THE KINKS: KINKS (1964)
1) Beautiful Delilah; 2) So Mystifying; 3) Just Can't Go To Sleep; 4) Long Tall Shorty; 5) I Took My Baby Home; 6) I'm A Lover Not A Fighter; 7) You Really Got Me; 8) Cadillac; 9) Bald Headed Woman; 10) Revenge; 11) Too Much Monkey Business; 12) I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain; 13) Stop Your Sobbing; 14) Got Love If You Want It; 15*) Long Tall Sally; 16*) You Still Want Me; 17*) You Do Something To Me; 18*) It's Alright; 19*) All Day And All Of The Night; 20*) I Gotta Move; 21*) Louie, Louie; 22*) I Gotta Go Now; 23*) Things Are Getting Better; 24*) I've Got That Feeling; 25*) Too Much Monkey Business; 26*) I Don't Need You Any More.
Fortunately for the world, all of the Kinks' classic albums have been re-released on CD in expanded versions, containing all of their contemporary singles (as well as some hitherto unreleased demos and outtakes) as bonus tracks and saving us from the Rolling Stones problem of having to hunt down the individual scattered gems, and/or relying on the parallel American catalog to get a more comprehensive, but also more confusing, picture of the band's output. In the case of The Kinks, just as in the case of The Hollies or, in fact, the case of pretty much every British Invasion band with the exception of The Beatles, this is particularly important since, for the first few years of their existence, true gold from this band only came in the form of 45 rpms.
Not in the form of their first 45 rpm, though, which was just an inexplicably slowed down cover of ʽLong Tall Sallyʼ, not even beginning to compare to the maniacal Little Richard original or, for that matter, the Beatles' version — the slow tempo does make it stand out from the rest, but not in a good way. Not in the form of their second 45 rpm, either: in retrospect, ʽYou Still Want Meʼ is a pretty little bit of power pop, but way too imitative of the Merseybeat sound to be considered a landmark — rather comparable, in fact, to bands like Gerry & The Pacemakers and Herman's Hermits than the Fab Four (or, on the other side of the planet, to the Dave Clark Five, but bereft of the solid wall-of-sound and professional tightness of the DC5).
Neither of these two songs happened to chart, and so neither was included on the band's first LP. Third time around, the Davies brothers decided to go with something edgier — and ended up inventing garage rock with ʽYou Really Got Meʼ, the song that launched a thousand ships and is still a matter of controversy among those who insist that the guitar solo was played by Jimmy Page rather than Dave Davies. Well, it was not, but the drums, apparently, were played by session man Bobby Graham rather than The Kinks' regular drummer Mick Avory. Not that it is some technical marvel of a solo or anything — it merely features Dave setting himself on fire and acting a bit Neanderthal, which, in the timid days of 1964, was still a novel thing to do. There is also not the least doubt on my part that the solo was heavily influenced by Keith Richard's similarly Neanderthal break on ʽIt's All Over Nowʼ, considering that the Stones' single had only just come out (in June) and must have been in heavy rotation in the Davies' camp.
Regardless, it is futile to deny that the riff of ʽYou Really Got Meʼ acted as the fuckin' motherlode — especially the realization that you could record something like that in the studio, get it distributed through an official network and make some royalties on it. Up to this day, Ray and Dave Davies continue fighting about the song, which Ray defends as quintessentially his song, one that helped him form his own artistic identity, and Dave treasures as that one song that helped him find the quintessential hard rock sound of the Kinks, what with the semi-legendary story of poking the band's little amplifier with a pin. I would say the dispute is a little futile, considering how quickly the band would move away from that sound altogether — it is, in fact, quite ironic that they would forever be branded as the «forefathers of hard rock» when the absolute majority of their greatest songs would have nothing to do whatsoever with hard rock (and in their latter day career, the harder they tried to rock, the more they usually failed at it). But the early Sixties were a great time for all sorts of wonderful historical accidents and absurdities, and Ray Davies as a dangerous, hard-rocking, sexually menacing caveman was one of them.
That the Kinks were not able to immediately capitalize on the success of ʽYou Really Got Meʼ with a consistent LP is no big surprise. Brothers Ray and Dave were still only learning their songwriting craft, and, as it happens, once the single began to took off, Pye Records and producer Shel Talmy immediately pushed them into the studio where they did not have enough time to come up with much of anything. Sure, six out of fourteen songs were still credited to Ray Davies — a respectable recognition of the man's talent by the industry superiors — but of these six, ʽRevengeʼ (co-credited with manager Larry Page) is a Link Wray / Ventures-style harmonica-driven blues-surf instrumental, and ʽSo Mystifyingʼ, once you get to the bottom of it, is a hilariously embarrassing — and utterly pointless — rewrite of the very same ʽIt's All Over Nowʼ that also influenced the guitar solo. Of the remaining originals, ʽJust Can't Go To Sleepʼ is another clumsy piece of Merseybeat, with crudely swallowed syllables ("every night I jes can't goat sleep...") and an utterly unconvincing atmosphere; ʽI Took My Baby Homeʼ is an irony-free, corn-enhanced rewrite of Allen Toussaint's ʽFortune Tellerʼ (with only the last line of each verse rewritten to give the song more of a nursery-pop feel); and only ʽStop Your Sobbingʼ has endured, more or less, as a minor Ray classic, with the first emerging signs of his pop genius — at the very least, here we see some real tenderness in his voice, and some real soothing optimism in the melody.
In between, we have the usual stuff. A couple of Chuck Berry covers — ʽBeautiful Delilahʼ opening the album with an immediately off-turning early example of brother Dave's ugly nasal voice (making him sound like the local snotty teenage wimp trying to pull off a tough guy image), and ʽToo Much Monkey Businessʼ partially compensating for this with the best lead guitar Chuck Berry impression this side of Keith Richard. A couple of R&B grooves — ʽGot Love If You Want Itʼ trying and failing to paint The Kinks as devil-ridden Afro-American womanizers, and Bo Diddley's ʽCadillacʼ showing that, while they could be as musically tight as The Animals if the stars aligned all right, the lack of a convincingly raunchy singer of the Eric Burdon type in the band still rendered their Animalisms essentially useless. Tommy Tucker's ʽLong Tall Shortyʼ, an obscure rarity (actually, just a re-write of his own ʽHi-Heel Sneakersʼ, and sounding on the whole like a completely generic Jimmy Reed blues-rock number), could be passable if not for another one of Dave Davies' barely bearable vocal performances. And, honestly, there is no reason to listen to Dave's equally un-artistic take on ʽI'm A Lover Not A Fighterʼ if you can lay your hands on the obscure original by Lazy Lester from way back in 1958.
Adding insult to injury are two «songs» forced on the band by Shel Talmy, in a standard-for-the-time arrangement that helped the producer make more cash from the record sales — ʽBald Headed Womanʼ and ʽI've Been Driving On Bald Mountainʼ, both of them just covers of old blues / folk tunes with no copyright restrictions. Actually, ʽBald Headed Womanʼ does not really sound that bad — the band, augmented by several distinct keyboard parts (it is rumored that Jon Lord himself, of future Deep Purple fame, plays the organ here), gets a cool wall-of-sound going on by the end, somewhat presaging the controlled chaos atmosphere of The Who's debut a year later (not that surprising, considering that it would also be produced by Shel Talmy... and that The Who would be another band to whom he'd peddle ʽBald Headed Womanʼ). But the very fact of presenting this stuff as Shel Talmy songs, along with references to bald mountains and bald headed women on both of the tracks, makes the whole thing look ridiculous.
Still, on the whole, Kinks is not such a complete embarrassment as it is often made out to be. ʽYou Really Got Meʼ and ʽStop Your Sobbingʼ act as anchors here, showing that the band had already found its main voices — the hard rock groove and the tender pop serenade — and simply did not have enough time in store to follow them exclusively. The rock'n'roll covers already show Dave Davies as a fiery-spirited, crunchy guitar player with garage-punk ambitions (check out especially the alternate take of ʽToo Much Monkey Businessʼ on the expanded CD issue, where they rip through the song at double speed like some early version of The Ramones), even if his singing leaves a lot to be desired (then again, there are people who really appreciate the timbre of his voice here, considering it to be suitably arrogant and obnoxious for this material). And even when they are at their worst, the record remains listenable — there's a healthy rock'n'roll vibe running through it all, showing that they really wanted to take after the Beatles and the Stones, rather than their softer, housewife-friendlier counterparts.
So I guess you could call it an auspicious debut, if nothing else; and in this particular case, even the bonus tracks are of questionable quality, concentrating on the early, under-cooked singles, although I certainly recommend ʽYou Do Something To Meʼ as one of their best multi-tracked vocal Beatles imitations... and ʽIt's Alrightʼ as their funniest original take on a simple R&B groove where Ray seems to be intentionally trying to pull off an Eric Burdon and almost succeeds... and ʽAll Day And All Of The Nightʼ, no matter how much of a stylistic shadow of ʽYou Really Got Meʼ it is... and the sinister acoustic groove of its B-side ʽI Gotta Moveʼ, even if it is really just ʽI Wish You Wouldʼ with new lyrics... well, not so bad after all, is it? The bonus tracks also include all of the Kinksize EP, so you can hear ʽLouie, Louieʼ sung with comprehensible lyrics, and ʽI've Got That Feelingʼ, which is about as much of a collective rip-off of all sorts of music ideas from A Hard Day's Night as one could stomach (then again, The Beatles repaid them pretty well five years later, stealing the title for their own ʽI've Got A Feelingʼ... nah!). Well, this is still nowhere near the stupendous quality of the bonus material for Kinda Kinks, but you do see that the band has a future. Somehow. If they only stop thinking of themselves as an R&B band, an image they could never uphold seriously in the presence of high-level contenders such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals, or, heck, even The Yardbirds. (I mean, Keith Relf may have been a fairly run-of-the-mill R&B vocalist, but I'd still rather to listen to him blueswailing on ʽGot Love If You Want Itʼ in his own Keith Relf manner, than to Mr. Ray here trying to ape the high-pitched intonations of Slim Harpo).