Last night, just before I went to bed, I decided to work out what my most favourite song ever is.
Obviously, this is an impossible task. I’m a music fiend with a rubbish memory so I must have 200 most favourite songs ever and at any one time only be able to recall maybe 5 of them. Although my lifelong dream has been to appear on Desert Island Discs (no, really!), I’m fully aware that should the opportunity ever present itself I’d need to take a month of work to scour through my cds, records and tapes and then phone everyone I’ve ever been friends with to ask them what I was listening to obsessively at the time we were hanging out.
So, the challenege was clearly an exercise in bed-avoidance and staying up late – which at the age of 33 has apparently still not lost its novelty – but, bizarrely, within seconds of thinking ‘hmmm, what’s my most favourite song ever?’ one title popped into my head – a song I haven’t thought about in a while – and sat there immovable. As if to say ‘I’m your most favourite song ever, Jon’ and as much as I tried to protest, question it and bombard it with Levellers and Candyskins song titles, proudly it sat there confident in it’s correctness until I could deny it no longer.
My most favourite song ever is Waterloo Sunset.
I can’t remember the first time I heard it, I have no significant memories attatched to it. I’m reasonably sure it’s one of those songs that I just grew up knowing, like the entire Beatles back catalogue, although I don’t remember my folks ever playing it to me. Mum definitely sang other Kinks songs around the house – Dedicated Follower of Fashion, All The Day and All of the Night, You Really Got Me – the jauniter songs. Any song that survives that wide-eyed-sarcastically-phrased treatment must be of an epically durable quality.
I do adore The Kinks. I think they stand alone in that era of 60s/70s pop in being neither bubblegum or overtly emotional. They fit comfortably into the style and sound of their era yet there is a subtle edginess, an obvious intelligence and a huge darkness which they try neither to hide or acknowledge.
Lola – their laissez-faire celebration of transvestites.
The Village Green Preservation Society – which is not only the greatest song ever written about Englishness but posseses the most gorgeous ambiguity of intent – is it celebrating our culture and its preservation or is it mocking middle England’s resistance to change and progress?.
I’d like to meet the person who could argue against The Kinks being the quintessential English band of our lifetimes. Britpop owes them an obvious debt but never bested them. Anyway, as I was saying, for me, Waterloo Sunset sits somewhat outside the canon of killer songs they gave us. I think maybe because I don’t consider it a Kinks song. I think of it more of a Ray Davies song. Ray was the lead singer and creative heart of the band but to me this was always much more his song, far more personal and their only song on which the rest of the band are just merely incidental players. Not just incidental, really. Extraneous. As haunting as Dave Davies’s backing vocals are, Waterloo Sunset is a song for one man to sing alone.This next video is a way better rendition to my ears and eyes.
The song itself, despite being a hauntingly beautiful pop tune, has always spoken to me. Davies has had a long and well documented struggle with Depression and this song is drenched with sadness yet manages to retain a glorious optimism.The song is unique in that it seems utterly resistant to being covered. Many have tried but it’s Davies’s blend of confidence and reticence that is the magic element which brings the song to life.
Bowie has tried….
…but doesn’t have the fragility to pull it off.
Cathy Dennis had a bit of a hit with it in the 90’s….
But a beautiful girl singing it infront of a hip young band just feels like the most vaccuous interpretation imaginable. Swill.
I’d say the most respected cover of it was by Elliot Smith whose intrinsic angst made Ray Davies look like Timmy Mallett – he ended up killing himself by stabbing himself in the heart (Smith, not Mallett – lamentably)…
….but there is something off kilter about an American singing about Terry and Julie that doesn’t sit right. It is too English of a song.
It is Ray’s song. It needs and allows no interpretation except for by the man himself. The older he gets, the more beautiful the song becomes.
This is a man who, despite his own crippling sadness, can take joy in the happiness of strangers he observes in a world which scares him and can take ultimate happiness in the daily beauty of nature. As long as he sees the sunset, he can get by – it’s enough. It’s fine. I guess that just echos my world view – there is so much I don’t understand about modern life – people are so busy and it does make me feel dizzy and the lights are definitely too bright – but the one thing they can never change is that the sun is always going to rise and always going to set and there is a great comfort in that. You can rip out the trees, pollute the water, cement over every inch of grass but at the end of the day, whatever monstrosities you build and people you indoctrinate, they’ll all get bathed in that beautiful warm orange light and whether they notice it or not, it will always be of great comfort to those of us who still have a soul.
Ray crops up every now and then, last year he put out a great little album called Working Man’s Cafe. The following video is something I just adore. The song almost feels like a companion piece to Village Green Preservation Society in which a guy who was a hip young thing in the 60’s now suddenly realises what all those old farts were on about as he sees all that was once dear and familiar to him has passed even the point of preservation. It’s all gone.
The preservation of a British identity has unfotunately become the call of the far right and the racists of this country. I don’t think I particularly want the things they do. I like our multicultural society and feel that the modern working class should both start working and get a little class but the continuing obliteration of our little cultural peculiarities in the name of global corporatisation is a tragic thing. Still, as long as I gaze on an Oxfordshire sunset, I am in paradise.