Juke Box . . . . . . . . .
Presented by Evergreen’s very own disc jockey,
IBill “The Beat” Baxter
t’s wonderful how, when seen through the prism of a beautiful song and sprinkled with the magic dust of music and lyrics, ostensibly ordinary places can suddenly become much more colourful, vivid and alive. During the last 50 years a number of popular songs have immortalised English locations. You’ll be able to think of numerous others, but my favourites include “Penny Lane” ( The Beatles), “Grantchester Meadows” ( Pink Floyd) and “Solsbury Hill” ( Peter Gabriel).
Thousands of songs in every possible style have been written about London, from “London Pride” ( Noel Coward) and “Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner” ( Bud Flanagan), to “London Calling” ( The Clash) and “Hometown Glory” ( Adele). The very best of these songs seem to capture, not only the places they celebrate and what they meant to the songwriters, but the times when they were written. So, continuing the London theme, if “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” sung by Vera Lynn is the perfect, romantic evocation of the capital during the war, “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks is an equally atmospheric, storytelling snapshot of the city in the buzzing 1960s.
It is this hit record from 1967 I am putting on the turntable in this issue. Speaking of which, I was delighted to read a report in a newspaper recently that sales of vinyl singles and LPs have reached a 20- year high.
For me, you’ll never beat the oldfashioned 33 and 45rpm records. Has there ever been a better sound, or one loaded with more anticipation, than the gentle crackle and hiss as a stylus makes contact with a black, spinning disc?
Although the line- up of The Kinks changed throughout their rollercoaster recording and performing career, the two constants were Ray Davies ( the main songwriter) and younger brother Dave. The two boys ( with six older sisters) grew up in a working- class home in Muswell Hill, North London, where Saturday- night parties in the front room saw people from the local pub and an array of aunts, uncles and cousins joining in singalongs around the piano. These noisy, chaotic gatherings introduced Ray and Dave to an incredible variety of musical styles from the old standards their parents enjoyed to popular music- hall favourites, jazz and early rock and roll.
I haven’t the space here to go into the stop- go- stop- go musical journey of The Kinks and the bands that preceded them, or indeed the complicated relationship between the two brothers, but you can see how exposure to so many different genres fed into their music. I don’t think any pop group has created such a varied catalogue of songs: from the heavy rock of “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”, through the more gentle “Tired of Waiting for You” and “See My Friends” to the satirical “Sunny Afternoon”, “A Well Respected Man” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”. There was much more, of course, including, from 1968, the lovely “Autumn Almanac” and a classic, much- underrated “concept” album: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.
Interviewed in The Independent in 2011, Ray Davies gave some fascinating insights into the genesis
of the song: “I didn’t think to make it about Waterloo initially, but I realised the place was so very significant in my life. I was in St. Thomas’ Hospital when I was really ill ( when he was 13), and the nurses would wheel me out on the balcony to look at the river. It was also about being taken down to the Festival of Britain with my mum and dad. It’s about the two characters in the song, and the aspirations of my sisters’ generation before me, who grew up during the Second World War. It’s about the world I wanted them to have. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife, and all the dreams that we had.”
Elsewhere, he revealed that, having been caught up in the Merseybeat sound and inspired by the wonderful reception The Kinks always got in the city, he was originally going to call the song “Liverpool Sunset”. As
for “the two characters” in the song, when the record was released it was widely assumed that they were the “in” couple of the day, Terence Stamp and Julie Christie who starred opposite one another in Far from the Madding Crowd. Ray has always denied this, saying in an interview: “It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country.”
“Waterloo Sunset”, which also featured band members Pete Quaife ( bass guitar) and Mick Avory ( drums), reached number two in the UK charts on 27th May 1967, kept off the top spot by “Silence is Golden” by The Tremeloes. The rest of the top five that week were “Dedicated to the One I Love” ( The Mamas and Papas), “Then I Kissed Her” ( The Beach Boys) and “Puppet on a String” ( Sandie Shaw). The song was included on Something Else, an album which also featured “Death of a Clown”, a solo hit for Dave Davies later in the year when it reached number three in the charts.
On writing “Waterloo Sunset”, Ray Davies commented: “I had achieved everything I set out to do creatively and I was 22 years old.” However, the musical genius has continued to write and perform, including an appearance at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics when he sang — What else could it be? — “Waterloo Sunset”. There are reports of the surviving members of The Kinks ( Peter Quaife died in 2010) working together again, while Ray was buoyed by the recent success of Sunny Afternoon, the Kinks- inspired musical, which picked up four prestigious Olivier Awards. Ray himself received an award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
Is “Waterloo Sunset”, as one journalist described it, “the most beautiful song of the rock and roll era”? I think it probably is.
Sunset over the River Thames and the famous station where Terry met Julie.
The Kinks in 1965. Left to right: Peter Quaife, Dave Davies, Ray Davies, Mick Avory.