The Kinks - Kinks / Kinda Kinks / The Kink Kontroversy
One thing about those early British Invasion bands is that they all tended to sound much the same, mainly because they were busy emulating the American blues and pop stars whose records found their way into port cities such as Liverpool and London. The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Kinks, they all shared the same heritage, and as such the same sound in those early years of '64 -'65 (The Beatles got there before the others, but then they were The Beatles after all) and it would take a few releases until they began sounding like the classic bands we know and love today - and not like some blind one-legged share-cropper from Mississippi.
What's interesting about the re-issues of the first three albums: Kinks (1964), Kinda Kinks (1965) and The Kink Kontroversy (1965) are those moments when The Kinks start to discover their own sound, away from the cheesy covers and imperfect imitations. Debut album Kinks is interesting in a sort of anthropological way. This isn't great music, it's not even that good an album. What makes it worth our attention are those brief (very brief!) moments of genius that flare up like a sparkler. Before that happens however, you have to endure the listless covers and pale imitations of American pop acts. 'Beautiful Delilah', 'So Mystifying', 'I Just Can't Go To Sleep', 'Long Tall Shorty' are at best adequate, at worst pretty bad. But just when you begin to lose hope, you hear it, that riff, the riff that, as legend has it, Dave Davies created but slicing through the speaker cone in his amplifier. You know the one I mean. Their first number one, famously covered by Van Halen on their first album. 'You Really Got Me' sounds like The Kinks and the sheer brilliance of that little two minute song makes all the others sound even more average. The only other songs that even comes close to matching it are 'All Day and All of the Night' and 'Stop Your Sobbing' a bit further down. CD2 is basically the whole album all over again but with slightly different versions of the same songs - as well as live versions performed for the BBC.
Kinda Kinks begins predictably enough: the indifferent r&b-ishness of 'Look For Me Baby', the skiffle schlock of 'Got My Feet on the Ground' the weird down-home blues of 'Nothin' In The World Can Stop Me' and 'Naggin' Woman' so wholly inappropriate for Ray Davies' middle-class English voice. Then it happens. The Kinks, the real Kinks emerge and you almost want to shout "Ha! There you are!" 'Tired of Waiting For You', its simple chord structure, Davies' distinctive tenor, this song is another shining example of the great band The Kinks were to become. There are other moments as well, 'Set Me Free' with that distinctive guitar sound and 'See My Friends', but unfortunately they are buried amongst duds like the lacklustre cover of 'Dancing In the Street' and the Fab Four-esque 'You Shouldn't Be Sad'. Interestingly enough the opening chords of 'Never Met A Girl Like You Before' on CD2 (an alternate version that can also be found on CD2 of ...Kontroversy) is the same as 'Tired Of Waiting For you', yet it quickly descends into mock-rock silliness.
After the relative success of the first album the band were under pressure to follow it up quickly. Kinda Kinks was recorded in just two weeks and Davies has always expressed his dissatisfaction with it. Once again the real value of this album is not in its musical quality (of which there is very little) but in the evolution of one of the most important and significant bands off all time. It's CD2 that is the most interesting, containing the certifiable classic 'A Well Respected Man' originally released on Kwyet Kinks in 1965. An instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic it established Davies as a first-rate chronicler of of British life, the Oscar Wilde of the pop world, a trait that would emerge in all its Carnaby Street brilliance in later years once the band finally realized they were white middle-class guys and started acting like it.
The Kink Kontroversy (so named for the ruffian reputation they had acquired which prevented them from performing in the U.S. and thus missing out on the first wave of the British Invasion) sees the band slowing shaking off the bad American pop imitations and starting to sound like a British band. 'Milk Cow Blues' is forgettable, but then you have the truly lovely 'Ring The Bells' and the cool 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone'. It's on CD2 where the coal turns into diamonds, like 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' which was originally released as a single in 1966. Like 'A Well Respected Man' this song is Davies at his absolute best, not just as first-rate songwriter but vocalist. Now no longer trying to sound like Little Richard sucking on a Strepsil his performance is classic Davies, the vocal inflections and the tongue-in cheek lines delivered in his incomparable Englishness that he no longer tried to smother. As with Kinda Kinks, CD2 includes brief band interviews and live renditions of 'A Well Respected Man' and 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone' on Top of the Pops.
These re-issues may appeal more to die-hard Kinks fans or those interested in the musical evolution of the British Invasion bands. Aside from a few classics the quality of the songs is sometimes mediocre, a band still trying to find its sound - which they finally did in the form of their 1966 album Face to Face. Listening to these albums is at times entertaining, at times enjoyable, occasionally painful but always fascinating. In these three re-issues is the development of a truly phenomenal band, producing some of the greatest and most influential music the world as ever seen.