"This album is probably in my top ten, top five, or even maybe top three albums of all time. Whenever I listen to it, which is often, I am reminded of Ray's genius but also his modesty and humility. No one else in any of the big bands that emerged in the early Sixties could have so eloquently and accurately created the mood of nostalgia that taunted those of us post war 'Boomers' who had to face the challenge of building a new way of life, with no rule book, wondering how we might do so and survive. We wanted it all. Freedom, adventure, and a quiet and serene home to return to safely. Ray captures all this."
-- Pete Townshend, April 2018
This quote from the leader of one of the great 1960s rock bands (The Who) comes from his essay in the new boxed set celebrating the 50th anniversary of an album by one of his peers: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.
The Kinks' mesmerizing, oft-breathtaking and all-in-all fabulous 1968 album went virtually unnoticed by much of the world despite a plethora of positive reviews and support from the music cognoscente. However, like its spiritual brother -- The Zombies' Oddessey and Oracle, a nearly unreleased record made in 1967 but effectively not released until 1969 -- The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society has gone on to broader recognition as a perfect musical statement, a rock classic standing proud alongside more famous titles from that period.
Over the years, many have portrayed the album as "out of step" with its times. I disagree.
For anyone who says that music had gotten "heavy" in 1968 -- which it had in some circles -- I direct them to equally lighthearted and nostalgic offerings that year by no less than The Beatles ("Honey Pie," "Martha My Dear," etc.). Take a look at what was on Top 40 radio that year and it wasn't all "heavy metal thunder." No, some of the biggest hits included the whimsical retro-sounding "Those Were The Days" by Mary Hopkin and the groovy "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams. Click here to read more of that list.
But... what about Hendrix 'n Steppenwolf 'n Blue Cheer? Yeah, they were there but for every high flying Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly at that time there were arguably many more pop hits driving the charts: Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love With You;" Georgie Fame's "The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde;" Tom Jones' "Delilah;" Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." Heck, The Beatles' "Hey Jude" was top of the pops and that is almost Gospel in its flavor.
Jump forward to some of the big hits of 1969 and you'll realize that not everything was quite as heavy as historians might want you to think it is: From the Billboard Top 100 that year: "Jean" by Oliver, "Love (Can Make You Happy)" by Mercy; "This Magic Moment" by Jay & The Americans; "Games People Play" by Joe South; "Everybody's Talkin'" by Harry Nilsson; "Atlantis" by Donovan. This list goes on (click here to read more of it).
And then there is The Band's super influential Music From Big Pink which also came out in 1968 -- a recording which might be considered a North American cousin to The Kinks' very English Village Green concept, what with its acoustic signatures, rural laid back country nostalgic feel and such.
No. The more I think about it, I can't help but feel The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was a victim of circumstance beyond the band's control rather than any problem with the music. Weak radio promotion? Misdirected public relations efforts? Perhaps lingering issues from The Kinks' mid-60s U.S. touring ban? There are usually multiple reasons for things in history so it may have been all that and more.
But, there was nothing "out of step" about the music.
Perspective: I recently played the album for a friend who had never heard it before and he thought I was playing a Beatles record! Food for thought as you explore this compositionally rich, emotionally complex album, one of the great song cycles of the period.
The producer of this new edition of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society -- Andrew Sandoval -- went to every length possible to ensure that these remasters were as true to the original 1968 UK Pye Records pressings as possible while carefully bringing improvements where feasible. I reached out to Mr. Sandoval and he confirmed some important details relative to the set's creation:
"I have an original UK Pye Mono and original UK Pye Stereo. I have the Swedish 12-track LP. I used all three of those things in the production of this to basically make sure that the tonality and everything was in the ballpark, was accurate and that the spaces between all the songs are matched exactly to an original pressing," he said. "The silence and fades are matched so you have the same experience as if you were buying the $300 to $500 original record."
(note: indeed, original UK pressings of this can fetch hefty sums!)
He went on to explain that the vinyl in the set was all cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio, created from digital files that were newly compiled (different sourcing from than The Kinks In Mono box set). (For) "the Stereo album, Sandoval continued,"we had the original Stereo LP master and that too was transferred at 24/96. From those transfers that were done in London, the individual files were mastered in Los Angeles using analog only EQ."
So how does the new Stereo remaster sound? I asked Mr. Sandoval how he felt about it: "I tried to make it a very balanced listen. It's my favorite album of all time. I like this one best. This is my favorite version of it. It took decades literally to get the stuff that we have on this set.
It is a very thoughtful presentation, sounding better than my original US White Label Promo copy and besting the limited edition UK green vinyl version Universal Music issued a while back. There is a greater sense of detail on this new edition, with guitar parts jumping out of the speakers more than previous editions I've heard.
On "Phenomenal Cat," the Tambourine is super present. You can feel the Stereo panning and bass details are very apparent. On the "la la" refrains you can feel the air of the studio around the singer. On "All Of My Friends Were There" the Ride Cymbals resonate naturally while the finger-picked Acoustic Guitars sound fatter. "Wicked Annabella" has an interesting panning of the vocal effect I'd not noticed previously. The guitars on "People Take Pictures Of Each Other" are clearer sounding so you can now hear the hand-muted strums more directly.
The 2018 remaster of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is streaming on Tidal in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CD quality with many bonus tracks (click this link to get to it). The basic Stereo album is also there in 24-bit, 48 kHz MQA format (click here). Again, the vinyl was cut from 96 kHz, 24-bit sources, so keep that in mind when comparing, contrasting.
The new remastered Mono mix sounds pretty fab too! According to Mr. Sandoval: "... We had the UK Mono production master. That is all that we had that exists of the Mono mix and that was transferred at 24/96. For certain songs on the record we found better sources elsewhere and we recompiled the Mono for a few of the songs we had, what seemed like lower generation tapes than this production master."
It is an extra feather in Mr. Sandoval's cap because the Mono album sounds remarkably consistent as an end to end listen. I am guessing here but some tracks like "Village Green" sound richer than on other versions I've heard with lots of neat orchestral detailing jumping out of the speakers in a fine fashion. But overall it all sounds terrific!
Which version do I like best, you ask? Well, I now own three Mono and two Stereo versions of this album on LP and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. But, I think I would have to rank the new edition as the best among what I have (alas, I do not own "original" UK pressings).
Thus far I am super pleased with the 2018 remaster of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this review where we'll explore the many discs worth of outtakes, live recordings and other previously unreleased gems included in this set.