It’s that time of year!
In Part One of this review series on The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society we explored the new Stereo and Mono vinyl remasters of this classic 1968 rock album. This is a recording which The Who’s Pete Townshend reports (in liner notes to this super deluxe boxed set)“is probably in my top ten, top five, or even maybe top three albums of all time”
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society , this new collection is remarkable not only for the serious Kinks fan but also for those interested in studying song-craft and recording innovation. Unlike The Beatles — who by this time were a massively successful enterprise with access to the state of the art in recording technologies and promotional muscle — or even The Who (which also had a crack marketing team behind them), The Kinks were at a career disadvantage by 1968. They had been banned from touring the lucrative United States for many years and were grappling with bad management and ineffective record label support, among other issues.
Main songwriter Ray Davies took things into his own hands with The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, self producing his vision on basic four track recording equipment. That the resultant album wasn’t an instant success is just a part of the story here; the fact that this recording stands tall alongside other bigger budget releases of that period is a testament to Ray Davies’ skill and stamina.
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is a recording whose period peers include The Band’s Music From Big Pink, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and White Album, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle. It’s an album that continues to grow on me with every listen over the many years I’ve been a Kinks fan (dating myself, I became a fan when I was in Jr. High school in the mid 1970s… so yeah, do the math).
Packed with multiple CDs of bonus tracks, demos, alternate takes, outtakes, mistakes, live recordings and all manner of unreleased studio chatter, this new 50th Anniversary boxed set is nothing short of a revelation for even advanced Kinks Kroniklers.
Here are some of my favorite moments thus far:
On the Disc #3 (subtitled Village Green Sessions), the second track is probably the most revelatory moment for me as it presents a Stereo backing for my favorite song on the album, “Do You Remember Walter?” This tune has always resonated with me as perhaps the best embodiment of Ray Davies’ microscopic life study underlying The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. It is a mod combination of wistful introspection and scathing cynicism, all tied together with musical invention that may not be immediately apparent to those unfamiliar with the music.
Hearing this full band take before vocal overdubs is enlightening because we get to clearly hear more of the little details which went into creating the sound of the song. For example, the over-driven amplified electric lead guitar riffs and fills that Dave Davies adds are sonic textures which lift the track to another level (most notably with his strategic whammy bar string bending). We hear just how locked-in The Kinks were as a performing unit, with Pete Quaife’s bass in step with Mick Avory’s kick drum. Together with the pulsing piano, this architecture supports the vocals and other elements added later in final overdubs. All these parts are very much interconnected, creating a complex pop sound this side of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. When you hear the “European Stereo Mix without Tambourine” (on Disc #1, Original Stereo Album 2018 Remaster, track #25, taken from the 12-song version of the album briefly issued in some countries) you do hear more of the band playing as a unit. But those final overdubs ultimately make the song work as a finished production.
Jumping ahead to the future on Disc #5, the listener is transported to 2010 when Ray Davies and his band performed “Do You Remember Walter?” in Denmark with a chorus and orchestra. This is a wildly different arrangement, slowing down the song to a near waltz, Ray croons the song as if he were Frank Sinatra (and I mean this in the best possible way). But then, the arrangement shifts, kicking into the rocking version for a verse before crashing back down to the melancholy slow dance. It’s really beautiful and you get a strong sense of the song craft here. This is especially powerful considering that a song of Brit-pop beginnings could morph into a successful arrangement this side of Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and Gordon Jenkins.
Speaking of beginnings, the opening of this same disc features incredible home demos from Ray Davies’ personal archives. There he presents snippets of his ideas for the songs, played on acoustic guitar or piano, snapshots of the songs as he first was capturing his ideas on the fly to present to the band, raw, unfinished and impassioned. They are a fantastic insight into how Ray Davies composed his music.
In his own words, Ray admits “I make no apologies about these rough and ready demo sketches. They are what they are, warts and all, recorded on home reel-to-reel tape in my living room. Hearing them now they fill me with a certain amount of embarrassment mixed with that of extreme pride in their naivety. Definitely a work in progress.”
Nothing to be embarrassed about here.
There are many fascinating moments on this set like the previously unreleased song “Egg Stained Pyjamas,” a jaunty vaudeville like instrumental which could be the soundtrack to a silent film from the 1920s.
There is a previously unreleased live recording from Top of the Pops of “Last Of The Stream Powered Trains” which is a ripping blues rocker (roughly based on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”). It’s really a shame The Kinks never got to tour this album broadly because they clearly in 1968 they were still a well oiled live machine.
If you have access to the Tidal streaming music service, you can find the 2018 remaster of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society there in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CD quality with many bonus tracks (click this link to get to it).
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is a tremendous set. You get not only the the Mono and Stereo versions of the album but also the rare 12-song Swedish version (issued briefly but ultimately withdrawn in favor of the 15-song version). The set includes three period singles with picture sleeves and five CDs of all that material and the bonus tracks we’ve been touching on here. You get posters, publicity photos, and a lovely hard cover book with insightful essays about the album. Kudos to Ray Davies and The Kinks for seeing this project through along with Andrew Sandoval.
About the only thing this Kinks fan can wish for at this point is a NEW version of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society fully remixed from the multi-track master tapes. Alas, until they locate some of the missing tapes, that will remain a dream.
So… let the search for the great lost Kinks tapes begin!