Magnet Magazine produced their list of the five most overrated, and underrated, songs in The Kinks canon. This inspired me to do something similar—well, maybe not that similar.
I mean, I have to agree with many comments on the article that declaring anything “overrated” in terms of The Kinks is a bit absurd, given that their unfair residence in the shadow of that “holy trinity” of The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. You can point out all you want that while the Beatles early songs were kind of lame (“Love Me Do”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), The Kinks’ were—and remain—pretty awesome (“You Really Got Me”, “All Day and All of the Night”). Or that Arthur—not Tommy—was actually the first rock opera. Or that The Kinks continued to develop musically throughout their 30-year career, while the Rolling Stones musical development seems to have died along with Brian Jones.
None of that matters. Those bands are just more popular, overall, than The Kinks, and nothing’s going change that. (And if Kinks fans are honest, they’re going to admit to liking having The Kinks as their own secret great band of the British invasion.)
Now, The Kinks did have some big hits (“You Really Got Me”, “Lola”, “Come Dancing”), but they’re all good songs, in my opinion, and none “overrated”. But none worth talking about any more, either.
But underrated… What does that really mean, with these guys? Songs people slagged unfairly? What would those be?
So, my list is not really overrated, nor underrated. It’s just Kinks songs I really really like, and that most people don’t know. These are ones that came to me off the top of my head, with no scouring through song lists. It’s about evenly divided between 60s/early 70s and 80/90s—the Kinks having somewhat lost me in their 70s concept album phase.
In no particular order…
1. Art Lover (Give the People What They Want, 1982)
The song that made me a Kinks fan. I saw The Kinks perform this on Saturday Night Live, and was instantly infatuated by Ray’s extremely flirtatious presentation. Only later did I realize it’s actually a song “either about a lonely Dad missing his daughter, or a really mellow pervert.” The uncomfortable ambiguity is very Kinks. (And I still find Ray terribly sexy in that clip.)
From YouTube: Live version of Art Lover—sadly, not the one from SNL
2. I’m Not Like Everybody Else (To the Bone, 1994)
While I also really enjoy the original 1965(?) version, sung by Dave, I think my favorite is the live 1994 version, sung by Ray, who introduces it thusly:
This song summarizes what The Kinks are all about. Because everybody expects us to do wonderful things, and we mess it all up, usually.
I like the slightly altered lyrics, and most especially, the delicious irony of a whole crowd of people gleefully singing in unison that they “aren’t like everybody else!”
From YouTube: The original, sung by Dave
3. Village Green Preservation Society (The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, 1968)
I love this song beyond all reason, given that it’s on a subject I neither know nor particularly care about: preservation of British heritage from before my time. I think it’s the clever wordplay (“We are the Sherlock Holmes, the English-speaking vernacular /Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty, and Dracula”), the gorgeous harmonies throughout, and the very pleasing key change near the end. (The version on To the Bone is also wonderful.)
4. Days (single, 1969)
OK, this is cheating, because this was probably was a hit. But it’s too beautiful not to include.
It’s about a now-ended love affair. But instead of expressing self-pity, or anger, it expresses gratitude. Thank you. Thank you for ever being with me at all. Thank you for the days, those endless days you gave me.
I’ve never heard anything like it. And not to be morbid, but… I want this played at my funeral. (“I bless the light, I bless the light that shines on you, believe me. And though you’re gone, you’re with me every single day, believe me.”)
From YouTube: The Kinks miming “Days” on Top of the Pops (guess it was a hit)
5. Shangri-la (Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1969)
This one was on the Magnet Magazine list, and I have to agree. It’s the best song on an album with no weak tracks. It starts out in soft tones, as an apparent homage to idyllic surburban living: “Now that you’ve found your paradise, this is your kingdom to command.” It then segues into an angrier, louder middle section, pointing out the multitude of ways that “life ain’t so happy in your little shangri-la”. When the initial verse returns, in the same tune but now retaining the angry horns, it now seems rather ominous: “You’ve reached your top and you just can’t any higher.”
It’s nothing but brilliant.
6. Living on a Thin Line (Word of Mouth, 1984)
The Kinks have a lot of songs about British life and mores—gardening, drinking tea, china cups, and virginity. They have whole albums about it. But one of the very best of these is actually by Dave Davies, not Ray.
Now, Dave wrote this with the thought that Ray might sing it. It’s keyed for Ray’s lower vocal range. But Ray declined, and Dave does the honors, and does a fine job of it. It’s nicely produced, sort of epic-sounding, and had it ever been released as a single, who knows? (One of the many sore points between the brothers.)
From YouTube: A video montage to the song
7. Don’t Look Down (Phobia, 1993)
Phobia is the last full studio album from The Kinks and has a lot of strong tracks, notably the beautiful “Scattered” and the incendiary “Hatred” duet between the brothers. But I keep coming back to this simple track as a great example of Ray’s ability to so vividly paint a portrait of daily life. And of his optimism.
Walking down the street, he sees a man on the edge—literally. “Don’t look down.” More and more people join in. “And we all start to say: Don’t look down.“ Now the sun’s coming up—“looks like he’s standing on a rainbow”…
8. The Moneygoround (Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, 1970)
The Lola album is also very strong, and includes the touching “Get Back in the Line” and Dave’s spiritual ode, “Strangers”. It also has a number of fun tunes (apart from “Lola”)—the fabulous “Top of the Pops” (“Life is so easy when your record’s hot”) and this one. Here is Ray taking what was actually a very painful experience (“Do they all deserve money for a song that they’ve never heard?”) and turning it into catchy romp (that you can totally dance to).
From YouTube: The Kinks video for Moneygoround
9. Property (State of Confusion, 1983)
Ah, the divorce song. Just a sad, beautiful song, observing how “all the little things, we thought we’d throw away / The useless souvenirs, bought on a holiday / We put them on a shelf, now they’re collecting dust / We never needed them / But they outlasted us.”
From YouTube: Property (just the song, no video. All you need.)
10. Love Me Til the Sun Shines (Something Else by The Kinks, 1967)
Got to stop somewhere, so why not with this bit of horny ridiculousless by Dave from a classic 60s Kinks album. In a steady rock chug, Dave informs us that not only does his girlfriend not have to cook or clean for him, she doesn’t even have to laugh with him or hold his hand. Oh, and she can totally make out with his friends, and it’s fine if she borrows and wrecks his stuff.
Just as long as she still “loves” him til the sun shines.
Well, at least he has his priorities straight.
I don’t want to make excuses, but… I was 16 years old. I had the world at my feet. I had the world [laughs] at my… d***. — Dave Davies
From You Tube: Love Me Til the Sun Shines
Appendix: OK, couldn’t quite stop until I added these two…
11. Noise (B-side 1983)
A really obscure tune that only later showed on up on the CD version of State of Confusion as a bonus track. Yet it’s as good as anything else on the album. I love the soaring chorus—“All I hear is noise.”
From YouTube: Noise (sound, static video)
12. Alcohol (Everybody’s in Showbiz, 1973)
This one is probably cheating as well, as it was a centerpiece of The Kinks’ stage act of the 1970s, Ray balancing a bottle of beer on his head. So not really obscure. The verses are in third person, telling us “the story of a sinner who used to be a winner.” Then the chorus switches into first person: “Oh demon alcohol / Sad memories I can’t recall”. I suppose I should be troubled by a song about alcoholism sounding so jaunty, not to mention the sexism of the “floozy” and the wife beating. But it’s just too fun to take seriously.
YouTube: Alcohol, live (as it should be), 1977
And a YouTube playlist of the whole set (with a Leno performance of “Hatred” subbing in for the unavailable “Don’t Look Down”)