Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Kinks in the Chain - The American Ban - 1965-1969

The Kinks hailed from Muswill Hill in north London and centered on the Davies brothers, Ray and Dave. With Ray's school friend Pete Quaife, they were in various bands together starting in 1961 until forming The Kinks in early 1964. The line-up was completed with the addition of drummer Mick Avory. Initially an R&B/blues outfit, they steadily evolved from their early garage/punk days to become one of the quintessentially English rock bands of 1960s. Along the way, The Kink's story is filled with fights, blown opportunities and a bizarre ban from performing in the USA from 1965-1969.

Things went well on the Kinks' first American tour in the summer of 1965, some things, anyway: the band discovered the pleasures of pizza, malted milkshakes, and buxom groupies. Still the foursome was in turmoil. Earlier that year, guitarist Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory had a fight onstage in Wales, which started with Davies spitting at Avory and ended with Avory hitting Davies over the head with the pedal to his high-hat cymbal. On any given night, the band’s management wasn’t sure how the Kinks would behave: whether they would do a full show, come to blows, or treat the audience to a 45-minute version of "You Really Got Me," as the band's road manager portends. Ray Davies was reported to say that if the only song the audience knew was "You Really Got Me," that was all they were going to play.

Although singer Ray Davies has called tales of the Kinks' American misbehavior "character assassination; a plot to destroy us," sources close to the band confirm that they found trouble wherever they went, at least some of it of their own making. The band skipped a show in Sacramento, Ray Davies punched a union official who kept insinuating that England was already as good as Communist, and they appeared on a Dick Clark special for NBC without paying their mandatory dues to the American Federation of Television and Recording Artists. Years later, Ray Davies mused, "In many respects, that ridiculous ban took away the best years of the Kinks' career when the original band was performing at its peak." He went on to say, "The reason we got banned was a mixture of bad agency, bad management, bad luck, and bad behavior.... So we deserved everything we got.  But it got lifted four years later. We literally signed a confession — it was a confessional. We didn't even read it."

From a commercial standpoint, the ban was horrific, cutting the band off from touring when they were at their commercial peak.  From an artistic standpoint, though, it may have been the best thing to ever happen to them.  It forced Ray Davies to mature, become more introspective and observational (not to mention sober). 

By 1966 and early 1967, however, the musical climate was shifting and bands like the Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones were leading the way from singles-oriented music to AOR. This was manifested most notably with the Beatles' 1965 album Rubber Soul and its 1966 follow-up, Revolver, before they all but disenfranchised singles-based marketing with 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Who did the same with 1967's The Who Sell Out and the Stones followed suit with 1966's Aftermath. It wasn’t that these songs didn’t translate into hits; more that the general quality of the album format had propelled songwriting to its finest moments since the days of the American Standard. The Kinks did the same beginning with their 1966 album Face to Face and with that album, began a run of greatness and staggering quality that included one of this writer’s favorite singles, “Set Me Free, Little Girl.” In 1967 they would release Something Else which included more sophisticated singles like "David Watts" (later covered by The Jam) and "Waterloo Sunset," a pastoral piece a la Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Though The Kinks would go on to gain fame and acceptance in America in the 70s, particularly with a resurgence in play of the phenomenal and iconic “You Really Got Me,” a huge chuck of the 60s eludes their presence in America.