Face to Face
London was swinging in 1966. The papers said so. England won the World Cup at Wembley. Records by The Stones, The Beatles, and The Who were defining the epoch. The working man had fresh voice in a newly elected Labour government. Yet, Britain was a nation segregated by class and monetary divisions; a country of have’s and have not’s. Documenting the lives of the country’s dominant working classes were a minority of artists. Ken Loach’s ‘Cathy Come Home’ exposed a bleak reality of homelessness and poverty. Televised in the winter, the documentary’s influence could easily have come from The Kinks’ autumn chart hit.
“Dead End Street was the epitome to me, of what the Kinks were all about”, Dave Davies wrote in his autobiography, “A song full of character, pathos, yet containing an underlying sense of hope”. The first recorded version, featured on this CD as an extra track, is notable for its busier arrangement. Songwriter Ray Davies explains, “It was at a time when we trying to evolve and didn’t want to be bracketed in one sound. We felt the song was rushed. It had a whirly-gig type organ on it played by our road manager and a French horn which made it sounded like the Roman Soldiers coming home to meet the Emperor. I wanted it to be dour, earthy and working class. The producer Shel Talmy finished the track and said, That’s great and went home. Then we pretended to leave, came back to the studio and re-recorded it. We played it to Shel the next day and he said, See what I mean there’s nothing wrong with it.” Dave, “It was one of my favourites. I’m a great lover of musical passages that go down and up. I wanted to do something counter with it, so I did this other bass line that lifted it”. Drummer, Mick Avory; “A song like that must be handled gently. It was a modern day blues number. Ray can write down what he observes about life; a crack upon the ceiling, people in bedsits, the lights don’t work. It came out good.” Temporary bassist, John Dalton; “Ray produced the record. He was the only one who knew what was in his head.” Simplified with just an additional trombone, played by John Matthews, ‘Dead End Street’ strode up the pop charts peaking at number five.
Ray’s detailed depiction of the lower classes was a resonant counter point to the Kinks previous chart smash. Whereas ‘Dead End Street’ chronicled a struggling family’s survival on a diet of bread and honey, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ centred the narrative upon a privileged aristocrat. Two songs set at the extremes of British society. The surface appealof ‘Sunny Afternoon’was a wonderful soundtrack to England’s glory over Germany in the World Cup Final. But as Wembley was partying to the seasoned chorus in the summertime, the narrator was telling a bitter tale of drunkenness and cruelty through a broken down protagonist consumed by the big fat momma. Balancing stark reality with musical lightness the song reflected Britain’s devaluation of the pound, the taxation of high earners and positioned its focus on an all-consuming government. Interpreted by The Kinks, the song’s life-blood lay in its pub knees-up music hall feel. The author recalls penning his third number one, “I hadn’t written for a long-time. I’d been quite ill. I was living in a very sixties decorated house. It had orange walls and green furniture. I bought a little white upright piano second hand. My one year old daughter was crawling around on the floor and I wrote the opening riff. It’s chromatic…writing scales practically on the piano. I remember it vividly. I was even wearing a polo neck sweater.” In the studio, at Shel Talmy’s request, session player Nicky Hopkins learnt Ray’s invention and replicated the part. “I gambled on it being a very hot summer and the longer the sun stayed out, the more records we would sell.” Ray Davies had further cause for celebration as he told Jon Savage, “To my great delight we knocked the Beatles ‘Paperback Writer’ off number one. They’d been there for just a week – that’s one of the joys of my life.”
The release of ‘Sunny Afternoon’ was depressingly tainted when original Kinks bass player Pete Quaife was involved in a car collision. The incident symbolised a year of internal problems and personal strife for the entire band. To the public’s ear, Ray was cutting a new conversation through the existing dialogue of pop music communication. But these newly fashioned songs, founded in Englishness and the mundane, may be explained as a convalescent tonic after the tumultuous two year rise of the group. In March 1966, in the middle of a European tour, Ray collapsed on stage suffering from nervous exhaustion. In April, Mick missed UK dates because of tonsillitis. Later in the year, further gigs were cancelled when Dave surrendered to illness. Yet, there was a further major blow to beset the band. After Pete’s recovery. He quit.
The exquisite ‘Too Much on My Mind’carries an immense sadness listened to within the band’s historical perspective. Dave’s top harmony, soaked in reverb, beautifully blends with his brother’s voice. An underscored harpsichord pushes the beat, in sixteenth timing. Ray divulges its chance inclusion; “It had been left behind from another session. No one had bothered to pick it up. A lot of the harpsichord tracks were written by me on piano and then Nicky played them.” The Elizabethan instrument is an innovative feature throughout ‘Face to Face’ contributing a whimsical melancholic tone to the record.
For generations of self-taught musicians the ‘Session Man’ has always provided a rich, butt of put down…Always finishes on time. He’s a session man/A chord progress-ion/A bored music-ian. Kinks irony can be found in the liberal use of pianist Nicky Hopkins across the album. The skilled bluesy riffs are a tangible link to his contributions for The Stones and The Who. Ray’s stance on musicians who momentarily join the band is charitable. “The horn player on ‘Dead End Street’ was called Albert Hall. That name stuck with me. That’s why there’s a line He never will forget at all the day he played at the Albert Hall.
Very much defined by their singles throughout the sixties, The Kinks often released wondrous tracks, incredibly, tucked away as B-sides. ‘Big Black Smoke’ was one such gem. The chime of wedding bells open and close the proceedings offering suggestion of a fleeing bride’s escape only to be corrupted and married to London’s nefarious ways. The Kinks are buoyant and garage-band in their lively clatter. Mick Avory, “Our stuff was ‘under-produced’, because of the easy flowing feel”. Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ – a massive hit in February 1966 – echoes in the descending bass run. The unique observation of Ray Davies, a former art student, was now coming to the fore; society’s mores were being examined and distilled with chilling cuteness, re-defining the Kinks from their R‘n’B roots.
Flipping over the seven inch vinyl of ‘Sunny Afternoon’ revealed another song of staggering quality, vocally delivered with an exciting mix of anger and vulnerability by Dave Davies. “I’m Not Like Everybody Else was a manifesto for the band.” Ray, “I used my brother as a model as I did with ‘Dandy’. He’s a more outward person. He tells you what he thinks. It was liberating casting a song in Dave’s character. It’s like a play. Each actor will bring their own self to the part. My interpretation is more psychological whereas Dave’s is more physical. The understudy elucidates, “Some keys were more suited to my more raucous and ballsy way of singing. Ray’s style was more ponderous and lyrical. I was quite a centrepiece on live shows, so the new management urged me to come out more and do certain songs.” The precision of the elder brother’s raw lyrics shone; a writer at ease with the eloquence of his inner core. It speaks out to people. As early as February, a demo of the song had been offered to The Animals. Future Davies compositions would not be rejected so easily. The savvier Herman’s Hermitshelped themselves to ‘Dandy’ and over half a million copies were purchased over American record counters. Ray describes the song’s meaning, “It was about someone, probably me, needing to make his mind up about relationships. Also about my brother who was flitting from one girl to another. It’s a more serious song than it seems. It’s about a man trapped by his own indecisions and lack of commitment. That’s the way I’d write it now. Then I wrote it about a jovial person who’s a womaniser.”
1966 had begun with ‘Till The End of the Day’ peaking at number eight on the singles chart. In February ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ zipped into the Top Five. Markedly its originator was struggling to get out of bed, servant to his prescribed medication. “All the times I’ve had big success, I’m either ill or miserable.” Meanwhile, British youth were experiencing hitherto unknown freedom from the Establishment. Lennon and McCartney were setting ever new writing standards. Tin Pan Alley had dictated the songs on the radio, now AM and pirate broadcasting were in the ascendant. This was not the voice of the nation’s war heroes. This was self-expression from a new generation. Ray Davies’ writing was at the vanguard. The songs reflected fifties conformity, but equally conveyed an underlying sense of hope and determination. A desire for change. ‘Face to Face’ promoted Davies as the principle songwriter of his milieu, observing and poetically documenting life behind Britain’s net curtains. The album’s characters shared an affinity with counter lifestyles expressed by the band in a broad palette of emotion from the comic to the tragic. Dave, “An essential part of Kinks music was the change of mood; sadness, elation and plain taking the piss”. The late broadcaster, Ned Sherrin characteristically quipped “You’re always in trouble when you’re trying to track down an original mind because you don’t have a great deal to compare it with.” The floating sense of yearning and loss within ‘Rosie’ punctuates Sherrin’s acute commentary, “There’s always a watershed in people’s lives that affects their work. In Dave and Ray’s case it was the death of their elder sister Rene.”
No one can penetrate me/They only see what’s in their own fancy.“I remember writing ‘Fancy’ really late one night. I had this silly old Framus guitar that I played on all those records. I had the wrong strings on it, but it had a nice quality. It was a picking sound, and it could sustain one note, as Indian music does. The song deals with perception. I think love is like something you hold. You’ve got to put love in your hand like that, but you must never grasp it.” Dave concurs, “It’s a very beautiful song. It’s Davey Graham again, but not directly.”
The Kinks were still as much a band discovering their own sound as reflecting their record collections. The Beatles’ influence and dominance of British music is felt throughout the record.Dave’s adroit guitar and Ray’s melodic middle eight during‘I’ll Remember’ would have sat proudly on the previous year’s Fabs ‘Rubber Soul’. Ray, “I’m a big admirer of The Beatles, but we had one thing they didn’t and that was the right to fail. With The Kinks, sometimes, the audience are a little bit hesitant. It’s like, what mood are they in today? Are they going to please us or challenge us?”
When ‘Face to Face’ was recorded Ray Davies was twenty-two and, unlike his partying sibling, was more likely to be seen pushing a pram around Muswell Hill with his wife and female vocal presence on the record, Rasa Didzipetris. Another guest contribution is the voice of manager Grenville Collins answering the telephone before the album’s upbeat opener ‘Party Line’. In keeping with the theme of rings, the Kinks also demoed a primitive shaping of ‘Yes Man’ destined to become the future hit ‘Plastic Man’. Mick, “It rings a bell, but not very loudly.” “The riff in ‘Party Line’ is based on an old Leadbelly shuffle” Dave revealed, “but not deliberately, just the resonance of that style. It uses those similar notes, but you wouldn’t acquaint it just hearing it.” ‘Little Miss Queen of Darkness’similarly called upon pre-war musical heritage. Mick Avory picks up the link, “Ray had forewarned me saying he wanted a drum fill going over sixteen bars, like Joe Morello on ‘Take Five’; something broken up, not a continuous rhythm.” It was a beautifully expressed overdub, played with a stunning repressed tension. The extended take further justified Mick’s full-time position as The Kinks studio drummer. On the first three albums, the seat had been taken by an outsider. “Bobby Graham was a much more experienced player. I was thrown in the deep end when I joined. They were a blues band. I played quietly, a more jazz approach not that rock ‘n’ roll business.” This edition also features a shortened alternative version without the drum addition. Both takes introduced the newly auditioned John Dalton, a former member of the embryonic The Creation. ‘Nobby’ deputised on bass for Pete Quaife between June and November. “It was a nightmare. I walked in, Mick was bashing away and Dave was lying flat on the ground playing the guitar. Hardly anybody spoke. Ray walked in with a manager. He was supposed to be reviewing a single for a music paper and he just threw that out the second floor window. I had a go at ‘You Really Got Me’ and they said, Right d’you wanna do Top of the Pops tonight? I mimed ‘Sunny Afternoon’, a song I never knew. Then, two gigs on the Saturday. Fly to Spain on Monday. I’d gone from a building site, thrown right in at the deep end with one of the biggest bands in the country.”
The state opening of Parliament was first televised in 1966 and the Academy Award winner for the best picture went to ‘A Man For All Seasons’. The title aptly describes Ray Davies and his lyrical propensity to the weather, the stereotypical base subject starter for any British conversation. It’s largely where Davies’ English uniqueness derives. ‘Rainy Day in June’ opens with thunderous sound effects conjuring the ominous arrangement to come. Precisely articulated delivery follows and references to elves and gnomes plant the listener in an uncharacteristic Kinks imagery of fantasy and escapism. From the same garden ‘This Is Where I Belong’, passed-up by The Searchers, nestles in the sanctuary of home as the natural habitat of the heart. By contrast, in Texas the first artificial heart was implanted as the outside world spoke of gangsters and murder; The Krays in the East End; The Moors Murderers on trial; Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. Musically, the States were matching the British explosion; Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’, The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’. On home soil The Kinks were breaking their own frontiers. Ray’s writing was increasingly free of convention and just plain enjoyment. Dave, “Me, Pete and Ray used to like a record called ‘Big Noise from Winnetka’. There’s a few jokes and elements that Pete played in ‘Holiday in Waikiki’.It was Ray’sreflective observation about our first trip to Hawaii.”
Between 1959 and 1962 the BBC broadcast a landmark interview series entitled, Face To Face. The programmes featured weekly guests challenged on their visions of the world, interrogated under bleak lightning and close-up camera work. It’s tempting to see Ray Davies simplifying the intellectual issues and locating the philosophical debate to its epicentre; the living rooms of English families. The Kinks’ ambiguously titled ‘Face To Face’ was a sobering reflection of Britain today, told in comic-tragic expositions. The complex realities of daily life are presented by characters of all breed and stock, often musically impulsive and dance-hall friendly, but lyrically astute to class differentials, evidenced in ‘Most Exclusive Resident For Sale’ and ‘House in the Country’. Dave “That was something Ray read in the Hornsey Journal.” Born out of a local rag it provided The Pretty Things with a Top Fifty chart hit.
The fourth Kinks LP was released October 28 1966. ‘Face to Face’ is like visiting an art exhibition connected by themes and journeyed by a plethora of characters. An original summer release date was delayed due to contractual renegotiations with Pye Records. It had been a year of stressful publishing litigation and near personal ruin, but the final product began a run of artistic success for The Kinks that would carry them into the seventies with incredible panache. It not only set the band apart from their immediate peers, but firmly introduced Ray Davies as the greatest lyrical songwriter this island has ever produced.
Daniel Rachel, London, Spring 2011