"UK Jive" / The Kinks
It was all my fault, I'm sure. By 1989 I wasn't listening to the Kinks anymore; why should anyone else? And with their new record company, MCA, breathing down their necks, the Kinks -- amidst epic battles between the brothers Davies -- cranked out UK Jive on a minimum of inspiration. Not only did they rip off riffs from other artists (hear them go all Talking Heads in the middle of "Aggravation"), they recycled their own songs mercilessly. It probably deserved to be the flop it was.
But coming to it years later, I discover that this record isn't nearly as awful as it was rumored to be. In fact, there are more than a couple tracks I like quite a lot. Fr'instance. Take a little bit of "Come Dancing" nostalgia, blend it with the boppy danceability of "Jukebox Music," and you've got "UK Jive," the album's title track title. It should be a cynical bit of throwaway fluff, and maybe it is. But I don't know, I can't help liking it -- and feeling guilty that I wasn't around to stand up for the Kinks when it first came out.
That jitterbug beat, the jiving guitar licks, put us in a Fifties mood from the very start, and Ray's lyrics recreate a vintage scene from his old North London haunts: "Another Saturday night and everybody gets together / The pubs are turning out and all the streets are alive / But the people wanna party so they come back to our house / Everybody gonna do the U.K Jive." By all accounts Ray and Dave's father, Fred Davies, was quite a party animal, and this description is no exaggeration -- after last call, the regulars did reel across the road from the Clissold Arms to the Davies house on Denmark Terrace to keep the party going. "Dad's got a crate of beer and it's an open invitation / He's ever-so elated and so are his mates."
I can just imagine skinny little Ray Davies and his baby brother, jostled up against the wall in the front room, getting a taste of adult fun. It worked in "Come Dancing," that child's-eye view of adult thrills, and Ray Davies never throws away a useful concept. But I don't know, I fall for it all over again. I love the feeling of being in that front room with him, no matter how crowded and cacophonous it might be.
In verse two, we get another nugget of Davies family history: "Mum's all annoyed dad forgot the inflation / He blew all his wages by half past nine." (Remember in "Come Dancing," the boyfriend who "blew his wages for the week / All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek"?) With Micawber-like improvidence, Mr. Davies has "bought a gramophone on the never never [Britspeak for 'installment plan'] / And the tally man's gotta have his money on time." Ah, considering how Americanized the Kinks had begun to seem by 1989, these Britticisms are welcome indeed.
There was a whole sub-genre of "dance songs" in the late 50s, early 60s, that contained dance instructions right in the song; Ray's calling them out here, his arch vocals trading off with swinging horn licks: "Swing your partner to the left, / Swing her back to the right. / Don't stand in the middle / And act cool all night." (Later on in the song he adds, "You've got to learn to swing both ways," with an extra suggestive wiggle in his voice -- a sly "Lola" reference.) Next he launches into a sort of fight song, perfect for a raucous post-pub singalong: "Do that U.K. Jive/ Do that U.K. Jive / U.K. O.K. U.K. O.K. gimme that U.K. Jive." Well, you'd have to be made of stone not to join in on that chorus.
Like most rock songs of this era, it goes on a bit too long, but as it peters out with extra solos, Ray does a sly dirty old man routine: "Blow in my ear, / I like the way you do that." I'm reminded of Ray Charles, and all those chuckling asides that made "What'd I Say" so much fun. ("Are you jiving me? / Oh, you bad pussy cat / You'll make papa mad.")
Is is worthy of the Kinks? Not really. On the other hand, if Aerosmith or Queen or Bruce Springsteen had turned out something this catchy, they'd have been media darlings for it. It just wasn't, apparently, what music fans wanted to hear from the Kinks in 1989. More's the pity.
AND ON WE GO: Phobia and "Drift Away"