The Kinks – The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

The Kinks – The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society
Released November, 1968

The Kinks were a ‘British Invasion’ group formed by two brothers, Ray and Dave Davies. The Davies brothers grew up in a suburb of North London, where their parents brought them up listening to music hall and jazz among other genres. The family was known for holding rocking Saturday night parties that would continue into the early hours of the morning.  At these parties there would be plenty of music and a singalong or two. I had to smile at this because it reminded me of my upbringing; my extended family would get together and a select few of us would sit around listening to my Dad’s vinyls or his latest CD. A few reds would be consumed and there would be singing, and a lot of musical analysis, as well as music history lessons from Pops. A lot of my childhood memories are based around nights like this so I can understand why it was said that Ray Davies was trying to recreate these parties when he was on stage.

Despite many setbacks over the years, including declines in their popularity, changes in the band lineup, and bad press, The Kinks enjoyed a long career with broad international success, particularly in the UK and US Markets, and the band was releasing albums right up until 1993, shortly before their split in 1996. Their work has been covered by many popular artists over the years, including but not limited to The Pretenders, The Jam, The Knack, and Van Halen. Blur and Oasis have also cited them as strong influences on their own bands’ styles.

(The Kinks) “Are the Village Green Society” was album 6 out of their total of 14, and is conceptual; in essence it’s a collection of 15 songs that provide an intimate insight into the quirks of living in a small English town, with the band acting as the protectors, speaking out about age-old traditions that seem to be fading. It has a certain air of nostalgia to it.  The album did not enjoy commercial success, however received many positive reviews from both US and UK critics, and in 2003 was inducted into Rolling Stone’s “500 best albums of all time” list, ranking at 255. It’s got elements of folk-rock to it, with the band exploring themes that cover every day life and telling stories about steam trains, personalities, and neighborhood cats.

The album aptly opens with the title track ‘Village Green Preservation Society’. This song serves as the preface to the rest of the tracks, establishing the overall theme of the album. It’s got some great lyrics that refer to social idioms, items and characters, both fictional and non-fictional, that the band think are losing meaning over time. It’s pretty catchy, I have to admit. My favourite line is ‘God save little shops, china cups and virginity’. Cute. But seriously, what’s their obsession with saving Donald Duck? Anyone know?

‘Picture Book’ features a guitar riff which I found very familiar. I quickly realised that Green Day had used a very similar riff (it’s almost exactly the same!) in their song ‘Warning’.  There’s also some fantastic three part harmonies that are reminiscent of The Beatles’ sound. I especially enjoyed the addition of the cheeky ‘a- scoobie- doobie- doo’ as a filler. If you ask me, not enough songs these days use ‘scoobie doobie doo’. The riff, and the theme of the village green return in a sort-of reprise at track 9, a baroque-esque number, coincidentally named ‘Village Green’. Nice pizzicato violin work on this one too. ‘Sitting by the Riverside’, was one of my favourites. It’s a pretty little ditty, and as the name suggests, about chilling out down by the river thinking about life. I can relate to this. The best part was the inclusion of the accordion and the sweet little tin pan piano responses at the end of each phrase.

When you listen to The Kinks you will come to realise the huge influence their stuff had on the music you’re listening to on the radio every day. It’s a shame this album didn’t sell very well; I enjoyed it immensely and would definitely listen to it again. I did actually start to tune out about half way through the album. In my opinion the first half was much more compelling and they should have stopped at 8 tracks. Less would have been more in this case. But give it a go, you won’t be disappointed.

I was fascinated by this album for years before I even listened to it. As a teenager, I wore out a cassette of the Kink’s Greatest Hits and was familiar with their big singles, but I didn’t understand how an album could be so highly revered without any hits. Although it didn’t sell well on its initial release, possibly due to the political climate of the time, it has grown in stature as the decades have passed. I remember being underwhelmed after my first listen, but it has earned a spot in my heart over the years. I can see how the album has influenced artists such as Blur, You Am I and Paul Kelly, with each song offering up a vignette of life in an English hamlet, idealised by songwriter and frontman Ray Davies. Opening with the excellent title track, the Kinks show off the side which previously gave us ‘Waterloo Sunset’, but with a bit of a beat. It almost comes across as a mission statement, and it’s a great introduction to the album: “Preserving the old ways from being abused/Protecting the new ways for me and for you”. What follows are mostly charming stories of an idyllic existence in the English countryside, particularly in songs like ‘Village Green’ and ‘Sitting by the Riverside’. There is also a mourning of past technologies inside ‘Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains’, albeit with a bluesy feel, that is possibly the rockiest number on the album; with the exception of brother Dave Davies’ menacing ‘Wicked Annabella’. My favourite song here is ‘Do You Remember Walter’, detailing the imagined present situation of a past childhood chum. Other highlights for me include ‘People Take Pictures of Each Other’, ‘Star Struck’ and the ode to small-town embarrassment, ‘All of My Friends Were There.’ This is observational British pop at its finest.

“The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society” is somewhat of a concept album. An homage to life in the English countryside if you like. As with all concept albums there is always the risk that it will be a bit shit, let’s face it, most of them are. I found this album, well, a little twee. My guess is that “Village Green” become more popular as the years went on because a certain nostalgia kicked in as to how ‘the good old life’ used to be. Unfortunately for me I don’t give a crap about living in an English hamlet. The album I kept comparing it to was “Hourly Daily” by You Am I, a quintessential Australian album about living in the suburbs. “Hourly Daily” is one of my favourite albums. I also happen to live in the Australian suburbs, funny that. So I don’t necessarily think it’s the fault of The Kinks that I didn’t really enjoy this particular album, I just struggled to connect with it. Overall the album felt a little samey musically, so that didn’t help its cause either and let’s be honest, lyrically it’s not exactly Shakespeare. Favourite songs were ‘Animal Farm’, and the Beatlesque ‘Village Green’ and ‘Last of the Steam Powered Trains’, although I did feel a bit foolish singing along to a song written from the point of view of a train. Shitty lyrics, case in point. I get why this album has gone on to become a classic, despite not being so well received upon its release. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just feel kind of ambivalent about it. Much like the way I feel about the English countryside. Now excuse me while I crack a tinny and listen to some You Am I.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who heard it, but were The Kinks trying to be The Beatles with “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society”? I just feel like the whole album was very Beatles inspired in everything from musical arrangements to lyrics. Though if you’re going to channel anyone for a sixties pop album, I guess The Beatles are a good choice. And it didn’t draw anything away from this album for me. I really enjoyed listening to it. It’s harmless, inoffensive pop. There are a few songs that are stand outs for me. ‘Last of the Steam Powered Trains’ is a fun one, lamenting technology moving on, and it fits in with the theme of the whole album: Old English traditions lapsing. The Kinks really make their point known in the opening track ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’. They list a whole bunch of old fashioned values that they want preserved. I’ve never heard of half the things though, so perhaps their campaign was not so successful? As with most of the albums I’ve enjoyed, there is one or two I didn’t enjoy, and ‘Sitting By The Riverside’ heads that list. The piano riff at the end if each line in the verse drives me crazy and the hectic swelling to a crescendo halfway through just sounds like white noise. ‘All of My Friends Were There’ makes the list of did not likes as well with its obnoxious vocals. All in all though, “Village Green” is a thoroughly enjoyable album. The more people that listen to it and realise there is more to The Kinks than ‘You Really Got Me’ (and it’s exact copy ‘All Day And All Of The Night’), the better. It’s one album that has earned a permanent berth in my iPod.

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