may not always agree with it) and I’m not going to argue that say, Tonight is not mostly crap – to be crude – despite its commercial success, also I consider the oft-maligned Diamond Dogs a masterpiece and Lodger worth anyone’s time while I find the well-received Reality pretty much awful (Fall Dog Bombs The Moon is very good, however). This doesn’t make me any less of a fan, Bowie is, after all, not the messiah. For that reason tho’ I think The Kinks:The First Ten Years is a better idea reviews of lesser or even atrocious albums have an appeal they don’t affect the greatness of other albums or the praise for particular songs but then again I have a “special” mind. Ha.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I actually agree with most of what you say about Bowie there, too.
      I like balanced criticism, myself, and it’s what I try to provide — something along the lines of Ian MacDonald’s Revolution In The Head, for example, though I would never say I was as insightful a critic as MacDonald. It can be fun to read (or write) an absolute savaging of a piece of work that deserves it, just as it can be fun to read (or write) a piece examining the beauty of a work of genius. I think most people think that way, as well.
      However, there is a vocal minority who take any disagreement as a personal affront. I’ve had one-star reviews for my Beatles and Monkees books that amount to “the author prefers John Lennon to Paul McCartney” (I’m not even sure that I do, actually…) and “the author doesn’t like Davy Jones’ voice”. Personally, I wouldn’t give a book that thought, say, that Davy was better than Mike one star just because of that, but plenty of people do think that way.
      (I have even seen threads on a science fiction message board where someone wanted to track down my address to ‘keep an eye on me’ because I’d posted a bad review of the abysmal Connie Willis novel Blackout/All Clear).
      It’s difficult because there’s also the question of intellectual honesty — if I let possible bad reactions to those essays put me off writing them, am I succumbing to censorship? I genuinely don’t know…

  13. Hal says:

    I think the question is “are you really enthusiastic about tackling those albums?”. If you feel that you really have the enthusiasm to do so and that you have something to say even it is negative then go ahead regardless of others’. After all Greil Marcus’s “What is this Shit?” review/dismantling of Self-Portrait is famous for a reason, whether or not we may agree with his opinion. On the other hand, if you decide to go ahead because you are worried that not to do would be to “succumb to censorship” then wouldn’t that be to possibly to do it for the wrong reason? After all you could just as effectively argue that the reason *not* to do it is because *artistically* (and I’m referring here to criticism as an art) it doesn’t hold much interest for you. From a practical point of view it may make sense to cover the Kinks entire career – and there are enough people who invested in the later works§ – but from an *artistic* perspective perhaps it makes most sense to cover the era the offers the greatest creative bounties and the shapeliest narrative, you can always add an epilogue. What do you think?

    §I restrained myself from writing “for whatever reason” here, see I’m nice not sarcastic at all!

  14. TAD says:

    You should probably take into account whether you can write passionately about the later Kinks albums. If you don’t think you can bring yourself to do it, then maybe it’s better to exclude them, and cut off your book at a point where you believe the albums are worth discussing.

    I’m not that familiar with the Kinks, but to use a Beach Boys analogy, I know I would have a hard time analyzing albums like “Keepin’ the Summer Alive” and “Summer in Paradise,” because the albums don’t remotely appeal to me.

  15. Poul Hoejvang says:

    I World Like to read abolut the Arista years as Well as the sixties. and not just the DONG’s nyt slap the lide og Ray and Dave.
    Looping forward to traf the book.
    Greetings from Poul om Denmark

  16. Anthony says:

    I’d enjoy reading about the later albums too – and your thoughts on the solo work of Ray and Dave. The ‘Pye Years’ are always the ones covered, in blogs and whatever. It’d be nice to read about the full body of work as a more representative view of Ray and Dave’s work for getting on for 50 years.

  17. jim mello says:

    Well, if you’re going to short shrift Preservation, especially Act 2 ,which is a wild and wonderful ride, and a very timely release for the Occupy Everywhere movement, IMHO, then limit yourself to the 60’s, which were the glory days in some ways, but the entire Kinks corpus is better than just about any of their peers. By the way, Andrew, when did you first start listening to the Kinks?, for to see Arthur as inferior to anything is to have missed the point. First of all, it really is a soundtrack album, and we never got to see it/hear it in that role. More later. Thanks for stirring up some juice. God save the Kinks.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I agree of course that we never get to see the full context of Arthur, but we have to evaluate it based on what we have, and I’m looking at these things for people who are listening to them in the current context — though I hope I make the distinction between the original albums and the bonus material clear enough. That’s also the problem with the mid-70s rock opera period — so much of it is intended for a theatrical performance we can’t watch any longer.

      As for when I started listening to the Kinks, I’m in my thirties and so knew the hits and so on all my life (as a child I was obsessed with things like reruns of Ready, Steady Go! on the TV) but really became a fan as opposed to just liking the hits when I was 16 and first heard Village Green Preservation Society.

  18. jim mello says:

    Also, your “album” review of Arthur is the CD reissue with bonus tracks, a very different experience than the original vinyl. Context is everything. It’s okay to review the reissues, of course; but if you’re evaluating them as 60’s releases then the 90’s reissues aren’t contextually accurate.

  19. Dane says:

    Andrew, I just recently found this site because of the comic content, but was delighted to find the Kinks articles. I *think* I’ve read just about every critical book out there on the band and I found your track analysis to be a welcome addition. In terms of the scope of your book, I don’t know how much I would be interested in reading about the Arista years personally. I guess I just don’t feel there’s all that much to salvage and it gets depressing to dwell on the unfulfilled promise.
    I would like to read about MH and Preservation, especially since I have an odd fondness for the latter that I can’t really explain.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks — it’s especially nice to have people reading the site who are interested in more than one of the different strands I have here. (Especially when they have good enough taste to be a Flann O’Brien fan as well). I do think Preservation Act I has some very good stuff on it — Sweet Lady Genevieve, for example — but no matter how often I listen to Act II I find that I can’t remember a single song on it.

      Taking all the comments into account, I’ll almost certainly do “the first ten years”, which will end with Act II. If nothing else, one has to deal more and more with Davies’ idiosyncratic and frequently reactionary politics as one goes further into the catalogue, and judging from the comments my aside about the racism in Black Messiah is getting, any attempt to deal with a song like that or Prince Of The Punks would be pretty much doomed to degenerate into the worst kind of shitstorm in the comments…

  20. steve cranshaw says:

    Has to be The First Ten Years (with a better title). Have to include MH’s and Act 2 gives a good intro into the ‘new direction’. BTW, I think Act 2 is quite good and a bit better than the ‘unfocused’ Act 1.

  21. Why don’t you just cherry-pick the most interesting post-M.H. songs from 1971 to 1993, and write about them in an appendix? (Be careful with “The Informer”, though, since the narrator/persona in that song seems to be advocating a “necessary murder”, as Auden put it ) Come to think of it, skip “Living Room Light”, too: the character there is mildly anti-semitic but in love with a Jewish girl. Oh, and skip “Superman: it’s sung by a self-hating smoking anorexic. And when you get to write about that bastard Randy Newman, better leave out “Short People” . I think he really does hate 5’6″ people like me!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      The big difference between what Newman does and what Davies did on Black Messiah is that songs like Short People and Sail Away, where he stays in character throughout, are so far outside the mainstream of opinion that no-one could possibly mistake them for Newman’s real views. When Newman *does* write as a character who holds abhorrent views that are actually held by many people, as in Rednecks, he steps out of the song (the last verse “free to be put in a cage in Harlem” and so on).
      The views in Black Messiah, though, are stated without any distancing — and in fact with precisely the “I know you’re not allowed to say this any more, but…” tone that most racists of the Daily Mail reading kind take. Either Davies held those views himself at that point, or he’s so good an observer that he wrote a song that works entirely convincingly from the point of view of a racist, without any obviously satirical element. The former seems to me more in line with his other work around that time.

      • Steve Vercelli says:

        What “inspired” Ray Davies to write ‘Black Messiah’ was reportedly less-than-brotherly treatment from Sly Stone’s entourage at the White City Stadium concert in 1973. It doesn’t sound hate-filled to me; it sounds like his reply to “black supremacists” (‘He said the Black Messiah’s gonna come and set the whole world free’), and the fact that he’s referred to as a “honkey” by his black neighbors, who “knock me down cuz they brown and I white”, indicating that RACISM RUNS BOTH WAYS. Davies certainly doesn’t mention any desire to do the harm to the blacks who knock him down and call him honkey.

        Do you have similar issues with the Rolling Stones saying “Black Girls just wanna get f’d all night”?

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          The correct response to bigotry from the powerless isn’t bigotry from the powerful.

          And I don’t know that Stones song, so I can’t comment.

          • Greg says:

            If you don’t know the song Some Girls, just how qualified are you to be taken seriously in regards to Rock Music? You are showing some cluelessness here…Ray Davies was a top notch writer and performer up until this day, and the 70’s and 80’s provided many great highlights

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              Well, I’ve never claimed any great expertise in “Rock Music” (why the capitalisation?), in part because I find most of it unutterably tedious. The Stones, in particular, became a sad parody of themselves around 1970.
              My interest is in music, not just in some canonical list of ‘greatest bands/songs of all time’, and one of the things that was most interesting about the Kinks when they were doing their best work was that they were being influenced by music outside the normal ‘rock’ boundaries — there’s a great story of the Davies brothers being interviewed in 1964 or 65 and absolutely raving about the Modern Jazz Quartet, and there’s a Ray Davies interview in 1969 where he talks about how when he was writing Sunny Afternoon he was listening to Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller and Bach, and nothing else.
              Now, the thing is, I *am* extremely familiar with all those musicians, and I can see their influence on the music. I could quite easily say “If you don’t know Place Vendome, the album on which the Modern Jazz Quartet perform baroque pieces by Bach and other composers with the Swingle Singers, how can you possibly comment on the Kinks’ music?”, but I don’t, because I am actually more interested in the opinions of people who have different frames of reference than I am in those of people who already agree with me.
              That said, the point at which the Kinks’ music becomes much less interesting to me is the point in the mid-70s when they seem to lose all those influences from outside “Rock Music” (with capitals) and become just another bunch of boys with guitars…

              • Greg says:

                I defy anyone to re-examine an album like Schoolboys in Disgrace and not find a great appreciation to the witty, whimsical and nostalgic rememberance of our schooldays, plus it has great rock music…songs from the later period that rank up with thier “classics”: Live Life, Scattered, Around the Dial, Aggravation, The Road, Yo-Yo, Life on the Road, Life Goes On, Superman, and the three song sequence on Soap Opera, Rush Hour Blues/9 to 5/When Work is over, which Ray brilliantly chronicles so many of the working stiff charachteristics…give it another listen with an open mind!

                • Scott says:

                  I agree with Greg. Schoolboys has that delightfully nostalgic song “Schooldays”. Soap Opera has the clever environmental song “Under the Neon Sign”. Everybody’s in showbiz is full of great new songs on the studio A side. I think when Ray started again with Arista, he hit two home runs in a row with Sleepwalker and Misfits. They’re not in the same vein as the earlier 60’s Kink’s hits, but they are oh so clever in the way Ray writes some of the best songs ever. Sleepwalker has that beautiful song “Full Moon”. And “Brother” is a wonderfully sweet song.

      • For me, the “satirical element” may lie in the fact that the character–a racist who is also a victim of racism–sings in the cadence and style of his “oppressors”! Could this perhaps be a light-skinned West Indian persecuted by his peers and thus, ironically, one would not be considered white in parts of the USA? However you look at it, I agree that it’s not a great song–but there are many gems to choose from in the post MH catalogue.

        Anyway, best of luck with this project, and put me down for a copy!

      • arkhonia says:

        “The big difference between what Newman does and what Davies did on Black Messiah is that songs like Short People and Sail Away, where he stays in character throughout, are so far outside the mainstream of opinion that no-one could possibly mistake them for Newman’s real views.”

        Andrew, are you *sure* about this? It’s kinda common knowledge what the reaction to Short People was at the time…,,312619,00.html

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          True. Revise that to “no-one with the slightest sense could…”
          I do think there’s a huge difference, though, between a song that satirises bigotry by having the bigot be prejudiced against a group who don’t face a huge amount of discrimination, and a song that supposedly satirises bigotry by just saying exactly the same things that racists say…

          • arkhonia says:

            But Short People is actually a pretty anomalous Randy song – you mentioned Sail Away, there’s Roll With The Punches, many others…and, in relation to another type of prejudice, there’s You Can Leave Your Hat On, which is from a pretty scary point of view, offered without commentary – and has been appropriated by Tom Jones et al as some kind of ‘sexy’ come on, when it’s really some poor woman trapped in a psychopath’s flat under a bright light, shaking her tits. My point (if I had one) was more to consider that your own perceptions of a song *may* not concur with other people’s hearing of same (think this is the opposition you’re receiving here), and that it might be useful for you to maybe interrogate your own perceptions, rather than assume that anyone who disagrees with you is, in essence, wrong.

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              Fair enough — and you’re absolutely right, of course. I wasn’t thinking particularly straight about Newman. I think in *this particular instance*, though, given the insensitivity Davies has shown to racial issues in the past (though never otherwise outright racism), the time the song was written (the late 70s, when racism was comparatively socially acceptable), other songs Davies wrote around that time (Prince Of The Punks being a rather nastily homophobic attack on Tom Robinson) and the song as a whole (with its repeated lines about “everybody has a right to their opinons, so don’t shoot me for mine”), that my reading of the song is the correct one.

              I certainly hope I’ve not appeared dismissive of others’ arguments here — if anything I’ve tried to err on the other side, because thinking that a songwriter I generally admire could make such an horrific misstep is not something I’m keen on — but I honestly don’t think their readings are supported by the text, or by the context in which the song was written. (I may have sounded snippy because I spent a huge amount of time dealing with those comments, none of which had any real bearing on the substance of the post — had they been on an entry which was actually about that song I’d probably have been lesss brusque — but I’ve certainly tried to deal with everyone fairly).

          • “…prejudiced against a group who don’t face a huge amount of discrimination”. Au contraire! All the studies show that height has a enormous bearing on relative prosperity, marriage prospects and career advancement. And not just for men: just ask any woman! And if as a man you protest too much, you get hit with the “Napoleon complex” bollocks–as if there aren’t any tall megalomaniacs! De Gaulle, Bin Laden, King Zog of Albania…? But, like the Scots perhaps, it seems short people are the last group it’s still fair game to abuse with impunity. So I’m still kind of mad at Randy–why couldn’t he have picked on the bald, say!

  22. Andrew Hickey says:

    The IP address of the person from Mexico who keeps trying to post the same comment over and over, using various hotmail email addresses, under the names ‘Cindy’ and ‘Joachim’, has been banned. When someone says they’re not letting any further comments through on a subject, the polite thing to do is to *drop the subject*, not keep harassing them.

  23. Lynn White says:

    Don’t think you can stop after the first 10 years. The project seems too big really. The Kinks were several bands in one. The albums reflect this and really all need to be covered to make any appraisal meaningful. But it would need a long book!

    • Gary says:

      Certainly would need a massive tome!!! Agree with all your comments. The band of the early 80’s – mid 90’s is a million miles away from the social commentators of the 60’s. Part of their appeal is that they are so difficult to pigeon-hole either in print or on record. Ultimately in this day and age how ‘meaningful’ is any appraisal?? Other than Kinks fans (and even then, written appeal is limited), who would care?

  24. Gary says:

    Personally, I loved the Kinks stuff from early 80’s onwards, mainly i suppose cos thats when I really got into them aside from hearing ‘the hits’ prior to that, and then working my way backwards!! Consequently I can’t help but think that due to their 60’s back catalogue, the latter years of their career were somewhat neglected in literary terms. Lack of commercial success doesn’t make material such as Think Visual, UK Jive, Word Of Mouth any less valid. State Of Confusion and Young Conservatives heralded the oncoming political regime of the time. Think Visual echoed a mundane, apathetic working class in ‘Working At The Factory, Welcome To Sleazy Town and Killing Time. I’m sure you’ll agree there’s plenty of material for analysis in later recordings, not that ‘being less valid’ is suggested in any way by yourself, but The Kinks as 60’s spokesmen is possibly a tried and tested formula? Interesting the furor regarding ‘Misfits’ from a rascist angle. Going a little further back could the village green concept be construed as veiled rascism?? Perhaps not from Ray Davies’ personal viewpoint but as working class mouthpiece it could be seen as such. The social transgression of Britain from 60’s to present day, in some ways, has changed immeasurably and Ray Davies songwriting has always reflected that. Rue the day that he becomes ‘politically correct’ and one of the ‘faceless men in grey’.

  25. Wow … rally late on this. Like some of your other readers, I’m pretty cash poor but once I get a bit more scratch I definitely plan on buying your Monkees book and would happily buy any Kinks book as well. I’d be interested in your views of the RCA output which is EXTREMELY dodgy after Everyone’s In Show-Biz (Kinda like Soap Opera, though), but it’s probably best to leave out the Arista Years. I do like Give The People What They Want for nostalgic reasons, but I think there’s more chaff than wheat on Sleepwalker, Misfits, Low Budget et. al.

    Anyway, hope you’re feeling well.

  26. lgbpop says:

    Racist? You are a fool. Davies observed the human experience in all of its quirks and foibles. He didn’t judge. Black Messiah merely observed the crap he got from moving into a minority neighborhood. It also poked fun at white liberals’ condescension toward minorities. Those minorities don’t mince words when someone moves into THEIR neighborhood.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      The lyrics in question were:
      “Everybody talk about racial equality
      But I’m the only honky living on an all black street
      They knock me down ‘cos they brown and I white
      Like you wouldn’t believe it

      They say a Black Messiah is gonna set the world on fire
      A Black Messiah is gonna come and rule the world
      Everybody talk about racial equality
      Everybody talk about equal rights
      But white’s white, black’s black and that’s that
      Everybody got the right to speak their mind
      So don’t shoot me for saying mine

      Everybody talking about racial equality
      You hear everybody talking about equal rights
      But white’s white, black’s black and that’s that
      And that’s the way you should leave it”

      I’ll leave it to anyone else reading this three-year-old thread to decide for themselves if it makes any sense *not* to think that is racist.

      However, your comment itself is also, at the very least, borderline racist with its comments about “those minorities”. It is also personally insulting to me, and continuing a discussion I had asked to be closed. Any one of those would get you banned from commenting, and the combination of all three, along with the fact that your previous comment, while it was engaging enough with the post that I let it through, was also aggressive in tone, means that you’re blocked from commenting further.

      Don’t bother trying to comment on this blog again — anything from you will just go into the spam folder unread.

      • Larry S. says:

        Jeez, Andrew – I shudder to think of the comments you’ll get when you review “Summer in Paradise”….

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Yeah, this is why I won’t be doing more music books after California Dreaming and the third Beach Boys book — I simply don’t need the levels of personal abuse they cause.

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