At a time when the world had gone crazy with experimentation, the ‘loops’, the tapes played in reverse, psychedelia, and 17-minute songs, Ray Davies decided it was time to get nostalgic, to get lost in the days of our youth and memories of the English countryside on the way to extinction. Here there were no trips, nor LSD, nor long solos or ‘jams’, just beer, the countryside, photo albums and lost friends.
The rock world was still flying through the air looking for Lucy and her diamonds, but the Kinks had their feet firmly on the ground. After 3 years of being banned to play in the USA they watched how their mates of a generation became international stars while they were only playing the cabaret circuits. The end of the band seemed near, in fact this was the last record in which original bassist Peter Quaife participated, and the mood was melancholic. Ray Davies, the best observer of pop music history, was feeling older, which brought memories of his childhood, and at the same time another era in England. Simpler times where you could haves cup of tea or a beer in the green countryside.
The idea had been in the back of his mind since he recorded the song Village Green in 1966, and decided to keep it for something more important. One of the things he mulled over was to make a solo album, and the other was to make a kind of pop opera. There’s something of all of this on this record, which in the end involved the whole band, although it turned out to be his most personal record, and definitely his most English one. In an era, the 60s, when being young and modern was the best, the oldest of the Davies decided to defend old traditions, china cups, Sherlock Holmes and virginity. With the album he begins his venture into conceptual records, where all the songs revolve around figures in his youth in the country. A country that was like a refuge from the madness of modern life and the pressure of being famous. Musically it is a real treat with great songs such as the title cut, Picture Book (whose riff would years later be rip off by Green Day), Village Green, Big Sky, Starstruck or Monica. Of course beyond the individual songs, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is a work of art, valued as a whole.
The album opens with a song of the same name, a number Ray referred to as the “national anthem” of the record. The amazing harmonies between brothers are memorable with Ray reciting the things he wants to preserve. Track 2 talks about an old friend, “an echo of a world he knew long ago”, and provides one of the points of the record, “people change, but the memory of people remains”. On the 3rd song Picture Book, Ray Davies declares “Picture yourself when you’re getting old”, just the contrary of what the pop/rock public wanted to do, they hope they die before getting old, they were going to live fast and leave a nice corpse, nobody wanted to look at their parents’ photo albums.
Johnny Thunder starts with a riff that Dave Davies says a renowned fan of the group, Pete Townshend, used in parts of Tommy. Whereas Last of the Steam Powered Train was built on Smokestack Lightnin’ by Howlin’ Wolf, with Dave playing his Telecaster. Big Sky is another wonder from Ray with an incredible interpretation by the band. Dave Davies isn’t Jeff Beck but he knows how to dress his brother’s songs like nobody, adding little touches and riffs here and there, giving a more grit to his wonderful pop songs. On Wicked Annabella, a song in which he also sings, and one of the few moments they move away from the pastoral spirit of the record, Dave Davies uses one of his most beloved guitars, the Guild Starfire, full of ‘feedback’ in his threatening riff, and Quaife is able to quote Bach on his bass.
Then there is Monica with Ray on his Fender Malibu acoustic and Dave dressing it up on his electric, and closing with the ironic People Take Pictures of Each Other, “people take pictures of each other just to prove they really existed”. A song that ends with the following phrase “how I love things as they used to be, Don't show me no more, please”. A reference to photo albums and to looking back on our happy childhood years after immortalised in a photo. Next a highly singable part, perfect for singing in a crowd like they did at the Davies’ household when they were little. Really, this record is Ray’s photo album, tiny instances in his life, happy and sad, his particular Innisfree as in The Quiet Man. Indeed everything on this record serves the SONG, in capital letters, when your leader is one of the best composers of all times, you have to pay tribute to the most important element.
P.S. And we can’t finish a review of this record without talking about the creative peak Ray Davies was living in those days and the enormous amount of songs he recorded at the time, like the unforgettable Days, which after time reached the level of his great classics like Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon and You Really Got Me, with another marvelous melody, and lyrics that fit like a glove with the songs on Village Green.