Our Favorite Albums–The Kink Kronikles

Nov 4th, 2010 in Music

We were recently asked to quickly name our Top 15 favorite albums of all-time.  Amongst the other usual (and unusual) suspects, we immediately thought of The Kink Kronikles.  We first bought this Kinks album soon after it was released in 1972 (dang, 38 years ago).  In short, we played it to death and still love to spin it regularly.  As has been written about more eloquently elsewhere, the primary Kinks songwriter, Ray Davies, has had phenomenally prolific periods during which he penned preternaturally perfect pop and rock songs.  The Kink Kronikles chronicles one such period and substantiates that Davies is one of the great songwriters of all time.

The first time we ever saw the Kinks live was in 1974 at UCSB’s Robertson Gym in support of their concept album, “Preservation: Act II.”  We were bowled over by the band’s songs, theatricality and musicianship.   We loved the band’s Act II show, but nothing could prepare us for the encore that night, consisting of their bigger hits such as Lola (it’s still remarkable that radio used to play songs like that), Waterloo Sunset, All Day and All of the Night and You Really Got Me. We still recall being blown away by Davies as a performer and songwriter.  You certainly could not tell that Davies had suffered severe nervous breakdowns and survived a suicide attempt the prior year.  All we knew, while singing/yelling along with the crowd to Lola, was that this gifted entertainer, his brother Dave, and the rest of the band brought unbridled joy to the attending crowd.

The Kink Kronicles was a USA-only compilation double-album (curated and compiled by great rock critic John Mendelsohn) of singles, B-sides, album tracks and previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1966 and 1970.  While the album doesn’t include some of their biggest hits (e.g., You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night, on which Jimmy Page ghost-played some era-defining guitar) or some of our all-time favorite Kinks songs (e.g. the great pre-punk anthem, I’m Not Like Everybody Else, and the wistful Celluloid Heroes), it contains many of their best songs.  The album is ultimately most successful in its inclusion of singles and rarities that complement each other well and present a complete picture of the band and the epoch.

To our ears, The Kink Kronicles provides everything the Kinks meant at their best:  invaluable vocals and highly individual music (eschewing all then-current trends), while combining raucousness and the beer-hall attitude that was always a large element of Kinks concerts.  The complex bridges and key-changes are stunningly brilliant.   And lyrically we hear the key elements of Ray Davies and the Kinks sensitivities: nostalgia, regular folks, village greens, and autumnal situations, leavened oft-times by the band’s off-center wit.

Robert Christgau, self-anointed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” gave The Kink Kronikles his highest rating and had this to say about it:

“Self-konfessed kultist John Mendelsohn has kreated an inkomparable kompilation. Great hits are few–the Kinks have made U.S. top forty only twice since their first best-of, with “Lola” and “Sunny Afternoon.” But great songs abound, assembled with a konnoisseur’s kraft (all right, I’ll stop) from available (and deleted) LPs, uncollected singles (told you I’d stop), and the vaults. Mendelsohn has little use for Ray Davies the would-be satirist (“Well-Respected Man,” etc.), apologizing even for such marginally “boorish” efforts as “King Kong” and “Mr. Pleasant.” So we get twenty-eight tracks that concentrate on Davies the lyric realist, the poet of pathos and aspiration, at his tuneful, readymade best. Definitely the world’s most charming (and untidy) ripoff artist. And he wrote “Waterloo Sunset,” the most beautiful song in the English language. A”

Rolling Stone magazine had this to say about the album:  “Side 2 includes “Dead End Street” and “Autumn Almanac,” integral members of the Kinks’ fantastic seven-single string of 1966-68: “Sunny Afternoon,” “Dead End Street,” “Mr. Pleasant,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Autumn Almanac,” “Wonder-boy,” and “Days.” You could take a complete course in rock melody — Ray Davies’ knack throughout is superlative — just by listening to these seven singles, and they’re all here on Kink Kronikles.”

Without further ado, check out below some of the best British pop songs ever written and committed to record.  After beginning with our all-time favorite song of theirs, we move to the “complete course in rock melody” contained in the seven-song sequence acclaimed above by Rolling Stone.

The Kinks–Shangri-La

We love the story, musical variety and harmonies in this song. It’s amongst our all-time favorite songs.  There are musical themes enough for four to five great songs in this five-minute song.

Cautionary lyrics:

“Here’s your reward for working so hard, gone are the lemon trees in the backyard, gone are the days when you dreamed of that car, you just want to sit in your Shangri-la.”

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-10-Shangri-La.mp3|titles=1-10 Shangri-La]

The Kinks–Sunny Afternoon

Any Libertarians out there ought to enjoy the opening derision in this song, but hopefully your focus will be more on the remainder of the song, and the chorus in particular.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-12-Sunny-Afternoon.mp3|titles=1-12 Sunny Afternoon]

The Kinks–Dead End Street

We love the forlorn horn, the killer chorus and “Dead end!!” yells.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-09-Deadend-Street.mp3|titles=1-09 Deadend Street]

The Kinks–Mr. Pleasant

Check out the keyboards of Nicky Hopkins (of the Rolling Stones’ band), the horns and the group vocals.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-05-Mr.-Pleasant.mp3|titles=2-05 Mr. Pleasant]

The Kinks–Waterloo Sunset

What can one say about this song, but that we agree with Christgau’s assessment that it may be “the most beautiful song in the English language.”  We love the song’s sentiment, the Beach Boys-harmonies, the descending bass lines, and spare guitar work.  Perfect.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-07-Waterloo-Sunset.mp3|titles=1-07 Waterloo Sunset]

The Kinks–Autumn Almanac

Again the harmonies and horns, but with also with Ray’s clever lyrics and vocal phrasing.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-11-Autumn-Almanac.mp3|titles=1-11 Autumn Almanac]

The Kinks–Wonderboy

Here’s Ray and the band at their most ebullient, celebrating this wonderful life.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-02-Wonderboy.mp3|titles=2-02 Wonderboy]

The Kinks–Days

The chorus says it all:  “Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me; I’m thinking of the day, I won’t forget a single day believe me; I bless the light, I bless the light that shines on me, believe me.”

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-14-Days.mp3|titles=2-14 Days]

The Kinks–Death of a Clown

What the heck, let’s throw in a Dave Davies gem.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-07-Death-Of-A-Clown.mp3|titles=2-07 Death Of A Clown]

The Kinks–Village Green Preservation Society

We love the celebration of the simple life, as interpreted by Ray Davies.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-02-The-Village-Green-Preservation-Society.mp3|titles=1-02 The Village Green Preservation Society]

The Kinks–Get Back in Line

Here’s Davies lambasting the workaday life and the impediments thereto.  Who can resist the sentiments: “All I want to do is make some money and bring you home some wine; I don’t want you ever to see me standing in that line.”

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-13-Get-Back-In-Line.mp3|titles=1-13 Get Back In Line]

The Kinks–Victoria

Of course we must include their classic, proto-British rock anthem.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/1-01-Victoria.mp3|titles=1-01 Victoria]

The Kinks–She’s Got Everything

And we have to include this rocker that hearkens back to an earlier period.  “I’ve got a girl who’s oh so fine; she’s got everything.”  Exactly.  And we hear in this song (at 1:35ff) where Deep Purple stole that crunchy My Woman from Tokyo riff.  Shameless.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-13-Shes-Got-Everything.mp3|titles=2-13 She’s Got Everything]

The Kinks–Apeman

And finally, we end with the joyous Apeman, with its silliness mixed with the serious:  “I don’t want to die in a nuclear war.”  Indeed.

[audio:http://www.thelefortreport.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2-03-Apeman.mp3|titles=2-03 Apeman]

There you have it.  We encourage you to go forth and explore the Kinks’ fine back-catalog and those 1965-1972 studio albums.   Caveat emptor, though:  the years since 1972 have not been hugely favorable to the band or its songs (with notable exceptions), so tread carefully with respect to albums issued after 1972.

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