Ray Davies spent much of the summer putting together a concept album steeped in...
Rob Webb 2004-07-06
In 1968 The Kinks released The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, an album curiously closer in spirit to that year's new sitcom hit, Dad's Army, than to the more familiar rock 'n' roll preoccupations of the day. While his contemporaries were revolting in style or getting mystic, Ray Davies spent much of the summer putting together a concept album steeped in nostalgia for an 'Olde England' of corner shops, custard pies and steam trains; an album which seemed to draw as much on the prewar music-hall of Max Miller as it did the blues. While the rock mainstream embraced Satanism and free love, Davies sang about preserving virginity and Sunday School. The Kinks' latest heroes were, apparently, Desperate Dan and Mrs Mopp, rather than Abraham, Martin or John. It was seriously out of step with prevailing trends.
And it wasn't only the subject matter: with hard-rock bands like Led Zeppelin poised on the horizon, it simply sounded too whimsical. Its potential success was not helped by the injunction which prevented The Kinks from touring the US between 1965 and 1969, essentially isolating them from rock's biggest market. Despite their position as one of the founding-fathers of mid-Sixties British pop/rock, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society flopped big-time.
But over the years, it has undergone something of a reassessment. For manyit's now justly considered Davies' most satisfying album: a creative highpoint matched only by the band's landmark singles of the period. Only Davies would care that Britain's last main-line steam train finally reached the buffers that year and write an instant retro song like ''Last of the Steam-Powered Trains'', a sort of British Rail ''Smokestack Lightnin'''. Only Davies would bother to think about why people take photographs of each other ('To prove that they really existed', of course!) and write ''People Take Pictures''. But it's not all wistfully genteel: the childlike ''Phenomenal Cat'' is a nod towards psychedelia and there are some sterling Dave Davies riffs in ''Wicked Arabella'' and ''Johnny Thunder''. It's as English as billiards, but with more balls.
Village Green Preservation Society now comes as an expanded 3-disc package. The first disc is taken from the stereo masters. It also includes additional stereo mixes of ''Mr Songbird'', ''Do You Remember Walter'' and the attendant single, ''Days'', not part of the original album, but a welcome addition here. Village Green had a tortuous history from recording to release - all brilliantly explained in the extensive sleeve notes and the book of the album (published by Continuum), both by Kinks scholar Andy Miller. The original album released in November 1968 was a 15-track mono version, which now comprises disc 2 of the current reissue. Apart from the inclusion of the single mix of ''Wonderboy'', it's fairly dispensable, though, unless you have an urge to hear the sound squeezed like toothpaste into one channel.
The third disc is the real gem, covering contemporaneous outtakes and rarities, most previously unavailable on CD. ''Lavender Hill'' was once considered as a follow up to ''Waterloo Sunset ''and there is the stately ''Berkeley Mews'' and an instrumental version of the title track. It concludes with some excellent Beeb material omitted from the BBC Sessions 1964-1977 roundup: yet another version of ''Do You Remember Walter'' (a persistent question, arising for the fourth time in this reissue) and the big-Kink sound of ''Animal Farm''.
If you don't know the Kinks albums, or you only have a Best Of, pop down to the corner shop for a custard pie and take a trip to a part of the 60s you may not have visited before. Welcome to the Village Green.