The Talented Ray Davies Part Three
Later commercial sound (1976–84)
Ray Davies performing in Toronto, 1977
When the Kinks changed record labels from RCA to Arista in 1976, Davies abandoned his then-recent propensity for ambitious, theatrical concept albums and rock operas—the RCA era (1971–75) had produced Muswell Hillbillies, Everybody’s in Show-Biz, Preservation Act 1 and Act 2, Soap Opera and Schoolboys in Disgrace—and returned to writing more basic, straightforward songs. The group would also employ newer production techniques to achieve a more refined studio sound on the albums Sleepwalker (1977) and Misfits (1978), as Davies’ focus shifted to wistful ballads of restless alienation (“Life on the Road”, “Misfits”), meditations on the inner lives of obsessed pop fans (“Juke Box Music”, “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy”), and exhortations of carpe diem (“Life Goes On”, “Live Life”, “Get Up”). A notable single from late 1977 reflected the contemporary influence of punk rock: “Father Christmas” (A-side) and “Prince of the Punks” (B-side—inspired by Davies’ troubled collaboration with Tom Robinson).
By the early 80s, the Kinks revived their commercial fortunes considerably by adopting a much more mainstream arena rock style; and the band’s four remaining studio albums for Arista—Low Budget (1979), Give the People What They Want (1981), State of Confusion (1983) and Word of Mouth (1984)—showcased a decidedly canny and opportunistic approach. On “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”, Davies vented his existential angst about the 1979 energy crisis over a thumping disco beat; on “A Gallon of Gas”, he addressed the same concern over a traditional acoustic twelve-bar blues shuffle. In contrast, “Better Things” (1981), “Come Dancing” (1982), “Don’t Forget to Dance” (1983) and “Good Day” (1984) were sentimental songs of hope and nostalgia for the aging Air Raid Generation. However, with “Catch Me Now I’m Falling” (1979), “Destroyer” (1981), “Clichés of the World (B Movie)” (1983) and “Do It Again” (1984), the Davies brothers cranked out strident, heavy-riffing hard rock that conveyed an attitude of bitter cynicism and world weary disillusionment.
I write songs because I get angry, and now I’m at the stage where it’s not good enough to brush it off with humour.
— NME, June 1978
Solo work: 1985–present
Aside from the lengthy Kinks discography, Davies has released five solo albums: the 1985 release Return to Waterloo (which accompanied a television film he wrote and directed), the 1998 release The Storyteller, Other People’s Lives in early 2006, Working Man’s Café in October 2007 and The Kinks Choral Collection in June 2009. Other People’s Lives was his first top 40 album in the UK since the 1960s, when he worked with the Kinks. In 1986 he contributed the track Quiet Life to the soundtrack of the Julien Temple film Absolute Beginners. The song was released as a single.
The release of Working Man’s Café was followed on 28 October 2007 with a performance at the BBC’s Electric Proms series, at The Roundhouse, Camden, accompanied by the Crouch End Festival Chorus. The concert was broadcast the same evening on BBC Two. An edited version of Working Man’s Café, excluding two bonus tracks and liner notes, was given away with 1.5 million copies of the Sunday Times on 21 October.
In 2005, Davies released The Tourist, a four-song EP, in the UK; and Thanksgiving Day, a five-song EP, in the US.
Davies at Bluesfest 2008 in Ottawa
Davies published his “unauthorised autobiography”, X-Ray, in 1994. In 1997, he published a book of short stories entitled Waterloo Sunset, described as “a concept album set on paper.” He has made three films, Return to Waterloo in 1985, Weird Nightmare (a documentary about Charles Mingus) in 1991, and Americana (subtitled “A Work In Progress”) which was included on DVD with the Working Man’s Cafe disc release in 2008.
A choral album, The Kinks Choral Collection, on which Davies had been collaborating with the Crouch End Festival Chorus since 2007, was released in the UK in June 2009 and in the US in November 2009. The album was re-released as a special extended edition including Davies’ charity Christmas single “Postcard From London” featuring Davies’ former girlfriend and leader of the Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde. The video for the single was directed by Julien Temple and features London landmarks including Waterloo Bridge, Carnaby Street, the statue of Eros steps and the Charlie Chaplin statue in Leicester Square. The duet was originally recorded with Kate Nash. His first choice had been Dame Vera Lynn.
In October 2009, Davies performed “All Day and All of the Night” with Metallica at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert.
Davies was a judge for the 3rd (in 2004) and 7th (in 2008) annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.
Davies played at Glastonbury Festival 2010 where he dedicated several songs to the late Kinks’ bassist, Pete Quaife. Davies was seen to visibly almost break down in tears while singing an a cappella intro to the song “Days”.
A collaborations album, See My Friends, was released in November 2010 with a US release to follow in early 2011.
In 2011 Davies was “grounded” for six months following discovery of blood clots in his lungs After the malady Davies programmed the line-up for the upcoming Meltdown Festival in London. At the festival he performed a rendition of the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society album with the London Philharmonic and the Crouch End Festival Chorus. He was working on his second book: a memoir that Davies described as “kind of fictionalized”.
2011 also marked Davies’ return to New Orleans, Louisiana, to play the Voodoo Experience Music festival. Davies’ setlist included material by the Kinks and solo material. In autumn 2011, Davies toured with the 88 as his backing band. In August 2012, Davies performed ‘Waterloo Sunset’ as part of the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, watched by over 24 million viewers in the UK, but which was subsequently cut by NBC from the US broadcast in favour of a failed marketing attempt for their upcoming show Animal Practice.
On 18 December 2015 Ray joined his brother Dave for an encore at London’s Islington Assembly Hall. The two performed “You Really Got Me,” marking the first time in nearly 20 years that the brothers had appeared and performed together. In April 2017, Davies released the album Americana. Based his experiences in the US it follows on from the short DVD, Americana — a work in progress (found on the deluxe CD Working Man’s Cafe from 2007), and his biographical book Americana from 2013. A second volume was promised later in 2017. For his backing band on Americana Davies chose The Jayhawks an alt-country/country-rock band from Minnesota.