"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.
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"