The Kinks at 60, here are their 10 best albums

Posted: May 7, 2023 by John Ruberry in culture, entertainment
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By John Ruberry

The Kinks are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their founding. In March, the legendary band released a two-CD compilation, The Journey – Part 1 (1964-1975), which is a great place to acquaint yourself with these wonderful performers. 

To further immerse yourself with the Kinks, I have determined what I believe are their ten-best albums. 

By the way, what is one test to ascertain if someone is intelligent? Well, if a person is a Kinks fan, then you found smart guy or gal.

The Kinks were founded in 1963 in Muswell Hill in North London. The heart of the band are the Davies (pronounced Davis) brothers, Ray, the principal songwriter, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist, and Dave, lead guitarist, and occasional songwriter, who sometimes sings lead. Mick Avory is the drummer.

The band broke up in the 1990s, Avory departed the band in 1984. Over the years the Kinks, first a quartet then a quintet, had a series of bassists and keyboardists. Although they haven’t toured or recorded since then, the Davies brothers reformed the Kinks in 2018, Avory is included as a member.

Last summer, at Skokie’s Backlot Bash, an annual event held near my home north of Chicago–the festival coincidentally honors another English phenomenon–Charlie Chaplin–local band Tribotosaurus put on a Kinks show. In his introductory remarks, the band’s lead singer remarked, “The Kinks are the forgotten band of the British Invasion.” Quite true.

Early Kinks tours were tumultuous affairs as they fought each other and anyone else in their way. “At the height of our success in the 1960s,” the narrator in Ray’s solo song ‘Invaders’ explained, “the Kinks were banned from touring the USA for four years, when we did return, we toured the USA relentlessly, tour after tour. Year after year. To win back what we’d lost.”

Who was behind that ban? The American Federation of Musicians. And those years spanned from 1965-1969, musically they were transformational years when rock was transformed from being pop music into an art form.

Here is one account about why the ban occurred, but there are many others.

While what became into the holy trilogy of British rock–the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Who–looked outward musically, Ray and the Kinks turned introspective during their ban from America. For inspiration, they turned to the British music hall songs they learned from the parents. Music hall, the UK version of vaudeville, also describes a style of music. Famous music hall tunes that you probably have heard include, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag,” and “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am.” Hermans Hermits scored a hit with the last one in 1965. 

That sounds horrible for the Kinks, right? 

Wrong. The Kinks’ best work was recorded during their “lost period” in America. Only two Kinks singles charted in the United States from 1967-1969, and they peaked deep in the bottom half of Billboards’ Hot 100. But the hits kept coming in Britain and elsewhere. 

The Kinks have been cursed with bad luck– and some of those wounds were self-inflicted. In their last album with new material, the mostly-live album To The Bone, Ray looked back in his introduction to their song, “I’m Not Like Everyone Else.” Of that composition he said, “It kind of sums up what we’re all about, the Kinks, because everyone expects us to do wonderful things, and we mess it all up, usually.”

The Kinks’ bad luck even extended to that Tributosaurus gig in Skokie. The band pumped out four great classic Kinks songs, but then a Caddyshack-level thunderstorm struck, which forced the rest of the show, as well as the final night of the Backlot Bash, to be cancelled. 

Even if the Kinks’ career consisted of one song, “You Really Got Me,” their international hit from 1964, their place in rock and roll history would be secure. That power cord classic inspired four rock genres, heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock, and new wave.

But there is so much more to the Kinks.

Let the countdown begin. 

Not before, that is, a big shout out to the USA-only compilation The Kink Kronikles. That collection not only does a great job covering the Kinks’ “lost years” in America, but it contains such wondrous non-album singles such as “Wonderboy,” “Autumn Almanac,” and “Days.” Those singles, however, often appear on extended versions of some of these albums you’ll soon learn about.

But I’m reviewing the original releases.

10) Give the People What They Want (1981): There are some strong tracks here, particularly “Destroyer,” where Ray rips off himself with an homage to the Kinks’ earlier hit, “All Day and All of the Night.” The Kinks were firmly ensconced in the arena rock phrase of their career when this collection was released, and “Around the Dial” captures that era in just under five minutes. On the other hand, the best track here, “Better Things,” reaches back to that “lost period.” The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, with whom Ray had a romantic relationship at the time, contributes background vocals on four songs.

9) Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975): Beginning in the early 1970s the Kinks recorded a series of concept albums. During supporting tours, these efforts were presented as low-budget stage shows. The last such Kinks “musical” offers a huge helping of 1950s-styles rock, along with a look back at the Kinks power-chord early days. But it betrays Kinks bad luck too. The “rock and roll revival,” rocks first nostalgia movement, which was partially inspired by the Beatles White Album, had run its course by 1975. Power chord music would bounce back in the late 1970s. Wrong place, wrong time. “The Hard Way” would have been a hit in 1979, the same year the Knack scored a number one smash with “My Sharona.” Ironically, the next year the Knack covered “The Hard Way.” Other strong tunes here include “Education,” “No More Looking Back,” and “Jack the Idiot Dunce.”

8) Sleepwalker (1977): The Kinks’ first non-thematic album in nearly a decade, Sleepwalker was a mainstream effort that proved that the band could still rock as well as anyone else. The title track, “Juke Box Music,” “Life on the Road,” and “Life Goes On” are the best tracks.

7) The Kink Kontroversy (1965): In the mid-1970s, Van Morrison recorded an album titled A Period of Transition. That would be fitting moniker for this collection, the Kinks’ third album. “Till the End of the Day” was their last power chord hit. Very early in their career the Kinks recorded many blues rock songs, and there are some on this offering, the best of which here is “Gotta Get the First Plane Home.” Another shining moment, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” is sung from the perspective of a middle-aged man, but written by Ray, who was 21 at the time. It foreshadows future greatness.

6) Muswell Hillbillies (1971): We’ll hear about the predecessor to this collection, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One soon, but that album brought the Kinks back to prominence and a well-deserved place, albeit briefly, at the head table of rock’s elite. You remember Ray’s remark about the Kinks–that “everyone expects us to do wonderful things, and we mess it all up, usually.” Not that Muswell Hillbillies is bad. Far from it. But the “Lola” album was mostly a hard rock effort, and the Kinks certainly confused its new American fan base with Muswell’s country rock and music hall flavor. Besides the title tune, “20th Centry Man,” “Oklahoma USA,” and “Have a Cuppa Tea” are standouts.

5) Face to Face (1966): Ray emerged as a first-rate storyteller here. While not a concept album, a minor narrative can be found on Face to Face with “A House in the Country,” “Most Exclusive Residence for Sale,” and “Sunny Afternoon,” the Kinks last American hit until 1970. “Holiday in Waikiki” was composed during the Kinks’ disastrous 1965 tour. And had Buddy Holly not taken that fateful airplane flight in 1959 in Iowa, he may have been writing songs like “I’ll Remember” in 1966.

4) Something Else by the Kinks (1967): This is the Kinks most-music hall album. “Harry Rag” might be the most typical of this collection, as “Harry Rag” is old British slang for a cigarette and it’s a sing-a-long tune, and many music hall tunes were written with audience participation in mind. Dave sings lead in a Ray/Dave composition, “Death of a Clown.” But “Waterloo Sunset,” a smash hit just about everywhere except in America, is the best song here, and arguably the Kinks’ greatest recording.

3) Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970): In the United States, other than “You Really Got Me,” the sorta-title track “Lola,”which is about a strange encounter with what we now call a transgendered woman, is the Kinks best-known song. It was an international hit–and a second single from this album, “Apeman,” also did well as a single. A Dave tune, “Strangers,” is an eerie song about friendship that is one of the Kinks most covered works. This album is yet another band “mess up,” because there was never Part Two. Oh, I nearly forgot, “Get Back in Line” tells the story of worker who a capricious union boss refuses to hire. Yes, it’s a musical punch at the American Federation of Musicians.

2) Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969): It wasn’t their fault, but here’s another Kinks “mess up,” albeit a brilliant one. Arthur is the soundtrack for a television movie, but that film was never made, although it’s not the fault of the Davies et al. This wondrous collection starts off with the rollicking “Victoria,” the band’s hardest rocker since 1965. “Shangri-La,” a sprawling epic, looks, not so fondly, at the British class system. “Some Mother’s Son” ranks with the best anti-war songs ever written.

And number 1 is:

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968): Released the same day as the Beatles White Album, VGPS, another music hall-inspired gem, has Ray telling stories about a sleepy English village. Like the central character of his “Autumn Almanac,” in regard to the title track, it’s difficult to fathom if Ray is celebrating, presumably at least, the little old ladies who are members of the Village Green Preservation Society, or mocking them, as he sings, “God save little shops, china cups and virginity.” Don’t forget, we’re in 1968 here. “Do You Remember Walter” looks at the inevitable disappointment when childhood dreams don’t match up with adult reality. The mellotron driven “Phenomenal Cat” is about a legendary, in the imagination of “idiot boys,” flying feline, who, after traveling the world, decides the best life him is to live in a tree and pursue obesity. While “Animal Farm,” which has nothing to do with the George Orwell novel, views rural life more fondly.

There is no rock album quite like VGPS. XTC’s masterpiece, “Skylarking,” thematically comes close.

If you don’t like my choices, well, that’s why we have a comments section here.

And finally, God save the Kinks.

John Ruberry has seen the Kinks twice in concert, both times in Champaign, Illinois. He usually blogs at Marathon Pundit.

  1. Lanny says:

    Awesome review from a dedicated kinks fan since 1964 – Kontroversy is the album that got me hooked for life – as a 16 year old teen living in East Africa via my dad being in the – I didn’t want to be there so the songs Got to get the first home and Im on an Island really hit me hard – the kinks have 700 songs in their catalog – so many GREAT songs that never get airplay ……Around the dial-holiday romance-I need you-alcohol live-artificial man-only a dream-moments-still searching-big sky-animal-pictures in the sand-ladies of the night-holiday live-the list goes on and on …..GSTK!

  2. 10 strong selections. And the comments are very honest and real. As I ve said in many music comments environments. Ray is the Van Gogh of Contemporary Pop music. And will be deeply and more appreciated with the Kinks after his passing.

    The songs, the storytelling, the overall music compositions will be even more appreciated and popular after his passing.

    And the brilliance of capturing what happening at the time, the past, the future is captured with great tongue-in-cheek as well.

  3. Georg Kaufmann says:

    Dear John!
    Thank you very much for that really competent comments on your favourite Kinks-lp’s. I’m a a kinks fan since ‘You really got me’. At the time ialmost was 12 years and I knew the Beatles and the Rolling Stones because of my elder sister. I felt there came a new music and it really was. I agree with most of your ranking, but I’m not sure about the 80’s albums and ‘Phobia’. It is hard for me to leave them out.
    Many kind regards
    Georg Kaufmann
    from Germany

  4. Jeff Z says:

    I was the oddball as the Kinks were always my favorite Invasion band. My favorite album, not on here, was “The Great Lost Kinks Album.”

  5. GREG D says:

    My top 10:
    1. Lola vs. Powerman
    2. Arthur
    3. VGPS
    4. Something Else
    5. Face to Face
    6. Schoolboys in Disgrace
    7. Great Lost Kinks Album
    8. Give the People What they Want
    9. Sleepwalker
    10. Misfits
    Honorable mention; the many great Kinks singles and B-sides that weren’t on proper albums, such as compilations like Kronikles, or Anthology

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  7. Tim Smith says:

    Another Kinks fan here. They and The Who were my bands, as most of my friends followed the Stones and Led Zeppelin.

    I saw The Kinks live in Seattle at the Paramount around 1977. Great show and we ran into Ray being ushered into his limo as we took a short cut back to our car after the show. He was surrounded by security but we weren’t more than 10 feet from him. One of us called out “Great show, Ray” and he gave a little wave and smirked at us. I remember also the opening band was the late, great Seattle band The Heats.

  8. Whalespoon says:

    What–no “Low Budget”? Seriously?

  9. John Ruberry says:

    “What–no “Low Budget”? Seriously?” I like ‘Low Budget.’ But, in my opinion at least, it didn’t have a great song. “Give The People What They Want has “Better Things.”