19 January 2012

Ray Davies: Genius of Music

Music. A magical thing, isn't it? How tiny invisible waves can inspire and stir the emotions of many. But perhaps the most magical thing of all is the talent of the people who make it magical.

Sadly, the music industry of the modern world mistreats and forsakes great and magical talent. It manufactures endless reams of electronic noise, usually consisting of the same beats and chords over again in an extremely repetitive manner, with an excessively wavery voice, a pathetic attempt at a melody, slapped over the top. And the most astounding thing is that it dominates the charts, usually at the expense of talented musicians who aren't given the time of day by many people.

So, what does one do in this situation? Well, the archives of modern music throughout the 20th century are full to the brim if you look in the right places. And where better to look than the output of Ray Davies, front man of the Kinks. Why them, you may ask? Well, many people usually think to the Beatles, the Stones or the Who when asked about greatest music of all time. And to put it simply, Ray Davies is a musical genius of who it is difficult to rival. And why is that? - A question asked by the majority of people who have never really thoroughly discovered the Kinks, who as expected would be puzzled at the choice. Their most well known song is definitely not their best, and their best songs are definitely not their most well known. So, I will show you how he is possibly of the the greatest rock and pop musicians of all time.

The Kinks shot to fame in August 1964 with "You Really Got Me", written by Ray. The song went straight to number one, and was so successful that the band, a supporting act, even managed to upstage the Beatles at a concert in Brighton, before the song was even released! The song introduced the first mainstream use of guitar distortion which proved to be a big influence on other music. The band churned out hit after hit, however compared to his later work, Ray's songs were pretty mainstream and ordinary. That was until mid 1965, when his musical direction split from what everyone else was doing, and remained so forever.

Firstly, the speed of which is his music changed into sophisticated songs bursting with genius in both sound and word was very fast. Ray began wrote You Really Got Me in early 1964, and, even though it was released in June 1965, by the end of the year he wrote "See My Friends" which not only introduced Indian influences to pop music but also contained intelligently ambiguous and highly sophisticated lyrics. And, after this song his music became even more sophisticated with each release. Therefore, in just a under year he transformed musically and lyrically into something amazing. Compared to the Beatles' and the Rolling Stones' musical progress to this standard of several years, this is outstanding.

Secondly, what makes this man a genius is the content of his songs. Instead of soppy love songs his lyrical content spreads across an exceptionally broad range: everything from sarcastic jibes, to witty remarks, to heartfelt laments of loss, to quirky observations of life, to questions about himself and a beautiful insight into his enigma of a personality. And perhaps the greatest thing is his ability to combine these sophisticated topics with beautiful melodies which linger in your mind for weeks. Some brilliant, mind-capturing examples include:

Waterloo Sunset (1967)

Sunny Afternoon (1966)

See My Friends (1965)

Of course it was immensely difficult to pick just three...

Also, his personality has the strange eccentricity belonging to genius's. Never flaunting himself at the camera and the paparazzi, he has led an incredibly private life outside his work. He always has something intelligent to say when something significant happens and is not afraid to say what he thinks. His comments are sometimes quite eccentric, and his quirky behaviour on stage is nothing less than so, such as his brilliantly unique gestures or words. But clearly, he has an incredible mind, sadly not possessed by many musicians who, a lot of the time, only seem to care about how many fans they have and how much money they're making out of them. It seems that he belongs in the world of highly intelligent academics rather than that of musicians.

Finally, the amount of respect and admiration Ray Davies commands from his followers is phenomenal. I couldn't even begin to count the amount of times I've heard him being referred to as a "genius", with the appreciation going so far as to create a Facebook group on the subject. Instead of mindless flattery, many comments made about him by the fans consist of detailed praises about a particular song, or an album, or the man himself. And what's more, the music community also heap their praises. With Oasis and Blur citing them as a massive influence, almost every rock band out there will also state the Kinks as an influence, with some almost worshipping him (especially Damon Albarn and Pete Townshend). Even members of the Beatles have expressed admiration! In Dave Davies's (guitarist of the Kinks and brother of Ray) autobiography he mentions Paul McCartney wishing to have written "See My Friends" and in Ray's autobiography, X-Ray, John Lennon is shown to have adored "Wonderboy" and to have had it played repeatedly at a nightclub. Another source reveals him saying that he wishes that he could harmonise like the Kinks. And Pete Townshend of the Who has made comments of worship over the years.

In reference to See My Friends: "'See My Friends' was the next time I pricked up my ears and thought, 'God, he's done it again. He's invented something new.'

 "The Kinks were ... quintessentially English. I always think that Ray Davies should one day be poet laureate. He invented a new kind of poetry and a new kind of language for pop writing that influenced me from the very, very, very beginning."

Perhaps the most memorable moment was when he bowed down to him on stage at the UK Music Hall of Fame induction and told him he loved and adored him and his music. You pretty much can't get more appreciative than that....

Looking at all of the comments together on Ray, only a genius can amass such real and wholesome admiration and praise. Ray Davies, undeniably a phenomenal genius of music, should be cherished forever, and I command anyone reading this post, to go out there at once and listen to as much as you can! Long live Ray Davies!

Disclaimer: I do not own or profess to own any image or video on this page, nor do I seek to use any of it for personal gain.

17 August 2011

Status Quo - before they were famous.

We've all heard the Quo at some point in our lives - their distinctive hard rock sound mixed with 12 bar blues and boogie riffs being present in all their most well known hits, such as the instantly recognisable "Whatever You Want" and "Rockin' All Over The World". Status Quo are also recognisable for their dirty rocker appearance; the pony-tail, jeans and waistcoat-clad singer Francis Rossi (who decided in 2009 to get rid of his famous lock) and the jeans, t-shirt and messy mass of blond hair belonging to guitarist Rick Parfitt. While the other members of the group have changed over the years, they all donned the same jeans and hair rocker look which has become the band's trademark.

So, therefore it wasn't half a shock to the system when I accidentally stumbled across the Quo's relatively unknown past, before the all the fame and glory; a top of the pop's video of the band performing their first hit, the heavily psychedelic pop song "Pictures of Matchstick Men" in 1968. In fact, it is almost impossible to tell that this is Status Quo if it weren't for the video being labelled as such.

This video is particularly eye opening for followers of the Quo for two reasons; firstly, their appearance. It seems almost unreal to see the rockers in frilly flashy Carnaby Street frocks and beatle hair. Secondly, the sound that they employed during the late sixties is immensely different to what they are famous for - I mean most musicians over the years do gradually change their sound, but the change in the Quo's sound is radical to say the least. And what's more, this song is really rather brilliant! Their whole first album and subsequent singles infact! So why the sudden and abrupt change in 1970?

During that year Status Quo decided they were through with psychedelia and almost overnight changed into what they have been ever since (which also included dropping the prefix "the"). The only real obvious reason for this is the lack of success; while they managed to reach the top ten in eight different countries with "Matchstick Men", no. 8 in the UK with "Ice in the Sun" and certainly made a decent enough breakthrough, they just weren't able to gain the success of superstardom that follows only no1 hits. This even resulted in the band's keyboard player Roy Lynes leaving the group partly due to the Quo's uncertain future. Frustrated with their lack of victory with the masses, they most probably adopted the new style because they knew it would gain them fame; breaking away from the blending in of mainstream. Their new musical style might not have been what they really wanted to do, but they went with it and stayed with it. Fortunately for them, it proved successful.

But the sad situation is that their early days are virtually unheard of. Whilst in the US the above song is all they are known for, in the UK even the biggest Quo fans don't even know the band existed until the 1970s; take my mum for example, who has been a hardcore Quo fan since she was a teenager and has never ever heard this song or even knew about it. The purpose of this post is to make people aware of their glam slam days and to open people up to the beautiful musical gems that lay hidden beneath the glory of the boogie rock. And what real diamonds they are. Take a look at two other brilliant songs from the 60s.

Ice in the Sun (Official Video -1968)

Technicolour Dreams (Official Video - 1968)

Also if you have time, give their first album a shot - "Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo" (1968). With pretty much every song becoming stuck in one's head for days, this album most definitely should be recognised as one of the greatest examples of psychedelia to have come out of the 1960s.

Who knows what the Quo may be like now had they actually won big with psychedelia in the 60s...