Tuesday, June 29, 2010

R.I.P. Peter Quaife (1943-2010)

I don't have good luck in being around to catch bad news. This past Thursday, Peter Quaife, the original bassist for The Kinks (1963-1969), passed away of kidney failure.

Even if I'm out and about all day, I always come home and check email and, as perverse as this may sound, I also check Wikipedia's page for recent deaths, sadly, as many of my musical heroes are approaching senescence. Funny enough, knowing Pete was ill and on dialysis was one of the reasons I always checked.

But where was I this past Thursday? En route to a mini-vacation upstate with my girlfriend and some of her friends, with no Internet, no TV, and no cell phone reception. I had a wonderful time - although my mom wanted to get a hold of me and when I couldn't, she made the casual and logical assumption that I'd been tortured to death at a crack den. But that's a different story.

Once I cleared all that up and we got back to the city, my girlfriend and I hung out at her place. Being as our relationship is still in a very early stage, we're still at the point of introducing our favorite bands and songs to one another.

I played her some Kinks. She had a few from a compilation, but I decided to skip the "classics," which are all phenomenal tunes, and go straight for playing my straight-up favorites.

The first song I introduced by saying, "Let me play you the one song I use as my example of the genius of Ray Davies as a lyricist." I went on to say how it is an accurate description of young romance, realistic rather than entirely smitten, with the key line in it all coming at the end of the bridge: "I wonder how long it will last."

The song? "Something Better Beginning," from 1965's Kinda Kinks:

Second was "This Is Where I Belong," the b-side of "Mr. Pleasant" from 1967:

Then I played "She's Got Everything," which I introduced as being "a love song with a delicate guitar solo."

I ended with what will, hands-down, hold a place in the five best songs I have ever heard in my life.

Now, make no bones about it, I love - LOVE - The Kinks throughout the years. For me, there's no better storyteller than Ray Davies, no better harmony vocalist than Dave Davies, and no better string of albums than what they had through the 1970's. But I realized that when it came down to introducing the Kinks songs that meant the most to me or that I found the most immediately accessible without simply running through the greatest hits, what songs did I pick? I didn't pick any of Ray's more cynical numbers like "Yes Sir, No Sir" or a preachy song like "Live Life." I didn't go for something too out there, but still amazing in its own way, like "Money And Corruption / I Am Your Man" or "Second-Hand Car Spiv." Didn't pull out anything from Sleepwalker or Give The People What They Want.

No. I chose songs from those truly sublime years in the band's history. Pete's last album with The Kinks was The Village Green Preservation Society. In my experience, the fans splinter from there. It's quite obvious in the contemporary reviews - John Mendelssohn goes from "God Save The Kinks? Nah, more like God Bless 'Em" in The Kink Kronikles in 1972 to taking a massive dump on the group and their present direction in the following year's The Great Lost Kinks Album, for example - and even today it seems that the only things the critics and fans can universally agree upon is that Face To Face, Something Else, The Village Green Preservation Society, and the singles from that time period are definitively essential, classic Kinks.

It might not be mere coincidence that with Pete's departure, Ray's creative control over the group increased dramatically. Arthur is a potent, at times grim, album, which is why I love it...but the same reason my father wasn't thrilled about it. Lola Versus Powerman & The Moneygoround is a scathing attack on the record industry - but some contend it's too bilious. Again, same reason I love it. With the band's tenure at RCA, each record seemed to be an artistic endeavor of one kind or another. I think it's great, but for others it's self-indulgent crap. Their sound continued to change, yes, and one more time for the world - that's what makes them as a band so damn great to me; it was their versatility, along with Ray being such a wonderful writer. But, as a band's sound changes, it will lose and gain followers. It happens.

The point I'm trying to make here is that when push came to shove, I went for introductory listening material from a time where one could safely call The Kinks a band. I don't want to disparage later line-ups of the group, but there was a greater deal of collaboration, and in Dave Davies' heartfelt message board post about Pete he suggests as much.

So, that said...and if you're a Kinks fan reading this, it's probably the 1,000th time you've encountered this touching video, especially if Dave links this to his fabulous Kinks site...this one's for you, Pete:

At the beginning of "Days," for a reason that I'm sure will be obvious, I choked up.

God Save The Kinks.

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