With superb songwriting and consummate musicianship, The Kinks were one of the finest bands of the rock era. The stock-in-trade of frontman Ray Davies was penning affectionate odes to people and places close to him. His gentle, lilting vocals make his songs all the more poignant, and the result is a dreamy, romantic reimagining of his life through the medium of the song. This was never more apparent than in the The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
The album celebrates a time gone by and seemingly yearns for it to return – but also offers a wry, sardonic commentary on it too. “I go out of my way to like ordinary things,” Davies once said. “I cling on to the simple values. I thought, well, why not write something about things you truly care about? I wanted a record that would not necessarily get airplay but would be played for friends and at parties, and I achieved that and it didn’t get any airplay at all. It became a cult record. Somebody told me that I preserve things, and I like village greens and preservation societies. The title track is the national anthem of the album…”
It’s a fascinating counterpoint to the genre-defining Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, released by The Beatles the previous year. It studiously avoids countercultural themes and drug allusions, locating itself very much in an unfashionable place that was far away from The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones at the time. It’s more of a lament for the loss of old certainties, than a celebration of the new – in short, more Pet Sounds than Sgt. Pepper. Davies was fascinated with playwright and dramatist Noel Coward, who wrote many hilarious, satirical vignettes about the English. Village Green develops this, and lovingly lampoons a lazy English town full of people obsessed about small things like “strawberry jam and all the different varieties”, while, “preserving the old ways from being abused, protecting the new ways for me and for you…”
Recorded at Pye Studios in London, this sixth studio album by the Kinks is surely their finest work. Released on the 22nd November, 1968, it was also the last of their original line-up. Written over two years, it’s something of a patchwork quilt of an album, and lacks the all-of-a-piece feel of Sgt. Pepper, for example. There aren’t any obvious singles on it either – it’s almost as if Waterloo Sunset was destined to be on Village Green but got out too fast. Perhaps this is why it actually failed to chart upon release, selling around 100,000 copies at the time. Affectionately nostalgic yet raw and rousing, this album was a labour of the love for the band; one it was always destined to release. It went on to have a huge influence on countless British bands across subsequent generations, from The Jam to Oasis. There’s nothing else quite like it.