Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Stormy Sky" / The Kinks

So at long last, in 1976, Ray Davies took up residence in New York City -- as much as an touring musician can "reside" anywhere -- and what happens? He writes an album like Sleepwalker, tinged with the jazzy rhythms, sonic density, and midnight ramblings of the City That Never Sleeps. It's full of insomniac songs -- "Sleepwalker," "Sleepless Night," "Full Moon," and my favorite, "Stormy Sky." As an adopted New Yorker and confirmed insomniac, how could I not love this song?

Is this song a ballad or a rocker? The answer is, both -- and I don't mean the sort of "soft rock" pablum that would soon dominate pop music. (Check out my Eighties Cheese Week for that.) No, the tempo of "Stormy Sky" clicks right along, brimming with syncopation, bracing up that fluid melody. And there's Dave Davies' supple guitar line, threading through the song with samba-like grace, but commanding enough to build to a grand ending. Usually I hate grand endings, but here it fits just right.

I suppose it helps that Ray Davies doesn't have a syrupy sweet voice, even when he's singing in his most sincere vocal style (what a relief after all those campy voices in the theatrical albums). I love how he softly sidles into the verse, as if picking up a conversation -- "Oh, oh darlin' / Little darlin' / Did you ever see such a stormy sky?" or in verse two, "I feel it / Do you feel it? / Can you feel it?" The cracks and wobbles of his voice work just right, making you feel like he's an ordinary guy overwhelmed by life.

Of course, Ray is not exactly your go-to guy for happy love songs, and even here there's a hint of relationship trouble. The "stormy sky" he's singing about sounds like social problems in verse one ("Ev'rybody's try'n' to hide, / To get away from that stormy sky") -- with a major recession and a world energy crisis, in 1976 Ray could easily have felt that he was living through stormy times. But in verse two, it seems more like a rough patch in their relationship ("But if you hold me tight, / I know that we'll be all right. / Tomorrow we'll laugh about it"). And of course it could be both -- how easy it is for couples to be stressed to the breaking point in social crises.

The main thing, though, is that chorus: "We're under a stormy sky, / Watchin' the clouds roll by. / But won't you let me keep you warm, / And leave the storm outside? / It's only a stormy sky." WOW. It isn't often you find Ray Davies offering tenderness and comfort; is this is the same guy who told his girlfriend to "Stop Your Sobbin'"? Now he's more like John Hiatt singing "Feel Like Rain." And frankly, it's sexy as hell.

So there's the storm -- literal or figurative -- lashing the windows, and Ray gently holding his sweetie in his arms, keeping her safe, warm, and dry. His voice is a coaxing intimate murmur, just a little raspy, but never pleading (pleading's for wimps). Who doesn't love a good rainstorm? Once you're safe indoors, that is. . . .

NEXT UP: Misfits and "Out of the Wardrobe"


Alex said...

I remember seeing the Kinks sing "Sleepwalker" on Saturday Night Live and loving the call-and-response chorus.

And while the album might not have been as consistently great as some of their early work (or even as consistent as Low Budget), it was a pretty great record for the time.

Mister Pleasant said...

Ah yes, Stormy Sky indeed. Ray's singing could not be more breathtaking. Dave's economical guitar work is the perfect counterpoint.

You said it Holly - I love to head to the Oregon Coast for a weekend of snuggling in a warm cottage room while the winter storm rolls in.

wwolfe said...

I found "Sleepwalker" to be a strong album when it was released. I don't know what I'd think now, having not heard it for a number of years. All the songs you mentioned were good ones, though, and I'd definitely add "Jukebox Music" to that list. My band used to play that live and invariably someone would ask us if that was an original. "We wish it was" was the standard response. My favorite line from the whole album: "Full moon's still up there like a big white balloon." No other writer would hit upon such a simple, evocative image.

Holly A Hughes said...

I hadn't listened to Sleepwalker in years, and I was surprised at how well it held up. It doesn't sound nearly as dated as I'd thought it would.

Jukebox Music is a perfect example of an underrated Kinks track that would have been a huge hit from any other band. They did release it as a single, but it went nowhere. Such a shame.