Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reverb Thursday

Apparently this is a thing now on Facebook -- Throwback Thursday. Everybody's doing it. But I'm not like everybody else, so I'll call mine Reverb Thursday...and try to remember every week to post an updated version of an earlier blog post about a song I love. So why not start with a Kinky favorite?

"Holiday Romance" / The Kinks
Might as well give in to it.

The thing is, when I regress into non-stop Kinks listening, it's not the hits like "You Really Got Me" and "Waterloo Sunset" -- I'm talking oddities like "Holiday Romance." This is Ray Davies at his music hall best, with corny strings and tap dance rhythms and campy voices and all. It's a novelty song from their Soap Opera album, right smack in the middle of Ray's theatrical period. Even on Soap Opera, a high-concept story about an ordinary man who is transformed into a star (or is the other way around?), "Holiday Romance" is a strange interlude.

It's one of Ray's many escapist fantasies -- a tale of a flirtation at a dowdy seaside resort, with its own weird sort of Edwardian naughty-postcards charm. It's all about trying on other lives, a tried-and-true Ray Davies theme. He lapses fondly into clever Noel Coward-esque patter, with a histrionic upbeat: "I -- had -- a -- brrreak for a week / So I booked my seat / And confirmed my reservation." You can almost imagine his arched eyebrows as he sets the scene "at a quiet little seaside / ho-tel." The indelible way he sings that "ho-tel" -- well, I tell you, that's how we tell a true Kinks fan, if he or she sings that line just so. No other intonation will do.

Our hero arrives at the resort "just in time for the dinner gong / Ding-dong!" If this were a movie, it'd be in black-and-white, but stylishly lit; the staginess of it all almost fits better into a silent movie, or one of those herky-jerky little films you'd watch on a scope at an old-timey amusement arcade.

The shot zooms in on his love interest: "Then I saw Lavinia / Standing at the bottom of the stairs / And I fell for Lavinia / The moment that I saw her standing there." Echo of the early Beatles song? Maybe, but even closer is this song's affinity with Magical Mystery Tour's deliberately nostalgic "Your Mother Should Know." ("Let's all get up and dance to a song / That was a hit before your mother was born..."). The difference is that Ray doesn't bother with the ironic parentheses -- he just projects himself right into that other era and goes for it.

There's something deliciously fey about the mincing way Ray sings, "Lavinia looked so divine / As she walked up to the table to dine / And then Lavinia's eyes met /Mine!" Ah, that falsetto trill at the end is just priceless; Tiny Tim couldn't have done better. With all due histrionics, he wonders, with a suitable flutter in his voice, "Can this be love / Can this be lovey-dove / Or just a holiday romance?" He jumps up to another register to reiterate, "Can this be long-lost love at last / Or is it just a flash in the pan?"

His excitement is so endearingly innocent, an innocence he carries on as they dance ("after cheese and liqueurs) to the hotel band ("We did the foxtrot, samba, and danced through the night"). In later verses, they stroll on the beach and drink lemonade, and he says to himself, with a frisson of delight, "I thought, 'I must be on a winner'." That's probably my favorite line, followed closely by "And my holiday treat was / Com-plete." How he manages to make all this sound so lascivious and yet so quaint is beyond genius.

It's a hazy out-of-time idyll, even for our hero, who knows perfectly well that this will only last for the week. He ties it all up with a lovely comic bow at the end, when, in a Monty-Pythonish female warble, Lavinia pushes him away and trills, "Better stop, / My husband's coming to collect me today." Breaking his rhyme scheme, his syncopation, completely puncturing his balloon, she appears in her own skin for the first time, and Ray lets the mask slip just enough for us to wonder if she's actually a silly cow. But who cares? It's such a tidy ending! With a cascading embroidery of strings, he pans away, waving a handkerchief in farewell. Nothing will ever spoil the perfection of this little romance. No ties, no regrets -- ah, that's what we all need, isn't it?

Okay, it's not the first song I'd play to try to convert somebody to being a Kinks fan. But this is the sort of stuff that made a Kinks fan of me, for better or worse. What a hopeless case I am.


Beat Girl said...

Holly, the next time your by my way, we need to get a car and go to Ten Chimneys, the Lunt/Fontanne estate. I've been by the piano where Coward held court. It is an enchanted estate in a beautiful setting.

IƱaki said...

Brilliant, pure genius. I agree about the vocals, Ray at his absolute best. I always thought the backing vocals sound amazingly like the Beatles and now you mention it I realized maybe that's because of Your Mother Should Know.

Anonymous said...

Naughty-postcards ho-tel! So very true, all.... Much enjoyed this, Ms. Hughes. You nailed it!
Kindest regards,
Lavinia London XOX
PS. Silly cow, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Haha, very true!

This is in-fact one of the Kinks-songs that made me the fan I am today.

I don't think it stands out much, but when I play it, I forget this and the song is absolutely brilliant! But I think this is true of any Kinks-song I play to myself, haha!

Anonymous said...

Could not agree more. Brilliant presentation with a priceless melody and interpretation. Well put...

Betty C. said...

I am the same type of hopeless case. And when I try to foist this type of song on semi-Kinks fans, it never works...I feel for you!

It's been a long time since I've visited your blog, but am very happy to see you are still at it.

NickS said...

I have a story that you might appreciate -- not about the Kinks, but "Reverb Thursday" seems like a good excuse to respond to something else that you've posted in the past.

After one of your Greg Trooper posts I decided I should pick up an album of his and got Floating, which I like and have listened to on-and-off for a while. I happened to be looking at the liner notes today and I realized that I had subtly misheard one of the lyrics.

In "Lucky That Way", his lighthearted song about various experiences that he's had, the chorus mentions the one thing missing from the picture, "But for your love, I don't get lucky that way."

I'd listened to it several times and always heard that line as "But for old love, I don't get lucky that way." I loved the idea that there was something distinctive about the quality of loving somebody that you've known for a long while, and had time to age together and that the song identify that experience as something missing from a life full of passion and adventure.

The way he wrote it doesn't seem wrong, though it makes it a much more conventional song, but now I want the song that I heard -- the song about "old love."

Brady said...

this is fantastic. I've never listened to the Kinks. you may have converted me....

Holly A Hughes said...

That's what I'm about, Brady -- converting like-minded souls (of which I sense you are one) to the Kinks universe. Warning: It's a rabbit-hole down which you may crawl for years. But anyone who loves the wit and wisdom of Ben Folds should get the peculiar Kink-y blend of irony and maverick sensibility of which the Kinks are prime exemplars.

Susan Cummings said...

Love your blog. I so seldom find female music lovers who write! Glad to have found you in the blogosphere. :)