Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Holiday Romance" / The Kinks

Might as well give in to it.

The thing is, when I say I've been regressing into non-stop Kinks and Beatles, I'm not talking about "You Really Got Me" and "Waterloo Sunset" and "A Day in the Life" -- I'm talking oddities like "Holiday Romance." This is Ray Davies at his music hall best, with corny strings and tap dance rhythms and campy voices and all. It's a novelty song from their Soap Opera album, right smack in the middle of Ray's theatrical period; the song's even a bit of a sidebar for Soap Opera's high-concept story about an ordinary man who is transformed into a star (or is the other way around? Doo-doo doo-doo, doo-doo doo-doo...).

Within that story, "Holiday Romance" is a quirky interlude, one of Ray's many escapist fantasies -- a tale of a flirtation at a dowdy seaside resort, with its own weird sort of Edwardian naughty-postcards charm. It's all about trying on other lives, and in true Village Green fashion we find Ray lapsing fondly into clever Noel Coward-esque patter. He begins with a histrionic upbeat: "I -- had -- a -- brrreak for a week / So I booked my seat / And confirmed my reservation." You can almost imagine his arched eyebrows as he sets the scene "at a quiet little seaside / ho-tel." He arrives at the place "just in time for the dinner gong / Ding-dong!" If this were a movie, it'd be in black-and-white, but stylishly lit; the staginess of it all almost fits better into a silent movie, or one of those herky-jerky little films you'd watch on a scope at an old-timey amusement arcade.

The shot zooms in on his love interest: "Then I saw Lavinia / Standing at the bottom of the stairs / And I fell for Lavinia / The moment that I saw her standing there." Echo of the early Beatles song? Maybe, but even closer is this song's affinity with Magical Mystery Tour's deliberately nostalgic "Your Mother Should Know." ("Let's all get up and dance to a song / That was a hit before your mother was born..."). The difference is that Ray doesn't bother with the ironic parentheses -- he just projects himself right into that other era and goes for it.

There's something deliciously fey about the mincing way Ray sings, "Lavinia looked so divine / As she walked up to the table to dine / And then Lavinia's eyes met /Mine!" Ah, that falsetto trill at the end is just priceless; Tiny Tim couldn't have done better. With all due histrionics, he wonders, with a suitable flutter in his voice, "Can this be love / Can this be lovey-dove / Or just a holiday romance?" He jumps up to another register to reiterate, "Can this be long-lost love at last / Or is it just a flash in the pan?"

His excitement is so endearingly innocent, an innocence he carries on as they dance ("after cheese and liqueurs) to the hotel band ("We did the foxtrot, samba, and danced through the night"). In later verses, they stroll on the beach and drink lemonade, and he says to himself, with a frisson of delight, "I thought, 'I must be on a winner'." That's probably my favorite line, followed closely by "And my holiday treat was / Com-plete." How he manages to make all this sound so lascivious and yet so quaint is beyond genius.

It's a hazy out-of-time idyll, even for our hero, who knows perfectly well that this will only last for the week. He ties it all up with a lovely comic bow at the end, when, in a Monty-Pythonish female warble, Lavinia pushes him away and trills, "Better stop, / My husband's coming to collect me today." Breaking his rhyme scheme, his syncopation, completely puncturing his balloon, she appears in her own skin for the first time, and Ray lets the mask slip just enough for us to wonder if she's actually a silly cow. But who cares? It's such a tidy ending! With a cascading embroidery of strings, he pans away, waving a handkerchief in farewell. Nothing will ever spoil the perfection of this little romance. No ties, no regrets -- ah, that's what we all need, isn't it?

Okay, it's not the first song I'd play to try to convert somebody to being a Kinks fan. But this is the sort of stuff that made a Kinks fan of me, for better or worse. What a hopeless case I am.

Holiday Romance


Betty C. said...

I love this song too. The first Kinks album I bought was Schoolboys and the second was Soap Opera. So I'm totally in-between on those big "early Kinks vs. Arista Kinks" debates. Some of the songs that marked me the most were from Preservation to Schoolboys, although I agree they're not what I'd use to convince someone how great the Kinks are...

Keep listening! I guarantee I'll read anything you write about the Kinks!

wwolfe said...

Schoolboys was also my first Kinks album. A seemingly odd choice, yet I think it's a very good album.