Hot Platters: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968, Reprise Records)

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

Reprise Records, 1968

Track List

  1. The Village Green Preservation Society 
  2. Do You Remember Walter? 
  3. Picture Book 
  4. Johnny Thunder 
  5. Last of the Steam-Powered Trains 
  6. Big Sky 
  7. Sitting by the Riverside 
  8. Animal Farm 
  9. Village Green 
  10. Starstruck 
  11. Phenomenal Cat 
  12. All of My Friends Were There 
  13. Wicked Annabella 
  14. Monica 
  15. People Take Pictures of Each Other

I have always felt that the Kinks were deserving of the same lavish praise that's been heaped upon the other stalwarts of the British Invasion era (i.e. The Beatles, The Stones& The Who). Sadly, this is not the case. Has England produced a true songwriter better than Ray Davies? I think not. To make the case that The Kinks should rightfully be ranked alongside The Beatles, let me put forth a hot platter that is as strikingly inventive as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, friends, I speak of (fanfare please) The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society! 

Released in 1968, this concept album paid tribute to the simpler days of English small-town life and all of its daily minutiae. It is a collection of songs about friends, childhood memories and family. While some of these themes had been artfully explored on the Sgt. Peppers album, Ray Davies ability to communicate a certain sense of British sensibility was a bit more striking than what Lennon & McCartney had created on Sgt. Peppers. As Chuck Berry's songs were uniquely American, The Kinks, with the release of this hot platter (and their opus "Waterloo Sunset"), had become the true ambassadors of the English perspective, both old and new. 

"Songwriter and band leader Ray Davies crafted the concept album as a gentle homage to English hamlet life and, by extension, to the innocence and idealization of past times and people. The songs were assembled from material recorded over a two-year period prior to the album's release, as Davies moved away from producing commercial hit singles and into a more personal, nostalgic style of songwriting. Many of the songs recorded prior to the early summer of 1968 may have originally been intended for a Ray Davies solo album and/or stage show related to the loose 'village green' theme, because Davies was unsure whether they fit the Kinks' musical image and style. But as the concept progressed, and as the Kinks' commercial fortunes declined in 1968, the album was completed as a full-fledged Kinks project. Fearing the band would soon dissolve and that this would be their final project, Davies poured his heart into the album, tinkering with it until the last possible minute. He even halted the production of an early release version to revamp the song selection. The album’s theme came together after the Kinks recorded Village Green; the track was inspired by the Kinks' performances near rustic Devon, England in November 1966. Davies has also stated that Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood was an indirect inspiration for the concept. The song Village Green neatly sums up the album's broad theme: 'I miss the village green, and all the simple people...' In addition to nostalgia, the album's songs touch on a wide range of emotions and experiences, from lost friends ('Do You Remember Walter'), memories ('People Take Pictures of Each Other', 'Picture Book'), bucolic escape ('Animal Farm'), social marginalization ('Johnny Thunder', 'Wicked Annabella'), public embarrassment ('All of My Friends Were There'), childlike fantasy ('Phenomenal Cat'), straying from home ('Starstruck') and stoical acceptance of life ('Big Sky', 'Sitting By the Riverside'). Davies did not compose many of the songs to fit the predetermined theme of the album, rather their commonality developed naturally from his nostalgic songwriting interests at the time. The title track, one of the last written and recorded (in August 1968), effectively unifies the songs through an appeal to preserve a litany of sentimental objects, experiences, and fictional characters from progress and modern indifference: 'God save little shops, china cups, and virginity'. This last lyric inspired the slogan, 'God save the Kinks' which was used in the US promotion for the album, and was associated with the band through the 1970s." (Wikipedia) 


"In summer 1966, while all around was experimentation with tape loops, phasing, backwards guitars — the atmospheric interference of the gathering psychedelic storm — Davies was concentrating on songwriting craft. Sunny Afternoon was the first manifestation of a new signature Kinks style that would culminate two years later in The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society… The Kinks’ new album willfully disregarded anything fashionable in British rock or pop at the time. There were no long guitar solos, no extended freeform jams, no lyrics based on the Tibetan Book Of The Dead or The Communist Manifesto. Instead, The Kinks were singing songs about lost friends, draught beer, motorbike riders, wicked witches and flying cats…He drew on a well of personal and traditional sources to create an album which, although nominally concerned with the characters that live around a village green, goes deep into territory rarely explored in pop: memory, regret, failure, growing old. The record sounds very English, but its Englishness is a sideshow, a metaphor for the universal problem Davies was wrestling with — the problem of being alive.  For two years, Ray Davies worked on the album as a potential stage presentation, then a solo project, then as a new Kinks record. The group stockpiled enough wonderful music for two albums…As the pop climate shifted around him and The Kinks’ fortunes waned, he persevered. The LP’s line-up went from twelve tracks to twenty to fifteen. And when Davies’ pet project was finally released it flopped. Worse, it was ignored. The group’s profile on the pop scene was minimal and The Kinks’ label, Pye Records, was a singles-based outfit that had yet to adapt to the switch to albums that had occurred in the wake of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. So, in late 1968, no one knew Ray Davies had just painted his masterpiece — small wonder he regards its belated elevation to cult status with skepticism… In the time it took to make this classic album, The Kinks dropped off the pop radar. They were yesterday’s men, an identity the ever-contrary Ray Davies seemed to embrace on his instantly out-of-date new album… The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is not just the best album The Kinks ever made, but as the years have passed since its release, it stands revealed as the only album of the pop era to look beyond the 1960s and consider what might happen next. This is the story of how, by conspicuously failing to set a trend, The Kinks created something enduring and unsurpassed, not just the most perfect manifestation of Ray Davies’ inimitable wit, sadness, quiet anger and charm, but also a timeless reminder that every party, however fabulous, has to come to an end.”  (Andy Miller, Kinks' The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society / 33 1/3 book series)

I can recall the total indifference that greeted this masterwork by the Kinks. The teen sang-froid of 1968 was defined by the lengthy musical diatribes of bands like Cream and, as a result, the Village Green album sank into obscurity. While the album did not appeal to the tie-dyed Woodstock brethren of the time, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society went on to gain a cult following of listeners and continues to stand as one of the most vital slices of rock/pop music from this era.









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