Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"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"


wwolfe said...

I'd just like to note what a very cool album cover that is. It's the fact that Dave Davies' hand is blurred in movement in the main shot that makes it work, I think. (Plus, a very boss red shirt, as well.)

Holly A Hughes said...

One of my fave covers, for sure. So subtle!

Mister Pleasant said...

Definitely an iconic cover. In fact so much so that a fairly famous riot grrrl band "borrowed" the design:


(props to the Power Pop blog for bringing this to my attention)

Anonymous said...

I have a slightly different take on it. The song sounds like Ray is trying to talk himself through a depression. First verse: I'm depressed. Can I get through this. Second verse: Now I know why I'm depressed because things aren't the way they used to be. Third verse: But that's ok. Things are really better now, so I'm going to be all right.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Dylanesque, of course, and I love the way Ray starts the song "on the run," so to speak...
"Well, in my life I never stopped to worry about a thing."

Like there's a line before this line that is unheard.

And of course the achingly beautiful, "Daddy didn't have no toys, and Mommy didn't meet no boys."

It's a rhetorical question, I guess, about just where the good times have gone. I know that mine are wrapped inside a puzzle, covered in an enigma, and encased in one of those little Russian dolls whose name I can't remember.


IƱaki said...

Looking for information about this song, this old post came third in Google and it made my day!

To the question "Any of you see other references there that I've missed?" The Beatles again with Help: "Guess you need some bringing down and get your feet back on the ground"