"Apeman" / The Kinks
More Kinks? Hey, I don't choose the songs, they choose me. I can't even remember why we burst into singing this tonight at the dinner table, but as we sang it -- hearing in our minds the full arrangement from Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One -- I found myself falling in love with this brilliant track all over again.
This may be Ray Davies' most perfect escape fantasy. On one level it's a comedy song, with a stream of deft patter laid over a goofy calypso beat. The electric piano imitates a Caribbean steel band, the bass line is soaked with reggae, and at points the pounding drums sound straight out of Africa. But it is a Kinks song, after all, and that means there's so much else going on here.
When Ray writes an escape fantasy, it's never just about where he's escaping to, it's also about what he's escaping from -- that's why it leads off with that anxiety-provoking sound effect of honking cars. His stress levels are clear from the very first verse: "I think I'm sophisticated / 'Cos I'm living my life like a good homosapien / But all around me everybody's multiplying / Till they're walking round like flies, man." (Notice how his vocals are almost lost in the mix at first, as if he's too overwhelmed to speak up for himself.) I love how Ray rattles off those polysyllabic words, accenting odd syllables, very Jamaican; he does it even more in the second verse: "I think I'm so educated and I'm so civilized / 'Cos I'm a strict vegetarian / But with the over-population and inflation and starvation / And the crazy politicians" ("pol-i-tih-see-ans", priceless!). Later in the song, he practically squawks as he sings, "I look out my window but I can't see the skies / The air pollution is a-fogging up my eyes." (Only it never sounds to me like he's saying "fogging," but something a little more, er . . . fricative.)
In the second half of the verse, his voice rises, sounding slightly strangled and desperate, as he laments, "I don't feel safe in this world no more / I don't want to die in a nuclear war / I want to sail away to a distant shore / And make like an ape man," underscored with a hammering bass piano scale and a few emphatic drum whacks from Mick Avory.
The chorus is a lilting but urgent chant, with seductively shifting syncopation: "I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man /I'm an ape man / I'm a King Kong man, I'm an ape ape man / I'm an ape man." You just about have to start pounding some flat surface when that rhythm gets going. I can almost imagine Ray sitting in a chair in North London, eyes screwed shut, rocking back and forth, trying to convince himself of his animal nature; I love the hysterical flutter in his voice as he declares, "'Cos compared to the sun that sits in the sky / Compared to the clouds as they roll by / Compared to the bugs and the spiders and flies / I am an ape man."
Then there's the bridge, a spoken-word interlude which Ray narrates in his best BBC nature documentary voice: "In man's evolution he has created the cities and the motor traffic rumble / But give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes and living in the jungle." Then that desperate voice bursts out again: "'Cos the only time that I feel at ease / Is swinging up and down in a coconut tree / Oh what a life of luxury / To be like an ape man."
That coconut tree is a complete fantasy, isn't it? He can't help but shift musical styles as he adds a little sex to his fantasy: with brother Dave spinning off Chuck Berry guitar licks, he delivers yet a second bridge (always more for your money with the Kinks!), an Elvis Presley-style plea: "Come on and love me / Be my ape man girl / And we'll be so happy / In my ape man world." This whirlwind dip into rockabilly cracks me up every time.
In the last verse, he finally incorporates her in his mental movie, with one of the song's funniest -- and yet somehow sweetest -- lines: "I'll be your Tarzan, you'll be my Jane / I'll keep you warm and you'll keep me sane." That's all he really wanted anyway, wasn't it? Someone to keep him sane in this crazy world. Well, I'm happy to volunteer, Ray. Just keep those bananas coming!