The Kinks - The Most Underrated Revered Band Ever?

On Monday night, I saw Ray Davies at the 9:30 club and it was fantastic. A proper review saying as much should have been in the paper today, but because you cheapskates keep canceling your subscriptions and the actual paper keeps shrinking, creating a space crunch, it got cut. (Or maybe it was just really bad. Who knows?)

I wasn't sure how well the show would work with just the Kinks frontman and another acoustic guitarist, but the songs were still full of life and Davies had plenty of entertaining anecdotes. And when he brought out openers Locksley to back him on "You Really Got Me," "Till the End of the Day" and "Lola," things got even better. I was struck by the fact that the show -- while plenty crowded -- wasn't sold out. And that this was a day after a couple of Davies' contemporaries in Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were honored at the Kennedy Center.

I've always preferred the Kinks to the Who, and I've even played the role of The Annoying Person Who Argues That The Kinks Were Better Than The Beatles. I can't honestly say I believe that, but it's a lot closer than you think. The Kinks and Beatles started around the same time and the Kinks's peak era ended roughly when the Beatles called it quits. (I'll say it ended with "Lola," but if you want to say "Muswell Hillbillies" I won't argue too much.)

All those early British Invasion hits are unimpeachable. "Kink Kontroversy" is so great that Sleater-Kinney used it as inspiration for an album cover. The run of "Face to Face," "Something Else" (my favorite), "The Village Green Preservation Society" and "Arthur" is one of the great streaks in rock history. And "Lola" isn't too bad itself.

Yet very few people will ever put the Kinks in the same conversation at the Beatles, Stones or the Who? Why? They didn't change the world like the Beatles, they weren't dangerous like the Stones, they didn't do rock operas like the Who. And the songs Ray Davies wrote were certainly more distinctly British than anything by those other bands. And since the band kept going nobody ever got the chance to miss them. So yes, the band is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has been covered by Van Halen and was featured on the "Juno" soundtrack -- the three greatest honors that can be bestowed on a band -- but I still say the Kinks don't get their due.

By David Malitz |  December 10, 2008; 11:50 AM ET Legends , Screeds
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Saw The Kinks at Constitution Hall in 84 when they were touring State of Confusion. Great show.

Got "The Road" and "Celluloid Heroes" (both live tracks) on my iPod. Plus Lola, Father Christmas, a bunch of others.

Posted by: wiredog | December 10, 2008 1:44 PM

I'm with you. I prefer the Kinks over the Beatles but recognize the Beatles made the bigger impact. I'd argue they were better than The Who, Led Zeppelin, Beach boys, etc. "The Village Green Preservation Society" is close to perfection.

Posted by: DanCorbin | December 10, 2008 1:53 PM

Yeah, The Kinks are certainly underrated. I always loved Ray Davies speech when they were entered into that most silly of all places, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the end of his acceptance speech he said that the Hall of Fame was proof that rock and roll had become respectable. This comment elicited quite a few cheers and when they died down he continued, "What a bummer."

Posted by: LionelMandrake | December 10, 2008 1:58 PM

Kinks are like Who: both are endearingly eccentric bands led by endearingly eccentric songwriters, BUT Kinks never had a big album like Who's Next to turn them into a big stadium act.

Posted by: Ronnie76 | December 10, 2008 2:59 PM

The Kinks were great, but can't compare to the Who or the Beatles.

The Beatles will be remembered for a long, long time for their songwriting alone.

The Who's Moon, Entwistle, and Townshend were all incomparable on their respective instruments.

Posted by: rb-freedom-for-all | December 10, 2008 4:10 PM

If the Kinks had a dozen farewell tours under their belt, they might almost be as popular as the Who.

Posted by: davidf67 | December 10, 2008 5:10 PM

I'd certainly put the Kinks up there with the Stones and Who in terms of creativity and consistency, if not quite in the game-changing realm the Beatles occupied. It should be remembered that the band was essentially banned from touring the U.S. from 1965-69 and were thus handicapped in their efforts to gain an audience. Still, as you indicated, their music was far more personal and quirkily English than that of any of their rivals, and they probably would never have been destined for superstardom anyway. Certainly their U.S. album sales in that period were far less than even a non-touring band of their caliber and stature would have reasonably hoped for.

Posted by: thirflelev | December 10, 2008 7:54 PM

Nobody who likes the Who or Pete Townshend is allowed to dismiss modern pop music as "crass" or "calculated." Pete worked his plan from Day One, and it showed as soon as the inspiration wore off (sorry, Who fans, Keith *did* live to see the end). The Kinks are great, but if as many people listened to them as claimed to -- the classic rock radio songs don't count -- they wouldn't be underrated.

Posted by: burnxfreeze | December 10, 2008 8:03 PM

The Kinks/Ray Davies didn't chase stardom like Mick & the Stones. They didn't smash guitars (not sure how that makes one a great guitarist but it has somehow put Townsend in the same league as Page, Clapton et al which I find amusing). They did their own thing, for better or for worse as far as popularity goes, and it resulted in an outstanding and utterly original body of work. The Beatles are in a different category from everyone else in rock and roll who came about at the same time or after.

Posted by: slickwillie1 | December 11, 2008 3:39 PM

I don't think that anyone has ever claimed that Townshend's smashing guitars makes him even a passable guitarist, much less put him in the same league with Page and Clapton.
As guitarists, there's no comparison - Clapton and Page are clearly far superior - but Pete is the far better songwriter, and I suspect Clapton and Page would concede as much.

Posted by: TomServo | December 12, 2008 10:20 AM

Townshend is stylistically a different guitar player than Page and Clapton, but every part their equal; and has outstripped both as an artist (especially Clapton - what has he done of artistic value in the past 25 years?) "Endless Wire" is a fine record; neither Clapton nor Page has released anything of note in a long, long time. Page is basically retired, and Clapton is pretty much a burlesque act at this point.

On to the Kinks: part of their appeal for me is that I don't hear them constantly, everywhere, from the radio to the department store. The music remains fresh, and man are those some great songs - lots of them.

Posted by: ana1ana2 | December 12, 2008 11:41 AM

I can't say I like the Kinks more than the who, but I definitely prefer them to the Stones or Beatles. I saw the Kinks in Oakland, CA during the Word Of Mouth tour. It was a top notch show. I think what I like best about Kinks songs is that they're clever without being pretentious.

Posted by: EKruse | December 12, 2008 9:20 PM

When I was younger and righteous, I used to bemoan the fact that the Kinks did not rise to the top as the Beatles and Stones did. But now I realize this is part of their charm. Ray Davies has certainly stood the test of time, as his recent shows attest.

Posted by: bcinfrance | December 13, 2008 5:11 AM

Ray Davies is sekond to none, and really is not like Everybody Else. God save him, his brother Dave and the KinKs, and also all their fans who have supported them through the years, through the highs and the lows…we've been through it all yet we’re still the same and for all you know we may still have a long way to go. You can't stop the music! dan the fan, the montvale, new jersey hillbilly boy aka Frank Lima

Posted by: FrankLima | December 14, 2008 4:59 PM

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