Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks from Face to Face

The Kinks get overlooked or given short shrift when discussing 60s British Invasion bands.  They shouldn’t. They started out belting blues-based rock numbers  with harder edge that equaled anything the early Stones were putting out in their attempts to recreate American blues.  Then, they switched gears and mellowed out and got a bit folky (relatively) with some beautiful songs that have Ray Davies’ personal touch of acerbic lyrical wit that sometimes, when they were hitting all cylinders, out-Beatled the Beatles.  A prime example would be 1966’s Sunny Afternoon.

The song starts off with a lament about how “the taxman’s taken all my dough.”  Released around the same time as the Beatle’s lead song Taxman from Revolver, apparently the tax situation in England was a sore subject for rockers at the time.  However, unlike the Beatles’ song which is written from the perspective of the evil taxman, the Kinks come at it from the angle of the sympathetic taxpayer.  Ok, maybe not so sympathetic.  The next line of the song is “and left me in this stately home/lazing on a sunny afternoon/and I can’t sail my yacht”.  Yeah, maybe sympathetic to Donald Trump but not to much anyone else.

Davies’ singing of the lines dramatically add to the lack of sympathy for our overtaxed gentlemen narrator.  It’s a bit of a hang-dog delivery that is at the same time a bit detached and blessedly unaware of anyone else.  He cries to “help me help me help me sail away” as if this is a mode of transportation everyone should have access to.  He loses more points when he complains about his girlfriend running off to her parents to tell tales “of drunkenness and cruelty.”

Musically, the underlying riff plods along with with Davies’ morose, self-absorbed narrator, but there’s some beautiful harmonizing behind it and in the choruses that is in stark contrast to the ugliness of our “hero” and makes you pine for that sunny summer afternoon that our narrator is left with in the absence of his money.  There’s some country elements I hear in parts, the piano flourishes resemble something you’d imagine walking into an old Western saloon and seeing someone pounding on the keys.

It’s not hard to see how modern English bands like Pulp and Blur are so indebted to the Kinks, and Ray Davies in particular.  Here’s a video of the band performing the song, not surprising that the band would play it in the snow.  Sunny afternoon indeed.

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