One of the nice surprises this Record Store Day was the appearance of three -- count 'em, 3! -- seven-inch 45 RPM records by none other than England's legendary rock band, The Kinks. Two of these releases are EPs -- extended play records featuring four songs, two per side -- and one a single with one song per side. Both feature (mostly) original artwork from the early 1960s and semi accurate period labels. The thing that is wonderful, besides the fact that the sound pretty fabulous, is that these EPs and Singles have never been issued here in the United States. And even trying to find them in the UK in good shape isn't exactly easy or cheap
Most importantly, they seem to sound really good!
Now before I get to mini reviews of each disc, let me quickly explain the notion of the Extended Play for those of you not familiar with the concept. Back in the day, meaning a time when I was still a glimmer of an idea in my parents collective mindset, the EP arose as something of a marketing tool to sell more music to a rapidly growing buying public. With three or (more usually) four songs per disc, the EP offered a greater value than a single (two tracks) and yet wasn't as expensive as a full LP. This is one reason that many albums and EPs from the 50s into the 60s -- especially in the area of rock and roll -- are so desirable as collectors items as they cost more and thus didn't sell in the kinds of numbers that the singles did. It is a simple supply and demand function -- fewer of these items were manufactured and sold. And among the EPs and albums that survived the wrath of less than audiophile-grade record players and endless play by increasingly party-centric young people resulted in even fewer copies available for subsequent generations of collectors to discover and enjoy.
Thus records like these EPs reissued for Record Store Day were among the most highly desired collectors pieces for most Kinks fans, especially here in a America where we never got any EPs with spiffy picture sleeves and such.
That said... for the audio-minded collector, some of these early UK singles and EPs have the added bonus of unique mixes and at times superior sound quality than versions that appeared on the albums (especially here in the US where the albums were most likely made from a copy of the master tape -- that would have resided in England -- for local manufacture and distribution... and with every dub down of the tape, sonic degradation inevitably ensued).
KinksSize Hits indeed features two of the band's earliest smash hits. "You Really Got Me" is the much more rocking mono mix which sounds really full with fat on this disc with big round bass and punchy kick drum locked in dead center between your ears -- it rocks whether you are listening on your two-channel home stereo or on headphones. "It's All Right," a bluesy rave up loosely modeled after songs like The Isley Brothers' "Shout," sounds amazing, with remarkably clarity on Mick Avory's ride cymbals and Dave Davies' plucky riffing. Honestly, I've heard this song so many times and I've never heard it sound quite so clear like this. Even the version on the Sanctuary reissue CD set from 2011 sounds fairly pale in comparison.
"I Gotta Move" is another raver with doubled up acoustic and 6- and 12-string guitars -- pretty much the blueprint for The Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," to give you an idea of what this sounds like -- and it sounds punchy and airy. Wow. So cool to hear these tracks sounding so clear and clean and full. And to be fair, my original Reprise 45 of this song sounds fairly comparable (it was the B-side to "All Day and All of the Night") but this vinyl is so nice and new and clean and quiet...
Meanwhile, while we're speaking of "All Day and All of the Night" -- The Kinks' 2nd smash hit (#2 UK, #7 US) -- this new EP version sounds just ducky! My original Reprise single sounds punchy but this EP does as well; it is a little quieter mastering volume-wise since there are two tracks in the space where one resides on the single, so you have to turn up the volume on your sound system a bit, but the EP still sounds fat and rocking, delivering a nice sense of studio presence, such as around Mick Avory's snare drum hits during the breaks.
And, as I mentioned earlier, there is no denying the simple benefit of nice, new, dead quiet vinyl on these EPs as compared to the inevitable louder noise floor on the older pressings. The quiet vinyl lets the music jump out of the grooves and out of your speakers.
For sake of comparison, these tracks were put out several years ago on nice deluxe edition two-CD sets from Sanctuary (the label which also put out these reissues), but these versions seem to offer a greater sense of definition on the individual instruments.
On KinkSize Session even a relatively mellow track like "I've Gotta Go" now sounds more open and round than the CD versions. These new 2014 remasters sound clearer, with less apparent hiss and without the digital artifacts which make the guitars, and Ray Davies' voice sound more angular and harsh. Now the voices sound rich and full, while Dave Davies' fluid bluesy guitar lines sound fat with lots of guitar and amplifier tone apparent.
For comparison, I contrasted similar tracks on an original Mono US ( tri-color Reprise Records) pressing of the KinksSize and You Really Got Me LPs. Both sound pretty good but neither have the level of detail found on these new reissues. Like many of the early Beatles records, these US pressings sound like reverb and other audio doctoring was added in preparation of the records for release to the persnickety American market, back in the day. The drums in particular sound much much muddier with Mick Avory's snare on You Really Got Me making a more muted "pfffft" sound instead of the more distinctive "thwack" heard on the UK mix.
The final single is a neat one that I had to do a little research to figure out exactly what it was. If the comments I discovered from some customers on Amazon and some unofficial Kinks fan sites are accurate, this appears to be the first US issue of a single that was included in UK editions of last year's five CD boxed set called Anthology. Its all a bit cryptic -- no information is even posted on the Kinks' official website -- so I am going to have to make some "edjumacated" guesses....
The single says the tracks were recorded live at Twickenham Television Studios, which means it was probably for a BBC radio session or appearance on a TV program like Top of the Pops or -- again, if what I'm reading on the Interwebs is accurate -- quite possibly a taped performance for the US TV program Shindig!
Now, BBC union rules required performers back in the day to record new versions of the songs that would be broadcast for their guest appearances, even if they were to lip synch to them. So here we have a live-in-the-studio version of "You Really Got Me" that rocks just as much as the original (maybe more so in some ways).
If it does anything it puts to bed the ugly rumor that Jimmy Page played the solo on the hit single version -- because on this one it is clearly Dave playing this and it sounds exactly like the solo he played on the original. I compared the performance to clips of The Kinks on Shindig in 1965 and it seems to be the same take (with the Shindig version adding in the screams of the live audience to the mix there).The B-side is a groovy version of Milk Cow Blues, another rockin' bluesy showcase for Dave Davies who shares lead vocals with his brother Ray. Both of these tracks sound fabulous with lots of crisp drums and distinct instruments popping out of the mix.
Wow.. all this fresh tasting of early UK Kinks music makes me itchy to finally track down original British edition LP copies of these albums -- this, of course, is major challenge here in the United States for the most part (good reissues exist). Also, now that I've read about all the goodies contained in the Anthology box set -- which appear to be different than the prior six-CD box set I already have and like (called Picture Book) -- it appears that the Kinks will kontinue to drain this fanatikal kronikler's bank akkount in order to keep up with all the fun...
With no regrets! God Save the Kinks!