We all had our fave bands when we were still in our salad days and life was a roller-coaster ride which seemed beautiful and perfect one minute, dull and dreary the next. In those days 25 was old, 30 was ancient and - as I now know for certain - anyone over 40 was invisible or dead. We were all, each and every one of us, unique, except that, oddly, no one else seemed to realise it. That was in those moments when life was beautiful. When the following moment life was nothing but abject misery of a kind surely no one else had experienced before, ever, I would put on one of my favourite tracks by one of my favourite bands. It was I’m Not Like Everybody Else by The Kinks, and I listened to it again and again and again.
In those long off days The Kinks and The Beatles were my bands, and although in time I went off both, to this day their early stuff is still for me magical. And had I been asked to choose between the two, I would, without hesitation, have plumped for The Kinks as my favourite. The first ‘LP’ I owned was on the long defunct Marble Arch label, one of as far as I can tell several thousand Kinks compilation albums (and it is the sheer number of Kinks compilation albums available which sparked this particular blog entry.) On that album there were around ten songs, and each one was gold: Set Me Free, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Till The End Of The Day, Tired Of Waiting, A Well-Respected Man, All Day And All Of The Night, Don’t You Fret and You Really Got Me Going (plus a couple of others I can’t remember off-hand): pure gold.
This period came immediately after the first Kinks period when they played R&B (not the R&B now known as R&B, but the R&B then known as R&B if you get my drift) and played debs parties and hunt balls. It was followed by the Sunny Afternoon Years. The first single I ever bought was Dandy, and then I bought the LP Face To Face, which I thought was also gold. I liked the guitar sound. I’ve always been a sucker for guitar sounds, everything from The Kinks Dave Davies to Jo Pass, John Scofield, Dave Fiuczynski, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, Jeff Beck and any number of other guitarists - give me a guitar band any day, although grunge does fuck all for me, as does heavy metal. Then there was Ray Davies’ voice: most certainly not sweet, but he managed to project all the cynicism, irony and occasional venom I felt, but he could also hold a tune, rather like Donald Fagen and Bob Dylan can despite their somewhat unorthodox voices. The harmonies he and his brother Dave came out with were sublime, in my view far, far better than anything The Beatles or The Beach Boys could produce. Just listen to the harmonies on Waterloo Sunset. And the songs: they were not just funny, but could be very sad, poignant (Little Miss Queen Of Darkness), telling, lyrical (Autumn Almanac), scathing (Plastic Man) and honest.
The last album I went for in a big way was Muswell Hillbillies (Skin And Bone, Demon Alcohol), before they took off - or, I suppose, Ray Davies took off in a direction I didn’t really want to follow them in, for example Schoolboys In Disgrace. I could never see the point of it all.
But it is the compilations which to this day astound me. Ray Davies is undoubtedly and extraordinarily prolific songwriter, but there must be tens if not hundreds of compilations which all, more or less, contain the same songs. I like to think that they had a good business manager who ensure that they get a fair whack of the royalties, but I suspect and rather fear that rights to the songs were sold of early on and someone else is trousering all the moolah from those compilation albums. More’s the pity.
I had another brush with The Kinks when they got their third or fourth wind in the Eighties, but I only bought one album and I can’t even remember what it was called. But nothing, but nothing could top that early stuff (Beautiful Delilah, Long Tall Shorty) and I listen to it to this day.
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Despite Ray Davies’s unfortunate flirtation with a rather theatrical theme, as far as I can see The Kinks never committed the cardinal sin of taking themselves seriously as ‘artists’. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t put their soul and whole being into their work, but there came a point, as far as I am concerned a very shameful point, when rock and pop became respectable, which killed off much of it for me. It became ‘art’ and was treated as ‘art’ by any number of fuckwits writing for the Guardian. Why must everything be intellectualised in that way. John Lennon fell for it, as did Paul McCartney. I don’t think the Rolling Stones did, but then they disappeared up another cul-de-sac, becoming increasingly ordinary despite all the PR hype as ‘the greatest rock ’n roll band in the world. Says who? Well, says their record labels marketing department, and there were plenty of impressionable young idiots to swallow that line. The general standard of guitar playing has improved 1000pc, so that your average pub band plays ten times better than many of the pop professionals (though not necessarily the jazz guitarists of the time, who were, however, being comprehensively ignored by the whole Sixties’s pop phenomenon).
My next fave band was Steely Dan who I ignored for quite a while for the very silly reason that they were cool. I was the left-field type (or thought of myself as the left-field type) who scorned what was ‘cool’ and thought himself even cooler for doing so. Then one day in 1976 I disvovered in, of all places, a bargain bin in a newsagents in Ebbw Vale, where I was working as a reporter, Aja by Steely Dan. It cost a song and had me hooked. I bought all the previous LPs one by one and Gaucho when it came out, followed by Donald Fagen’s first solo album, Nightfly. After that they gave up the ghost for many years. They finally got back together to write songs and came out with Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go, both of which I like, but ... But they, too, now give the impression of taking themselves a little too seriously and I just can’t stomach that.
Then came Prince, but he, too, eventually went off the boil and, sad to say, if you have heard one Prince funk workout of recent times, you have heard quite a few of them. Oh well.
Now to listen to a few more early Kinks tracks. The magic is still there.
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I’ve have stopped ballsing on about the euro and the EU, though not because I am bored. It’s just that the collapse of the euro seems not such a racing certainty that there seems little point to bang on about it. Remember, according to the chap from The Slog (John Ward or Anthony Ward, I can’t quite work out which) March 23 is the day to look out for. But it could all go tits up tomorrow or it might limp on for another six months. The more I consider the whole shambles - Brussels insisting the Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland should starve their people in pursuit of what most now realise was an utterly inconceived project - the more I realise that the one difference between you and me and the idiots who decided to go into politics is that, in some odd way, are a sandwich short of a picnic. I don’t doubt that many of them are quite clever, but I also know that there are even more quite clever people out there to whom it never occurs to go into politics. But I am also quite certain that there is a greater proportion of mediocrities pursuing their destiny in politics than in the secular world. You have probably heard it quoted before, not least quite possibly here, but someone perceptively observed once that ‘politics is Hollywood for ugly people’. And Lord is the euro crisis proving him right.
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I saw a very good film on BBC iPlayer the other night which threw up a very frightening statistic. It was called The Baader Meinhof Complex (Der Baader Meinhor Komplex), directed by Uli Edel, and it traced the evolution and development of the gang. I have no idea how accurate the film was in its depiction of the various characters, but if it was accurate, Christ what a bizarre bunch they were. Andreas Baader came across as nothing but a charming, psychopathic, narcissistic idiot without a political thought in his bones who basically got off on the excitement of it all. Ulrike Meinhof had rather more intellectual
backbone but quite how she could make the transition from thoroughly disaffected leftie hack to part of a murderous gang is also bizarre. Gudrun Ensslin came over as a rather hysterical retarded adolescent and Brigitte Mohnhaupt seems to have been yet another psychopath.
All of them seem to have come from middle-class backgrounds and, except for one or two characters who escaped from youth centres, they did not seem to want much (want as in need). There has been and always will be any number of disaffected youth who flirt with the extreme left for a while, but few will make the transition to actually killing people and, furthermore, spend a great deal of time justifying it intellectually.
As I say, I have no way of know just how accurate the film was, or whether it was in some way skewed - the police rank and file didn’t get much of a sympathetic portrayal, although a character played by Bruno Ganz who was apparently top man on the police anti-terrorist side of things did show some intelligence in that he argued that in order to combat the gang, one had to understand what made them tick. But the frightening statistic was that unbelievably amid all the mayhem and murder a reputed one in four of Germans questioned confessed to having some sympathy with the gang. Now that is frightening. Incidentally, there is a very good piece about the film by Christopher Hitchens for Vanity Fair which you can find here.
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Now here’s a strange thing: courtesy of this blog’s stats feature, I know that in the past 12 hours or so, readership has soared, and one entry in particular - this one – has been getting all the attentention. It can’t be the ongoing (as in going on and on and on) euro crisis involving Greece, because that has never before elicited must attention. That leave my mumblings on The Kinks, Steely Dan, Prince and The Beatles on the one hand and the Baader-Meinhof gang on the other. I have no way of know which it is, but my gut instinct is the Baader-Meinhof idiots. What does that prove? Well, I don’t know, except it would seem to indicate that we all still live bad boys and gals. The stats also indicated that many visitors actually stayed and read the entry rather than find it, take one glance, decided boring, and bugger off again. Odd.
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Later that same day: I now know why this particular entry has attracted an unprecedented number of visits. Mention of The Kinks was picked up by a Kinks fansite and its link was followed to this blog. So it wasn’t after all, as I initially expected, just a surge of interest from several thousand Baader-Meinhof wannabes with murder on their minds looking for a useful website to pick up a couple of tips (‘Disaffected? Spotty? Can’t cut it with the chicks? Want to be a psycho killer with political pretensions like wacky Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin? Here’s how. And don’t bother with cheap, inferior websites - we give you the real lowdown.’).
Incidentally, Anonymous (not, I think, the same Anonymous who has left an earlier comment) has left a comment (below) pointing out that ‘Ray Davies is God and undoubtedly far more important than Jesus Christ’ and ‘what the fuck make me think I am even allowed to speak His name?’