Ask anyone to name two English pop groups of the 1960s and the majority would say The Beatles and The Stones. Ask a post-punk British musician which English group had the biggest influence on their career and Ray Davies & The Kinks may be mentioned as much as The Beatles. For this reason, although they are highly thought of, some would say Ray Davies & The Kinks are underrated when it comes to holding their rightful place in the history of pop music.
From the outset, Ray Davies never appeared comfortable ‘playing the game’ and all that goes with commercial success. In fact, throughout his career, Ray Davies has done things his way, appearing not to care for what others believed best for him or the band. Just when post-punk bands like The Jam spearheaded a loving revival of The Kinks, Ray Davies decided to turn them into a stadium rock band and tour the US. But as with music itself, adulation is cyclical and Ray Davies and the very English music of The Kinks received another round of adulation in the 1990s from bands such as Blur and Pulp with what became known as Britpop.
Ray & Dave Davies had a brotherly love / hate affair decades before The Gallagher brothers Oasis. Dave was always in the shadow of the most English of singer-songwriters, and some would say underrated pop genius. An example of this is quoted in Jovanovich’s new book, God Save The Kinks:
“Dave,” sniffs Ray at one point, “I’m a genius, a perfectionist.” Dave sighs wearily, “No you’re not, you’re an arsehole.”
Rob Jovanovic is a well seasoned biographer and self-confessed fan of The Kinks. But God Save The Kinks is a good read and written with a clear head. The main problem being that there has been plenty of previous biographies about Ray Davies & The Kinks, and so without interviews with Ray & Dave Davies, Jovanovic faced the problem of whether there was enough of a fresh insight or new angle on the story that has already been told. For this Jovanovich turns to in-depth interviews with various engineers, journalists, photographers and musical collaborators to provide an often dispiriting illustration of what it was like to work with the band.
This book is a fascinating read for all fans of The Kinks and possibly music in general, but I’m not sure it offers anything new; and without interviews with Ray & Dave Davies it might appeal more to those looking to read a second or third book on one of the most influential pop groups of the past 50 years.
God Save The Kinks by Rob Jovanovic is published by Aurum Press priced £20.