I didn’t discover rock ‘n’ roll until I was 13 years old. I’d seen the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, of course, and I had dim memories of 50’s doo-wop from my older brother. But nothing clicked until the summer of ’65. I was helping my father re-trim the eaves of the house, which mostly meant standing in our garage painting 1×4’s white and watching the paint dry. My transistor radio was tuned to easy listening: “The Trolley Song” (“he was so handsome that he scared me half to death”) was a big favorite. Then one day my buddy Pat came over and rotated the dial to WMCA and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” railroaded me into adolescence.
That was also the summer of The Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion.” The Stones may have been aggressive bad boys, but the Kinks could hold their own in that category, a fact proved by the “golden oldies” feature on the radio that had “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” in regular rotation. The Davies brothers had serious rough guitar chops. Stuff that was good for dancing the jerk. But the edge of social satire, nailing the hypocrisy not just of the middle class (well respected) but the London hipsters too (frilly nylon panties right up tight…whew!) was pretty startling stuff to a brand new teenager. All this, and brains too.
There were sunny afternoons and dead end streets to follow, but my interest in the Kinks waned quickly. I got caught up in psychedelia and abandoned the Brits for the US West Coast, pledging my allegiance to the Doors and the Airplane instead. When my high school art teacher showed up wearing a button that said “God Save the Kinks” and carrying a copy of Muswell Hillbillies under his arm, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, the Kinks were awesome, but country music? Hillbilly music? And I thought this art guy was cool.
So that was that.
Until about 10 years later, one night, lying on the floor in Bob’s house after beers and bowls and pinball. Bob’s ex, always an exotic woman, put an album on the stereo and I mellowed out to it all the way through side one. Then she flipped it over and out of the haze came Ray Davies telling me, fer chrissake, havva cuppa tea.
Seriously, I thought I was hearing things, but the music was so bouncy and infectious and goddam happy that I could only give in to it. It wasn’t until I heard the stylus lift off the vinyl that I even had it together enough to ask what the hell we were listening to. It was, of course, but much to my astonishment, Muswell Hillbillies.
I had a decade’s worth of Kinks to catch up on, and I went at it with the convert’s zeal. Over the next few years, when rock ‘n’ roll was a lifeline that kept me hangin’ on, days when all my changes were there, the Kinks were a constant because they explained what was happening to me. Two albums in particular, Schoolboys in Disgrace and Soap Opera, though overlooked when not maligned by lots of people, told the story of my life to me. And that’s the story I want to tell in this particular series about the Kinks. Stay tuned, OK?