O, “Something Else by the Kinks.” How I love you.
You’re not my favorite Kinks album. That honor probably goes to “Village Green Preservation Society,” though I could go with “Arthur” if you catch me on the right day.
You’re also, at times, inconsistent. When I’m generous, I blame the sometimes muddy production by Shel Talmy, who seems to have never figured out the word “nuance.” (Loud guitars and pinned VU meters make for great early Kinks and Who singles, but don’t do well by harpsichords.) When I’m not, I’d just as soon you’d have dropped …
Well, that’s the thing. I can’t figure out what song I’d cut.
I’m not a huge fan of Dave Davies’ “Love Me Till the Sun Shines,” but it packs a punch, especially in that guitar-and-organ fadeout. I used to hate the faux-psychedelic “Lazy Old Sun,” but there’s this one part — at about the 2:05 mark — when you’re descending back to the I chord and Ray Davies leads into it with his acoustic guitar and I feel as blissful as I do when George Harrison hits the big G chord near the end of “Got to Get You Into My Life.”
And there are even times I grimace at “Waterloo Sunset.” Again, it’s not the lyrics or the melody — there’s a reason Robert Christgau has called it “the most beautiful song in the English language.” (Part of his point being that the area around Waterloo Station is distinctly unpretty, and it takes a dour romantic like Ray to turn it into a place of wonder.) It’s more the instrumentation, which is as scruffy as “Dead End Street.” What George Martin could have done with it!
On the other hand, in its perfect imperfection, I wouldn’t change a note.
But what I really love about “Something Else” can’t be separated from my life. Somehow it immediately got into my blood, and I’ve never filtered it out.
I can remember buying it in the fall of 1981 and spending every day of October putting it on in the hour between coming home from my after-school job and having dinner — me, my cheap but revelatory Koss headphones, and the needle dropping down into Side 1 and “David Watts.” I’d close my eyes and drift away.
The songs still hold up, of course. “David Watts,” the best song about a schoolboy ever written. “Death of a Clown,” showing Dave Davies’ clever humor. “Two Sisters,” a short story in three verses and a bridge. “Harry Rag,” “Afternoon Tea,” “End of the Season” … few songwriters have written about the little man (and woman) with such tenderness, empathy and keen observance.
Nik Cohn put it best: “He writes about nothing much, streets and houses and pubs, days at the seaside, little bits of love, drabness and things that don’t change, stuff like that.” And yet in such details are a whole wide world.
Thank you, “Something Else,” for being in mine.