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

191. Unit 4 + 2 – Concrete and Clay (1965)

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I was first alerted to Concrete and Clay when then-former Dexys Midnight Runners singer Kevin Rowland had released a version in 1999 on his covers album My Beauty. At the time, the general opinion was that Rowland was suffering some kind of breakdown, on account of the album cover featuring him in saucy drag and make-up. I found this a bit harsh, until I saw him perform at Leeds Festival around that time. He did indeed appear to have gone a bit mad, performing a short set in drag on his own to a karaoke backing. At one point he shoved his mic in-between the legs of a backing singer and sang into her crotch aggressively. Nobody knew where to look, and bear in mind Iggy Pop once flashed his cock about on the same stage in see-through trousers, that’s saying something.

However, among the odd song choices, there was this enjoyable bossa nova track, which had been the lead single from the album. Only later did I discover it came from one-hit wonders Unit 4 + 2. What was that name all about?

Well. Unit 4 formed in 1962. Brian Parker had been the guitarist and songwriter with the Hunters, an instrumental group that once stood in for the Shadows when they were unavailable for Cliff Richard. He left to join Adam Faith’s backing group the Roulettes briefly, but decided he wanted to ditch the instruments and start up a vocal harmony group. First he asked his friend David ‘Buster’ Meikle to join him, then school friends Tommy Moeller and Peter Moules. Moeller became lead singer, and in 1963 they became Unit 4. Parker soon stopped performing with the group due to ill-health and a dislike of live appearances, so his spot was taken by Howard Lubin. He did however remain behind the scenes to co-write all their material with Moeller.

They were starting to get noticed, but the rise of the Beatles made them realise they needed a beefier sound so they decided to expand to a six-piece, recruiting Rod Garwood on bass and Hugh Halliday on drums. They didn’t see the point in having to begin again with a new name so they took the (sort-of) logical decision to become Unit 4 + 2. They signed with Decca in 1964 and released their first single, a folk-pop tune called Green Fields. That and follow-up Sorrow and Pain went nowhere. For their next single they tried something different.

As already mentioned, Concrete and Clay was built around a bossa nova rhythm, and so didn’t sound like anything else in the charts in 1965. They added to their sound further when Parker invited ex-bandmates from the Roulettes, guitarist Russ Ballard and drummer Bob Henrit to the recording. This distinctive song featured that infectious beat, an acoustic backing and a memorable chorus professing of undying love. Perhaps not enough to get to number 1 separately, but as a package, it was a decent, well-deserved hit.

As was fast becoming the norm, it was pirate radio that had an important part to play in its success, this time, mainly Wonderful Radio London, and one disc jockey in particular, that would go on to become one of the most important of the decade, and beyond: Kenny Everett.

Concrete and Clay could have perhaps gone on to also enjoy US success, but unfortunately for them, Eddie Rambeau released a version shortly afterwards, which in effect split the vote, and both versions stalled. Decca rush-released an LP, the imaginatively titled 1st Album, and Unit 4 + 2 found themselves with that eternal problem all one-hit wonders have. They would try soul and even early psychedelia, but listeners wanted more of the sound that made them famous. But that sound was so ‘them’, if they tried to repeat the formula they were accused of peddling ‘more of the same’. They couldn’t win.

In 1967, Meikle, Garwood and Halliday left. As the Roulettes had also split recently, Ballard and Henrit joined as permanent members, meaning Unit 4 + 2 were now, confusingly, a five-piece. They went in a more ‘rock’ direction at first, then attempted a mroe lavish version of pyschedelia akin to the Moody Blues, but by 1969 the game was up.

Ballard and Henrit teamed up with Rod Argent from the Zombies to become Argent. Ballard wrote and sang their hit God Gave Rock and Roll to You, later covered by KISS, and Hold Your Head Up High. He left the group in 1974 to pursue a career as a songwriter, and did very well, writing So You Win Again for Hot Chocolate, which became their sole number 1 in 1977. Remember Since You’ve Been Gone by Rainbow? That was him, too.

In 1984 Henrit took over from Mick Avory as drummer in the Kinks, and remained until they split for good in 1996. From the rumours cirulating so far, it would appear it will be Avory back on board if the Davies brothers do decide to reform.

The original members disappeared into obscurity, by and large, although Halliday went on to become a director with English National Opera. Despite his ongoing ill health, Parker lived until 2001 when he died suddenly during a game of tennis.

Written by: Tommy Moeller & Brian Parker

Producer: John L Barker

Weeks at number 1: 1 (8-14 April)