I’ve got too many things to do — work piling up, plans to hatch, work to revise, children to raise, dogs to walk, etc. all that stuff plus I have to tend my garden and keep the house from falling apart. So, yeah, perfect time to spend a day making a Spotify playlist of Kinks Kovers (K’s very much standing in for hard C’s throughout this krazy post.)
For whatever reason I’ve been a Kinks person, on and off but always intensely, for going on forty years (which makes sense because Ray and Dave are going on eighty years — we’re all getting old is the point.) I’ve been Kinky since a WXRT (in Chicago) Saturday morning flashback show featuring the Kinks and I think specifically “Dead End Street” and probably “Apeman.” The Kinks were one of my first koncerts at the Riveria and I mean Ray could work a crowd in those days (into middle age but still basically cool.) That and the .99 cent bin at Val’s Halla Records cemented my relationship with the Kinks. (And despite what the algorithm suggests, I’ve never been as interested in The Beatles / Rolling Stones / The Who. Why? Maybe ‘kuz the Kinks are not overplayed and at heart their songs are basically showtunes and I love showtunes. Unkool, I know.)
Well, that’s me but so what? Here’s my playlist. Apologies for the Spotify-ness of it.
Only rules are that the songs can’t be on an already existing Kink-only Kompilations (exceptions made, perhaps, I’m not perfect) and that I can only choose one kover song even where there are multiple aKseptable ones. Also, I don’t need to hear “Lola” or “You Really Got Me” again. The playlist is in random order…
- Eddi Reader, “Wonderboy” — the very rare instance where she sings the song better than Ray. Ray gives a laid-back performance of it. Recorded at the time when he was shedding Klassic Kuts and this was like the fifth most klassic thing he did that day but was still better than most anything else.
- Sir Douglas Quintet, “Who’ll Be the Next in Line?” — I like the urgency, Sir Douglas.
- The Brothers Comatose, “Strangers” — This song is getting rekognized these days. Was it on a commercial or something? A WB show? I think this Dave song will outlive “Lola” in the end. The most heartbreaking song on that album — straightforward, lovely, no snark. (Not that I mind the snark.)
- The Smithereens, “Rosy, Won’t You Please Come Home?” — The ‘reens might have kommitted to the koncept a bit more. A bit too sleepy but what a great tune. A character song — so ripe for interpretation. The Kinks will last because the Kinks contain multitudes. So many voices. (And who, in the 60’s, was interested in a mother’s lament about their wandering kid? Instead of the perspective of the rebellious kid?)
- The Mission, “Mr. Pleasant” — a pretty nasty song relieved by the dollop of “Life is easier…” which almost makes you care about Mr. Pleasant. He just wants things to be easy.
- Natalie Merchant, “Village Green Preservation Society” — A whole group of Pleasants formed a society and this is their song. I mean, it’s Natalie Merchant, so it’s extremely OK without being great.
- Camper Van Beethoven, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” — Would love to hear David Lowery interpret more Kinks songs. Another great Dave tune that is going to outlive the others. Again, straightforward and pure. (See also Shemekia Copeland’s version of this song — but we can have only one!)
- Arno, “Death of a Clown” — another Dave klassic. This song was made for Arno. He has the delivery of a drunk who thinks he’s singing beautifully but is really straight-to-god moaning. This is not a song for enunciating. Especially when you are the Clown and the Clown is singing the song.
- Dar Williams, “Better Things” — this is a song for enunciating. Kind of a shock to hear a pretty version of a sweet song after the stumbling Arno thing.
- Young Fresh Fellows, “Picture Book” — remember the YFFs? From Seattle? Kinda pre-grunge garage-y? I forgot about them (or got them konfused with the Fine Young Cannibals) but here they are. This is their #1 stream on Spotify. A solid workout. They even sell the “scooby-dooby-doo” bit.
- Sandy Wolfrum, “Loony Balloon” — this song, off of the penultimate Kinks album UK Jive, isn’t even on Spotify in its Kinks version. (Hey, it wasn’t the best Kinks album but it’s not that embarrassing.) This German fellow does a decent version but can’t really play, you know, music. Sounds like Arno’s long lost brother.
- Elvis Costello, “Days” — EC reminded us of what a beautiful songwriter Ray is with this cover of “Days.” And what an amazing singer EC can be! Maybe the best interpretation of a Kinks song?
- The Jam, “David Watts” — this kut really does jam. Thanks, The Jam. I like the idea of the song, which is (as is often the case with Ray) from a novel kind of pop song perspective — the singer hates the man he wants to be.
- Steve Forbert, “Supersonic Rocket Ship” — pug-faced, milk-voiced “Romeo’s Tune” guy dropped an awesome covers album in 2020 and exhumed this song from the muddily-recorded Everybody’s in Showbiz. Great cover: it’s good on its own and it reminds you that the original exists and is genius.
- The Dig, “People Take Pictures of Each Other” — this song gets more topikal each day. “People take pictures of each other / just to prove that they really existed.” Yup. (This version is good, but someone will do a better version one day.)
- David Bowie, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” — little loved ’73 covers kontent released to kapitalize on Bowie’s success.
- Makato Ayukawa, “Sittin’ on My Sofa” — a properly funky version of this song.
- The Pretenders, “Stop Your Sobbin'” — Along with Eddi Reader and Elvis Costello, this version adds flavors that compliments the original. The lyrics were made for Chrissie Hynde’s hiccup-y delivery. (How did Ray know? Before he even met her?)
- Rolf Harris, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” — the “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” guy certainly sings this Kinks song here. Yup, that’s him singing it. (And missing the pathos / warmth that makes the song play.) Just hit the skip button.
- Haley Reinhart, “Sunny Afternoon” — all young, old-timey jazz singers should try this song. Haley brings it! Nice. (Though only Ray can credibly rhyme “car” with “ma and pa.”)
- Yo La Tengo, “Big Sky” — maybe this is my favorite Kinks’ song? I appreciate the attempt! It occurs to me, with this dumb exercise I am now committed to, that few singers can really change up their entire delivery / persona within the scope of one song like Ray. Ray was at least three different singers within this song and one of them was “the sky.”
- Lee Rocker, “Come Dancing” — the Stray Cats guy offers a sweet version of this song. Really nice. In retrospect, the song neatly encapsulates Ray’s ongoing concerns (re: change, aging, England, class, etc.) in one song. (And Lee smartly drops Ray’s spoken interlude (at least live) that featured the “Hey Ray, I came dancing tonight” bit.)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, “Muswell Hillbilly” — love this band and somehow hadn’t heard this cover. Really good. Catch Southern Culture on the Skids live if you can. (And request this song!)
- The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “Complicated Life” — I was wondering what I was doing making this list and this song is what I was doing. Wow! Watch the video! New Orleans loves Ray back. Clint Maedgen brings it in the song and the video. (Really, watch the video.) Next do Quiet Life, Clint!
- Herman’s Hermits, “Dandy” — I guess Herman and his hermits had a minor his with this in the 60s. It’s good — but the strings are very Not Good. Also: only Ray can credibly kind of rhyme “charms” and “demands.”
- The Romantics, “She’s Got Everything” — I’ll take this song over The Romantics hit “What I like About You” (on the same album) any day. The Kinks 60s rockers fit right in with the late 70s / early 80s heavy banging bands. Kinda timeless.
- Esso Trinidad Steel Band, “Apeman” — Yes, the petroleum company Esso sponsored this Trinidadian steel band and they covered (in 1971!) this song about getting away from pollution. Irony!
- Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “Celluloid Heroes” — This song and its references are so dated that, like, who even knows what “celluloid” is anymore? Rudolph Valentino, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo — all the stars are here! But the sentiment is au courant. You struggle to be star, yet even hard-won success is fleeting. Soon enough we’ll be walking over your name wondering who you ever were to warrant the star. Basically Ozymandias for the mid-20th century.
Why did I do this? Why does this page exist? Who am I? Are these my hands? Thank you for joining me on a stroll through the songbook. Long Live the Kinks! As the liner notes to Kinks-Size sez: “they are more popular and less fatty than potatoes.”