The Kink Kronikles
Released: April 1972
Chart Peak: #94
Weeks Charted: 13
In the very first paragraph of his liner notes to The Kink Kronikles, John Mendelsohn emphasizes the Kinks' position as an underdog band. Perhaps even more than the exceptional individuality of their musical catalogue, this is one of the main factors that has made them so unique. Indeed, it is a factor that the group has at times seemed to welcome. More about that later.
The Kinks started out by being raunchier than any group in history. "You Really Got Me," "All Day And All Of The Night," "I Need You," and "Till The End Of The Day" were truly the Kingsmen unleashed, and for my money more thrillingly raucous records have never been recorded.
Ray Davies has bluffed his way through this matter a dozen times, and John Mendelsohn continues it in the liners here, but the truth is this: Jimmy Page played guitar on those early records, and it is some of the finest rock & roll guitar work ever laid down -- almost as definitive an expression of the classic rock & roll attitude as those records themselves were.
Ray's effete, melodic side had been apparent all along, especially on the records Page played little on -- Kinda Kinks in particular. So it is no surprise that the Kinks went into an extended introspective soft-rock period, recording Face To Face, Something Else, Village Green, Arthur, and Lola Vs. Powerman. It is this period that is the focus of The Kink Kronikles.
The Kink Kronikles opens with "Victoria," the same song that had opened Arthur with the most overt rock and roll the Kinks had recorded in several years. Arthur was a culmination of all themes from the three previous Kinks LPs: nostalgia, the little people in life, village greens, situations vacant, steam-powered trains, and Ray's intense dislike of photography. Tied together by the character of Arthur Morgan and the Kinks' bubbling, lopsidedly off-center wit, it all came together perfectly. One lyric on the album almost summed up by itself so much of what the Kinks had been saying: "I wish my eyes could only see/ Everything, exactly as it used to be."
No less important, Arthur also marked a culmination of Ray Davies' songwriting style. Some of the songs on Arthur are among the most intricate ever written to remain essentially rock and roll. What makes the difference between "Victoria"'s being not just a good record but a classic one is the "Land of hope and gloria" bridge; it expands the song in such a way that when the Kinks come back into the original verse and chorus, their effect is overwhelmingly enhanced. "Yes Sir, No Sir" and "Nothing To Say" on Arthur are also similar in their structural makeup, and "Shangri-La" may stand forever as a masterpiece of rock songwriting.
From "Victoria" until the end of the second side, The Kink Kronikles doesn't let up for a minute. Previously unreleased, "This Is Where I Belong" serves as a magnificent theme song for Side One, which ends with "Waterloo Sunset," the Kinks' all-time ballad and previous closing cut of both Something Else and their Then Now and Inbetween promo album.
"David Watts," previously the opening cut of Something Else and side two of Then Now and Inbetween, opens side two. What perfect planning! In addition to "Shangri-La" and the all-time-bourgeois-decadence-beer-drinking-and-singalong-anthem "Sunny Afternoon," the side includes "Dead End Street" and "Autumn Almanac," integral members of the Kinks' fantastic seven-single string of 1966-68: "Sunny Afternoon," "Dead End Street," "Mr. Pleasant," "Waterloo Sunset," "Autumn Almanac," "Wonderboy," and "Days." You could take a complete course in rock melody -- Ray Davies' knack throughout is superlative -- just by listening to these seven singles, and they're all here on Kink Kronikles.
Ray Davies is probably every bit as complicated a person as he seems to be sometimes: Nicky Hopkins has claimed to have done 70 percent of the keyboard work, but Davies is credited on the album. And Davies has claimed that his brother played "all the solos on all our records" -- that he only used Jimmy Page for tambourine, on "Long Tall Sally"!
The Kink Kronikles, for that matter, is more complicated an album than it might at first appear to be. Things start breaking down starting with side three, partly from incohesive programming (which is strange, because the structuring of the first two sides is superb), and partly because nothing ever catches fire.
The inclusion of previously unreleased tracks such as "King Kong" and "Polly," to be sure, is alone justification for the existence of this last half of Kink Kronikles -- an unbelievable 16 of the total 28 cuts on the double album have never before been issued on legitimate American LP -- but that doesn't change the fact that these last two sides don't work. I miss the absence of some good rock and roll -- "Johnny Thunder" or "Big Sky," say -- that would shake things up a little. On the last two sides of Kink Kronikles the soft-rock Kinks simply sound too much like just another effete non-rocking English group, which is not at all what they were.
The Kink Kronikles is really not in any way representative of the Kinks' entire aura. An album without the Kinks' loud, chunky rock and roll is akin to an analysis of Van Morrison without any mention of Them (indeed, considered by some souls as one of the five greatest rock groups of all time...). What makes "Waterloo Sunset" so great is that these are the same guys who did "You Really Got Me." And they still play both of these songs on stage. Unlike the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and numerous others, the Kinks have never renounced one bit of their musical past.
The first two sides of Kink Kronikles do, however, capture perfectly the Kinks' period when they were creating their own highly individual music, totally uninfluenced by current trends. Ultimately, the Kinks are one of the most underdog groups of all time. As Ray Davies put it, "Sometimes it seems as if it's us against the rest of the world." That they've made some extraordinary music all along hardly hurts the case, and Ray Davies' sensibility as expressed in the Kinks' recordings is almost inseparable from the music in the final analysis. Whether or not the Kinks are one of the greatest groups of all time is subjective nitpicking; arguing about it is better suited for beer bars (which is how the Kinks'd have it, I'm sure) than newsprint.
The title, of course, rates an unqualified 100 points.
- Mike Saunders, Rolling Stone, 5/25/72.
To a Kinks freak this album is like manna from heaven. Besides the obvious hits and LP cuts there are at least eight previously only available in Britain tracks included. A standing ovation to Reprise for refraining from putting out a standard greatest hits package. Ray Davies is not so much a great composer (although that is undeniably true) but a chronicler of British life, the Samuel Pepys of the 21st century.
- Billboard, 1972.
There are two kinds of people in the world: Kinks fans and people who don't like rock 'n roll. That's a rather audacious statement, you're right, but in its way this absolutely beautiful two-record set of The Best Of The Kinks' Greatest Hits and Greatest Non-Hits is as bold and daring an album as we can imagine. Not just for what it says, but for what it implies about the nature of the music biz machine of the sixties. For the most part, The Kinks were overlooked, declared pretentious by bubblegummers and forsaken for Blood, Sweat & Tears or some such dribble by those oh-so-hip underground FMers. This album, comprised mostly of tracks previously unreleased in the States, is a kinky kronikle of the late 60s and is a perfect opportunity for late bloomers to catch up with what they've missed. Ray Davies' songs from 1965 sound as if they were written, if not recorded, just yesterday. His ability to remain current marks him as one of the truly great pop writers of our time.
There are more than enough classics here, the brilliantly witty "Lola," the sardonically funny "Village Green Preservation Society," the pervertedly happy "Victoria," the stunningly lovely "Waterloo Sunset," and dozens more.
John Mendelsohn's intelligently analytical liner notes provide the new listener with a perfect introduction to The Kinks. If I were fifteen now, I don't know for sure what this album would do to me, but I think I'd turn sixteen overnight.
- Bruce Harris, Words & Music, July 1972.
Self-konfessed kultist John Mendelsohn has kreated an inkomparible kompilation. Great hits are few -- the Kinks have made U.S. top forty only twice since their first best-of, with "Lola" and "Sunny Afternoon." But great songs abound, assembled with a konnoisseur's kraft (all right, I'll stop) from available (and deleted) LPs, uncollected singles (told you I'd stop), and the vaults. Mendelsohn has little use for Ray Davies the would-be satirist ("Well-Respected Man," etc.), apologizing even for such marginally "boorish" efforts as "King Kong" and "Mr. Pleasant." So we get twenty-eight tracks that concentrate on Davis the lyric realist, the poet of pathos and aspiration, at his tuneful, readymade best. Definitely the world's most charming (and untidy) ripoff artist. And he wrote "Waterloo Sunset," the most beautiful song in the English language. A
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Anyone wanting a well-chosen sampler of the best Kinks work, from half of their stay at Reprise, should start here. Many of the essential tracks are here. * * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
A fine introduction to later-era Kinks has a decent starting point in The Kinks Kronicles, a double set that introduces Americans to the band's excellent late 60s period in a collection as quirkily anthologized as the music itself. * * * * 1/2
- Roger Catlin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Covering the years 1966 to 1970, this double-disc set anthologizes the second act in the Kinks' venerable career. Observational narratives such as "Waterloo Sunset" reveal Ray Davies to be a master miniaturist. "That's what I write about," Davies remarked, "the immense smallness of life."
The Kink Kronikles was chosen as the 231st greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
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