Ranking the Kinks

Stepping aside from my normal work-related blogging, I was listening to the Kinks while raking leaves, and started composing a list of Kinks discs in my head. Since one of my quirks of character is an incessent need to create useless lists, it put me in the mood to attempt a ranking of Kinks albums. So, here goes:

1. Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

For years I would have listed Something Else at number one, but this is really the best Kinks album. It’s more mature, with a more fleshed out sound. Some of the recent reissues really drive that point home. Probably (hell, easily) one of the ten greatest albums of the rock era. It’s nostalgic, wistful, tuneful, smart and catchy. The title cut, “Do You Remember Walter?,” “Picture Book,” “Johnny Thunder,” “Big Sky,” “Starstruck,” “People Take Pictures of Each Other”… All are phenomenal songs. Really a shame it took this disc so long to be recognized for the masterpiece it is. The upside to the Kinks being out of step with the “sound” of the sixties in 1968 is that their music from that period feels almost timeless.

2. Something Else (1967)

One of the prettiest, saddest albums of its era. Any disc that contains “Waterloo Sunset” is going to be near the top of the list, but Ray Davies’ character sketches (“Two Sisters,” “David Watts,”) and hazy ballads (“Lazy Old Sun,” “No Return”) give the disc depth and variety that’s hard to match. And Dave Davies contributed “Death of a Clown,” which is probably as good a song as the Kinks ever recorded.

3. Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)

For some reason it took me a while to realize how great this disc is. “Victoria” is one of the best Kinks songs of the sixties, but “Shangri-La” is beautiful, “Some Mother’s Son” is a smart, no bullshit anti-war song, and “Drivin'” is a great little swinging ode to…you know…driving…

4. Face to Face (1966)

The first in the Kinks’ run of five-star classics (the other three are listed above). A huge evolution in the Kinks’ sound, with a variety of sounds and themes. Catchy rock songs (“Party Line,” “Session Man”), cynical hit singles (“Sunny Afternoon”), English music hall numbers (“Dandy”), and, of course, lots of lovely Ray Davies pop songs (“Rainy Day in June,” “Fancy,” “A House in the Country”).

5. Lola vs. Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1 (1970)

Kind of a let-down when compared to the amazing run of discs that proceeded it, but it’s still a great album. Aside from “Lola,” it contains some of Ray Davies’ best melancholy ballads (“This Time Tomorrow” and “A Long Way From Home”) and one of Dave Davies’ all-time greatest songs (“Strangers”).

6. State of Confusion (1983)

It’s very hard for me to be objective here, since this is the disc (tape at the time) that made me fall in love with the Kinks (aided also by my parents’ worn vinyl copy of the Kinks Greatest Hits). “Come Dancing” was a beautiful single, as was “Don’t Forget to Dance.” “Heart of Gold” is a great, timeless Kinks track, and the title cut is a pretty effective hard-driving ode to the headaches of modern life.

7. Muswell Hillbillies (1971)

Maybe the last great Kinks album. Affecting acoustic tracks, boozy music hall numbers (“Alcohol”), Americana filtered through the Kinks’ English rose-tinted glasses. And the jagged “Twentieth Century Man,” which reminds us that Ray Davies is never too comfortable in the here and now. Works as a good sampler of the Kinks’ various moods circa the early seventies.

8. Kink Kontroversy (1965)

This is where the Kinks started to morph from a great singles band into a great band, period. It’s not as consistent as the discs that followed, but there are some classic songs here, including “Till the End of the Day” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.”

9. Give the People What They Want (1981)

A pretty killer rock album. “Destroyer” was a big hit, and most of the album  rocks hard, but the creepy ballad “Art Lover” and the beautiful “Better Days” are probably the two best tracks on the album, from my perspective. I think it’s interesting that the Kinks were one of the first bands to really embrace video in the MTV era (considering they’d been around for two decades), and “Predictable” was an early MTV staple.

10. Misfits (1978)

Most people would probably rank this one higher, but State of Confusion and Give the People What They Want hold a lot of nostalgic charm for me. “Rock & Roll Fantasy” is the killer cut on this disc (where the Kinks recognize the impact music has on fans). But the title track is pretty great, too. The more I listen to this disc, the more I like it.

11. Low Budget (1979)

It’s taken me a long time to warm up to the Kinks’ arena rock years (the mid to late seventies), but this is a fun listen. And how can you resist “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”? It’s kind of disco, I guess, but that’s okay.

12. Sleepwalker (1977)

“Juke Box Music” is a great tune. So is “Sleepwalker,” which really should have been a hit.

13. Phobia (1993)

This isn’t a great album, but it’s way better than it’s given credit for being (not that I’ve ever heard anyone talk about it). The last real Kinks album to date. It rocks pretty hard and has some catchy, pretty tunes, too. I think it Ray and Dave put more into it than they had their previous couple of releases, but it just vanished without a trace.

14. Word of Mouth (1984)

Essentially two good tracks, one of which (Dave Davies’ “Living On a Thin Line”) was kind of great. The other one was “Do It Again.” Kind of a bummer after the two previous discs.

Not ranked:  Kinks, Kinda Kinks (the early Kinks are best sampled on one of their fantastic singles comps), Percy (although I should revisit this one), Everybody’s In Show-Biz, Preservation, Acts 1 and 2, Soap Opera, Schoolboys in Disgrace, Think Visual and any live albums or compilations (although there are a couple of stunning Kinks comps).


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