"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.