Soundchecks Music Reviews

The Kinks: Biography

44 minutes (E) 2009
Go Entertain DVD Region 2 retail

Ray Davies, in concert, 2007


review by Andrew Darlington

In the 1960s the hierarchy went - Beatles and 'Stones; then Kinks and Who... Then the third tier of Hollies, Smallfaces, Yardbirds, Searchers and Manfreds. Each of them unique in their own way, but The Kinks were more unique than most. This concise career fly-over, extracted from the History Channel, and retaining its ad-break chapter-headings, is an essentially US-slanted perspective, but captures something of the band's shambolic genius.

It traces their origins as "three baby musketeers" rehearsing in the front room of 6 Denmark Terrace in North London's Muswell Hill, the home of brothers Ray and Dave Davies, with school-friend Pete Quaife adding bass. Joined by drummer Mick Avory, they unite with producer Shel Talmy. Their third Pye single, You Really Got Me put them at #1 in the charts in September 1964, and changed history. Talmy tells how Dave lacerated the group's "little pug-nosed" eight-watt amp to achieve the raucous sexually-charged primitive sound he sought, which has subsequently been accused of booting-up the entire heavy metal genre. Not that that should be held against him.

You Really Got Me and its two follow-ups "completely killed me," admits Little Steven of the E-Street Band. With their red hunting-jackets and their name conjuring teasing hints of perversity, their rise seemed unstoppable. But the Kinks' advance into the American market was stalled by a long-standing ban following a chaotic tour. All 1960s' bands were cheated. The Kinks were no exception. Their inept rip-off manager Larry Page went out to tour the 'States with them, ditched them there, and came back with Sonny & Cher instead.

So while other lesser names stormed US stadia, they concentrated on developing their reflective very English character studies, nostalgic short stories, and vaguely melancholy themes that went through Waterloo Sunset into albums such as The Village Green Preservation Society - largely neglected and seen as a failure at the time, now recognised as a lost classic. Despite its brevity the DVD manages to effectively explore the volatile internal chemistry of the "dysfunctional Kinks family." Extrovert Dave, the model for the Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, living the full 1960s' raver lifestyle of clubs, drugs and multi-sexuality; and Ray who stayed at home documenting it all through his songs. Dave does most to-camera, explaining the nature of his complex and loving sibling rivalry with quieter, more poetic brother Ray, who appears largely through archive footage. I recall Dave struggling to articulate the same mixed emotions when I spoke with him.

Contributions from Mick and Pete flesh out the story of a creative process for which anger was the 'motivating thing'. Pete was the first Kink to bale out, after a run of 11 straight UK top ten chart hits, just as the US touring ban expired and Lola re-established the band on both sides of the Atlantic. Arista label-boss Clive Davis talks about signing the Kinks for an arc of successful stadium-level albums through the 1980s before the internal rifts culminated in the Kinks split, and subsequent forays into solo project.

Until there's a touching reconciliation prompted by a double-tragedy... Ray was shot during a botched mugging in New Orleans, and Dave suffered a serious heart attack, two close-encounters with mortality that briefly brought the feuding brothers together. Although the DVD closes on upbeat speculation about the chances of a re-union tour taking in the original four members, this has now been superseded by Pete Quaife's death on 23rd June 2010. Poignant for me, too, because Dave, with some degree of sincerity, pointed out to me that despite the long and often disruptive history of the Kinks, they'd all survived reasonably intact. He seemed both surprised, and more than a little grateful about that.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press