Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Something Better Beginning" / The Kinks

One of the joys of being a Kinks fan is that you never run out of songs to obsess over. Their catalog is not only immense, it's gold all the way through. Who needs to dwell on just the hits when you've got "minor" tracks as good as "Something Better Beginning"?

You'll find this gem on Kinda Kinks, a wonderfully uneven album recorded in a hurry at the end of 1964 and beginning of 1965. Pye Records was breathing down the Kinks' necks, hoping to wring one more LP out of a quirky band of youngsters that the record execs feared had already spent their fifteen minutes of fame. The pressure the Kinks were under is obvious, given song titles like "Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight," "Don't Ever Change," "You Shouldn't Be Sad," and one of my all-time favorite Kinks titles, "Nothin' In the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl."

These sessions produced the jittery "Come On Now," recorded as a B-side to the bone-weary "Tired of Waiting," as well as the anxious "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy" (nobody in this song is or ever will be happy) and its fretful flip side, "Who'll Be The Next in Line?" -- which pretends to be about a romantic break-up, but I'll bet it was inspired by Ray Davies' fear of the Kinks being supplanted by the next hot band. The plaintive "Set Me Free" and "See My Friends" would follow soon after in the spring of 1965. Ray has always been a bit of a head case, but there's no disguising the neurosis of this period.

Still, there's one upbeat song on Kinda Kinks -- "Something Better Beginning." Though it was one of the first tracks recorded for this album, it comes last in the track order, as if trying to end the album on a hopeful note. Its note of tentative, wary optimism is classic Ray Davies (you'll hear it again and again in later songs like "Better Things," "Good Day," "Don't Forget to Dance," "Stormy Sky," "Lost and Found," even Ray's solo efforts "Things Are Gonna Change" and "One More Time).

On the surface, "Something better Beginning" doesn't sound like klassick Kinks -- especially not for 1965, when their signature power-chord sound had been defined by "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All Of The Night." It's standard-issue British Invasion, a mono track with echoing vocals, spangly guitars, and a wistful scenario about blossoming love at a school dance. The Searchers, the Hollies, or the Zombies could have done this song and no one would have been surprised.

But for me, it's a real sleeper. I think of it alongside the Beatles' "If I Fell"-- both singers standing on the brink of a new love affair with the same wounded wariness. Compared to "If I Fell"'s subtext of threats ("I must be sure from the very start / That you would love me more than her") and revenge ("and that she will cry / When she learns we are two"), the Kinks give us fragility and insecurity.

We can just picture him sighting her across the room, the lights dimming and the crowd parting like something out of West Side Story, their tender first dance, their moonlit walk home. It's a marvelously cinematic bit of romance -- except that he's haunted by bad memories, as he repeats in every chorus: "Is this the start of another heartbreaker / Or something better beginning?" Even in the bridge, where he rhapsodizes about how great he feels when he's with her, he nervously adds, "I wonder how long it will last?"

It isn't until the last verse that he speaks directly of his past: "I've known this joy once before, / But it came to an end / Just as it had began." But that defensive tic underlies everything else in this song -- the nervous flutter of Ray's vocals, the stop-and-go rhythm, the shivering little swoops and dips of the melody, the unresolved chord changes. What seems like a simple song is in fact absolutely riddled with complex emotion.

Hold a gun to most young songwriters' heads and you'd get crap. Hold a gun to young Ray Davies' head and you got stuff like this. I don't suppose the Pye guys even appreciated it; they wanted another power-chord hit single, and then whatever else could pad out the rest of the LP. Hah. Padding? I think not.

Something Better Beginning sample

1 comment:

IƱaki said...

This was one of the first Kinks songs I ever heard and for a lot of time one of my favourites. I think still it is. It would be great to see Ray perform an acoustic version of it live.

And If I Fell is also one of my favourite Beatles songs.