on September 9, 1998
Pop Kulcher Review: While the Kinks may be better known for their early string of singles ("All Day & All of the Night," etc.) and classic rock hits ("Lola," etc.), some of their most timeless music was the quiet, gentle, and lesser-known stuff from '68-'72, when Ray Davies did some truly original character-based songwriting, and the band traded in their simple riff-rockers for more melodic, moving music. On Village Green Preservation Society, the band nearly gave up rock completely, coming up with a primarily acoustic set of songs, each of which is a character sketch of an inhabitant in a fictional, pastoral English village (reminiscent of the poetry collection Spoon River Anthology). The album is sweet and charming, and hard to believe it came from the same guys as "You Really Got Me." Not that this isn't poppy -- the title song is pretty catchy, as are tracks like "Do You Remember Walter," "Picture Book," and "Johnny Thunder" -- but it's much more subtle, with Davies having enough faith in his lyrics to let them stand up without a fail-safe guitar crunch in the background.
Following the release of SGT. PEPPER'S by the Beatles, it appears that almost every other band in the sixties and early seventies was inspired to do likewise. The Kinks's Ray Davies response in 1968 was seemingly to take Paul McCartney's "When I'm 64" and build an entire album around that song's nostalgia. Although the Kinks had been in one sense the first hard rock band due to the first use of distortion in any rock song in "You've Really Got Me" (whether the guitar was played by session guitarist Jimmy Page as many maintain or Dave Davies as Dave and Ray-not always Dave's most enthusiastic defender, which makes his insistence on this issue more believable-claim may never be definitively settled), but the truth is that they moved over the next few years more and more from the distortion and further and further towards a pop sound. A decidedly pop album with nostalgia as the driving concept would hardly seem to be the recipe for success. If one defines success exclusively in record sales, then THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY was a decided failure, registering the poorest sales of any of their albums to date, but on critical grounds it is in the opinion of many the finest album they ever released.
The sales failure of VILLAGE GREEN partly lies in the fact that the Kinks could not for some undiscovered reason obtain visas to tour the United States during several years in the sixties. As a result, they could release albums in the U.S., but they couldn't tour to support them. VILLAGE GREEN was one of the last albums they released before the ban was lifted and the album's failure in the states definitely hurt. But it is also the most English of all of their albums (with the possible exception of ARTHUR). And with people singing songs about the dawning of the age of Aquarius, an album that sang of old fashioned steam engines and village greens and taking pictures at family outings did not feed into the political and social outrage in much contemporary music.
Today, one can't help but being struck how superb the set of songs on this album are. Ray Davies is a brilliant pop song writer, but the truth is that the Kinks always functioned better as a singles band than an album band. In fact, apart from SOMETHING ELSE, FACE TO FACE, and VILLAGE GREEN, I would recommend the people experience them as a whole through anthologies rather than original albums. But that aside, these are great songs. The title track, "Johnny Thunder," "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains," "Animal Farm," "Starstruck," and "Phenomenal Cat" are all pop masterpieces. The problem is that apart from "Starstruck" they all need the context of the rest of the album to make much sense. There are no ideal singles on the album. But when you put the disc on and listen to it from first to last, you can't help but be struck at how splendid it is as a whole. Furthermore, the album contains an amazingly wide range of instrumentation, Ray Davies, who also produced the album, employing strings and horns to great effect, throwing in the occasional harpsichord, tossing in a flute on "Phenomenal Cat."
This remains one of the great undiscovered rock masterpieces of the late sixties. Ray Davies, one of the great songwriters in the history of rock, was at his absolute best on this album, not only writing a group of stunning songs but creating some of the most unique arrangements of the era. Anyone who loves rock music has to have a few Kinks discs, and this definitely should be one of them.
on July 8, 2000
This is not the punky, power-chording Kinks with simple repetative riffs and unimaginitive compostitions. True, they often resort to using the same key signature throughout (but only a musician would even notice), but the songwriting is superb and creative. The arrangements are lush and melodic, and completely lack the self-consious weirdness that plauged many contemporary British albums (Rolling Stones "Their Satanic Majesties Request" ,Traffic's "Mr. Fantasy", Small Faces "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" etc.). Many of Ray Davies' lyrics are are introspective ("Big Sky"), nostalgic ("Village Green"), and dispite the happy fascade, deal with the sadness inherent in change ("Do You Remeber Walter?"). Some of the songs are slight ("Starstruck", "Phenomenal Cat"), but do not detract from the album's concept or cohesion. Also, it is stylisticly diverse, with music hall ("All of My Friends Were There"), latin ("Monica") and blues ("Last of the Steam-Powered Trains"). Overall, a varied, yet cohesive album with a strong lyrical theme that can stand up to "Pet Sounds", "Seargent Pepper..." and any of the other great 60's classics. Unfourtunatly, it was just a little two British for widespread American appeal.
on January 28, 2002
But why does everyone miss the point of this LP? To me - and ok, I could be wrong - Village Green is about childhood, loss of innocence, about being in that transitional phase between childhood and adulthood. I think the 'old England' setting is largely just a metaphor for that. "How I love things as they used to be" comes immediately afterthe line "Picture of me when I was just three"
Secondly, this is NOT an altogether folky, subdued album. 'Big Sky', 'Johnny Thunder' and 'Steam Powered Trains' rock as hard as anything on 'Something Else'. And it's not altogether a sweet, whimsical album. It's wistful, and often very sad. 'Do You Remember, Walter' and 'People Take Pictures of Each Other' are almost painfully so.
For my money this the Kinks best album. I would give it a dead heat with 'Astral Weeks' as the album of 1968. Any other year, either of those would have won it alone. It also comes close to the beginning of The Kinks purple patch - a 4 to 5 year period from circa 1967 to 1971, when everything Ray Davies wrote was magic. That this corresponded to the period of their least commercial success (up until that time) is criminal. In the late 60's, Davies arguably put more runs on the board than any other songwriter in rock.
on August 14, 2000
I might as well come right out and say it--more than any other, "The Village Green Preservation Society" got me through the dark years of high school, and I give it almost full credit for maintaining my sanity during that time. I discovered the album when I was fifteen; my first impression was that it held some great tracks, but a lot of it--from the melodies to the playing to the mix--seemed muddy and slightly "off". I had already bought and loved "Face To Face" and "Something Else" and enjoyed their perfect pop wizardry, and was left mystified for some months as to why "Village Green" sounded the way it did. Eventually, the pieces of the puzzle began to fit, and as my high school depression got worse by the minute, songs like "Do You Remember Walter?", "Big Sky" and "People Take Pictures Of Each Other" suddenly began to make a lot of sense. And that's when it happened: I found these curiously English songs, with their simple and joyful musical trappings framing Davies' tortured lyrics, oddly soothing.
OK, enough with the autobiography. Put simply, "The Village Green Preservation Society" is the finest concept album in rock history. It is also the only "Dark Night Of The Soul" album which does not sound patently gloomy, depressed or "epic", which makes its achievement all the more impressive. The concept itself is vague, but that is only part of its pure mastery of the form: the songs come at you like conflicting impressions gained through the haze of time, where some narrative links are made but the true connecting factor is that of emotion. Thus, although Davies' quaint Village Green was as far removed from my Los Angeles high school life as possible, I found myself identifying perfectly with the lyrics as if I had written them. The key to all this is that Davies had a knack for tackling extremely weighty, existential topics with a supreme sense of irony, wit and quiet understatement in the guise of a "common man"; thus, he was able to bridge the Kierkeggardian gap between the eternal/absolute and everyday/contingent with a disarming sense of ease. Even the opening title track, which on first impression is nothing more than a simple singalong exhortation to preserve the old, begins to reveal the underlying tension behind its cheery veneer as the rest of the songs unfold themselves; by the time one gets to the closing "People Take Pictures", the existential dilemma of preserving a memory to retain one's identity becomes a tearful, frustrating wail. In sum, Davies proved himself rock's greatest songwriter because he took no rigid points of view on the charming characters he created; he simply told their tales and let you criticize or sympathize (or both). And in creating such a remarkable complexity and ambiguity in his words (for which the playing and mix that I had once deemed "off" now seems so undeniably RIGHT), the answer to all of life's mysteries reveals itself in between the cracks. Buy this album, play it many times, ponder it, marvel at the diversity of the music, the lyrics and the created atmosphere, and thank god that someone out there actually made it, for it has the power to cut through one's psyche like no other.
on May 12, 2004
Born and raised a Beatles fan, I stumbled into Kinkdom only after High School graduation (1978) with the newly released "Misfits". I suddenly realized what a deprived childhood I had.
I worked backwards from "Misfits", stopping along the way to be initially disappointed by "Something Else" (which I outgrew) and blown away by "Arthur". But nothing prepared me for.....this.
"The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society" (VGPS from here on in) is quite simply the best disc I have ever heard. Period.
Better than Rubber Soul, Revolver, and the vastly overrated Sgt Pepper. Better than anything by the Who, Stones, Zeppelin, yada, yada, yada.
And yet, it sold along the lines of 40,000 copies in the LP years (1968-1980 or so) and never cracked the TOP 200. Incredible; it's as if somebody built Disney World on the moon.
The songs? From rock to pure pop to folksy stuff to calypso. All songs run only about 3 minutes or so each (except for 'Last of the Steam Powered Trains', and that weighs in at about 4:11), but almost all are overflowing alternately with wit, charm, brilliance, warmth, regret, longing, loving.
If there are better songs than 'Animal Farm' and 'Big Sky', please show them to me (outside of the Kinks catalogue, of course). 'Johnny Thunder', 'Picture Book', and one of the sweetest pieces of ear candy you'll ever hear, 'People Take Pictures of Each Other', which can best be described as a 2 minute, 15-odd second audio smile.
If there is a "weak" song on this album, I would have to nominate 'Sitting by the Riverside', but that's like criticizing Joe Louis for being slow on his feet.
Recommendation: Get the version of the CD with the 28 tracks, which includes 'Days' and a song that it is hard to believe was written by the same man who gave us "All Day and All of the Night": 'Mr. Songbird'.
I give this CD a rating of a constellation of stars.
on November 12, 1999
Like the "Picture Book" the Kinks sing about, VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY is like a collection of snapshots of an England which probably only existed in Ray Davies' mind. Like it's contemporary "Sgt. Peppper's", which it was undoubtedly influenced by (as were so many others at the time), this album opens with a title track finding the band in the guise of staunch upholders of a nostalgic tradition. From there it moves through a series of vividly created characters: the long-lost boyhood chum in "Do You Remember Walter", the small town rebel in "Johnny Thunder", the "litle girl" who's far from home in "Animal Farm", the neighborhood hag in "Wicked Annabella",....I could go on and on. There's "Last of the Steam Powered Trains" featuring a suitably Yardbirds-ish rave-up, the tragi-comic music hall style of "All of My Friends Were There", even a take on the God-question in "Big Sky". The album closes with "People Take Pictures of Each Other", which paradoxically trashes the whole notion of trying to freeze time. As a loose "concept" album, V.G.P.S. expounds on already familiar Kinks themes and so should not be considered an imitation of "Pepper". The songs stand up against anything Messrs. Lennon and McCartney were producing at the time. Played in typical boozy Kinks style, this album is a gem, not to be missed.
The Who's Pete Townsend once said that Ray Davies of the Kinks should be a poet laureate of England. Strong words of praise, but "The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society" is strong enough on its own to make me agree.
During their heyday, the Kinks compiled as substantial and consistent a body of work as anyone in classic rock. Still, while the other three horsemen of the 1960s British Invasion--the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who--rode on to conquer the world, the Kinks remained relegated to also-ran status. Win, place, show--and after that, the Kinks, sadly lumped in on Starbucks compilation CDs with the likes of Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Dave Clark Five.
As to why this happened, theories abound. Some blame the fact that they couldn't tour the U.S. during their most productive years. Others say their music is more particularly British than, say, the Beatles. Rather than singing about universal and easily translated themes like love and loss, the Kinks sang about English country life, tiny towns with village greens and quaint squares and peaceful rivers. There, to paraphrase Thom Yorke, everything was in its right place; old people maintained an air of reserved politeness while drinking their afternoon tea on lace-covered tables, and youngsters thrilled with the pleasure of a simple first kiss. Such things don't sell well in America, or in the world at large, and they didn't necessarily fit in with the anything-goes forward-thinking groupthink of the late 1960s.
But if time is the ultimate judge, this album will ensure the Kinks are judged second to none. Ray Davies reportedly wrote it as a response to the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", as a commemoration of culture rather than a herald of counter-culture, another masterwork--besides the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds"--against which the Beatles supposed high point must be compared. Because of that, this feels--at least to me--more timeless and valuable than Sgt. Pepper's. In the mind's eye, past and future alike can be made flawless, and endlessly compared with the imperfect present. But past images of the future--even the near future--always seem wrong-headed once the future gets here, whereas the past itself never returns to contradict our fuzzy memories of it. Simple pleasures often metamorphosize in memory to golden perfection.
Of course, realities are never that simple. The future won't be perfect, and the past never was. Ray Davies doubtless understood that; this album has a decidedly tongue-in-cheek feel that shows he is in on the con. On the album's title track, he says he is "Saving the old ways from being abused/Protecting the new ways, for me and for you." But there is a passive-aggressiveness and a futility inherent in such vigorous efforts, as evidenced by the snide second track, "Do You Remember Walter?" a timeless meditation on how the fiery idealism of youth mellows and fades into flabby middle age, and how we nonetheless often refuse to accept it when people don't play the roles they used to play in our lives. "I bet you're fat and married now and always home in bed by half past eight/And if I talked about the old times you'd get bored and have nothing more to say," Davies' narrator sings to an old friend from youth, then caps it off with a dynamite line I always wish I'd written: "Yes, people often change/But memories of people can remain."
There are far more pleasures on this album--a harpsichord on "The Village Green" that makes me deliriously happy every time I hear it, a hilariously cynical take on God in "Big Sky" that I never agree with but never fail to enjoy, a charging little song called "Johnny Thunder" that always hits the sweet spot between sweet and sour. And like all classics, it gives new gifts with every revisiting. But that simple line in "Walter" sums up why I love this album. Even though I'm a melancholy Irish-German and this is an all exuberant Englishness, I'd probably put it on my proverbial list of five desert-island CDs. Like all great works of art, it manages to be about far more than itself, for in singing about the aforementioned particulars of English life, the Kinks uncover many larger truths--about nostalgia and longing, and the ways in which we distort the past to save it from destruction.
on July 28, 2007
Released in 1968, this may very well be the Kinks' masterpiee. Village Green Preservation Society is a concepat album, a cycle of songs that collectively paint a portrait of a long-gone England that may never have been. It's incredibly evocative music, bringing to mind images of pastoral small towns, cups of tea, Sherlock Holmes, and chugging steam-powered trains with the feel of an old, yellowed photograph. Now, this may seem like a recipie for a pretentious, dull, and downright laughable album, but the concept is pulled off brilliantly. For one thing, Ray Davies' character sketches are fascinating, touching, and funny, full of life and warmth. Similarly, the music is lush and nuanced, a mixture of rock and pop with tinges of folk, blues, and even psychedelia (listen to the way that "Sitting By The Riverside" flirts with atonality). The album nevr slips into empty nostalga or whimsical cheesiness- the evocative images are balanced by humor and social commentary- For example, "Do You Remember Walter," superficially a beautiful recollection of a childhood friend, is a striking study of the loss of one's innocence and idealism, while "Picture Book" is a cynical jab at disfunctional family relationships. In general, the album's sense of yearning for a simpler past casts a strong light on the turbulant issues of the present (remember, this came out in 1968).
But the most important thing to remember is that this is simply a collection of great songs. There's the lush, evocative title track, with its rousing chorus and catchy verses, while "Last Of The Steam Powered Trains" is a slab of rough, wheezing blues rock with a great high-speed instrumental break. The afformentioned "Do You Remember Walter" really is a beautiful song, with soaring, dreamy vocals. There's also the quintessentially nostalgic "Village Green" (a different song from the title track), and the vaudville-esque humor of "All Of My Friends Were There." Every song has its own unique charm, and they combine to form a true masterpiece. Gotta love it!
I love '60s rock-- and until yesterday I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of it. "The Kinks? Yeah, I've got their Greatest Hits CD." I figured I had them covered, since besides "Lola", their only songs that get any airplay (on classic rock and/or oldies stations) are found on the Greatest Hits disc. Well, yesterday I bought the Village Green cd-- the import that also includes the 12 track stereo version of the album (with a slightly different track listing). For the first time in many moons I couldn't resist starting the cd right back at the beginning as soon as I finished listening to it. I couldn't/can't believe what I've been missing out on. The poignancy of the lyrics as well as the melodies is absolutely breathtaking. I feel like I did when I first discovered the albums of the Velvet Underground. While the Kinks are nowhere near as obscure as the Velvets (who never had a hit), the music on this album is not exactly well-known to a wide audience. That is a shame, since it is so beautiful-- but it's also kind of cool since it came as such a surprise to me. Anyway, for more details on the actual content, see some of the other reviews here. I'll end this by saying that I ordered several more Kinks albums today.