Rarely are an artist’s unreleased tracks worth our attention. Apart from The Velvet Underground's stellar offcuts there’s one other exception: The Kinks. “Something Else” (1967), “Village Green Preservation” (1968) and “Arthur” (1969) are untouchable LPs, but from this their greatest period there is much else besides. Ray Davies was for a time touched by an unearthly genius and wrote a slew of songs which never graced an LP proper.
A number of these tunes found their way on to the lovely “Great Lost Kinks Album”. This was issued cheekily by Reprise in America in 1973, but upon discovering its release Ray Davies started legal action against the label and the disc was subsequently deleted.
Many bootlegs have circulated in the intervening years but recently these marvels have seen the light in Sanctuary’s exhaustive Kinks reissue programme (cf the extended “Deluxe” CD editions of their original LPs) as well as on recent compilations like “Picture Book” and “The Anthology 1964-1971”. However, the best of these songs can be rather swamped amid stereo takes, BBC recordings, instrumental versions and interview snippets. Accordingly I’ve wrapped up thirteen of my faves in a Spotify playlist.
I won’t go into the songs and their genus in detail. One thing though which seems remarkable to me is the sheer cliff from which Davies' creativity fell after 1969's "Arthur". Critics hold a candle for "Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Vol. 1" (1970) and even "Muswell Hillbillies"(1971) I simply can't hear it at all. The last Kinks song I can feel is brother Dave's "Strangers", used like many other of their tracks by auteur Wes Anderson. It's as though Ray forgot to tell Dave the sixties were over.
Much is made of the Kinks' ban from America at the hands of the musician unions - but clearly it was the making of them. On a more profound level, restriction was necessary to their endeavour. In much the same way Ray's unfettered ambitions spiral out into musical theatre with mixed appeal - the latest manifestation of which has hit London's West End. The real attraction is of course a Muswell Hill of the mind, something these unheralded, supremely atmospheric demos capture in spades.