Monday, January 17, 2011

"Till the End of the Day" / 
The Kinks

I couldn't resist -- having seen the Muswell Hillbillies perform their Kinks tribute show in New York last August, the news that they were "doing it again" up in Northampton, Massachusetts, meant one thing for me: ROAD TRIP!  So despite last week's two-foot snow dump, there I was last night, perched on a bar stool in the Iron Horse Music Hall, sipping on my ice-cold beer and singing along.

Check out the background on this Kinks kollective here.  Suffice it to say that their show is hugely enjoyable, just a little ragged around the edges (like a true Kinks show would be), and full of love for the music of --- well, let's not mince words, the greatest band of all time. 

While their previous show was built around a track-by-track rendition of the Muswell Hillbillies LP (a.k.a. the greatest album ever by the greatest band of all time), this gig mixed things up a little bit, kept us in the audience guessing. The setlist included such obscure tracks as "Tin Soldier Man" and "Wicked Annabella," choices that betray what insane Kinks kultists these guys are. (Which, of course, endears them to me even more.)  But since I was there with a friend who was a relative Kinks neophyte, I was glad that they also pulled out some of the earlier hit singles, the ones that got mainstream radio play over here before the Kinks' mysterious U.S. touring ban.  And when they launched into "Till the End of the Day," even my friend grinned in recognition. 

Now, when I try to explain to uninformed people who the Kinks are/were, I usually mention their first two big 1964 hits, "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night."  The Kinks dutifully followed those with "Tired of Waiting," "Who'll Be the Next in Line," and "Set Me Free," all hard-driving rock songs featuring varying degrees of power-chord aggression.  Naturally, by mid-1965 Ray Davies was chafing at the bit, and he tampered with the hit-making formula, coming up with the dreamy, raga-like "See My Friends." Unfortunately, this record didn't even crack the top 100 in the States, and so the pressure was on to recapture the old sound.

Kinks producer Shel Talmy gave Ray a not-so-subtle nudge by importing American songwriter Mort Shuman ("Teenager in Love," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me") and sending him up to North London to give Ray an afternoon's tutorial (!) in songwriting.  (Can you imagine?)  Nevertheless, it worked.  "Till the End of the Day" was written that evening, recorded quickly, and launched onto the UK charts, hitting #6.  Inexplicably, however, the US release was delayed until the following spring, and the record only rated #50 on the US charts. Luckily, the Kinks soon bounced back with the new satiric sound of "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" and "Sunny Afternoon," and voila! Ray Davies could finally escape the power-chord formula.

Here's the Kinks, back in the day . . .


And here's some video from the Muswell Hillbillies' performance the other night.  Dig the back-up singers, and a sizzling guitar solo that would make even Dave Davies proud:

Okay, so the title is way too similar to "All Day and All of the Night"; maybe it was a bit of a recycling effort. All the same, it did alter the Kinks formula in one important angle. Think about all those other singles -- "You Really Got Me,""All Day and All of the Night," "Tired of Waiting," "Who'll Be the Next In Line" (and its flip side "Where Have All the Good Times Gone"), and "Set Me Free" -- they're all complaint songs. Obsession songs.  Misery songs.  But how does "Till the End of the Day" begin?  Three slashing guitar strums, then the defiant, jubilant cry "Baby I feel good!" Every time I've seen Ray Davies sing this song, I feel that absurd burst of exultant spirit.

"Baby I feel good / From the moment I rise / Feel good from morning / Till the end of the day."  It's a song about fresh starts, a positive outlook, signified by the sunrise ("I get up / And I see the sun / And I feel good yeah, / Cause my life has begun").  It's a blunt, simple statement, but then again, all these early power chord songs stick to the language of inarticulate teenagers; Ray Davies the wordsmith hasn't yet raised his head.  Still, the sun will always be a powerful image for Ray Davies, whether it's setting over Waterloo Station, rising over the village green, or helping the tax bankrupt of "Sunny Afternoon" sail away.

And while he's not specifically crediting his girlfriend with his happy mood, she's part of it too:  "You and me, we're free / We do as we please, yeah / From morning to the end of the day." Freedom -- another recurrent theme in the Ray Davies catalog.   Funny that he should be singing about freedom when in fact he had record company execs breathing down his neck -- but hey, half of Ray's songs are more wish fulfillment than reality anyway.

Notice, however, how those dark chord progressions counterpoint the upbeat lyrics.  Even as he joyfully rises in the morning, he's aware that the day will end, probably all too soon.  He's happy, but defiantly so, with just a touch of desperation and hysteria. (A classic depressive's happiness.) And so he needs those thrusting guitar licks, to punch the sky.  He needs to repeat that title phrase over and over, with the other singers chiming in, to convince himself.

This is no namby-pamby la-la-la feel-good song -- it's emotionally complex, despite the crude lyrics.  And wonderful as the record is, it's best heard live, with that surge of defiant energy coming from the stage.  Thank you, Muswell Hillbillies, for picking this instead of the obvious early Kinks singles.  I like how you're spreading the Kinks gospel, one show at a time.  Keep it up!


Betty C. said...

This is my favorite upbeat Kinks rock song from their early years; I definitely prefer it to YRGM and ADAAOTH. Ray used it for his first encore at his Paris show in October and I was thrilled; it seemed to be a great crowd-pleaser too. You're right, who can resist the opening?

BTW, I've started a new blog and did post a revised list of my Top Ten favorite Kinks songs:

Been posting every day since January 1st! Baby I feel good!

Holly A Hughes said...

Excellent -- so glad to see you're back blogging!

Dave K. said...

Great choice Holly! This is also my favorite early Kinks song. I didn't know the Mort Schuman story. The Kinks rarely ever get funky, but this as close as early Kinks get. It sounds to me like Ray had been listening to Motown and 60s soul. The "Baby I feel good" may have been borrowed or at least inspired by James Brown. Of course, Schuman was deep into R&B/soul and that may have also had an effect.

wwolfe said...

Those lyrics are also a perfect expression of Swinging London's optimism, at or near its very apex. It's clear from the clip that the Kinks were a tough little live combo, too. Fab threads, too. (I have to admit my favorite moment is when Dave starts his solo a measure too soon. This is a band that always understood the "ragged but right" philosophy.)

On a totally unrelated note, I finished my annual compilation of favorite songs released, or at least discovered, during the past year. I was pleased to see that a number of them were found here, thanks to your posts. So thanks for that.

BobCT said...

I was only able to film two videos - Victoria and Brainwashed, the former is up on the Muswell Hillbillies Facebook page and the latter will be shortly. If you'd like either one I can post to youtube or send them to you.

Till The End Of The Day is one of the all time great Kinks songs, as vital now as the day it was released.

Thanks for the review, I had a great time at the show.

Holly A Hughes said...

You're welcome, wwolfe -- and may I say, your comments on these songs have always deepened my appreciation of them!

I finally got some video of last Sunday's show to add. I know it's not fair to post it right after the Kinks' rendition, but it proves how faithful these guys are to the classic material.

I agree, this track does have a Swinging London optimism, busting out of postwar austerity. And thanks for pointing out the funkiness, Dave -- the Kinks don't often go down that road, but yeah, the opening line puts the James Brown reference front and center. The Godfather's "I Feel Good" had only come out a month earlier, so it was fresh on people's minds. Another deft theft on Ray's part!

Anonymous said...

Mort's name is actually spelled Shuman, not Schuman. Just thought you might want to know.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, good catch. Got it changed.

pplist said...

This is my all-time favorite Kinks song (with umpteen others right on its heels). Total. Dopamine. Flow. As always, your insights make me love it even more.

Anonymous said...

Holly, I can't believe how good these guys (and kids (!)) are!

"Victoria." No prisoners taken.



scottmandu said...

Added this one to the set list last week. Damn, them Hillbillies look like fun for the whole family!