Episode 155: “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks
Episode one hundred and fifty-five of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks, and the self-inflicted damage the group did to their career between 1965 and 1967. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
Patreon backers also have a nineteen-minute bonus episode available, on "Excerpt From a Teenage Opera" by Keith West.
Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/
No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many Kinks songs.
The Anthology 1964-1971 is a great box set that covers the Kinks’ Pye years, which overlap almost exactly with their period of greatest creativity. For those who don’t want a full box set, this two-CD set covers all the big hits.
And this is the interview with Rasa I discuss in the episode.
This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
Before I start, this episode has some mentions of racism and homophobia, several discussions of physical violence, one mention of domestic violence, and some discussion of mental illness. I've tried to discuss these things with a reasonable amount of sensitivity, but there's a tabloid element to some of my sources which inevitably percolates through, so be warned if you find those things upsetting.
One of the promises I made right at the start of this project was that I would not be doing the thing that almost all podcasts do of making huge chunks of the episodes be about myself -- if I've had to update people about something in my life that affects the podcast, I've done it in separate admin episodes, so the episodes themselves will not be taken up with stuff about me. The podcast is not about me.
I am making a very slight exception in this episode, for reasons that will become clear -- there's no way for me to tell this particular story the way I need to without bringing myself into it at least a little. So I wanted to state upfront that this is a one-off thing. The podcast is not suddenly going to change.
But one question that I get asked a lot -- far more than I'd expect -- is "do the people you talk about in the podcast ever get in touch with you about what you've said?"
Now that has actually happened twice, both times involving people leaving comments on relatively early episodes. The first time is probably the single thing I'm proudest of achieving with this series, and it was a comment left on the episode on "Goodnight My Love" a couple of years back:
[Excerpt: Jesse Belvin, "Goodnight My Love"]
That comment was from Debra Frazier and read “Jesse Belvin is my Beloved Uncle, my mother’s brother. I’ve been waiting all my life for him to be recognized in this manner. I must say the content in this podcast is 100% correct!Joann and Jesse practically raised me. Can’t express how grateful I am. Just so glad someone got it right. I still miss them dearly to this day. My world was forever changed Feb. 6th 1960. I can remember him writing most of those songs right there in my grandmother’s living room. I think I’m his last living closest relative, that knows everything in this podcast is true."
That comment by itself would have justified me doing this whole podcast.
The other such comment actually came a couple of weeks ago, and was on the episode on "Only You":
[Excerpt: The Platters, "Only You"]
That was a longer comment, from Gayle Schrieber, an associate of Buck Ram, and started "Well, you got some of it right. Your smart-assed sarcasm and know-it-all attitude is irritating since I Do know it all from the business side but what the heck. You did better than most people – with the exception of Marv Goldberg."
Given that Marv Goldberg is the single biggest expert on 1950s vocal groups in the world, I'll take that as at least a backhanded compliment.
So those are the only two people who I've talked about in the podcast who've commented, but before the podcast I had a blog, and at various times people whose work I wrote about would comment -- John Cowsill of the Cowsills still remembers a blog post where I said nice things about him fourteen years ago, for example.
And there was one comment on a blog post I made four or five years ago which confirmed something I'd suspected for a while…
When we left the Kinks, at the end of 1964, they had just recorded their first album. That album was not very good, but did go to number three in the UK album charts, which is a much better result than it sounds. Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon got to number one in 1960, but otherwise the only rock acts to make number one on the album charts from the start of the sixties through the end of 1967 were Elvis, Cliff Richard, the Shadows, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Monkees.
In the first few years of the sixties they were interspersed with the 101 Strings, trad jazz, the soundtrack to West Side Story, and a blackface minstrel group, The George Mitchell Singers. From mid-1963 through to the end of 1967, though, literally the only things to get to number one on the album charts were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Monkees, and the soundtrack to The Sound of Music. That tiny cabal was eventually broken at the end of 1967 by Val Doonican Rocks… But Gently, and from 1968 on the top of the album charts becomes something like what we would expect today, with a whole variety of different acts,
I make this point to point out two things The first is that number three on the album charts is an extremely good position for the Kinks to be in -- when they reached that point the Rolling Stones' second album had just entered at number one, and Beatles For Sale had dropped to number two after eight weeks at the top -- and the second is that for most rock artists and record labels, the album market was simply not big enough or competitive enough until 1968 for it to really matter.
What did matter was the singles chart. And "You Really Got Me" had been a genuinely revolutionary hit record. According to Ray Davies it had caused particular consternation to both the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, both of whom had thought they would be the first to get to number one with a dirty, distorted, R&B-influenced guitar-riff song.
And so three weeks after the release of the album came the group's second single. Originally, the plan had been to release a track Ray had been working on called "Tired of Waiting", but that was a slower track, and it was decided that the best thing to do would be to try to replicate the sound of their first hit. So instead, they released "All Day And All Of The Night":
[Excerpt: The Kinks, "All Day And All Of The Night"]
That track was recorded by the same team as had recorded "You Really Got Me", except with Perry Ford replacing Arthur Greenslade on piano. Once again, Bobby Graham was on drums rather than Mick Avory, and when Ray Davies suggested that he might want to play a different drum pattern, Graham just asked him witheringly "Who do you think you are?"
"All Day and All of the Night" went to number two -- a very impressive result for a soundalike follow-up -- and was kept off the number one spot first by "Baby Love" by the Supremes and then by "Little Red Rooster" by the Rolling Stones. The group quickly followed it up with an EP, Kinksize Session, consisting of three mediocre originals plus the group's version of "Louie Louie". By February 1965 that had hit number one on the EP charts, knocking the Rolling Stones off.
Things were going as well as possible for the group. Ray and his girlfriend Rasa got married towards the end of 1964 -- they had to, as Rasa was pregnant and from a very religious Catholic family. By contrast, Dave was leading the kind of life that can only really be led by a seventeen-year-old pop star -- he moved out of the family home and in with Mick Avory after his mother caught him in bed with five women, and once out of her watchful gaze he also started having affairs with men, which was still illegal in 1964. (And which indeed would still be illegal for seventeen-year-olds until 2001).
In January, they released their third hit single, "Tired of Waiting for You". The track was a ballad rather than a rocker, but still essentially another variant on the theme of "You Really Got Me" -- a song based around a few repeated phrases of lyric, and with a chorus with two major chords a tone apart. "You Really Got Me"'s chorus has the change going up: