Interview with Ray Davies: The Kinks Stand Alone

There are those who swear The Kinks were the greatest British rock ‘n’ roll band of all time and a decent argument could be made for such. It was 1964 when they unleashed the ferocious “You Really Got Me,” a primal blast pre-dating punk and hard rock with barely controlled anger and one of rock’s greatest riffs. Then, on album after album, they shed their skin anew, evolving, ever-changing in a dramatic Beatlesque growth spurt. Ray wrote his rock-opera, Arthur, in 1969 (arriving right around the same time as The Who’s more celebrated Tommy). Masterpiece Muswell Hillbillies, 1971, used elements of Dixieland jazz, British Music Hall theater and American country all mish-mashed up into a rockin’ Ray statement that was as funny as it was brilliant.

The Kinks were always totally individualistic: Unique, with no historical precedent whatsoever. The Rolling Stones had the blues as their muse. The Beatles had The Everly Brothers. Only The Kinks stood alone with no obvious rock influence. And that voice! Davies’ oh-so-British voice has always been a delectable foreign treat to American ears whether on the gender-bending “Lola,” the controversial “Black Messiah,” the back-to-nature “Apeman” (“give me half a chance and I’ll be takin’ off me clothes and living in the jungle”), or any one of 46 years worth of gems. It’s enough to put Davies right up there with Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards. Only in Ray’s case, his songwriting was always spiced with a Randy Newman-style sense of humor and a Leonard Cohen-style sense of poetry. Picking up a whole new generation of fans in the 1980s, The Kinks finally came to a close in 1996, mostly due to friction between Ray and his lead guitarist brother Dave (another rock first, as bands with feuding brothers like Oasis and The Black Crowes continued the trend).

After some solid solo albums, Ray, 65, feels comfortable enough in his own skin to release The Kinks Choral Collection (Decca), revisiting such Kinks Klassics (as they used to write in the ‘60s) as “Days,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Victoria,” “See My Friends,” “Celluloid Heroes,” “Shangri-La,” Working Man’s Café,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “You Really Got Me” and a stunning six-song suite from what many consider their masterpiece, 1968’s The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. The use of The Crouch End Festival Chorus works surprisingly well on such beloved and timeless tracks, putting these rock ‘n’ roll songs into a classical music context.

We spoke to Ray just prior to a tour which starts in California (with choir) and ends in New York City (with choir) before a blow-out final night at The Wellmont Theater on Nov. 24. No choir. Just Ray leading a five-piece on Kinks Klassics. Is a reunion in the works? All four original members are still breathing!

You certainly had a wealth of material to pick for the new album!

The record company wanted the obvious choices. I wanted to dig a little bit deeper. Some songs I forgot I wrote! On this tour, I’m going to do songs I’ve never played live before. The last night of any tour is always good. The heat’s off. It’s unstructured, loose, fun.

Were you surprised at how well these tracks work in this new context?

Yeah, especially ‘You Really Got Me.’ When it first came out, people said it was like a Gregorian Chant. I used that element for the choir part now before the song starts. So it’s come full cycle. ‘All Day And All Of The Night,’ on the other hand, is a bit of a joke.

I have such an emotional investment in these songs. I’ve sang ‘em in bands, got high to ‘em, made love to ‘em, so to hear them now with a chorale is a beautiful new reimagining.

I was skeptical. The concept came from a TV concert we did. Of course, you’ll never top the original Kinks records. That wasn’t my intention. It’s just a good different way of listening to these songs.

Will there be a Kinks reunion tour?

[Pause] This is the thing. I’ve done a couple of studio sessions with [drummer] Mick Avery. I’ve talked to [bassist] Pete Quaife. We’ve even layed down five demos. The question will be whether [lead guitarist] Dave [Davies] could do it. But there’s certainly every intention from the other three of us. We want to do it. Dave’s the one we’re waiting for. [Besides the fact that the brothers are estranged, there’s also a health issue: Dave suffered a stroke in 2004.]