Anyone who has immersed themselves in X-Ray : The Unauthorised Autobiography - Ray Davies' 'fictional' autobiography, and Kink, Dave Davies' more orthodox memoirs in an effort to glean the inside story of one of our most revered sixties bands would, I suggest, emerge none the wiser as to the true story of The Kinks. Such is the deep-rooted antagonism that exists between the Davies brothers - which often sees them deliberately offering entirely different accounts of the same incidents - and the hazy, patchy recollections of the other Kinks and those surrounding them, that an accurate perspective on their achievements over their thirty two year life-span would seem to be impossible to reach, leaving the band somewhat short of the acclaim and level of prestige that many see as their deserved legacy.
In this new and thorough biography respected music journalist Nick Hasted combines a brisk run through their recorded work and a blow-by-blow narrative of the touring, mismanagement, business disputes, breakdowns and other assorted mayhem that rendered their career so turbulent and hapless with an attempt to analyze the creative/destructive relationship that existed between Ray and Dave and that fuelled every turn of this tumultuous story. Relying on quotes from the aforementioned books, his own lengthy interviews with both brothers and a good deal of other interview material he tries valiantly to construct as accurate and plausible an account of events as possible. Even though the monotony of the one-fact-after-another syndrome is never fully avoided and the writing style is sometimes as convoluted as the plot, the result is the most satisfying and convincing appraisal of The Kinks as we've had so far.
The Kinks career can, roughly speaking, be divided into two distinct, very unequal phases – the astonishingly prolific, albeit brief period between 1964 and 1968 with the classic four-piece band of Ray, Dave, Peter Quaife and Mick Avory that produced a string of hit singles that is arguably unsurpassed by any comparable run of creativity – and the drawn-out, troubled, and under-appreciated times since, when the often great records they produced were either deemed out of step with the times or lost in a fog of general incompetence and destructive behaviour. For four glorious years their fourteen singles – from 'You Really Got Me' to 'Days' - pretty much defined pop culture in London at that time, and songwriter Ray Davies established himself as an enormously gifted and idiosyncratic social commentator drawing on the traditions and values of his North London working class roots in combination with an outsider mentality that yielded so many uncompromising songs of acute perception. Those times weren't without their ups and downs - sibling rivalry and occasional lawsuits - though it would appear to be a less cynical time when Ray can claim that The Kinks survived because of “my mum making me a sandwich and saying 'eat that and shut up'”. Uncompromising is probably the key word in any story of The Kinks and especially in Ray Davies' attitude to authority and any perceived artistic interference whether it be from record companies, managers or other members of the band. This and the heroically hedonistic, resentful and at times brutal behaviour of Dave Davies, the often confused management situation, and banishment from touring the U.S. at a time when the Beatles and Stones were quickly establishing a sort of global pop duopoly eventually caused events to turn increasingly sour and chaotic. At the end of the sixties, seemingly unable to capitalize on their own success and make a lucrative transition to the emergent album market they appeared content to stay in their own-back yard, cancelling shows and watching and playing football instead while the world passed them by. Dave's abusive and unpredictable behaviour resulted in Quaife's departure from the band in March 1969 and Ray's writing had become more insular and complex resulting in two albums, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur that although now considered important works were completely out of sync with the prevailing fashion. When their U.S. ban was lifted in 1969 they were at least able to resume touring and indeed spent a good deal of (lost) time there where they were marketed and accepted as an 'album' band – a concept that their singles-obsessed UK record company Pye were unwilling or unable to grasp. Belated success in the States came at a price though. Dave had what appears to be a drug-induced breakdown and contemplated suicide, personal relationships cracked and broke, Ray actually tried to end it all after announcing he was leaving The Kinks in 1973 (subsequently retracted), and the strained interdependancy within the band threatened to wreck everything at any moment. When The Kinks, to all intents and purposes, finally became Ray's backing band with less permanent personnel and increasing strife the end was in sight and in June 1996, they played their last show.
Since then Dave Davies has suffered a severe stroke and all but completely recovered, Ray was shot in the leg whilst chasing a mugger in New Orleans and has seemingly far from recovered, and Pete Quaife has sadly passed away. Ray's reputation as a songwriter and the enduring appeal of his best work (of which 'Waterloo Sunset' is arguably the most iconic) has kept him in the spotlight recently but as the two Julien Temple films aired on BBC4 in the last few months showed there is a melancholic, resigned and perhaps even regretful air to both Ray and Dave's characters now. Their story is a classic, one of not inconsiderable success and acclaim gained despite themselves, their single-minded self-destructive behaviour and the events that conspired against them. It's a riveting and entertaining tale and Hasted tells it as plainly and truthfully as his material allows.
One significant gripe – there is no index to the book, and with a cast of so many characters weaving in and out of the narrative, it needs one.