Often cited as one of the most quintessentially English albums of its era, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was venerated by critics though largely overlooked itself by the buying public. Released in the same year as The Beatles’ The White Album, Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets, and The Band’s Music from Big Pink, Ray Davies’ concept LP had little in common with the rest of his contemporaries, many of whom were either looking to America for musical stimulation, or tripping themselves into outer space. Instead, Davies turned to his beloved England for inspiration, writing a collection of tunes full of intriguing characters such as Arthur, Johnny Thunder and Wicked Annabella, who lived under a wide sky while taking photographs of each other “Just to prove that they really existed”, naturally, only these days it’s called Facebook.
The title track is a tender ode to an England that was ever rapidly changing, especially throughout the 1960’s, where Davies and Co. are determined to conserve what remains of their country’s traditionally conservative culture, preserving “the old ways from being abused/Protecting the new ways for me and for you/What more can we do”.
The sentimentalism continues with “Do You Remember Walter” (a far more cynical take on aging than McCartney’s “When I’m Sixty-four”), “Picture Book”, and the deliciously languid “Sitting by the Riverside”. Davies laments the demise of old British Rail on “The Last of the Steam Powered Trains”, while yearning for pastoral sanity on “Animal Farm” (nothing to do with George Orwell by the way, just in case you’re wondering). The theme of simple pleasures and country life are expressed throughout “Village Green”, however the LP tends to drag a bit towards the end. The neo-psychedelic “Phenomenal Cat”, “All My Friends Were There” (which could have been written by Syd Barrett), and “Wicked Annabella” (I can imagine a pre-T-Rex Marc Bolin grooving to this one), are all cleverly written and arranged, though difficult to remember once each one is over.
As Ray Davies says in the liner notes contained within the mammoth 3-disc deluxe edition, “It’s the most successful failure of all time.” He’s probably right. However over the decades appreciation for the album has multiplied, whose whimsical tales of English rural life and quaint eccentrics never seems to date. Many of these tunes have a delicacy as well as poignancy to them, not to mention a sturdy nod to American blues, Psychedelia, and folk-rock, along with a nostalgic measure of old-fashioned Music-Hall. This is one of those classic LPs that must be absorbed and enjoyed from beginning to end, where throughout Davies paints a picture of a society that was as imaginary as it was also genuine. A world invented as much on fact as it was on fiction. That it lacked a “Waterloo Sunset” or “You Really Got Me” was likely the real reason why it failed to reach a wider audience, and due not to any musical deficiency on the part of The Kinks themselves.
Originally issued in mono, Village Green can now be enjoyed in stereo (remastered from first generation tapes no less), making for a far superior listen (the mono version has been preserved on disc two for all the purists). However it’s the third disc that will have many a Kinks archivist barring up over, and is a Kinks fanatic’s dream come true. 55 minutes of outtakes, alternate mixes and other assorted rarities, the majority of which were previously unavailable. Only Ray Davies could have written lines such as “We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity/Gave save little shops, china cups and virginity” and gotten away with it.
All I can say is God save The Village Green indeed. And I should know. The village I was raised in had one of its own, which I am happy to say is still there to this day.