Monday, November 23, 2009

"Don't Forget To Dance" /
The Kinks

Well, we all know "Come Dancing," the Kinks' great comeback hit of 1983 from their album State of Confusion. It's a pretty brilliant album, my favorite from this decade, and I've already written about its title track State of Confusion as well as the devasting end-of-the-marriage song Property. But thanks to a great video, "Come Dancing" was the track that nailed the Kinks' 1980s remergence as a band to be reckoned with. It's such an iconic Ray Davies track that he has even based a new stage musical on it, which will be touring the UK next year. (Buy tickets now!)

But there's a companion song to "Come Dancing" on this album, and that's the one I've got haunting my brain. "Come Dancing" looks back fondly to the past, when a lively teenage girl -- Ray's sister -- went out dancing every night at the local palais. "Don't Forget to Dance" is that song's inverse: set in the present, not the past, and describing not a girl but an older woman, who still has that dancing spirit alive in her. Today I suppose we'd call her a cougar, and find her faintly ridiculous. But not Ray Davies, champion of loners and misfits. He finds her poetic and brave, as she clings to her fading beauty and dreams of romance.

Whereas the sound in "Come Dancing" is a retro carnival-esque whirl, "Don't Forget to Dance" is definitely a slow dance, a gentle shuffle with just a whisper of 80s-era synths. (Personally I love that climbing electric piano line.) It invites wistfulness, with a relatively simple arrangement, spangly guitar riffs, a layer of organ, and steady drumming -- the back-up oohs don't even come in until after the bridge.

Though he's written it in the second person, Ray sees every detail of this song through the eyes of his heroine, beginning with that trademark window view, as if this is her own Waterloo Sunset: "You look out of your window / Into the night. / Could be rain, could be snow, / But it can't feel as cold as you're feeling inside." Her loneliness, her lostness, is clear right away; the melody drifts uncertainly around a handful of notes, with Ray stuffing in extra words, almost turning the rhymes into blank verse.

And then he fills in her social details: "And all of you friends are either married, vanished, / Or just left alone." We never know, actually, whether she's a spinster, a divorcee, or even a wife trapped in a loveless marriage; I suppose she could even be a prostitute. All we know is her weary despair: "That's no reason to just stop living. / That's no excuse to just give in to a sad and lonely heart."

In verse two he enters the picture himself, as an admiring onlooker -- "And if this were a party / I'd really make sure the next one would be mine." Singing in his softest and most sincere voice, he gives her his seal of approval. And then, in the last verse, he zooms out to give us this cinematic scene: "You walk down the street / And all the young punks whistle at you." (It floors me that Ray Davies has actually thought about what a woman feels when she gets cat-calls.) "A nice bit of old," he calls her, or rather says the young punks call her -- a slang term that could be offensive, but not the way Ray sings it.

No, he admires her spunk, the way she eyes those leering boys "Even though you know that you could be their mother." That's such a risky line; it walks a tightrope between sneering at her and pitying her. Sure, she's older, but she knows she's older, and she's willing to defy convention, to be true to herself -- "You do the thing you love the most. / What separates you from the rest." That strained falsetto on "love the most" echoes the piano riff, and Ray's voice trembles ever so slightly with admiration. Ray Davies can be merciless with someone he thinks looks like a fool; he doesn't think that about her. She's a rebel and a misfit, and there's nothing he likes better than that.

At the end of the last verse, Ray delivers the ultimate compliment, a gallant bow in her direction: "And when they ask me how you dance, / I say that you dance real close." He may not be dancing with her, but he has already imagined the fearlessness of her embrace, the generosity of her emotion. And he loves that about her.

Of course, this song is about Ray Davies as well -- some fear of growing older, a faint sense that he might look ridiculous prancing around the stage at his age, like some outrageous poove. It may have been inspired by some woman he saw on the street, but while writing this song Ray somehow was overtaken by his own imagination; he becomes his heroine.

I marvel at this song -- at how Ray Davies makes it wonderful to be middle-aged and attractive and STILL longing for love. I know I'm saving the last dance for him.

AND STILL THERE'S MORE!  Word of Mouth and "Do It Again"


Mister Pleasant said...

Great choice Holly. I am thankful you picked it because I really wanted to read what you have to say about it. Will be my post too when I get around to "State of Confusion". This song sends me over the edge every time I hear it. The gentle melody and accompaniment may be the pinnacle of late Kinks IMHO.

Carabella said...

That song resonated with me then when I began to feel older (early 30's and a single mother of two kids) and still does. I sometimes catch young guys checking me out and if they got up close in the light they would freak (dang, she could be my grandma). I just laugh and I never forget to dance.