Tag Archives: Ray Davies

“Vincent Van Gough” by Resistor

It’s not often, but sometimes a song hits you at the exact right moment in your life.  As a fat, midwestern schlub writing music reviews on his Axl Rose-themed blog, Resistor’s “Vincent Van Gough” struck a nerve.  I guess what I’m trying to say is: please take this review with a grain of (rock) salt, because this song got my number in a big, big way.

"Is it any wonder I reject you first?"

“Fame: Is it any wonder I reject you first?”

Resistor is synthpop band languishing in obscurity that is poised to release their first album…soon-ish.  The album’s single/central thesis is “Vincent Van Gough.”  The song is a tongue-in-cheek look at fame starvation in the Internet age.  The song is an anthem for all those lonely Brony’s trying, and failing, to achieve fame online: like I said, it hit close to home for me.

Synthesizers have always fascinated me, so Resistor’s synth-chic rubbed me the right way.  Lyrically the song has a very Ray Davies cheery-but-dark sensibility that plays well against the bouncy, upbeat synth accompaniment.  The song gleefully name-checks a bunch of really talent people who didn’t achieve fame until after their death (hence the song’s title).  I particularly loved the chorus, “I always heard, if you build it they’ll come, but if that doesn’t work, you can always try dying young.” Every time I hear those lines I smile but also involuntarily wince. Fame’s a bitch.

Go take a listen to “Vincent Van Gough” over at Resistor’s SoundCloud page.

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Classic Albums Revisited: The Greatest Living Englishman

I’m sure 99.999% have never heard of Martin Newell and The Cleaners From Venus.  They’re not household names.  Newell formed The Cleaners in 1980 and put out a couple of really fantastic, old-school 1960’s-esque British pop albums.  They were all released on cassette and put out via a West German label.  Here in the States, the Cleaners two RCA albums have been re-released on CD a few times, but with little fanfare.  I strongly urge you to seek out GOING TO ENGLAND, it’s a fantastic album.   England, that dreariest of islands, has an incredible ability to churn out super-talented songwriters.  Mr. Martin Newell is such a songwriter.  Though the Cleaners albums were all shoddily recorded,  I’m always amazed at how his songs pop and rise above the limitations of their production.

Ah! Just look at that healthy, British complexion.

It wasn’t very cool to like The Beatles in the 1980s, especially in England.  Punk and New Wave were all about going forward, not looking back.   I suspect that this is part of the reason Newell & The Cleaners From Venus were never able to hit it big.  Steeped heavily in 60’s pop, Newell worships at the alter of Lennon which is  evident the first time you hear his songs.  And just like Lennon, Newell is big on melody, wit, and cynicism.

By 1993 Newell had given up on The Cleaners of Venus and decided to start a solo career.  His solo debut, THE GREATEST LIVING ENGLISHMAN, got a major boost when XTC frontman Andy Partridge agreed to produce the record (and play drums).  Like Newell, Partridge was a Beatle-fan at a time when being Beatle-fan wasn’t in vogue, the two were musical blood-brothers. And while XTC was by no means the world’s most popular band, they’d had enough success worldwide that Partridge’s involvement in THE GREATEST LIVING ENGLISHMAN helped boost interest in the album get heard over here in the U.S.

THE GREATEST LIVING ENGLISHMAN is a fantastic record, dripping with catchy hooks.  The music is very Beatle-esque with a Kinks-like lyrical slant.  This is a very, very British record.  The album opener, the sublime “Goodbye Dreaming Fields,” recalls Ray Davies waxing nostalgic for the village green—although for Newell it’s a dancehall that he mourns.  The snappy “She Rings The Changes” feels like a long lost single from 1969, as one listens to THE GREATEST LIVING ENGLISHMAN the sense of musical déjà vu can become overwhelming.  These songs are so good and seem so catchy you’ll swear you’ve heard them before.

And  though it’s a very upbeat, fun album, I really appreciate the way Newell snarkily attacks aspects of the socio-economic inequality in England.  This is particularly evident on “We’ll Build A House” which addresses poverty and the inability for many young people to have something so basic as a home.  In a similar vein, “A Street Called Prospect” paints an incredibly detailed sound-picture of life on a very shabby English street called Prospect.  The first time I heard this song I laughed because there’s a street called Prospect in the town where I’m from…and it’s a piece of shit too.  “The Jangling Man,” like “We’ll Build A House” describes the gulf between the wealthy older class and the “poor starving children.” It’s a terribly bitter, angry song, and yet Newell’s pop sensibilities manage to keep the track from sounding bitter or angry.

“Before The Hurricane” tackles British country life, specifically the head-in-the-sand attitude of those living in rural British communities.  Bombs and hurricanes can come, but nothing really changes anything for them.   “Home Counties Boy” offers a glimpse into Newell’s country upbringing and disdain for working in the city.  Both songs remind me of the Kink’s in both their quaintness and  in the interesting duality of both their yearning and disdain for rural life.

I’ve always loved British fatalism and Newell has it in spades.  My favorite track on the record, “Tribute To The Greatest Living Englishman” is about falling from the good graces of the public—and how much we like to see a public figure fall.  I like Newell’s song because the song’s narrator (it can’t be about him, he never rose high enough to fall) attitude towards the loss of his champagne wishes is a shrug and “it would have been mad not to try.”  I can certainly see how this sort of music would not be for everyone, but it’s like catnip for a pop-fan like me.  THE GREATEST LIVING ENGLISHMAN is the best Martin Newell record (solo or otherwise) and thankfully, it’s the easiest to come by these days.  I heartily recommend this album if you like cheeky, catchy pop.

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The Legend of “You Really Got Me”

Perfection.  There are some who think perfection is only an idea, a theory that can never be truly realized.  And then there are people who have heard “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks.  I have nothing against complex, intricate music; I think there’s something to be said about an intricate symphony.  But when it comes to rock music, simpler is always better.  When Ray Davies wrote “You Really Got Me” in 1964, I’m confident that he wasn’t aware of the importance of what he was doing, he wasn’t trying to change the world, just write a tune.   But as one of the first successful songs built exclusively around a power chord, “You Really Got Me” proved hugely influential.

Simply put, heavy metal and punk rock could not exist without “You Really Got Me.”  That is not my opinion, it is a fact.

The riff that launched a 1,000 bands. It’s the rock music equivalent of E=MC2

But besides being built around a simple, repetitive power chord, “You Really Got Me” is notable for a unique distortion effect created by guitarist Dave Davies who cut the speaker cone of his amplifier with a razor blade.  The simple song with a unique sound was an instant hit, and saved The Kinks.  According to Ray Davies, the band’s record contract included a provision that The Kinks had ave a hit within three songs or their label would drop them.  The band’s first single, a cover of “Long Tall Sally” and follow-up single “You Still Want Me” proved to be dismal failures.  That put an incredible amount of pressure on the band, who literally had one shot to write a hit song or lose their deal with Pye Records, their record label.

“Fuck Off”

Interestingly, there are two legends surrounding the song, both involving the song’s guitar solo.  One of the rumors circulating is that Page played the guitar solo on “You Really Got Me,” but he didn’t.  During the 1960’s, Jimmy Page was the world’s most unfamous, famous guitar player.  Instead of being in a band, Page worked as a session man, or hired gun, playing on just about any and all tracks that paid.  He wasn’t well-known to the general public, but behind the scenes he was well regarded as a top-session guitarist.  Ironically, more people probably heard him play anonymously than when he was in  Zed Zeppelin.  He’s even on the theme-song for GOLDFINGER of all things.  And while The Kinks did use Page as a session player, he didn’t play on “You Really Got Me.”  The truth, it turns out, is stranger than fiction.

Ray Davies amazingly claims that not only did Kinks guitarist Dave Davies play the guitar solo, but that the word “fuck” is in original recording of the song.  The story goes that as the band was recording the song, Ray shouted to Dave Davies (in encouragement )as Dave started to play the solo.  Misinterpreting this gesture (imagine if you were about to record a solo and someone just randomly yelled at you) Dave, who was standing before a hot mic, allegedly told Ray to “Fuck off.”  Ray Davies claims that they kept the take, and that the band tried to cover it up with an “Oh No” but that it’s still there.  Davies says that with improved CD-quality sound technology the “fuck off” is quite audible.  After studying the song for several hours, I can tell you that there is without a doubt an “oh no!” just before the solo…beyond that…I just don’t hear it.

Regardless, “You Really Got Me” is an amazing song that launched the career of The Kinks and also changed rock music forever.

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