Monday, October 21, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 560: The Kinks

I’ve been up since four o’clock this morning so I’m getting this entry in before my pumpkin bursts.  This pumpkin metaphor brought to you by the month of October!

Disc 560 is…. Come Dancing with the Kinks
Artist: The Kinks

Year of Release: 1986 but with music from 1977 to 1984

What’s up with the Cover?  A gentleman (I think it is Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies) takes a turn with a girl.  He’s well dressed, but there’s something sinister in that sidelong glance he’s flashing the audience.  Someone should remind him that when dancing, it is your job to make your partner feel like she’s the only girl in the room.

How I Came To Know It:  While a lot of individual Kinks songs are pretty well known, this is Sheila’s album.  It is a damned good one.

How It Stacks Up:  This is our only Kinks album, but even if it weren’t, compilation albums don’t stack up.  Just doesn’t make sense.

Rating:  n/a – best of albums don’t get rated, but if this one were, it would do very well.

I had no idea so many of those great individual songs I heard over the years were all by the Kinks until Sheila introduced me to this compilation.  The Kinks have a knack for writing very simple, very beautiful melodies and then arranging them in a way that perfectly straddles rock and pop.

Admittedly, this is a best of album, but it is still impressive how many catchy songs these guys can write and in so many different styles.  At times they sound like New Wave (“Destroyer”), and at other times they sound like sixties pop (“A Rock and Roll Fantasy”).  On “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” they basically reinvent disco music in their own style and make that work too.

When you hear these songs individually (as I heard them through my life on the radio) you might think they are all by a different band, but when they’re all collected for your convenience they have a common song structure that is unique to the Kinks.

Equally impressive, this album is a compilation of only a portion of their career (1977 through 1986).  They had thirteen years – and fourteen studio albums – worth of music that isn’t even included.

Subject-wise, the album covers a lot of ground, from basic punk basics of “You Really Got Me” to the light-hearted poverty of “Low Budget.”  There is the famous gender-bending action of “Lola,” a wistful recollection of early dance clubs with “Come Dancing” and even a song about mugging Santa Claus (“Father Christmas.”)  All are fun in their own way, although “You Really Got Me” has not survived the years of overplay and karaoke butchery as well as the others.

There are some misses, most notably the band’s effort to affect Bob Dylan’s vocal style on “Long Distance” and the album is slightly too long at 16 tracks, but since it is a compilation album, it can be forgiven this one time.

Another minor quibble is that the songs are not in chronological order, and while care has been taken to give the record a nice flow, I prefer greatest hits packages to play out in order of release.

Three of the songs, “You Really Got Me,” “Lola,” and Celluloid Heroes” are live versions and although good, in every case I think I would have preferred the studio version.  “Celluloid Heroes” is too long, and “Lola” has an overlong intro where the band teases the audience that they may not actually play the song for them.

Then again, “Lola” has a lot of visceral energy that is provided by the audience.  It demonstrates that audience participation can work surprisingly well when handled correctly.  In my experience when an audience is jazzed up to sing along, there is a rule that the amount of volume an individual audience member will sing at is typically in direct proportion to how well they know the song.  It is uncanny how this rule ensures that for the most part, audiences keep good time, and stay on key.  The unsure and tone deaf just mumble along and add volume, and those in the know carry the day.

Another odd note is how one of these songs, “Do It Again,” has become a permanent ear-worm for me.  I don’t know how many times I find myself singing “Back where we started/here we go ‘round again” even when I haven’t heard the song in months or even years.  It is just catchy.  Sheila has a similar reaction to “Come Dancing,” another classic.

More than anything, listening to this album makes me feel like I should get some studio albums, but I’m not sure where to go first.  The songs on this compilation are all from seven albums.  Most represented are 1983’s State of Confusion (four tracks) and 1980’s “One For the Road” (three tracks) but in terms of my favourites, they are pretty evenly scattered through the final five albums.  At least I know not to delve backward without a measure of caution.

The Kinks are a band that seems to be able to bang out a classic rock song with the ease most of us would buy a coffee.  This album is a nice representation of that ability, and so despite it being a dreaded ‘best of’ I’m glad it is in our collection.

Best tracks:   Destroyer, (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman, Come Dancing, Do It Again, Lola, Low Budget, Heart of Gold, Living on a Thin Line, Father Christmas

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