Sunday, January 18, 2009
THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY
This album is a special favorite of mine.
Released in late 1968, roughly around the same time as Electric Ladyland, Beggars Banquet and the White Album, the record got lost in the shuffle. Lacking proper promotion (new discs weren't as hyped as they are today) and with the Kinks still banned from touring in the US, it sank without a trace.
Fast forward to 1981. I was in a record store flipping through the stacks, when an older man, noticing the titles I was looking at, approached me. He asked if I liked 60's music and I said, "yep". He didn't have a pedophile beard or rapist glasses, so I didn't run away. Asking if I had heard of the Kinks (I really hadn't, except for "You Really Got Me") he went on to explain why they were great and that "The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society" was the one LP to own. He also said (prophetically) that I should buy lots of Stones albums as they would probably be making records for another twenty years.
I never did see that guy again, though he was very wise. It took some time to fully appreciate the impact of Ray Davies' genius, but I really liked the tunes. Should you should sell a family member or a kidney to get a copy of this album?
Tinkling piano, underpinned by softly strummed acoustic guitars and a descending bass line introduce the title track. The Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium, the Sherlock Holmes English Speaking Vernacular, the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate-all inventive playfulness wrapped in an engaging melody that starts you on a very English trip. As Davies noted: "While everybody else thought that the hip thing to do was to drop acid, to do as many drugs as possible and listen to music in a coma, the Kinks were singing songs about lost friends, draught beer, motorbike riders, wicked witches and flying cats."
Fairly weighty thoughts (for a 24 year old) also shape "Do You Remember Walter?". The frustration felt by the inability to reconnect with a childhood friend who has succumbed to complacency is a universal subject. Jeff Lynne must have liked this tune a lot, as the opening of ELO's "Mr Blue Sky" matches the piano and drum lines exactly.
"Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago
If you saw me now you wouldnt even know my name.
I bet youre fat and married and youre always home in bed by half-past eight.
And if I talked about the old times you'd get bored and you'd have nothing more to say."
Growing old wasn't a common theme in the music of the late 60's, though the first line of "Picture Book" suggests that you imagine yourself doing just that. Looking over your shoulder at the past , all the usual suspects show up while thumbing through an album of dusty photos. Davies was reportedly going through a patchy period in the mid sixties, suffering a depressive episode. Better spirits recovered, childhood memories of bed and breakfast, seaside vacations in "those days when you were happy, a long time ago" were channelled into his work.
"Big Sky" seems to be an impassive watcher of all that goes on below it, with lyrics that suggest an anti religious sentiment. ("Someday, we'll be free...") The band plays hard here (and on "Wicked Anabella"), though not in the vein of their early, almost punkish sounding singles.
Music hall stylings also flower here, though not to the extent that he would incorporate them in early to mid 70's. Proceedings take a strange turn, at times, with varispeeded arrangements (Noel Coward on acid, "Sitting By the Riverside") though psychedelic touches are purposely avoided. Because of this, the band also fell out of sync with then current trends.
Production values were not at the level of the Kinks' contemporaries, allowing distorted sounding drums, bass rumbles and guitar buzz to remain. Shel Talmy is out of the picture, though it really doesn't matter, as the overall sound could have benefitted from more careful engineering, getting sounds to tape without overloading the tracks.
The material was strong enough to get by this fact, though it's a minor annoyance.
Village Green gives the listener a glimpse of a fictional place, "far away from the soot and noise of the city" where life is quiet. Davies: "I tried to write about what I knew, and that was the neighbourhood I grew up in. All of those songs were inspired by characters who lived, probably, 100 yards away from me. But they also pick up on a kind of wistful and ironic facet of English culture. English people are a little bit wistful and mundane - and I like the people that have little quirks in their lives and low-achieving people. I think they're worth writing about. It's something to do with the English culture and dark humour and the way we look at the world."
Bassist Pete Quaife named "Animal Farm" as his favorite track saying that, "the song gave him shivers when he first heard Ray banging it out on piano." "Starstruck" continues on an ethereal path, with mellotron supporting the lyrical reading of an individual that gets caught up in fast living, chasing after a rock star. A promotional film was made for this one, the last featuring the original lineup.
The remaining tracks are a mixed bag, stylistically. "Phenomenal Cat" musically echoes what Syd Barrett had been doing on Piper at the Gates of Dawn., with bizarre, sped up elfin voices unsettling the once upon a time, fairy story atmosphere "Monica", by contrast, slips into a latin jazz. Sarcastically funny, "People Take Pictures of Each Other" is a cruel version of picture book in which the author expresses his distaste both for being photographed and being stuck, sitting for hours perusing them ("Don't show me no more, please!")
Completely deflating the yearning, nostalgic theme of the album, it employs jaunty, old time music to completely kill all that came before. A masterstroke of sequencing as the curtain drops. My own nostalgic trip comes into play here, as being steered toward this record opened another door in my musical education. I feel lucky, as Davies himself once joked that, "even the people who talk about Village Green probably haven't heard it."
The 2004 deluxe edition manages to shovel up all of the tracks (including the excellent "Days") recorded during these sessions on three CDs. Sadly, they don't make 'em like this anymore.