Andy Miller - 33 1/3: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
published 1 November 2003 by Continuum
It’s difficult not to feel sorry for The Kinks. Primarily known as a singles band, their beautiful yet flawed concept album, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was two years in the making, yet couldn’t have hit the shops at a worse time. On 22nd November 1968, Village Green was released, as was a self-titled double album by a fairly popular beat combo called The Beatles. The public adored The Beatles’ forward-thinking vision, which set the tone for the future of popular music, while The Kinks’ sepia-tinged nostalgia seemed immediately antiquated. Village Green sank like a stone in the ‘60s, but has subsequently become The Kinks’ best-loved record.
Writer Andy Miller gives a detailed look into the circumstances surrounding the writing and recording of the album, and it makes for an absorbing read. This is a story of false starts, indecisive minds and difficult relationships, all held together (barely) by the songwriting genius of Ray Davies. It paints the picture of The Kinks - and Davies in particular - as outsiders, under-valued in their time, not seeing any reason to reach for higher concepts in their songs when there was still so much to explore within ordinary people.
Miller makes use of multiple sources and references, and sometimes it’s the smallest titbits of information that are the most revealing. For all their pastoral charm, The Kinks were still a group of friends from Muswell Hill who liked nothing more than a laugh: Dave Davies was known to conduct interviews with “LOVE” and “DAVE” written on his knuckles, while bassist Pete Quaife said of a particularly notorious groupie, “every group knew her, especially The Dave Clark Five”.
The story behind Village Green is an interesting one and the book is eminently readable, though Miller is prone to hyperbole on occasion (is Big Sky really “as good as anything written in the 1960s”?). It does fizzle out somewhat towards the end, however, with discussion of B-sides and unreleased tracks rather than maybe assessing the importance of Village Green today and its role in the wider world of music. The book also hints at episodes in the life of The Kinks that may make for more fascinating reading: the story of their ban from performing in America, the fractious relationship between the brothers Davies, The Kinks’ decline into polished stadium rock. An indispensable book for the story of Village Green this may be, but if you really want to get under the skin of The Kinks, there’s further reading to be done.