The Kinks

Without waxing the least bit hyperbolic, it can be said that the Kinks, a rock and roll band of some longevity, have never been better than they are in these early days of the 1980's. Their two most recent albums on Arista passed the gold record mark with ease (One For the Road will likely become a catalog seller as the decades roll on), they have filled musical auditoria throughout the land on tour after tour, they have become stars of video (on a tape called likewise 'One For the Road'). The masses have spoken, and the Kinks are overwhelmingly the people's choice. Which proves that talent and taste do, once in a while, coincide. Give the People What They Want is another Kinks peak. Ray Davies has written a batch of hard-edged, biting songs - Yo-Yo, Around the Dial, Destroyer, Killer's Eyes, Better Things, to name but a handful - and the boys put them across with unparalleled energy. When the Kinks are on, as on this LP, rock rarely comes any better. They are in a class by themselves.

At the start, in 1964, the Kinks made (said critic Greil Marcus) "the hardest rock of the British Invasion, and probably the meanest." They were a quartet then, and to this day, three of the original four original Kinks have remained together without so much as a hiatus: Ray Davies, Dave Davies on guitar, and drummer Mick Avory. In those days, even with A.M. radio slamming out one rejuvenating track after another, You Really Got Me, with its loopy vocal and unmistakable abrasive wallop, made you stop short each time it came out, and demanded a clockwise turn of the volume dial. This was not the Kinks' single debut - it was preceded by a cover of Little Richard's Long Tall Sally and by a less than best-selling original called You Do Something To Me - but it did usher in an utterly remarkable, diverse series of 45 rpm successes. All Day and All of the Night, Tired of Waiting For You, 'Till the End of the Day, A Well-Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion. All of this great stuff shot Ray, Dave, Mick and Pete to the Top of the Pops.

"Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. "There is no other definition of it." By that criteria, Raymond Douglas Davies - preservationist, worry-wart, social critic, craftsman, clown, rock & roll star - is certainly a genius. As early as the vastly under-recognized The Kinks Kontroversy (their fifth U.S. album c. 1966) Davie's songs were digging into an insular, personal and questioning point of view. Consider the titles alone of side two's tracks: The World Keeps Going 'Round, I'm On An Island, Where Have All the Good Times Gone? It's Too Late, What's In Store For Me, You Can't Win. Of all the best rock bands, The Kinks were the furthest from the mainstream.

And Davie's writing kept getting better, ranking him easily among the top half-dozen rock composers of all time, and sometimes higher than that: songs like Days, Deadend Street, Waterloo Sunset and Lola are as wonderful as pop music gets. The Kinks music of the second half of the second half of the sixties was, start to finish, classic: Face to Face, Something Else, Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, The Great Lost Kinks Album (most are, shamefully, out of print and worth whatever coin of the realm it takes to adopt them; The Kinks Kronikles, a two-record set issued by Reprise when the Kinks fled for RCA, is available and indispensable).

A change in labels meant also a change in strategy, or rather, an escalation of the direction begun with the later Reprise albums, which had revolved around central concepts: nostalgia, an English everyman, the music business. Muswell Hillbillies was the first of the RCA LPs, and around the same time the Kinks became a joyfully rowdy live act, adding to their loyal following a huge new audience won over by Ray Davie's on-stage antics. Everybody's In Showbiz captured on one of its two records the ambiance of one such stage show, with sloshy readings of and Baby Face tossed in amidst with the familiar Davies tunes, and the other disc was primarily devoted to what amounted to a Kinks tour diary: hotel rooms, band food, repetition, motorways, fans. Closing the record was Celluloid Heroes , a song that stands among Davie's richest. Their seventies vinyl output has been marked by ambitious experimentation, by theatrics, story-lines, musical supplementation, but even when the whole didn't coalesce projects like Preservation, Soap Opera and Schoolboys In Disgrace all contained parts that one would not give up for anything. Music like "Sweet Lady Genevieve" and "One of the Survivors" proved the indelibility of the Davies touch, his ability to etch emotion, detail, and make the ordinary extraordinarily vivid.

When the Kinks first made their move to Arista Records in 1977, they returned to their basic song format, abandoning the attempt to weave an album-long narrative. Their first album for Arista, Sleepwalker , was hailed as Davies and the Kinks in prime form, rocking harder, performing more infectious, moving songs than they had in a long time. Record sales reflected that turnaround, and the Kinks had a hit on their hands. 1978's Misfits was a pivotal Kinks album on which Ray Davies dealt with a number of topics that have been of concern to him for the last decade and a half, give or take a few months: estrangement and assimilation, escape, fantasy and reality, conformity. There are a number of songs on Misfits - it was inevitable that someday a Kinks LP would carry that title - that immediately won a place in the Davies canon of standards, songs like the hit "Rock and Roll Fantasy," like the title song and Permanent Waves .

Then came Low Budget , the very first Kinks album made in the U.S.A., a guided tour of a land of bad attitude. It rocked harder than any Kinks LP in some time, it yielded a musically-and-socially topical chart hit in (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman , and it found its way into the hands and hearts of well over a half-million Americans who could well appreciate the mood behind such tracks as Catch Me Now I'm Falling and A Gallon of Gas . To coincide with the record's swift ascent, the Kinks - Davies, Davies, Avory, bassist Jim Rodford, and Ian Gibbons sitting on on Keyboards - packed up their old kit bags and took to the road with new spirit. Such adjectives as 'uplifting' (Rolling Stone) and heartening '(Village Voice) were applied by the press, and justly so. One For The Road put the evidence on record. Containing rousing versions of Lola, Superman, Stop Your Sobbing, Celluloid Heroes, Prince of the Punks, David Watts, You Really Got Me, 'Till the End of the Day and ten other brilliant songs, it's an album that sealed the Kinks-era for the time capsule.

Rock upstarts like Van Halen, the Pretenders, the Knack, the Romantics and others have bowed to the Kinks by adding Davies tunes to their repertoire of late, but the Kinks, never satisfied with grand-old-bandom, rose to the challenge of modern rock by making tougher, more biting music than ever before. Their newest album, Give the People What They Want , is a prime example of the Kinks at their most vital. If there is such a thing as a living institution in rock, surely that mantle must be bestowed on the Kinks.

Arista Records, 1981