The first time I flew to America was in October 1971, for no other reason than to attend a party at the New York Playboy Club thrown by RCA Records to celebrate their having signed The Kinks to the label. I was told the party cost them $10,000 plus the fares for myself and writers from NME and London’s Evening Standard and we were put up at the exclusive Plaza Hotel for three days, adding considerably to the cost.
As I told Nick Hasted for his Kinks biography You Really Got Me, published by Omnibus in 2011, during the course of three days in New York I asked repeatedly if I could interview The Kinks but the request was turned down. I discovered that on the last night we were there they were playing a gig in upstate New York, but they couldn’t organise me attending that either. I thought this was absurd. I’d come all this way, and all I could report was a few lines about a knees-up. Here was an opportunity for me to do a big spread on The Kinks in MM – circulation 200,000 in those days – and nobody was interested. Also at The Kinks’ party were Moon and Entwistle from The Who, on the eve of a tour, so I had a word with Pete Rudge who was managing the tour, and he arranged for me to fly down the East Coast with The Who and see a couple of shows. As a result they got more coverage in MM than The Kinks, even though their record company had paid for me to go to the US in the first place.
When I got back to the UK, I got in touch with The Kinks’ PR Marion Rainford and requested an interview with Ray Davies, and she was happy to oblige, though I had to wait a month or two before Ray could manage it. In the event, we met in a pub in the West End and I talked to him over a couple of pints. This is the story I wrote for MM, the last issue if 1971 as it happens. Part 2 tomorrow.
Superstars may come and go but The Kinks keep marching on. They don’t change as much as musical styles change around them; not for them going heavy, selling out or making solo albums as the current heroes on the rock biz do/don’t according to what’s in vogue.
They still play those early hit singles on stage, and when they next do a British tour we may see them wearing red hunting jackets and frilly white shirts. Remember those – and when they caused a storm through infighting among themselves on stage, and when Dave Davies seemed to have the longest hair around, except for the Pretty Things?
Ray Davies remains a busy man. While his group may have appeared to have been taking things easy for the past year, their lovable leader who blows kisses from the stage is working all day and all of the night. Whether it be writing, which takes up most of the time, thinking, recording or performing, Ray Davies keeps himself occupied.
We may well be on the verge of The Kinks’ biggest breakthrough since the early days. They’ve just signed a new recording contract with RCA, and The Kinks are the front line in RCA’s attack on their contemporary record companies.
The first RCA album, Muswell Hillbillies, the ninth of their career, is already with us, and is great. Another is expected in the early New Year, and RCA are spending left, right and centre in promoting their new signing. A month ago they went to extremes by hosting a launching party in New York which cost them over $10,000.
Ray Davies was bewildered by it all, and he still is. As ever, there’s an air of vagueness about him as he talks, as if his mind is on something else. He doodles on a pad when he speaks, pausing before he answers questions and often answering along completely different lines. Ray is an observer, and everything he sees is noted, as likely as not filed away somewhere in his grey matter from where it will emerge as a lyric. So the other drinkers in this pub, none of whom recognise him, are as interesting to him as being interviewed by MM.
Why haven’t The Kinks played much in Britain this year?
“We have been looking for places,” he replied. For a year?
“Well, we may play the Rainbow next year before it goes out of fashion.
“There’s a place in the Midlands called the Belfry and we usually play there the weekend before we go to America, but that’s once a year. It’s quite a nice place to play.
“Did you know The Band have only played 15 concerts since they were formed? I wanted to play the minute I stepped off the plane in New York, but I couldn’t because of the press party. I really wanted to play that night.”
But how about Britain?
“Well, we have got some lined up for the middle of January. We are planning a show in places like Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and probably the Rainbow. But we’re going back to the States in February, and there are another two American tours next year.”
Are the rest of the group upset by this apparent lack of British activity? “No, they don’t mind. A lot of the time we are rehearsing or recording. We are fairly occupied.”
Conversation turned to the group’s new album, and its lyrics which appear to point an accusing finger towards all that is wrong with today’s instant society. Was it Ray’s intention to preach in this way?
“The album is actually a condensed version of what was going to be a double LP but it wasn’t practical to make it that way. At the same time I wanted to do a TV show along the same lines but I couldn’t make it happen. The album doesn’t go in for hard songs at all, which may go against us and I had written two or three others with similar themes.
“The trouble with records is that you only have a certain amount of time on one side and a whole album is only 45 minutes long. In the end I was happy with it. I was attacking things that lack quality and I suppose I do feel strongly about this, but some of the songs were meant to be funny as well.
“The songs were also about trying to live, getting up every day and problems like writing letters and paying bills. These are real problems to me, actually getting them done. I just don’t know how other people get with these problems, but that’s what I was trying to get across on the album.
“‘Complicated Life’ isn’t about big business deals or having lunch with Rothchilds bankers; it’s worrying about the electricity bill and petty things that are always there.”