Friday, July 15, 2011

The Village Green Preservation Society / 
The Kinks

Gardening this afternoon -- or, more precisely, yanking out weeds from various shrubberies and flowerbeds -- I found this song popping uncontrollably into my brain. Naturally, as there was nobody about, I had to sing it, lustily and loud.

As the title song from the Kinks' 1968 album of the same name, "The Village Green Preservation Society" is exactly the sort of oddball song that baffled the music-buying public in 1968.  The album of course, is  cherished by fans today as Ray Davies' masterwork, his defiant embrace of Britishness when so many other English bands were chasing the American dream.  But I found myself wondering what all of those oh-so-British references in this song meant. I'm embarrassed to admit that even when I wrote about this before, I didn't take the time to look them all up. And then it occurred to me:  Finally, a reason for Google to exist!

First, here's a YouTube video to listen you as you read:

And now the lyrics -- with footnotes, for those of you who are Kinks-obsessed as I am....


By Raymond Douglas Davies

We are the Village Green Preservation Society
God save Donald Duck[1], Vaudeville[2] and Variety[3]
We are the Desperate Dan[4] Appreciation Society
God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties

Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do

We are the Draught Beer[5] Preservation Society
God save Mrs. Mopp[6] and good Old Mother Riley[7]
We are the Custard Pie[8] Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross[9] and all those who were awarded them

We are the Sherlock Holmes[10] English Speaking Vernacular[11]
Help save Fu Manchu[12], Moriarty[13] and Dracula[14]
We are the Office Block[15] Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity

We are the Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliate[16]
God save tudor houses[17], antique tables and billiards[18]
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do
God save the Village Green.

[1] The animated Disney character, who rose to fame in the 1930s, appearing many propaganda cartoons in World War II.
[2] A form of stage entertainment popular in North America from the 1890s to the 1930s.

[3] The British equivalent of vaudeville, with a series of acts mixing comedy, music, and dance.  The use of both these terms rather than “music hall” may have been driven by alliteration as well as the need for a rhyme with “society.”

[4] A character in the British comic The Dandy, a western strong man with a Robin Hood streak.  Again, it’s an alliterative name, with the same double D’s as the Disney character in the preceding line.

[5] Beer from a cask or a keg, which aficionados claim has a truer, purer taste than bottled or canned beer.  It is generally unpasteurized, which makes the “preservation” part of this society’s name doubly apt.  

[6] An office cleaning lady (or “char”) in the 1940s BBC radio comedy “It’s That Man Again,” starring comedian Tommy Handley. Her most famous phrase was “Can I do you now, sir?”

[7] An Irish washerwoman in a music hall comedy act and series of low-budget films popular from 1934 to 1977.  Known for her malapropisms, wacky situations, and broad physical slapstick, she was played in drag by Arthur Lucan, then by Roy Rolland.
[8] A dessert made of custard pudding in a pie crust. This reference, however, probably is to “pie-ing,” the slapstick comedy tradition, popularized by Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin, of smashing a “custard” pie (probably made with shaving cream) into the face of a hapless target.  Running low on rhymes for “society,” Davies must now resort to a Consortium.   

[9] Great Britain’s highest possible medal awarded to civilians. The rhyme of “awarded ‘em” and “consortium” is inspired.

[10] Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, whose stories appeared from 1887 to 1927.

[11] “Vernacular” may mean either “dialect” or “mother tongue.”  It has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, but it scans, it starts with a V, and it sets up the rhyme for “Dracula.”.

[12]  An Asian evil criminal genius created by British novelist Sax Rohmer, published between 1913 and 1959, also featured in a number of movies from 1923 on.  

[13] In this list of evil geniuses, this probably refers to Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis.

[14] The Transylvanian count and vampire, created by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel and a number of films from 1920 on.

[15] A British term for a large office building. By forming a “persecution affinity,”the VGPS is presumably opposed to office blocks.

[16] Another group formed to oppose tall office buildings.

[17] Probably a reference not to true Tudor houses, but to the Tudor Revival of the latter 19th-century, which introduced half-timbered exterior decoration to domestic architecture.  Also called Mock Tudor, Tudorbethan, or Merrie England architecture.

[18] The British cue game, considered classier than pool, played with three balls on a billiards table. The trilled L’s in this word rhyme snappily with “affiliate.”


wwolfe said...

You've performed a true public service. Thank you!

Holly A Hughes said...

Some day if I have time, I should annotate several other songs -- half of the British idioms I know I only know because of the Kinks!