Sunday, 9 January 2011
Kinks 3 Sunny Afternoon
Sunny Afternoon, Summer 1966
Released on 3 June 1966, just eight days before the World Cup kicked off, this was the music for that summer. I leave out A Well Respected Follower of Fashion because, though it is an important part of the band's development as social commentators, musically - and actually in terms of words too - it isn't far off Chas and Dave simplicity. Even so, the first hard chords are nicely followed by a suprising switch to a fairly charming 'live' tinniness.
Summer Afternoon is a different matter. Its release coincided with another classic, The Lovin' Spoonful's Summer in the City, which also uses those ominous descending notes.
The lyrics are voiced for a figure in a stately home. The air is of slow degeneracy and waste. Noel Coward's marvellous The Stately Homes of England tells of economic decline: this suggests a moral one too (tales of drunkenness and cruelty). The words don't do very much with the story but they draw a nice simple picture of taxman and girlfriend and car and yacht while the singer sits with an ice cool beer. This is no big deal in itself except it's a poignant tune and that plaintive Davis voice, with its edge of cruelty, brings it to a nice bloom. Nor is it so much the lyrics in isolation as the sense, pretty new at the time, of a pop lyric engaged with a subject a long way out of the usual pop range. It was intriguing for that reason and for the sweet barbed sadness of it.
It was interesting too from another perspective, in that it was the beginning of the Ray Davies project to deal with England as a place. There is an evolving vision there which is very much post-war. Too sharp and critical to be nostalgia but not altogether unaffectionate, it was like noticing the ground slipping from under the country's feet. The fashionable mod in Dedicated Follower of Fashion and A Well-Respected Man (below) and the decadent figure in this stately home are some of the earlier citizens.
In 1966 I am seventeen most of the time. My parents have voted in Harold Wilson (again), and we are in the third year of the white heat of the technological revolution. It's the last year of the house in Kingsbury from where I can walk to school or ride the bike. I feel I am failing at everything, but I walk home with my intellectual friend, David, who lives a few streets down and enjoys reading scores while listening to classical music. He is a better scholar, knows more about music and plays proper chess. He is far left of Harold Wilson though his father runs a small shirt factory. David suffers badly from acne and we - I have this awful nose - are a pair of romantic non-starters, though I have fallen in love at least five times by now. Ah, hopeless, hopeless love! David plays rugby, I play football. Weekends are a blank. Our home Sundays are spent playing rummy or bridge. Occasionally I go bowling at Wembley Bowl with a group of friends who are hardly friends and who make me feel even more awkward. But not on Sunday. Sunday is ordained family day. There is no escape. Family is the iron grip I have learned to live in.
It seems to have been like that for ever but from 1963, or maybe late 1962, this new bright music has been blowing through the house, at least through my hidden corners of it, through my brain cells, and has had some beneficent effect on my spirits too. The Kinks, among others, make me think it might be possible to both feel and think in this ready-made form. I feel part of the music which is beyond the grave nobilities and desolations of the sanctioned orchestral music played on the official domestic radiogram (Beethoven's odd-numbered symphonies, Tschaikovsky, Bruch, Brahms, and the occasional - please God no! and yet seductive - Johann Strauss.)
It is not altogether doom, though I do feel that the scandalous secret of my life will be that I have had no scandalous secrets. Poetry is just around the corner in those thin books in the school library. Harold Wilson puffs at his pipe and Bobby Moore lifts the World Cup. Meanwhile, I am living 'this life of luxury, lazing on a sunny afternoon'. A well-respected man? Don't make me laugh.