Give The People What They Want

On a surprisingly hot, sunny late-September afternoon in London, Ray Davies is in a rare mood, as he comfortably answers questions about his stewardship of The Kinks and the songs he wrote for them. Along with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, The Kinks are part of the quartet of the greatest English rock bands of the 1960s and, maybe, one of the four greatest rock bands of all time.

Also impressive are the group’s ambitious, yet unpretentious concept albums, beginning in 1968 with The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and followed by Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One and Muswell Hillbillies.

In the mid-70s, the band seemed to find a whole new audience with a heavier rock sound and quickly charted with such albums as Sleepwalker, Misfits, Low Budget, Give The People What They Want and State of Confusion.

The legacy of The Kinks is incalculable. Trying to come to grips with it himself, Davies is revisiting the group’s music on his last two solo albums.

imageThe first of these two recent albums The Kinks Choral Collection (Decca), with The Crouch End Festival Chorus, features the group’s music re-imagined in a choral setting and the second, See My Friends (Decca), is a collection of Kinks songs that Davies rerecorded with such guests as Bruce Springsteen, Mumford & Sons, Lucinda Williams, Jackson Browne, Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.

As for See My Friends and specifically the songs he wrote, Davies said, “It’s important to me to step back and let them be discovered and given a new lease on life by the other artists. Then I kind of step in and take my place as one of the performers. It’s a very invigorating and rewarding experience.”

Ultimately, the process gave Davies a new appreciation for the songs. “Because of the nature of the process—getting other people to interpret the songs—it made me rethink the songs and re-evaluate the songs,” Davies explained. “For the most part, I think without a doubt all the songs hold up as a result.” Davies talked about his songwriting approach and why he thinks it’s worked. “If you write about the world you’re living in and you’re honest with it, the songs will be durable,” he began. “If people try to be fake and manipulate songs—and a lot of people try to do that and second-guess people—it never works.” In the end, he said it comes down to, “honesty, integrity and good vision.”

As for favorite cover versions of his songs, Davies cited Van Halen’s cover of “You Really Got Me” closely followed by his ex-wife Chrissie Hynde’s band The Pretenders’ cover of “Stop Your Sobbing.” I mentioned to Davies that the song “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” appeared on a recent Kinks reissue, to which he commented, “I love that song. It says a lot about me as a person and my attitude toward the world. It says a lot about people who retain their individuality, which in this world is increasingly difficult.”

Of all of his songwriting attributes, it’s Davies’ sense of humor that is most appreciated. “I think it’s so important to keep a sense of perspective and humor,” he stated. “It’s a cure-all. The modern world is full of crisis. Humor can be very political. “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” was a very political statement in many respects, but I did it with humor.”

As for future projects, Davies mentioned the possibility of a film on The Kinks directed by Julian Temple. He said that he’d like to do it, especially for the sake of his brother Dave who suffered a stroke in 2004. When I asked him how Dave is doing, he said, “I think he’s doing all right. He’s just a troublesome brother. What can you do? Families!” This was the only point in our talk where Davies became uncomfortable and clearly wanted to move on to another topic. It’s obvious friction still exists between the two, as could be the case with any family, especially one with two of the most famous brothers in rock history. In recent years however, both seem interested in reuniting The Kinks. When talking about the new songs that he is writing, Davies is ambiguous as they related to a Kinks reunion. He stated, “I’ve not decided who will be the personnel.”

Davies recently performed the entire The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a 100-person choir. Referring to it as “one of my proudest moments,” he said he might go into the studio and record it. He is also working on another memoir, due out next fall, and there is interest in turning his first memoir, X-Ray, into a biopic. In addition, there is a possibility of making a musical based on the music of The Kinks. Davies is considering more re-interpretations of Kinks songs as well, but in a more “stripped down” style. He would also like to do more collaboration, but this time, make them songwriting collaborations. He remarked, “It’s quite lonely being a writer (laughs). It’s really nice when you work with other people.”

Ray Davies will appear at The Paramount in Huntington on November 16th and at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan on November 20th. Steve Matteo wrote the liner notes for The Kinks UnKovered (Paradiddle Records).