“[People] think I should never have stopped writing three-minute story songs. But I’ve written so many of them the formula begins to reveal itself. The magic goes. It did for me, anyway.” – Ray Davies
In 1973, it was Ray’s turn to be put through the wringer. His wife Rasa, fed up with Ray’s absences, inattention and infidelities, left him and took the kids. Her note read, “I’ve gone, please contact my solicitor.” Needless to say, he was gobsmacked by this. A few days later at the White City Stadium in London, Ray attempted to publicly quit the band and wish he was dead. However, he was drowned out by the PA. “How farcical can you get?” Dave wondered.
As the Kinks main songwriter, the band was increasingly in danger of – and maybe sometimes succeeded at – becoming Ray’s backup band. Album covers sometimes pictured only him. If you read through Uncut magazine’s history of the band, almost every interview is with him. And so it was inevitable that whatever Ray wanted to do they did. A “dictator” and “megalomaniac” Dave called him.
For the next several years, the band recorded concept albums, including two records that became part of a Village Green suite, Preservation Act 1 and Preservation Act 2. These albums didn’t entirely work for me. (Though, that said, I listened to Act 1 recently and found it fairly enjoyable. But if you’re seeking infectious hits, there are better places to look.)
One album, Soap Opera, was a 1974 Grenada TV live production with Ray acting and the Kinks playing live. It was actually called Starmaker when it was broadcast. Guess what? Found it. Sometimes Ray’s ambition to create these concept albums outstrips his ability to do them. But I give guys like him and Pete Townshend a lot of credit for even attempting it. I can’t write one fucking song much less an entire concept album.
A turning point for the Kinks was when they signed with Arista records in 1976. The label was founded by industry legend Clive Davis who encouraged the band to drop all the rock opera bullshit and get back to being a stripped-down rock and roll band. Best advice they had gotten in a while I think.
That whole era from 1976 to 1986 represented somewhat of a resurgence for the band. Space prevents me from listing everything they did. But during that productive time, they released eight albums and seven singles. They were reborn as somewhat of a blustery arena-rock band, largely to a newer audience but also to some old hippies. (I have never seen them again since that one night in New York.)
In reading about that period of time – still very much a fervent era for rock music – it appears the Kinks came back with a vengeance. Denied for four years from playing in the States, they played here (and all over the world) relentlessly. They were even a featured act at Steve Wozniak’s US Festival in 1982, sharing the bill with acts such as Tom Petty and The Cars. But while big in America, in England they were largely overlooked, being relegated to “weren’t they a Sixties band?” status.
My own feelings about the Kinks’ recorded output around this time are mixed. I wasn’t really following them that closely or buying their albums anymore, checking in only when something on the radio caught my ear. But I give them a hell of a lot of credit for re-launching themselves into a rock world now besotted with punk.
“Juke Box Music” caught my ear in 1977. Here they are live on the now-defunct British TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test. This is a great rocker and it sounds terrific to hear the brothers Davies sing together:
Here’s a song from 1981’s Give the People What They Want. It’s called “Better Things” and I like it because it is not only a good song but the refrain “I hope tomorrow you find better things” strikes me as a hell of a nice, hopeful thing to say to a person, especially one who might be down on their luck. (Ray duetted with Springsteen on this tune in his 2010 album of collaborations, See My Friends). Pearl Jam covered this tune as did Frank Black:
One of my favorite Kinks songs ever is the 1983 tune, “Come Dancing,” their last major hit single. (The horns at the end of this song are icing on the cake and could go on for twenty-five minutes as far as I’m concerned.) I knew that it was about Ray’s sisters and how they loved to dance. But I found out later – like recently – that the song is more pointed and bittersweet.
Wikipedia: “”Come Dancing” is (in part) a tribute to the Davies brothers’ sister Rene. Living in Canada with her reportedly abusive husband, the 31-year-old Rene was visiting her parental home in Fortis Green at the time of Ray Davies’ thirteenth birthday on which she surprised him with a gift of the Spanish guitar he had tried to persuade his parents to buy him.
That evening, Rene, who had a weak heart as a result of a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, suffered a fatal heart attack while dancing at the Lyceum Ballroom and died in the arms of a stranger.” Ray reimagines it as if that never happened:
Chrissie Hynde, from Akron Ohio, had moved to England in the Seventies and wrote for the New Musical Express. She was initially somewhat of a fringe player in the burgeoning punk scene. She formed the Pretenders and – being a fervent Kinks fan – recorded “Stop Your Sobbing” from the Kinks debut album.
Chrissie met her idol Ray, one thing led to another and they fell in love. They never did get married but in 1983 had a daughter Natalie. Their relationship was far too “rock-starry” and tempestuous to survive. Dave remembers ‘whole flats trashed and furniture splintered.’ But by all accounts, there is still affection on both sides. They just couldn’t live together.
By 1984, not only was the band nearing the end of enjoying this second wind, but the relationship between Mick Avory and Dave Davies had again deteriorated badly. Ray took Mick out for a pint and essentially fired him. (Ray’s version.) Or he quit. (Mick’s version.) Regardless, Ray asked him to manage Konk studios which he did and from what I can ascertain, may well be doing it to this day.
Also in 1984, Ray started working on his first solo album, Return to Waterloo. (Solo, as in Dave refused to play on it.) I know little about this but from what I read, there was a companion film (“slender but assured” – NY Times) created for British TV. It stars all those Brits we in the States never hear of unless A) they wind up in a Harry Potter movie or B) are in some BBC import that winds up on public TV. (Ray appears in it as does Tim Roth.)
For the last ten years or so of the band’s life, I think they were pretty much limping along on fumes. They released singles and albums, none of which charted. And their touring days as a band were pretty much over. They were ignominiously dropped by their label, leaving them without one since signing with Pye in 1964.
In 1990, in their first year of eligibility, The Kinks were inducted (by old friend Graham Nash) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Both Mick Avory and Pete Quaife were there which makes me really, really fucking happy.
Despite new bands like Oasis praising them for their influence, the band’s best days as a functioning unit were now behind it. Autobiographies were written; solo records were released.
The very last album – a live one called To The Bone – was released in 1994. It consisted of tracks recorded live both at Konk and on the road. No new stuff, just greatest hits. I kinda like their jaunty version of “Apeman,” originally from the Lola album. (This version not on Spotify so used original from Lola.)
The Kinks last public performance was in 1996. The group got together for one more time at Dave’s 50th birthday party at the first place they ever played, the Clissold Arms pub, across the street from their childhood home.
In a final display of brotherly love, Dave advises that “just as I was about to cut the cake, Ray jumped on the table and made a speech about how wonderful he was. He then stamped on my cake.” Asked about this later, Ray dodged the question as neatly as a politician.
Legacy: Per Wikipedia, The Kinks are regarded as one of the most important and influential rock acts of the 1960s and early 1970s. They were ranked 65th (tribute by Peter Buck of R.E.M) on Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. Artists influenced by the Kinks include the Ramones, the Clash, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and The Jam, who covered “David Watts.” I read somewhere that Ray was called “The Godfather of Britpop,” a ’90’s music movement. I don’t know who called him that. Maybe Ray.
Pete Townshend credited Ray Davies with inventing “a new kind of poetry and a new kind of language for pop writing that influenced me from the very, very, very beginning.”
Musicologist Joe Harrington stated: “‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day and All of the Night’ and ‘I Need You’ were predecessors of the whole three-chord genre … the Kinks did a lot to help turn rock ‘n’ roll (Jerry Lee Lewis) into rock (Zeppelin, Sabbath, etc.) Queen guitarist Brian May credited the band with planting “the seed which grew into riff-based music.”
A musical, Sunny Afternoon, based on the early life of Ray Davies and the formation of the Kinks, played in London for a couple of years. (Bring this show to the States, please!)
I’d forgotten this bit of information till I started writing this series. But a few years ago, Boston Globe arts reporter and Kinks fanatic Geoff Edgers (now with Washington Post), went on a quixotic quest to get the brothers Davies together. This never happened but he did make a film called Do it Again which played the circuit and made its way (at least here in the US) to public television. (Alas, never saw it.)
Pete Quaife died in 2010, Nicky Hopkins in 1994. Ray found out Pete had died just as he was going on at Glastonbury and by all accounts, he was visibly moved by the loss of his old school mate.
Dave Davies suffered a massive stroke in 2004 but recovered. He had to re-learn how to play guitar. Another blogger did a post recently showing him playing at a club. Dave is on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists and he’s put out a bunch of solo albums.
Mick Avory plays in a band called the Kast Off Kinks. Their tours seem to be largely around the UK. Come back to the States, guys. The ban is over. Don’t make me go all the way over to England where I’ll be forced to watch you in some funny-named town like Shropshire-on-Witherington and then have to drink pint after pint at the local.
Oh, and Ray Davies? He performs from time to time, most notably performing “Waterloo Sunset” at the 2012 London Olympics. He is an inductee into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. He has for some years been a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was knighted in March 2017. Ray’s solo shows included him telling stories which led him to be the very first artist to initiate VH1’s Storytellers show in 1996.
On a visit to New Orleans in 2004, his girlfriend got mugged. Giving chase – not a good idea as he later admitted – he got shot in the leg. He is ok but fragments of the bullet still reside in him and he sometimes worries the wound with his hand.
Ray released a well-reviewed album called Americana just a few months ago. I’ll give Sir Raymond Douglas Davies the last number here with a fine, bittersweet song called “Rock ‘n Roll Cowboys.”
Night falls the coyote calls underneath a full moon
“Heeyah” is the final call at the Last Chance Saloon
Your time’s passed, now everyone asked for your version of history
Do you live in a dream, or do you live in reality?
To this day, the 72-year old Ray lives quietly in his Village Green, not too far from Muswell Hill where he grew up. There are rumors of the band reforming but then Dave mentions The Incident of the Cake. Ray made an appearance at Dave’s 2015 show in London and sang “You Really Got Me.”
And while I can’t prove it, I like to think that Ray and Dave get together once in a while and reminisce about the old days over a cuppa. And despite all the bullshit, they can still bond over their past history. Because at the end of the day, it’s only juke box music.
Spotify link (or listen below). Just about three hours of music for your dining and dancing pleasure. Includes (among others) “Gallon of Gas” which may be their only blues song. And “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” which, to me, sounds like something Quentin Tarantino should use in one of his flicks.