SUNNY AFTERNOON - THE VERY BEST OF THE KINKS
By Ellena Schuster-Farrell
I press play on Sunny Afternoon: The Very Best of The Kinks with a sigh and a shake of the head, a woman defeated. Here I am, supplementing the pension of yet another elderly rocker by downloading a compilation album of self-proclaimed ‘Hits’. The excuse for The Kinks' most recent offering is of course the Olivier Award-winning musical based on their rise to fame, although it is debateable as to whether this warrants recycling and repackaging well-worn tracks for the umpteenth time. What’s worse, you know Ray Davies is completely taking the piss when he has the audacity to title said album not “The Best Of” but “The Very Best Of”. What comes after that, “The Very Very Best Of”? Followed by “Okay, We Got You The Other Times But These Really Are The Best Ones, Promise”? One can’t help but feel quite the chump when one has fallen victim to clever marketing and a pretty bit of cover art from a band that have released more compilation albums than actual records (I’m not joking, its 32-26).
So it is with a frown and a cynical ear that I sit down to relive the musical journey of the Davies brothers & co. Three big, bold strums and “You Still Want Me” rumbles in, dragging the listener straight into the early sixties: I’m hard-pressed to maintain my cynicism. Starting the record with the band’s second single, an unashamed nod to The Beatles and heavily influenced by that Mersey Beat sound, instantly puts The Kinks in context. This is continued by the first few tracks on the album: decent pop songs, typical of the time, that evoke images of the swinging sixties and put a smile on your face. As a record tying in with a biographical musical, it makes sense that these songs would sit at the top of the track-listing.
The record then goes on to tear through some of the classics – “A Well Respected Man”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and “You Really Got Me” follow on from one another with little respite, and I’m reminded of just how indelible a mark The Kinks have made on rock music. This is where the record gets really interesting: we’re treated to the blues-inspired riffs and distorted guitar of their early material with “You Really Got Me”, and it’s clear why the band are among those credited with the birth of punk and heavy metal. Conversely, “A Well Respected Man” couldn’t be more of a departure from this sound, and there’s satire and comments on the shifting class-system permeating those light-hearted lyrics. And this is perhaps the most enthralling thing about Sunny Afternoon: the many incarnations of the band sit side-by-side, almost haphazardly. Beatlesque boyband harmonies jostle with jarring proto-Punk riffs, which are, in turn, completely at odds with the Music Hall-inspired, storytelling numbers.
Of course, any ‘Best Of’ (Sorry, Ray, I mean ‘Very Best Of’) album is going to include the big tracks: and with a band as prolific in its release of compilation records, it’s safe to say that songs like “Lola”, “Waterloo Sunset” and “Sunny Afternoon” have had more than their fair share of airtime. The true point-earners on these compilations are the extras, the hidden gems that give the average listener a true insight into the band that’s now desperately scrabbling around for a few extra pennies in royalties. In this case, there are arguably enough extras to make purchase worthwhile. I was thrilled, for example, to note the inclusion of “This Time Tomorrow”, an understated, often forgotten, track with a gorgeous melody and melancholically beautiful vocals, which also adds an interesting biographical dimension as it discusses the pressures of stardom. The interviews at the end of the record, referenced also in the West End show, further build on this biographical picture. A personal highlight is definitely the final interview on the record, in which you’ll hear the band being questioned by a squeaky clean American host and having absolutely none of it - every single one of their responses drips with sarcasm and it's incredibly satisfying to listen to.
And this interview is the perfect way to round up the compilation: we're presented with a group of "crazy and way out" (to borrow from the painfully articulate Clay Cole) musicians that don't seem to be taking anything too seriously, yet there's a clever irreverence below the surface. This is a perfect representation of the band - The Kinks have a talent for writing seemingly sunny numbers, yet there's always that intelligent bite to the lyrics, or that distorted riff setting an otherwise ordinary pop song apart from those of their contemporaries. What's more, we can't underestimate the band's overall significance: hits like "Lola" and "Waterloo Sunset" rattle along like well-known nursery rhymes, as a part of our cultural narrative as "London Bridge Is Falling Down". While I do remain a cynic when it comes to bands pimping out their classics for an easy buck, I think in this case we can let them have it. Everyone should have a bit of The Kinks in their collection, and this is as good a starter pack as any. Besides, the taxman's taken all their dough and they could probably do with a few quid.