Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Yo-Yo" / The Kinks

The 1981-era Kinks were not my favorite -- the mullet haircuts, the thrashy rock songs -- but this is the thing about the Kinks: Their catalog is so damn deep, there are neglected gems on every album. Personally I've even grown to like the noisy mash-ups like "Destroyer" and "Add It Up" on Give The People What They Want, but my heart lies on Side 2, with songs like "Art Lover," "Better Things," and "Yo-Yo."

It's sneaky, how Ray begins this song as if it's another of his omniscient narrator numbers, a short story about ordinary suburban citizens: "There are many different people, / Livin' double lives. / One for the office, / And one that they take home to their wives." (I love how the melody slips and slithers on the line endings, like "lives" and "wives" -- dodging around just like these divided souls do.) He zooms in on a specific vignette, drawing its details with the accomplished brushstrokes of a master: "He sits in the armchair, watching channel 4, / With his brains not expected home for an hour or more." That's flat-out brilliant songwriting, isn't it? That's the sort of observation that you can cling to, to help make sense out of your own daily life.

But wait! There's more! The camera pans to the next room: "His wife is in the kitchen, fixin' her old man's tea / She's thinking to herself, / 'He's not the man that married me, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.'" Well, if I was sympathizing with that poor workaday drone in the armchair before, I'm really arrested by the other side of the story. Forget him, she's the one I'm living through now. It's almost like "Two Sisters," Ray's song from way back on Something Else -- both sides of the story are painfully clear to the all-seeing, all-knowing storyteller.

Not for long, though. "Yo-Yo" yo-yos itself, dropping the short story and plunging into confessional mode. "You needed me when you were crying,/ But now you're laughing I'm the last thing on your mind." It's not only confession, but accusation, and Ray's singing takes on a new savagery. He completely forgets about seeing both sides of the story: he simply can't. Whoever inspired this song (I'm putting my money on Chrissie Hynde) should have been sorry indeed when she first heard it.

And he's not just complaining ("First you love me, then you don't"), he's making threats ("You got me sussed, but you don't know"). He's all self-pity one moment -- "Girl you had me dangling, like a yo-yo on a string" -- and the next moment longing to make up: "But with you at the controls I could accomplish anything, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." And in the end, he simply boils over with vengefulness: "You might be popular, but it won't last for long, / So don't give up the day job, in case it all goes wrong."

So often Ray Davies sits back with his legs crossed, like an attentive shrink -- "So how do you feel about that?" In "Yo-Yo," though, we bust right through that scrim of objectivity. Something has touched him close to the nerves this time; the wound is still open. And the edgy rawness of Dave's guitar, the dense tangle of sound that characterizes this whole album, makes perfect sense for this song. It makes me realize that hard rock does have its place. When life gets tough, the tough turn up the volume.

COMING NEXT: State of Confusion and "Don't Forget to Dance"


Uncle E said...

Art Lover is in my Top 5 All-Time favorite Kinks songs. The "Give The People Want They Want" tour is the only one I ever saw, so I have a special place for this album.

pat said...

discovered this tune a couple of weeks ago when letting the Kinks Rockpalast show run in the background. HOLY COW! i can't get enough of this one. glad that my interest brought me to this post, and your blog (looks awesome).

there's an egg in these lyrics? i haven't gotten that deep yet. still stuck on the groove. (live version from Japan on y/t). just parroting the phrases as i hum along. "don't give up the day job....". did this expression even exist 35 years ago? this song reminds me of squeeze's east side story album (woman's world, picadilly)... narrative 3rd person descriptions of life/strife. their life/strife. metaphorically and phonetically, "yo yo" is a perfect container for that guitar riff. if this was done by one of those British singers that don't have the accent, it wouldn't work.