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Julian Temple made two documentaries on the Kinks. The first one, Imaginary Man, stars the oldest of the Davies brothers, the group’s main songwriter, Ray. The second, Kinkdom Come on, focuses on Dave: less known, less celebrated, but crucial to the group’s success. Dave Davies was responsible for the sound of the guitar on their first hit single, You really got me. He did this by slicing the cone of his speaker with a razor blade, achieving the grungy sound that later became a staple in rock music through the use of the fuzz box. Jimi Hendrix said it was a historic guitar sound.

At the end of the movie, Temple tells Dave that his brother once said that if he had to start all over again, he would change everything. Dave looks amused. “It’s incredibly funny,” he said, “because I wouldn’t change it. “

And this is where the difference between the two brothers lies. Ray is shy, clumsy, withdrawn, secret: a loner; while Dave is an extrovert: outgoing, easy going and friendly. Nonetheless, it is clear who the dominant partner in the relationship is. It was the genius of Ray Davies who made the Kinks, and both brothers know it.

They started out, as was the fashion back then, as a blues band, and the first five singles are all R’n’B numbers. The riff of “You Really Got Me”, their third single, is basically a version of Muddy Waters male boy, except that he climbs the ladder, giving it a more urgent feel than the original. This goes hand in hand with the words which are a feverish invocation of sexual desire:

Girl you really make me go
You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing
Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

The song was number one in the UK and number seven in the US and catapulted them to international stardom. It was the time of the British invasion, when British artists stormed the American charts. The Rolling Stones, the Zombies, the Hollies, the Animals, the Who, a whole fleet of bands flew the British flag over the Atlantic, riding the wave initiated by the Beatles. The Kinks were no exception. They toured the United States in 1965 and quickly gained a reputation for being an unruly bunch: alcohol drinkers, argumentative, and a handful. The tour was chaotic, involving fights on stage and arguments with promoters and television executives. One of these incidents happened backstage just before they appeared on Dick clarkTV show Where is the action August 2sd 1965.

As Ray Davies recounts in his autobiography: “A guy who said he worked for the TV company came in and accused us of being late. Then he started making anti-British comments. Things like “Just because the Beatles did it, every young limey with a spotted face and spotted face thinks he can come here and make a career for himself.” You’re just a bunch of Commie wimps.

Punches were thrown and Davies was hit in the face. The TV director (or whoever) told them they would never work in the United States again. “You’re gonna find out how powerful America is, you bastard limey!” he said. The result was that the Kinks were banned from touring in the United States for the next four years by the American Federation of Musicians. It was 1969 before they traveled to America again when the British invasion was over, and the Kinks were a group almost forgotten.

But the ban kicked off a new phase in Davies’ songwriting. There is a new tone in the words after that, which takes on a satirical feel, while the music is thoughtful, softer and more lyrical. Gone is the raw R’n’B sound, replaced by a folk guitar and the emphasis on clarity of expression.

There is also a new concern for English and English values. A well respected man is a satirical version of the English middle class. It is a very class-conscious observational and characterful film, reflecting the poor working-class background of the North London brethren. The fourth verse is sardonic, delivered with a chic, bourgeois accent by Davies, mimicking his punters in a way any working-class Englishman would recognize:

And he plays deeds and deeds,
And he goes to the regatta,
And he adores the girl next door,
Because he’s dying to reach her,
But her mother knows the best
Matrimonial issues.

Devoted fashion enthusiast is another satire, with a strong vaudevillian feel; probably pointed at Brother Dave, who was a bit of a dandy, wore thigh-high leather boots and had his long hair combed back and permed by a ladies hairstylist. It was also the first time that specific English places were mentioned in a song by Ray Davies. There are references to Regent Street and Leicester Square, the shops of the City of London and the “Carnabetian army”, reflecting the fame of Carnaby Street as a fashion center at the time.

It was this ability to suddenly change the direction of his music that set Davies apart from other songwriters of his day. Long before the Beatles met Bob Dylan and got psychedelic, long before the social commentary of the Who or the Inspired by Bulgakov Imagery of the Rolling Stones, Davies was already charting his own unique journey, while also expanding the parameters of what popular song can do. There can be fantasy in a Davies song. There can be anger. There can be satire. There may be a deep longing for a dying age and a call to arms for the values ​​of one’s parent’s generation. There can be politics, humor, irony and observation, all sung with his characteristic low-key voice: so fragile, so constrained, so frankly English. There is no other voice like that.

But that’s the song that came out on May 5the 1967 which made him a genius. Waterloo sunset stands alone. From the descending bassline at the start to the ascending chorus throughout, from the delayed echo sound on the guitar (again a contribution from Dave Davies) to the angelic harmony in the background, this is a masterclass on how to make the perfect record. Ray Davies says the song came to him in a dream and it was so personal to him that he didn’t want to release it commercially. It was meant for him and his family, he said, for no one else.

The words are simple but multi-layered. We have the observer at the window, meditative and calm, watching the Thames flowing into the night. We have the crowd below, with taxis driving past the station, their headlights already on. We have the thrill of the evening and Terry and Julie, two people different from the crowd, obviously in love. It’s an assignment. They cross Waterloo Bridge, presumably hand in hand, where they feel safe and sound. We are never told where they are going.

Then we have the sunset, this vision of paradise. There is something magical about it. It’s not just any old sunset in any other part of the world: it’s a Waterloo Sunset, in the heart of bustling and noisy London metropolis. The specificity of the place makes the message more complete. The song creates an image in your head. Even if you’ve never been to Waterloo, or visited the train station, you know what a sunset looks like. The image of the sunset transports you to this very place, at this very moment, where “Terry meets Julie, Waterloo station, every Friday evening”.

There was a rumor that the song’s names referred to Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, at the time engaged in a very public affair, but Davies denied this. It was one of his sisters, who was about to get married and emigrate, he said. It was a wish for their journey to a new land. In another interview, he said that Terry was his nephew, Terry Davies.

But it doesn’t matter who it’s supposed to be. It is a universal tale, simply told. There is no inflated rhetoric in this song, no exaggerated images, no grand metaphor. It’s quiet. It’s ordinary. There are people like Terry and Julie around the world, young people who meet in public places and who love each other. There are bustling stations and taxis and crowds in every city, in every country of the world. And there are also sunsets, times when we can ignore our worries and commitments, our fears and frustrations, and become one with the beauty of the world.

It wasn’t the last song Davies wrote. There is a chain of blows extending into the early 80s, and at least one widely recognized cult classic album, in the form of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. The band were still on tour and recording until 1996, and Davies enjoyed success. solo career since. But he is Waterloo sunset that defines it. If he had never written another song, his reputation as one of the greatest English songwriters of all time would remain intact.


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