"Where Have All the Good Times Gone" / The Kinks
On The Kink Kontroversy (1965), the Kinks were still teetering between the power chord singles that had made them famous ("Till the End of the Day") and Ray Davies' growing gift for satire ("Dedicated Follower of Fashion"). How to combine the two? The answer lay on the B side of the "Till the End of the Day" single: "Where Have All the Good Times Gone." Ray Davies still hauls this one out frequently in concert; he hardly ever sings "Till the End of the Day" any more.
"Where Have All the Good Times" still offers up the rough, raw energy of brother Dave's guitar work, but Ray isn't trying to pretend anymore that lust is the only thing on his mind. Looking for a template for satire, he borrows a page from Bob Dylan (he could segue any minute into "Like A Rolling Stone") and begins to twang out a sort of talking blues: "Well, lived my life and never stopped to worry 'bout a thing / Opened up and shouted out and never tried to sing." But while Dylan is skewering some old girlfriend, Ray is skewering himself -- or at any rate, some fictional version of himself, your prototypical 60s British rocker. Now, he laments, the musical trend is running on empty and his creative energies are failing: "Wondering if I'd done wrong / Will this depression last for long?" (Trust Ray to get depressed about the fact that he's depressed.)
The gutsy wail of the chorus is totally heartfelt: "Won't you tell me / Where have all the good times gone? / Where have all the good times gone?" I love how matey and boozy the Kinks sound on the chorus, with its lurching rhythm, the chromatic melody sliding back and forth between F and G. Discordant and sloppy, with those trademark crunchy riffs, it's like an old-fashioned pub singalong, definitely near to last call and closing time. But the last call Ray envisions is the end of the Beat revolution (originally he was inspired to chronicle the death of the Merseybeat scene, but as a Londoner, he couldn't really comment fairly on that). Those early 60s days must have been heady indeed -- I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be caught up in that madness. But it is only 1965, and while other bands are trying to reproduce their early hits, Ray Davies has already checked out.
Long before "American Pie," Ray Davies cleverly name-checks other artists' work in his verses -- the Rolling Stones ("Time was on our side and I had everything to gain"), the Beatles ("Yesterday was such an easy game for you to play"). Any of you see other references there that I've missed? Verse three may be more autobiographical -- "Ma and Pa look back at all the things they used to do / Didn't have no money and they always told the truth / Daddy didn't have no toys / And mummy didn't need no boys" -- but he's also making fun of people who live in a fantasy past (nostalgia ain't what it used to be), including his peers who cling stubbornly to their old sound.
Ray Davies has always had a complex reaction to nostalgia. On one hand, he longs to live in the past, when life was less complicated; on the other, he's suspicious that the past can be a prison. (The whole Village Green Preservation Society album is Ray's conflicted dance with nostalgia.) "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" sits right on that fence; it's an obituary for the British Invasion and a declaration of independence, but it's also tinged with regret. The good times were good, and he owes that musical revolution everything. But now it's time to move on.
TOMORROW: Face to Face and "Too Much On My Mind"