"Get Back In Line" / The Kinks
Oh, I'm NOT going to write about "Lola." I am grateful to that song for resurrecting the Kinks' US popularity in 1971; and yeah, I'll sing along lustily when Ray performs it in concert. But it's been overplayed and I'm tired of it. I hate the fact it's one of the few Kinks songs that most people know.
And there are so many better songs on Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One. (Crazy title, hunh?) One of the first Kinks albums I ever owned, its songs are deeply imprinted in my brain. I've already written about two of them, Strangers and Apeman. But for today's designated album, I had to write about "Get Back In Line."
A lot of Lola v Powerman's satire about the music business went right over my head as a kid -- I'd never been to "Denmark Street," had never read NME or Melody Maker or watched "Top of the Pops" on TV; I had no idea who those guys were in "The Moneygoround" (Robert? Larry? Grenville?). Not that that stopped me from loving those snappy comic gems. Nestled amidst them, however, "Get Back In Line" always stole my heart. I'd seen all those gritty black-and-white 1960s British working-class movies, like "This Sporting Life" and "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning"; just like their working-class protagonists, Ray's aspiring musician goes glumly to the labour exchange, hoping to get a job. (Okay, it's a recording gig as a session man, perhaps, not a backbreaking day in the mines, but STILL, it feels menial to him.) With its plodding melody, bucketing drums, and Salvation-Army-style organ, it's like a snapshot of workers hunched in shabby overcoats, shuffling along a sooty brick wall.
Ray Davies has never done a day's hard labor himself, but it was all around him growing up, especially in the austerity of 1950s Britain. Unemployment was on his mind five years earlier, when he wrote the jaunty but dark "Dead End Street"; on this song his empathy with the working man has become gentler, more tender. "Facing the world ain't easy / When there isn't anything going," he remarks wistfully in verse one; "Standing at the corner waiting / Watching time go by." Hopelessness, male pride, and mind-numbing boredom well up in his heart, as he wonders dully: "Will I go to work today or / Shall I bide my time?" The most touching line comes later, in verse two, when he says to his wife/sweetheart: "I don't ever want you to see me / Standing in that line." Poor emasculated guy! (Trust Ray to focus on wounded pride rather than the rumbling belly...)
With a momentous drum fill, our hero looks up and sees the ruler of his miserable little universe: The Union Man. "He's the man who decides if I live or I die, / If I starve or I eat," he declares, the line swelling with apprehension as it hangs on one anxious note. And then we get a cinematic little shot: "He walks up to me and the sun begins to shine" (cue up spangly guitars), only to dissolve into a series of sledgehammer beats as "he walks right past and I know that I've got to get / Back in the line." I love how the back-up harmonies chime in on alternate lines here; our hero's not the only person holding his breath as The Union Man struts past.
I love the slow wheezy twang of "Get Back In Line"; it's a taste of what we'd be getting on the Kinks' next album, Muswell Hillbillies. In a way, this song is the flip side of Muswell's "Uncle Son," another song about union politics; you could also match it up with Think Visual's "Working At the Factory," where Ray moans about the assembly-line drudgery of recording. (May I repeat: Ray Davies has never done a day's menial labor.) But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's just savor the sweet melancholy of "Get Back In Line." Funny how Lola v Powerman set out to be the Kinks' most satiric album -- and yet it contains some of the most wistful, affectionate songs Ray Davies ever wrote. Go figure.
TOMOTTOW: Percy and "The Way Love Used To Be"