Saturday, February 08, 2014


Four Kinks Girls

I know that this is Beatlemania Weekend -- the mass media have decreed it so and won't let us forget it -- but I've already done my Beatles girls, and it's time for the Kinks. (Who also have a 50th anniversary coming up this year, in case you didn't know.) And just to expand your horizons, no "Lola" and no "Victoria" -- the Kinks had plenty of other girl songs without those two obvious hits.

"Rosie Won't You Please Come Home" -- Face to Face (1966)

Track two on the Kinks' fourth album, this was inspired by Ray and Dave Davies' older sister Rose, with whom Ray was particularly close -- as a boy he even lived for a time with her and her husband Arthur (yes, he of the album Arthur) -- before they moved to Australia. And now he misses her something awful.

But in a very un-pop-like twist, we don't get the kid's perspective, only the lonesome family waiting at home. (A year later, the Beatles would steal, er, adapt this idea for "She's Leaving Home.") Though it's sung by Rosie's brother, he ratchets up the emotional blackmail by telling her "Mama don't know where you've been." And I love that line "Your room's clean and no one's in it" -- that's indeed what the mopey brother, still kicking around home, would notice.

Rosie's been gone for two years, "miles across the sea," and Ray -- working in social commentary mode throughout this album -- portrays Rosie's desertion as a bit of social climbing: "Since you joined the upper classes / You don't know us anymore" and "You tried to change your life." But homebody Ray can't even imagine her new life, he's so stuck in his -- "Christmas wasn't quite the same," he muses woefully, and he's willing to bake a cake -- how domestic is that! -- to lure her home.

The chugging guitar, the minor key, the jazzy modulations, the baroque electric piano counterpoint -- it's all so wistful. Will Rosie ever make it home?

"Polly" -- Something Else By the Kinks (1967)

And another runaway! (I sense a theme.)

Now Ray is the omniscient narrator, observing the family drama, and the sound is entirely different -- brittle, ironic, in a major key, with a rat-tat-tat drum and electric piano overlaid with clanging harsh electric guitar. Because now we are in the world of the defiant girl -- "She tried to make the swinging city scene" -- and it's not a kind and gentle world. (A companion song, though it never made it onto the album, would be the B-side of "Dead End Street," "Big Black Smoke.") "And now there's not a place that Polly hasn't been." in "she really gets around, wink wink"?

He regards her in the bridge: "Pretty Polly, dressed as jolly as can be, / She's so darling, all the fellas do agree" -- "jolly" and "darling" are delivered with a snide twist, followed by the hollow cliché "And half a million people can't be wrong." Is she a prostitute or a celebrity? Or are they one and the same? (A typical Ray Davies dig against the shallowness of stardom.)

This time the story has a happy ending, even if it feels a little too pat -- Polly "breaks the chains" and comes home to her Mama and Papa. Our narrator applauds, naturally, after tut-tutting in every chorus, "I think that pretty Polly should have stayed at home." Of course this is ironic -- or is it? I don't know -- there's always been a recluse side to Ray Davies.

Listening to Ray's campy mincing vocals, I wonder if he was inspired by something theatrical -- possibly Polly Peachum in Brecht-Weill's Threepenny Opera, or at least the 1962 German film version (which would a year later inspire Donovan to write "Lalena" -- did everybody in the 60s steal their ideas from Ray Davies?)

"Monica" -- The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

 And speaking of prostitutes . . .


If the Village Green album starts out as a nostalgia-tinged portrait of pastoral innocence, on Side Two that runs completely off the rails. We see the voracious groupie of "Starstruck," the navel-gazing hippie of "Phenomenal Cat," the drunken singer of "All of My Friends Were There," the witch of "Wicked Annabella." Then this sweet Caribbean-tinged samba starts, and we see this streetwalker, ready for her close-up -- "Under a lamplight / Monica stands at midnight."  
Ray sings it so earnestly, it seems like poetry -- but practical Monica doesn't buy that hooey. "Morning to moonshine," he croons, then, undercutting his own lyricism, "Monica knows every line. / Don't ever propose / 'Cause Monica knows, you know. / She'll turn up her nose / And say what a fool you are." God forbid he should be such a fool.
And yet he does love her; in the chorus, he's practically baying to the moon with desire: "I, I shall die / I, I shall die / If I should lose Monica." (Love how he uses the Caribbean inflections there.) And in typical Ray Davies symbology, he casts his vote for the night against the day: "You take the sunshine,  / I'll take the nightly shadows. / 'Cause everyone knows / That Monica glows at night." Sorry, Monica, but that's not just a line -- it's sheer poetry. 
Add this to the short list of sincere love songs from Ray Davies -- it may not be autobiographical, but it sure does ring true.   

"Sweet Lady Genevieve" -- Preservation Pt. 1 (1973) 

Did someone say sincere love songs?

Okay, yes, Ray is playing a character here -- the Tramp, who wanders in and out of the Preservation social satire, a ragged misfit commenting on the political struggle between good, evil, and hypocrisy. The theatrical flutter in his vocals, the Muswell Hillbillies-style country wheeze, should be distancing devices.

But I don't think so. He's not trying to cover up that he's been an asshole in the past -- "Once under a scarlet sky / I told you never ending lies, / But they were the words of a drunken vagabond / Who knew very well he would break your heart before long." That "scarlet sky" may be alliterative, but it's also a mark of shame. He admits to drunkenness, to lying, to hypocrisy. In every verse he confesses more -- he's been impetuous, he used her, her led her on, he was being sly, he was a rogue. He's beating himself up with all this honesty, the words piling up in a rush. I feel a glint of true soul-searching there on the part of Raymond Douglas Davies.

And that's all in the past, he vows. "This time I'll give you some security / And I won't make promises I can't keep" -- surely someone who recognizes his faults so well can reform, right? Weeelll...

True, this song tells us more about him than about Genevieve. Only toward the end does he describe her shyness, her innocence, and then only to make excuses for himself. (The back-sliding has already begun.) Still, we know she's sweet and somewhat refined -- a "lady" (I assume he calls her Genevieve for the Arthurian ring to it) -- and the earnestness of those drawn-out refrains "Sweet Lady Genevieve" is convincing.

Notice how he drops the word-crammed syncopation for simple straightforward rock as he woos her in the bridge: "Let me rock you, hold you / Take you in my arms. / Forgive me, please / Smile away all your sadness, put your trust in me." (Love how the second time around, he flips the pronouns to put the burden on her: "oh love me, please / Take me in your arms.") That sadness in her smile really seems to get to him. He wishes he could be better, just for her. Can he?

Well, I won't spoil the ending for you. . . .  

31 DOWN, 21 TO GO


NickS said...

I really like "Rosie, Won't You Please Come Home?" and might pull together some longer thoughts later.

But I also was just reminded of how much the feeling of a song can shift listening to it in a different context or mood. I hadn't heard the song before you posted it. I listened to it yesterday and found myself mostly focusing on the sense of wistfulness and, as you put it, "[missing] her something awful."

This morning, I listened to it again, and I happened to have the volume turned up higher, and I realized that it is way more of a rocker than I had realized on first listen. The lyrics are tender, but it's a forceful song. Both the vocals and guitars have a real rock-and-roll swagger at points.

Holly A Hughes said...

Glad to introduce you to it, Nick!

NickS said...

As I alluded to above, I had intended to write a post inspired by that song. I ended up getting somewhat stuck but here it is.

NickS said...

That link doesn't seem to be working, let me try again. That's better.