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The Kinks: At Their Best On The Old Grey Whistle Test

The Kinks in Sweden Public Domain

“Some days I need to be alone and listen to The Kinks.” This is written on a t-shirt I own, alongside an image of Schroeder from Peanuts sitting at his piano.

If you ever feel like Schroeder and need an album to chill to, head to YouTube and check out The Kinks performing songs from their Sleepwalker album on The Old Grey Whistle Test. The intimate feel of this live 1977 performance serves as a great reminder of the soulful songwriting of Ray Davies, and the sublime guitar play of Dave Davies.  Back in the late ’70s, the Sleepwalker album reintroduced The Kinks to the youth of America.

Due to a ridiculous four-year ban by the American Federation of Musicians, The Kinks were barred from touring the U.S. in the late ’60s. As much as this cost The Kinks a “Beatlemania” type of following in America, it may have helped in the long run. When punk and new wave hit, this album was embraced by the same teens discovering Talking Heads and Blondie.

Unlike earlier power-chord riffs like those in “Lola” and “You Really Got Me,” there’s a sweet, melodic mood pervading the Sleepwalker album. The sound quality captured in this live performance sounds incredible on these YouTube clips. There’s such an intimate vibe to the band’s performance (like watching Nirvana on MTV’s Unplugged), that you feel like you’re sitting in the audience. The songs on Sleepwalker seem timeless and would fit nicely on any 80s playlist with bands like the Psychedelic Furs. If you’re looking for songs to either give you a boost or unwind with at the end of the night, these five songs performed live by The Kinks will put you in the chillest of moods.

Sleepwalker

“Everybody’s got problems, buddy I’ve got mine. Because when midnight comes around, I start to lose my mind.” You may find yourself humming along to these hypnotic lyrics before Ray Davies even gets to the chorus – “I’m a sleepwalker. I’m a nightstalker.” Singing with a button on his forehead, Davies is clearly having fun on stage, and his lyrics are a playful take on the vampire lifestyle that can befall anyone living in the city that never sleeps. “Sleepwalker” grabs you from the opening drum beat; Dave’s two guitar solos never take away from the catchy tempo that made this tune the clear single from the album. It’s almost shocking to find out that the song missed out on charting in the Top 40. Listening to it for the first time feels like finding a hidden gem.

Stormy Sky

When Ray Davies introduces “Stormy Sky,” he downplays it as  “another weather song like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Sunny Afternoon.'” This performance of “Stormy Sky” envelops you like a warm blanket. The mood reminds me of the first time I heard Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” in the tiny bedroom of my fifth-floor walkup apartment. I felt like I should’ve been lounging on a couch by a fire. “Stormy Sky” also continues the nighttime vibe permeating the album. Ray’s vocals and Dave’s soulful guitar are in sublime synch on this one. Dave Davies’ guitar solo practically sings to you while filling you with a sense of calm.

Celluloid Heroes

“Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star, and everybody’s in movies, it doesn’t matter who you are.” The genius of Ray Davies’ songwriting ability is on full display in this sweet and simple performance. Watching the video, you’ll feel like Ray is singing in your living room, as he reflects on the comedy of life.  You don’t have to know who Rudolph Valentino or Greta Garbo is to be moved by this hauntingly beautiful song that tells the tale of fleeting fame. “Celluloid Heroes” is a Kinks classic that will live on.

Life Goes On

If “Celluloid Heroes” tells the tale of shooting stars, “Life Goes On” talks to the everyday person slogging through life. This song is Ray Davies’ sly way of saying life is short and life is long and we all need to stop stressing out about everything. Not many artists besides Davies could urge people to clap for a new song that talks about contemplating ending it all. His gift as a songwriter is showcased here; “Life Goes On” is a catchy, singable, and hopeful song about life and death. In the grand scheme of things, “life goes on. It happens every day. So appreciate what you got, before it’s taken away.”

Full Moon

Whether it’s about struggling with mental illness or turning into a werewolf, this moody ballad about the darkness that comes out at night was definitely “lighter worthy” back in 1977. Listening to it now, “Full Moon” not only compliments “Sleepwalker,” but like the rest of this album, it’s practically howling to be listened to at night. Also, you have to love a song that rhymes “mumble like a loon” with “full moon.” Whether you’re a longtime fan of The Kinks or you only know them for their harder hits like “You Really Got Me” and “Lola”, after watching the band perform this album live, you may want to add these quintessential Kinks songs to your daily (or nightly) playlist.

-Jeff Finkle

Photo: Public Domain image

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Jeff Finkle is a freelance writer and pop culture nut, living in NYC, who once wrote an article on the eternal search for the ultimate sub sandwich and has a strong passion for good and bad-but-still-good movies, TV, music and comedy. By day, he is a content manager for an advertising industry site and by night he can be found complaining about the Mets, catching up on DVR’d shows with his wife and retrieving tennis balls from under the couch while his dog impatiently waits. But, not necessarily in that order. Twitter: @JahFinkle

8 comments on “The Kinks: At Their Best On The Old Grey Whistle Test

  1. Les Fender

    I think Celluloid Heroes is one of the greatest songs ever written. It’s like I can actually see it’s stories.

  2. John Smistad

    I saw the band on the Sleepwalker tour in Houston. Invigorating performance.

    A soon to be world famous Cheap Trick opened and were booed of The Music Hall stage.

    Yeah. It was a Kinks cult crowd.

  3. Sally Ann Mays

    Love all of the Kinks’ music, and saw Ray Davies at the Hay Festival a few years back, when he was a humble interviewee who later brought out his guitar, almost shyly, to play for the literary audience. A magical experience. “Lola” is a standout pop miracle – one I can listen to again and again. And the poignant “Thank you for the days” tugs at the heartstrings. Great song writer.

  4. David Graves

    I’m a great admirer and fan of Ray Davies, but don’t understand why ‘ Come Dancing ‘ doesn’t get more airplay time. The story is great, and I love it when the big band comes in towards the end.

    • Sally Ann Mays

      Yes, that is a great video, perfectly put together, and Ray Davies looks so dashing in it!

  5. Twangster

    Thanks for this appreciation of Ray Davies … always loved this album.

    You mean complements, not compliments.

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