Obviously The Kinks are one the greatest British bands to emerge from the 1960s. Top five, easily. Possibly top three. And that’s mainly downto the exceptional songwriting abilities of Ray Davies. Slabs of pure pop and crazed garage strung along with lyrics concerning peculiarly British sensibilities and delicate portraits of working class pursuits. But he also had a flair for the completely batshit crazy. Even hits such as ‘Lola’, ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ or ‘Apeman’ have some pretty surreal moments and occasional flashes of extreme oddness. Delve into their deep cuts and you’ll unearth some truly breathtaking examples of strangeness and perversity. I’m not saying they’re bad, some of them are corkers, but all have more than a crumb of crazy…
The Video Shop (1986)
Possibly the best song about the video rental industry since ‘Blockbuster’ by The Sweet? An incredible tribute to movie borrowing outlets produced in a bizarre cod reggae style, with the unforgettable verse: “I’ve got a bootleg copy of Citizen Kane / a second-hand copy of Psycho / I taped them off the telly so you shouldn’t complain / and there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back”. It short-sightedly identifies video shop employment as a sound alternative to traditional manufacturing industries. My condolences to anyone who took this career advice to heart.
Phenomenal Cat (1968)
This could be a bit of typical sixties nursery rhyme nonsense OR a sly satire on typical sixties nursery rhyme nonsense OR a bitter tirade against capitalism (it’s about a Fat Cat after all). Or maybe just a weird song about cats and their phenomenal qualities (the person who made the great feline montage accompanying the song on YouTube obviously thought so). But this track from Village Green Preservation Society has all the motifs of crazed late 1960’s pop: Mellotron? Check! Creepy speeded up backing vocals (possibly by the drummer)? Check! A chorus that is mainly the word ‘la’ repeated 14 times? Very check!
Jack the Idiot Dunce (1975)
I do have a soft spot for mid-seventies Kinks and the Schoolboys in Disgrace album in particular. It’s that combination of arch-theatricality,
eccentric flair and an all pervading weirdness shaded with a slightly disturbing, overarching ‘bad uncle’ quality. Lots of spanking and obtuse behaviour behind bike sheds taking place.Typified by this tale of the school dimwit whose learning difficulties become a sort of national dance sensation. The album also features a cover so shockingly abysmal, it’s troubling even for the 1970’s.
Ducks on the Wall (1975)
If you only listen to one duck percussive track today, make it this one. Another mid-seventies classic, taken from Soap Opera, a concept album concerning an ordinary man who swaps places with a rock star (weren’t they all about that?) The decorative duck ornaments are a symbol for Ray needing a song to fill out the first side of the record. But you’re sure to be quacking along with it all day, which is more than you can say for 'Hey Jude'.
Young Conservatives (1983)
It’s not exactly Crass, but Ray has a bit of a go at the ‘children of Thatcher’, attacking the fact they were overly polite, rather than their pure unfettered evil. It contains a nod to ‘A Well Respected Man’ and the ‘fa, fa, fas’ of ‘David Watts’, with Ray realising that the pathetic characters portrayed in his harsh satires of the sixties were still hanging about in the eighties. Which is good, Ray! It means you can keep writing about them!
Not sure if these particular potatoes are a substitute for sex, or they are just regular potatoes which are to be included with the sex or he’s replacing sex with potatoes or it’s referring to his actual bodily ‘potatoes’ if you know what I mean. Or there’s possibly other strange spud related love games occurring. While this is unclear, there is definitely some potato/rumpy-pumpy hybrid going down and I, for one, applaud that.
She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina (1969)
From the amazing (and to me profoundly sad) album Arthur: Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, a delirious Bonzos-esque music hall number that starts out delightfully camp and ends up completely demented. For a long time I assumed this was about Marina, the mute gill-laden mermaid girl from Stingray. But I realise now that she rarely wore a hat.
Black Messiah (1978)
I’ll be generous and say that this is a rather clunky take on the theme of racial harmony, pointing out that racism is a destructive force no matter where it’s coming from. Or possibly someone had given Ray a ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ boxset for Christmas and he decided to write a song about it. I think I’ll just let you listen to it and make up your own mind.
Art Lover (1981)
In this highly disturbing ditty from Give The People What They Want, this particular ‘Art Lover’ appears to have a penchant for little girls that he spies on in the park. ‘I’m not a flasher in a rain coat / I’m not a dirty old man/ I’m not gonna snatch you from your mother / I’m an art lover, come to daddy’. It's claimed it actually concerns a divorced dad yearning for his estranged daughter, that he is denied access to. Though with the exceedingly creepy imagery, I can't see the song being used as the Father's 4 Justice theme song any time soon.
One of the few songs written from a foetus’ point of view. The baby in question is still fiercely womb-based and discusses incidents such as claustrophobia, fears of being suddenly jettisoned from the uterus and the unborn child’s father getting drunk and attempting to get in there with him. Even the father being gay and just knocking his wife up to prove his masculinity is pondered. There is a lot going on in that poor baby’s fontaneled head.
Have a Cuppa Tea (1971)
From the fabulous Muswell Hillbillies album, which meshed the Davies brothers’ love of British Music Hall and Country tunes into a bittersweet portrait of their Muswell Hill stomping ground. In true Country fashion, the album is peppered with madness, guilt, misery and poverty; but then there’s this loving knees-up dedicated to everyone’s favourite hot beverage. The lyrics claim that tea can be a curative for hepatitis. Again, please don’t take this advice seriously. Seek medical attention.