The Kinks’ Kronikles stands as their greatest collection
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In another inessential-yet-all-consuming, time-wasting hobby, I’ve been creating a lot of compilations in my library for my own listening pleasure. Take a band, boil them down to the best bits via 90-minute collections, and move on to the next band.
It’s basically been yet another hobby plopped atop the hobby pile — distill all these great artists into 90-minute samplers, adhering firmly to the 45-minute-per-side limitations. And I’ve gotten it done for a random selection of bands — R.E.M., T-Rex, the Replacements, Father John Misty, Stone Temple Pilots, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc. — over the past few weeks. And I made one for the Kinks. And it’s fine, mostly.
The Kinks are so great that any assemblage of 20-to-30 songs of theirs is going to be enjoyable, but they had enough stylistic shifts that having their ’80s material slammed up against their ’60s stuff can be jarring. I have “Living on a Thin Line” in between “This is Where I Belong” and “Sunny Afternoon,” and it works based on the strength of the material. But it doesn’t quite flow the way I want it to yet.
The natural hinderance here is that the greatest Kinks mix tape has existed for 48 years, and it’s not about to be topped by anyone in a boredom-driven push to create it. It’s called The Kink Kronikles, and that double LP is one hour and 27 minutes of front-to-back glory.
On every level, this collection is truly a surprise success. Typically, label-created compilations, commissioned and released without the artist’s input, are shoddy collections whose cash-grab intentions are impossible to ignore. This was lovingly arranged, with John Mendelson’s liner notes detailing each track with a devotion only the long-time fanatic could deliver. Released to capitalize on the Kinks re-ascending star, it also serves as the ideal primer for this period.
Compiled after the band moved from Reprise to RCA records in the early 1970s, it captures the work of the band after their initial British Invasion-era hits, while they were banned from touring the United States and subsequently became unapologetically British in their delivery. If songs like “Victoria” and “Waterloo Sunset” would’ve been unrecognizable to your basic American artist, they still stand as pillars of songcraft on their own, London-specific references be damned.
And their total embrace of their homeland set them apart from their peers and colleagues of the day. They weren’t chasing styles like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, they didn’t spend the half-decade in search of a purpose and identity like the Who, and they weren’t looking to amplify and expand American blues the way Cream, Jeff Beck and eventually Led Zeppelin would. With their American audience effectively removed from the equation, they became fully realized versions of themselves. And it was unabashedly English.
Beyond those first era hits (“You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night,” etc.), my first exposure to this prime era of the Kinks came via Something Else by the Kinks and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, two albums released consecutively that grabbed me immediately, even if some of the terminology escaped me. I didn’t have any personal frame of reference to a village green, and I didn’t learn for years that “Waterloo Sunset” was a love story set at one of the busier train stations in London. I could at least understand the hero of “David Watts,” even if I didn’t know what a “head boy at the school” was, while its not-so-subtle homoerotic undertones escaped me completely. The Kinks took chances in their songs.
And this compilation took plenty of chances, taking songs that were at least hits in Britain but not necessarily the U.S., and pairing them with rarities. It took two songs from their soundtrack album Percy, not released on this side of the Atlantic, and threw in plenty of stand-alone singles, B-sides and unreleased tracks. One of those, “Did You See His Name?,” is the ultimate example of Ray Davies wrapping a melancholy tale around the prettiest little melody — a lament for a doomed soul told with near-nursery-rhyme perk. It stands alongside songs like “Lola” and “Sunny Afternoon” and occupies the stylistic gap between them, painting a full picture of the band.
Nearly every song here has significance and would stand as crucial to appreciating the Kinks, from the driving rock of “King Kong” to the class commentary in “Dead End Street” to plaintive lament of “God’s Children.” There’s an incredible cross-section of Dave Davies songs — “Death of a Clown,” “Susannah’s Still Alive” and “Mindless Child of Motherhood” — that illustrate the band as far from a one-man show. And then, even Ray Davies’ Elvis impersonation on “Willesden Green” feels absolutely critical to this album. And it all wraps up with “Days,” one of the most breathtaking singles of the rock and roll cannon.
Not every great number of this era is featured, and far from it. “Yes Sir, No Sir,” “Some Mother’s Son,” “Party Line,” “Dandy,” “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Top of the Pops,” “This Time Tomorrow,” “Got to Be Free,” “Do You Remember Walter?” “Picture Book,” “Last of the Steam-Powered Trains,” “Animal Farm,” “Tin Soldier Man” and “Two Sisters” are all titles that were eligible for inclusion from this period, plucked out of the air by me and essential listening, just as their accompanying albums are absolutely essential.
But that’s the beauty of a great mix tape. When distilling a great artist down to 90 minutes, it’s impossible to include everything. If the final product plays through and keeps the listener engaged and enthralled, without noticing dozens of other songs that could’ve been included, that’s the sign of a job well done.
Making all these mixes and compilations has been a fun little diversion and a nice exercise in creating a tracklist that flows, prioritizing great songs that build on each other, feeding one into the next until it feels complete. Albums like The Kink Kronikles are the rare collections that satisfy the dueling aspirations of big business and diehard fans. And at three minutes shy of the full 90, it’s a perfect mix tape.
Sept. 9, 2020
Email Nick Tavares at email@example.com