While driving home this afternoon, I heard "Apeman" and remembered that I had planned to make a list of my favorite Kinks albums. So, here 'tis. The Kinks are, for me, a Summertime group, because that's when (it seems) I first heard the albums that I like best. Now bear in mind that this will be a list of favorite Kinks albums I own, and I have a far from komplete kollection. And I promise I won't do that alliterative "k" thing anymore, but it's de rigeur when writing about Ray and the boys. Like I said when I noted Ray Davies' birthday, I haven't been too fond of their post 1976 output, with only a very few exceptions. Too broad and too pandering to arena-rock cliches, with none of the wit and whimsy (and tunefulness) of their pre-'75 efforts. So here goes, and this will be a list of five:
1. The Great Lost Kinks Album (1973) I've written about this one before. The diversity of this record, I think, is what I like best. You've got rock 'n' roll ("I'm Not Like Everybody Else), music hall (the TV theme song "Til Death Do Us Part", "Plastic Man"), string laden ballads ("The Way Love Used to Be", from the film Percy), and even social commentary delivered with a grin ("When We Turn Off the Living Room Light"). I think most of these songs are available now as bonus cuts on many of the Kinks reissues of the last few years; but this in itself has never been available in an official release. Further adding to the unique feel of this record: liner notes by noted Kinks historian John Mendelssohn in which he actually criticizes the then-current direction that Ray & Co. were following! Click on the cover above for the AMG entry.
2. The Kinks Present a Soap Opera (1975) And I realize that I have already lost about half of you learned Kinks kognescenti (sorry). Nobody seemed to like this album much at all when it came out, especially Dave Davies who slagged it in his bio Kink, and time really hasn't been all that kind to its reputation either. And I'll be the first to admit that it recycles many previous ideas from many "better" Kinks records, and it's not really all that successful at telling the story it's supposed to be about– but– God help me, I love this album. The somewhat borrowed tunes are all strong melodically, the production sound is clear and not too slick, I flat out love the breathy, veddy English sounding BV girls, and the strings and horns are right there in all the right places. It sounds especially strong, as I have come to learn, following the previous three, very inconsistent records. There's a lot of spoken dialogue but it's often clever and doesn't bother me at all– in fact, I think it's used to great effect in "You Make It All Worthwhile" and "Ordinary People". I really would have liked to seen the TV production of Starmaker, from whence this came. Heck, I even like the album cover art by the great Drew Struzan.
3. Lola Vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround (1970) Another Kinks record that gets mixed reviews from nearly everyone. Me, I can overlook Ray's bitching about the music business; he certainly had a gripe. To me this is a great set of songs, bitching aside, with a lot of sonic diversity. Songs like "Top of the Pops", "Get Back in Line" and "The Moneygoround" are all cleverly arranged, and nearly every song in this set has a great melody, riff, or lyric. I also love Dave's melancholy "Strangers", and Ray's similar-in-feel "A Long Way to Go". And of course, "Lola". I'm proud to say my vinyl copy is one with the Coca-Cola reference intact. This was also the first Kinks album I ever owned; bought it in a second-hand record store in Louisville (Rivertown Records– no longer exists. Oh, boy did I get a lot of great records and tapes there) one fine summer and listened to it constantly.
4. The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) Another great (if a tad overlong) record with some of the Kinks' best songs– like the title cut, "Big Sky", "Starstruck" and "Picture Book". Ray went on to further develop his "respect for old Mother England" theme on next years' album Arthur, which I remember as a fine record but alas don't own. I listened to a friend's copy for a few weeks several years ago.
5. The Kinks Kronikles (1972) This was their title, not mine. TKK edges Muswell Hillbillies out by a nose, because it has a lot of great obscure songs that didn't originally appear on the then-current albums like "Autumn Almanac" (I think Andy Partridge must have heard this one a lot growing up), "Days", and "This Is Where I Belong". Plus, you get "Waterloo Sunset", "Sunny Afternoon", "David Watts", and much, much more. Not exactly a greatest hits compilation by any stretch but a great sampler nonetheless.
Other Kinks records I like but didn't make the cut of five: Muswell Hillbillies, a strong record with several great songs including "20th Century Man" the title cut, and "Have a Cuppa Tea"; Preservation Act I– I own the VelVel CD reissue which placed the "Preservation" single first, and it was a great move. Act I in this configuration is very strong for several cuts then kinda peters out after the great "Sweet Lady Genevieve", not recovering until "Sitting in the Midday Sun" some five cuts later. I really like the cover photo of the sprawling group sitting in front of a billboard. Skip Act II– whatever Ray was trying to achieve totally gets lost in a confused narrative and tuneless, dull songs. Schoolboys in Disgrace is a fine record, but just never really grabbed me, especially after A Soap Opera. To my ears, Schoolboys' straightforward rock guitar approach just sounded less interesting. Still, it's a fun record and worth a spin or two. Something Else by the Kinks has some great songs and might have even been closer to the top 5 but it's also my most recent Kinks akquisition (couldn't resist), so it hasn't really grown on me so much yet. Everybody's In Showbiz is a double album with one of Ray's finest tunes, "Celluloid Heroes", but with the exception of "Sitting in My Hotel" it's musically uninspired and the live second disc is worthless. I own 1986's Think Visual, but rarely listen to it and only one cut, Dave's "Rock n' Roll Cities", stays in my memory. I loved Ray's tune in the 1986 film Absolute Beginners, "Quiet Life", and "Come Dancing" was a nice single that actually gave me hope for a month or two that the Kinks might become interesting again, but I soon learned better.
And that, boys and girls, is my favorite Kinks album list. Thanks for reading, and always keep on the sunny side of life.