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.


Alfred Corn said...

Time travel. 1966, just 900 years after the Norman invasion and 22 years after the invasion of Normandy. Those were the days. Five minutes from my door is Dickens-style corner of north London, Little Green Street of the convex bay windows, where, according to a friend more expert in the topic, the Kinks shot one of their MTV videos. Which one would it be? No idea. Maybe you do, George?

George S said...

Ach, Alfred. It's late, so no long reply. Meetings tomorrow, more meetings the next day, and damned marking on trains. I will look up Little Green Street. I don't really know very much about the Kinks, in that I never followed any band that closely at the time. (What was I doing? You may well ask!) My recall is better than my presence, it seems. But, as I recall, there was the occasionally driving, occasionally bitter-sweet, occasionally chirpy, occasionally melancholy music that has stayed with me. So now I investigate a little and begin to remember what it - and I - was like. I suspect that, like those notorious icebergs, I was roughly 87.5% under water. Maybe that's not a bad thing for poets. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Little Green Street was indeed the site for a Kinks video.

"Dead End Street" - Here

George S said...

Thank you, Anon. Your answer here, Alfred.

Mark Granier said...

Beautiful song (and a nice touch to see them perform it in snow). I came to the Kinks very late, probably in my twenties or thirties. When I was 17 I bought my first LP, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, at the urging of my slightly older (and far wiser) cousin. I already knew many Leonard Cohen songs by heart and would sing them, now and again, walking along a street, or at the front seat at the top of the last 46A bus... luckily, I had some good friends who put up with me (and still do), bless em.

George S said...

Mark, I came to everything very late, and I still am. Mind you, Stevie Smith once said she never read a book unless its author had been dead two hundred years.

I used to sing Cohen songs too, picking away at the guitar.