Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Do It Again" / The Kinks

I was busy in 1984 -- switching jobs, getting married, writing my first book. I didn't have time to be a Kinks fan. So -- with the exception of their radio hit "Good Day" -- Word of Mouth was lost on me. But sometimes you have to wait to hear an album at the right time in your life. Back then, my favorite songs might have been "Good Day," or "Going Solo," or the majestic "Living On A Thin Line." Now, though, I'm all about the bitter wisdom of "Do It Again."


"Standing in the middle of nowhere, / Wondering how to begin," Ray starts out, singing plaintively over a Morse code of repeated guitar notes. That lost-and-confused act is a Ray Davies trademark. And here he's not just lost in space, he's come unstuck in time, "Lost between tomorrow and yesterday, / Between now and then." The song's post-punk arrangement add surreal sci-fi effects, with little scraps of his own voice reverbing in the distance, like some kind of faulty neural playback.

With a clang of guitar and bash of drums, he jumps into the chorus: "And now we're back where we started, / Here we go round again. / Day after day I get up and I say / I better do it again." (I love those yelping attacks on "back" and "round," and how he reduces the phrase "do it again" into a hurried scribble of words.) The jittery agitation of this chorus tells you exactly how Ray feels about his inexorable routine. Like a mash-up of "Here Comes Yet Another Day" (from Everybody's In Show-Biz) and "Nine To Five" (from Soap Opera), Ray contemplates the daily grind with horror. Whether you're a rock musician or a white-collar commuter, it's a soul-killer.

The next verse (I guess you'd call it a verse, though the melody has changed) continues on this theme: "Where are all the people going? / Round and round till we reach the end. / One day leading to another, / Get up, go out, do it again." The "Do It Again" video -- one of the Kinks' best -- carries on in this vein, set on a rush-hour Tube train before shifting to a seaside fun fair.

That circular melody, morphing from verse to verse, those disconcerting echoes, the Pulsar guitar, perfectly evoke the misery of a mind-numbing daily slog. But then Ray takes the song deeper, widening its scope. After all, by 1984 the Kinks had been recording and performing non-stop for 20 years; Ray Davies had a right to wonder what the point was. The third verse expresses his growing sense of futility: "And you think today is going to be better, / Change the world and do it again. / Give it all up and start all over, / You say you will but you don't know when."

So who is this "you"? Maybe it's the universal You, maybe it's a romantic partner, maybe he's musing about himself. Still, I like to think of this song as a coded conversation with brother Dave, who had been threatening to quit the band (and had finally driven out original Kinks drummer Mick Avory, though -- courtesy of Ray -- Mick pops back up in the video). In the next section Ray commiserates with Dave's need to bust out of their 20-year rut; "The days go by and you wish you were a different guy, / Different friends and a new set of clothes." But betraying his old mates is one thing; betraying who he is is something else.

"You make alterations and affect a new pose," Ray goes on; "A new house, a new car, a new job, a new nose." I dig that scornful onslaught of "new's," slung one after the other; the "nose" at the end isn't just there for the rhyme -- remember how Ray refused to get his teeth fixed back in 1964? (though he's not above coloring his hair nowadays....) "But it's superficial and it's only skin deep," he warns, "Because the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep. / Get back, get back." That echo of the Beatles' "Get Back" isn't accidental, I bet, considering the other Beatle echoes in this song -- that "Hard Day's Night" clang of guitar at the beginning, the "Day Tripper" riff that follows this verse.

Well, maybe I would have "gotten" this song in 1984 -- the theme would have been familiar to me from the Talking Heads' 1980 "Once In A Lifetime" ("Same as it ever was / Same as it ever was / Same as it ever was . . ."). But now, I feel it deep in my bones. How typically Kinksian this is -- an uptempo, energetic, hook-laden song about feeling hopelessly trapped in life. ("Gotta stand and face it / Life is sooooo complicated.") 'Cos if we're going to get through these crappy lives of ours, we might as well do it dancing.

UP NEXT: Think Visual and "Lost and Found"


The Modesto Kid said...

Thanks -- I had forgotten this song. We're on our way to Montclair! Hallelujah Rosalee!

Alex said...

Great, great song... and easily the best part of the TV show That Was Then, which only lasted for 2 weeks back in 2002... :)

wwolfe said...

Terrific rocker, with Davies' unique brand of sardonic empathy setting it several notches above the norm. This was the last Kinks' album that registered with me, for some reason - most likely because radio and MTV stopped playing their new stuff, I'd be willing to bet.

Holly A Hughes said...

I love the fact that this is the title track for the new documentary, Do it Again, which shows Boston Globe rock critic Geoff Edgers on a quest to reunite the Kinks. (Spoiler alert: he fails.)