Sunday, November 01, 2009

"Stop Your Sobbing" / The Kinks

NOVEMBER IS KINKS MONTH!

On the Ray Davies Official website fan forum, a posse of us Kinks fans are listening to one Kinks album per day, in chronological order, throughout November. So for this next month, I'll take you on a chronological Kinks tour, writing about one song from each day's designated Kinks album.

When The Kinks was first released in the UK in October 1964, "You Really Got Me" had just rocketed to number one on the UK charts (here in the US, it would peak at #7). Rushed out to capitalize on that success, The Kinks is a snapshot of a very young band (Dave Davies was only 17, his older brother Ray 20) scrambling for attention amidst a UK music scene that had just erupted through the roof. Who would the Kinks sound like? The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? The Animals? The Yardbirds? On this album, they try on all those sounds, with varying success. The real answer would be to sound like the Kinks, which is what happened with "You Really Got Me" and its follow-up hit, "All Day And All Of The Night."

Still, I've always been more drawn to the quirky side of Ray Davies's songwriting. As an adolescent in 1965, all I knew of the Kinks was what the radio played, those two power-chord singles -- and they frightened me. If I'd bought this album, however (retitled You Really Got Me for its US release), I might have become a Kinks fan much sooner. "Stop Your Sobbing" may have seemed like album filler (track #6 at the end of the B side), but it's one of their most delicious early songs, a hint of the glories to come.

video

With its sashaying syncopation and tight back-up harmonies, "Stop Your Sobbin'" taps into the British Beat scene's passion for American girl group numbers (look at how many girl-group covers the Searchers and Manfred Mann did). But most of those girl groups sang about devotion and heartbreak; in "Stop Your Sobbing" Ray Davies explores much more complicated emotional terrain. He begins, oh so earnestly, "It is time for you to stop / All of your sobbing," and I imagine at first that he's being tender and loving, drying away his girlfriend's tears. No need to weep, my darling, I am here -- that sort of thing. But as he continues, another emotion entirely creeps in. "There's one thing you've got to do / To make me still want you -- / Gotta stop sobbin' now." That not-so-thinly-veiled threat, the note of irritation in his voice -- he's not going to put up with her female hysteria, not for one minute. No girl group would ever have sung a song like this.

In verse two, he lamely tries to lift her spirits -- "It is time for you to laugh instead of crying" -- and he attempts to comfort her in the bridge: "Each little tear that falls from your eye / Makes, makes-a me want / To take you in my arms and tell you to stop all your sobbing." But we know what he's really thinking. I will break up with you if you go on like this. It's perfect for Ray's particular singing style -- he's not sweetly sincere like Paul McCartney or husky with desire like Eric Burdon; that neurotic quaver in his voice, that petulant whine, tell you he'd be prickly and difficult to love. (Which, let's admit it, is a huge part of his charm. Am I right, girls?)

Notice how the syncopation hesitates and dodges around the beat at first ("I would like for you to stop") but comes in with sledgehammer beats when he finally reaches the point ("all of your sobbin'"). That low note he hits on "sob" is like a gut punch. And now, having broached the subject, he coolly, almost heartlessly repeats it, tossing off "all of your sobbin'" in a careless vocal flutter. Notice in the chorus how he hurriedly stuffs in the extra syllables, "Gotta stop your sobbin' now," as if mortified by her emotion.

Why does he say "all of your" sobbing? Immediately we sense her tears as excess, as overkill. In his "unauthorized autobiography" X-Ray Ray Davies relates the incident that sparked this song, how he watched a girlfriend crying hysterically and just stood back, always the detached observer, feeling vaguely guilty and confused.

So whom are we sorry for here? The guy, saddled with a hysterical female? Or the girl, dissolving in tears while her wary boyfriend passively looks on? To me it's a classic statement of love's frustrations -- of two mismatched people trying to sustain a doomed relationship. Over the years, this simple little album track ended up inspiring more than its share of cover versions -- mostly notably by the Pretenders in 1979 (a single produced by Nick Lowe, I must note). When Chrissie Hynde sang it, however, it was just baffling -- a woman watching her boyfriend cry is a totally different scenario. Oh, don't get me started on Chrissie and Ray....

TOMORROW: Kinda Kinks and "Nothin' In the World Can Stop me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl"

10 comments:

Vivalabeat said...

I enjoy your writing Holly. It's such a great idea to make a Kinks tour here as well.

The Modesto Kid said...

Are you going to see Ray this month? He is playing in Montclair on (IIRC) the 24th -- I'm hoping to make that my first Davies show.

Holly A Hughes said...

He's doing two night in Manhattan, Nov 19th and 20th -- hoping to make at least one, if not both, shows. He'll be doing choral arrangements of some of his old hits with a full choir, to promote his new Choral Album (coming out next week). Should be interesting!

Don't know if he'll have the choir in Montclair, though. I'm sure it'll be great anyway. Enjoy!

wwolfe said...

I heard the Pretenders' version first, and often, so for me the Kinks' original sounded odd for a long time. You're right about the odd meaning taken on by the lyrics when sung by a woman - I'm not sure why that never struck me before now. In retrospect, I think I heard the pretenders' version as a sort of "Chin up, soldier through" message of encouragement, rather than a romance-based lyric. That doesn't really make sense, as I sit and think of the words, but I think that's why the gender dissonance never hit me before now. (I still do prefer Nick Lowe's arrangement and production to that of the Kinks' version, though.)

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, the Nick Lowe touch can be golden. (So I like to think.)

The odd thing about the Kinks is that half of their fans want them to be hard-rocking headbangers and the others want finely-crafted satires and neurotic passive-aggressive plaints. Count me in the later camp. I'm guessing that Chrissie always loved the hard-rocking side of the Kinks and wanted to "rescue" this early song from its demo-like arrangement. It's such a catchy tune, it couldn't fail to do well, but I think she betrayed the spirit of it. But then, I warned you, I am NOT RATIONAL when it comes to Chrissie Hynde's relationship to Ray Davies.

Anonymous said...

According to Uncut Magazine Ray and Chrissie have ended their 20+ year feud and have written a song together "Postcards from London" is due Dec 2009...how about that? I wonder if Natalie Rae Davies Hynde does backup vocals...

Holly A Hughes said...

Yeah, I read that. I am still in denial. I don't believe they wrote it together, for one thing -- MAYBE Chrissie has added vocals, like she did for Nick Lowe's recent track "People Change." But I've also heard that it's Kate Nash singing with Ray on this. And that's the story I choose to believe. (I can't believe that a rapprochement with Chrissie wouldn't have been tweeted about well before they went into the studio.) Rumors have a tendency to fly around Ray Davies.

Anonymous said...

You may not be the only irrational person when it comes to Ray and Chrissie's rocky relationship. Have you ever heard the song "Racheland" by the Jazz Butcher? It is on a 1990 album called Condition Blue. Check it out. Fantastic album. I saw them a few years back and the JB was still rattling on about La Hynde!

Anonymous said...

she's in the video too!

http://musicnewses.blogspot.com/2009/11/ray-davies-duets-with-chrissie-hynde.html

Holly A Hughes said...

Ugh. Yeah, I read that as well. But until I see footage with my own two eyes...