…What has become of the green, pleasant fields of Jerusalem?

You’ve easily heard 101 variations of this story through me alone. In today’s case it was 1962 and a seventeen-year-old secondary school kid and his little brother (who was all of fourteen) decided to form a band.  The youngest of eight siblings, and the only boys, Ray and Dave lived in a Muswell Hill (North London) row house where on most Saturday nights their sociable parents would hold lively parties with sing-alongs-aplenty and lots of beer.

The brothers had long since learned to play guitar and between the ongoing music hall numbers and their big sisters’ predilection for jazz, swing and early rock and roll, they had a wide variety of influences.   So with a couple of other schoolmates they formed the Ray Davies Quartet and after a decent enough reception at a school dance, began to play at local pubs and clubs.

In those days Ray wasn’t comfortable with his singing, so the band tried out a number of lead vocalists, including another schoolmate named Rod Stewart, who was eventually dropped as a result of “musical differences” stemming from the fact that their drummer’s mother didn’t like his voice.  Stewart quickly formed another group, called Rod Stewart and the Moonrakers, and it became their local rival.

After graduation Ray left home to study film, sketching, theatre, jazz and blues at the Hornsey College of Art, but by 1964 he was back in Muswell Hill with the latest incarnation of the band, now called the Pete Quaife Band, after the base player. Soon they billed themselves as the Bo-Weevils, then the Ramrods, then the Ravens and it was only after they’d hired (not one but) two managers that they finally settled on the name for which they would become recognized as one of the most important bands in rock history, starting with their first Number One hit only a few months later.

In the words of one manager, they “needed a gimmick, some edge to get them attention; something newsy, naughty but just on the borderline of acceptability… At that time, they were participating in a time-honoured pop ritual—fame through outrage.” As the other put it, “I had a friend who thought the group was rather fun…He came up with the name just as an idea, as a good way of getting publicity. When we went to the band members with the name, they were absolutely horrified.”

According to Ray Davies the name was actually coined by their producer, who took note of what was then considered their “kinky” fashion sense (with brocade jackets, frilled cravats, skinny jeans and hair much longer than the Beatles’ or the Stones’) and said,  “The way you look, you ought to be called the Kinks.” In the retelling Davies added, “I’ve never really liked the name.”

Chosen by “Rolling Stone” as one of the top five “Guitar Songs of All Time” and long considered the “track that invented heavy metal” that first Number One hit was, of course “You Really Got Me.”  And yet Ray Davies is also considered to be rock music’s most insightful, literate (and witty) songwriter.

Today’s section was featured as the opening track to “Muswell Hillbillies” the Kinks’ ninth studio album in 1971. Unfortunately “20th Century Man” failed to reach the Billboard 100 in the States, and was never even released as a single in the UK.  Perhaps this is because the song starts simply and acoustically, and gradually grows in complexity and accoutrement until it’s something else all together, much like the century it represents. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s still relevant, a far easier task than trying to picture Rod Stewart singing lead.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Friday 30 March

20th Century Man

 This is the age of machinery

A mechanical nightmare

The wonderful world of technology

Napalm, hydrogen bombs, biological warfare

This is the twentieth century

But too much aggravation

It’s the age of insanity

What has become of the green, pleasant fields of Jerusalem?

 Ain’t got no ambition, I’m just disillusioned

I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want, I don’t want to be here

My mama said she can’t understand me

She can’t see my motivation

Just give me some security

I’m a paranoid, schizoid product of the twentieth century

You keep all your smart modern writers

Give me William Shakespeare

You keep all your smart modern painters

I’ll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci and Gainsborough

Girl we gotta’ get out of here

We gotta’ find a solution

I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want, I don’t want to die here

Ya’ we gotta’ get out of here

We gotta’ find a solution

I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want, I don’t want to be here

 I was born in a welfare state

Ruled by bureaucracy

Controlled by civil servants

And people dressed in grey

Got no privacy, got no liberty

Cos the twentieth century people

Took it all away from me

Don’t wanna’ get myself shot down

By some trigger happy policeman

Gotta keep a hold on my sanity

I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want, I don’t want to die here

 My mama says she can’t understand me

She can’t see my motivation

Ain’t got no security

I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want to die here

 This is the twentieth century

But too much aggravation

This is the edge of insanity

I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t want to be here

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