Ray Davies is inarguably (inarguably ? unarguably ? You know what I mean right ?) one of the UK’s greatest ever songwriters and “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society" goes a long way to explaining why this is so. It’s an album concerned with the cultural and social changes ripping through Britian, and the rest of the world, in the 1960’s. Davies was concerned about the influence of American culture on Britain (some of us still are !). Released in 1968 it was The Kinks first album that failed to chart in either the UK or US, critics loved it, the record buying public (yes, them again) didn’t !
At its core, the album is a nostalgic ode to a quickly disappearing way of life, the Enid Blyton/Famous Five idyll of some sketchy period in the 1940’s and ’50’s which Brexiters hanker after but may never have actually existed except in children’s books. Ray Davies paints vivid pictures of small-town England, its traditions, and the people who inhabit it. The songs are beautifully crafted, filled with delightful melodies and whimsical but insightful lyrics.
The album opens with its title track which sets the scene, a celebration of the simple pleasures in life, a heartfelt anthem for preserving what was, in the face of what is to come. It’s been done to death by too may people at Open Mic nights but it doesn’t make it any less of a great song
“Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways, for me and for you
What more can we do ?”
That’s followed by "Do You Remember Walter?" a song that always makes me think of our friend Matthew (his nickname was Walter). Listening to it here for the first time since his tragic passing earlier this year makes me wanna smile and cry in equal measure and music that can do that should be treasured
“Do you remember, Walter, smoking cigarettes behind your garden gate?
Yes, Walter was my mate, But Walter, my old friend, where are you now?”
"Picture Book," continues exploring the idea of memories, identities, and the passage of time, I shall try and forget how it was used in an advert for HP printers (or somesuch nonsense). “Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains”, shall we say, “borrows” the riff from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” to tell the story of the end of steam trains, and how the passage of time affects us all and what we can continue to do
“Like the last of the good ol' puffer trains
I'm the last of the soot and scum brigade
And all this peaceful living is drivin' me insane”
Musically this is very much not The Kinks of “You Really Got Me” and “Til The End Of the Day”. Those records had a big influence drawn from American R&B whereas this (apart from the aforementioned Howlin’ Wolf steal) is decidedly English in nature, very folky. The Kinks had been blacklisted in America in 1965 after some “bad behaviour” on a US tour and didn’t go back for 5 years. Ray Davies has cited this effective ban as being responsible for his concentration on English focused music and lyrics. The lyrics here reflect that very English pastoral poetry of Blake and Wordsworth and a yearning for an idealised rural past.
“The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society" is a classic whose exploration of change still makes sense today. Its stories of nostalgia, identity, and the preservation of the past are universal, we all at times hanker for a past that will never come back.
"Do You Remember Walter?" - https://youtu.be/Erhio9iZpSU?si=kPND2sL5jrwktrqT