Monday, November 24, 2008

"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!

Apeman sample


44 said...

Calling Dr. Freud! Calling Dr. Freud!


Holly A Hughes said...

Somehow I knew you'd pick up on that, 44.

IƱaki said...

This one has never one of my favourite Kinks songs, and I really don't know why because it's great (if that makes any sense).

Mark said...

This is one of my favorite Kinks songs as well, I love Ray's vocal on it! (Especially the air pollution that's, ahem, "foggin'" up his eyes...) Ray's always good when he's trying to escape the pressures of modern life, although becoming an ape man means he's moving farther back in time than just pining for Village Green Preservation Societies. 20th Century Man is another brilliant "I hate this age, things were better back then" song.

Betty C. said...

I'm just Amazon one-clicking my way through buying the Kinks CDs -- I have a pretty komplete kollection back in the States on vinyl, but that's not doing me any good.

Lola vs...was always my favorite album and it will be interesting to see how I feel rediskovering it.

For the moment, I'm plunging into Arthur (and the...) and reliving the glories of Shangri-la. I had never really forgotten that song since it made my Top Ten list recently, but I had not quite kept its musical complexity in my head.

Apeman? I used to think it was as brilliant as Lola and that they were kind of mirror songs on the album -- one nostalgic for the past, the other in the "mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world" of the present. There are actually some melodic resemblances, even though the arrangments are totally different.

Holly A Hughes said...

The Lola/Apeman comparison is interesting, Betty -- I think you're onto something there. And when you think about it, "Gotta Be Free" fits right in there too, and it connects to Mark's point about Ray yearning for escape. (Plus its bluegrass sound provides a musical bridge forward to the next album, Muswell Hillbillies.)

I did that CD replacement thing for the Kinks all at one go too, Betty, a few years ago when I finally got an iPod and had to find a way to load the Kinks onto it. It was like discovering them all again . . . a real treat. Enjoy!

Betty C. said...

Doing intensive listening to "Lola vs..." today -- very emotional.

And hey, "This time tomorrow" completes my above idea with a song about the future...

Notice the use of transportation sounds at the beginning of Apeman and then of "This time..."

This album is a gem.