By Richard Wink
When Ray Davies sang ‘Waterloo Sunset’ at the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games it made me sad. He looked old, frail and ill at ease amongst the bright young things of British pop. Thankfully he could still just about carry the tune, and the rendition was passable, unlike the waxwork version of ‘national treasure’ Paul McCartney, who during the Opening Ceremony of the Games woefully struggled through ‘Hey Jude’.
It got me thinking whether there should be a retirement age for ‘rockstars’. If you think of the great British rock bands from the sixties and seventies – Beatles, The Kinks, Rolling Stones, Led Zep, The Who, Sabbath, Queen; all are either still performing (minus a few members who’ve sadly passed away) or feature performers such as Ray Davies, who are out there still beavering away on a variety of musical projects. As time goes on, the acts get sadder, which means the songs lack the punch, the youth, the urgency, and legacies begin to rust. These folk aren’t like Leonard Cohen, who seemingly has been old and grey for fifty odd years. They don’t age gracefully. They age rapidly; each year seems like a decade.
Retrospective collections like this one reinforce just how long ago these bands were in their prime, but, Ray Davies and co have been consistently looking back fondly at the good ol’ days in recent years. We’ve almost become used to looking back fondly at The Kinks. I remember a couple of years back reviewing The Kinks Choral Collection, where Ray Davies collaborated with the Crouch End Festival Chorus, rerecording the band’s classic songs. In 2012, this BBC collection will be joined by Waterloo Sunset – The Very Best of The Kinks and Ray Davies. When does it stop? When do we begin to forget?
One wonders if this collection is relevant to anybody other than Kinks completists. Younger members who’ve grown up without buying physical copies of albums will likely look up classic Kinks moments on Youtube such as this clip of the band playing during the early eighties or ‘Waterloo Sunset’ from ’73. Most will stream the likes of Face to Face and The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society on Spotify.
This five-CD box set of their BBC recordings is a fun, if exhausting listen containing 136 tracks and several hours of entertainment. You feel like you’ve gone up into a dusty attic, and found a magical time travelling radio. After turning the dial you get taking back to a time when this rock and roll was dangerous, and edgy. The ramshackle sessions, with some songs sung out of tune, create an early punkish edge of devil may care. Though I personally prefer the Kinks to the Beatles and the Stones, mainly because of Ray Davies’ ability as a songwriter, I can acknowledge and understand why history and many music fans see the other two giants as superior bands. The Kinks’ charm is that they were imperfect, and often made mistakes. Everything is here, including the classic songs, in all their ramshackle glory.