218. The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon (1966)

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11 July saw the FIFA World Cup begin in England with the home team drawing against Uruguay 0-0. However by the time the 20 July came, they were top of their group, with wins against Mexico and France, both 2-0 up. And the best was yet to come.

The day after the tournament began, the Rhodesia saga continued with Zambia threatening to leave the Commonwealth over British peace overtures. On 14 July, Gwynfor Evans was elected as Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, becoming the first ever Plaid Cymru MP. Two days later, Prime Minister Harold Wilson flew to Moscow in order to begin peace negotiations over the Vietnam War, but the Soviet Government refused to help. And although life in the UK that summer is remembered as being a prosperous, positive time, 20 July saw the start of a six-month wage and price freeze.

That day marked the end of the Kinks’ third and final stint at number 1, with the classic Sunny Afternoon. Since Tired of Waiting for You had ruled the charts, the group had released singles of varying quality. The best of the bunch was the droning, proto-psychedelic See My Friends in the summer of 1965. Released four months before Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), it is considered to be one of the first pop songs to incorporate an Indian raga sound.

Tensions were emerging within the group in a very public way, and it wasn’t just Ray and Dave Davies that were known to scrap. Drummer Mick Avory and Dave fought on stage that May in Cardiff, with Avory fleeing the scene after knocking out Davies with his hi-hat stand, in fear he had murdered the guitarist. The drummer later told the police it was just a new part of their live show where the Kinks would throw instruments at each other.

The foursome’s chances of making an impact in the US were given a severe knockback when the American Federation of Musicians refused to allow the band permits for the next four years. Ray Davies believed this to have stemmed from him throwing a punch at a TV crew member who had launched into a tirade of anti-British comments at him. But it wasn’t just in the US that Davies was treated with condescension. He was treated with disdain by upper-class fellow guests at a luxury resort. Those guests helped bring about a marked shift in the direction of the Kinks, and the one which marked out Davies as one of the country’s greatest songwriters.

Well Respected Man, released that September, was the first instance of the band taking inspiration from music hall for their sound, with Davies satirising the British class system. From here on in, nobody could write barbed lyrics about life in England quite like Ray Davies. In February 1966 they released one of their best singles, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, taking aim at London’s fashion scene. The power-chord rock of You Really Got Me that originally brought them fame must have seemed a long time ago.

Despite their developing sound bringing them success, Ray Davies was not a happy man. The squabbling within the group and pressures of recording and touring had brought about a breakdown while working on their third album in late-1965, The Kink Kontroversy. Before writing Sunny Afternoon, Davies had bought a white, upright piano but in his depressed state he was struggling to come up with any new songs. He would listen to Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan over and over for inspiration, but was getting nowhere.

Eventually, like the Beatles on Taxman, released later that summer as the opening track to Revolver, Davies began by complaining about the state of the Labour government’s tax system. As good an opening line as ‘The tax man’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home, lazing on a sunny afternoon’ was, Davies wisely realised the public might not feel much sympathy for a rich rock star like him, and so the song evolved into the complaining of a loaded aristocrat who had inherited his money but fallen on hard times. He tried to make the character unloveable, adding that his girlfriend claimed he was cruel when drunk to help make record buyers dislike the protagonist.

You could argue that Davies failed in this however, because Sunny Afternoon is so damn charming. A lot of that is down to his brilliant delivery of the lyrics, which conjure up a tipsy, loaded n’er-do-well. It’s one of their most memorable tunes, and one of the best songs of the mid-60s.

Over the years though, I feel that perhaps the message of the song has become somewhat lost in translation in mainstream culture, and is now often used simply to portray the ‘great British summer’. Never mind the fact this guy was probably beating up his partner, lets just have a drink, enjoy the sun and sing along, yeah? That’s not the fault of the Kinks, however. It actually shows the genius of Davies, to be able to hide such biting lyrics within a catchy pop classic.

Although Sunny Afternoon was their last number 1, his genius would continue through the 1960s and early 70s, with albums like The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and particularly singles like Waterloo Sunset and Days. Dave Davies would also prove himself to be a great songwriter with solo singles Death of a Clown (co-written with his brother) and Susannah’s Still Alive. Such great work didn’t always equate to hits at the time, though, and much of their best material has only grown in popularity long after release.

In early 1969 bassist Pete Quaife told the rest of the band he was leaving, despite Ray’s pleas for him to stay. He was replaced with John Dalton, who had filled in for him in the past. Their ban in the US was finally lifted, and they added John Gosling as a permanent keyboardist (Nicky Hopkins had filled this role on their recordings previously) when recording Lola. Their last true great single, this tale of an encounter with a transvestite was a top ten hit here and in the US.

The mid-70s were a tough time for the band, with Ray’s family problems causing him to collapse from a drug overdose after announcing he was retiring on stage in 1973. He focused on writing rock opera rather than pop instead, which was poorly recieved. Dalton claims that Ray has never been the same since this breakdown, and he left the group in 1976. Their fortunes improved over the next few years, helped along by the Jam citing them as a major influence and releasing their version of David Watts as a single.

In 1983 their single Come Dancing performed better than anything they had released in years, and they were back on Top of the Pops with a number 12 single, but personal problems came to the fore once more. Ray fell out with Dave over solo projects, Ray’s relationship with Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde ended badly, and Dave finally refused to work with Avory any longer. He was replaced by Argent member Bob Henrit, but thanks to Ray he would contribute occasionally. Line-up changes continued, but Avory and Quaife did show up when the Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Despite their public profile improving considerably in the mid-90s thanks to Britpop, one of the best UK groups in music finally chose to call it a day. They played together to celebrate Dave’s 50th at the Clissold Arms pub, where the Davies brothers musical journey had begun years ago.

A year later I saw Ray Davies for the first time at a sodden Glastonbury Festival, where he performed a mostly acoustic set of the classics. One of the few times I felt summery that weekend. When I next saw him there, during a blazing hot festival with my wife in 2010, Quaife had just died, and the highlight of another great show was a very emotional Davies dedicating Days to his former bassist and friend. He broke down several times while performing it. It was a very different show to 1997, his voice not as effective, but he was bolstered by a choir and both shows were great for different reasons.

Rumours of a Kinks reunion have never gone away, and baby boomers the world over were delighted to hear that the feuding brothers appeared to have finally buried the hatchet and a reformation was announced, with Avory also returning. Unfortunately, nothing seems truly concrete yet, but it is believed they will be working on a new album. No doubt it won’t match the glory days (few groups can), but I’d love to see Davies one last time at Glastonbury, this time with his brother and Avory alongside him.

Written by: Ray Davies

Producer: Shel Talmy

Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 July)

Births:

Actress Tamsin Grieg – 12 July
Presenter Johnny Vaughan – 16 July

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