The Kinks – ‘Golden Hour Of The Kinks’

By the dawn of 1981 regular trips to Snu-Peas, Boscombe’s dingy vinyl haven were becoming weekly fixes. Fingering through rows of soiled and pre-owned LPs would become an obsession, but the thrill of the chase for new music had hit me, hard. The Kinks had caught my attention with a handful of their 60s hits being regular plays on my radio channels of choice. I loved the production, the sound and feel of the likes of Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon that oozed a whimsical, multi-coloured and romantic, quintessentially English sound. It was the mix of Ray Davies’ genius as a songwriter coupled with the brash coolness of early hits You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night which tempted me into finding out more. A search for a Kinks album featuring these favourites and about twenty more lead me to Golden Hour Of The Kinks. A fine choice.

This second hand slice of vinyl became an ever-present on my music centre (turntable, tape player and radio all-in-one-state-of-the-art combo) for months, sharing heavy rotation with The Beatles and a whole heap of classic 60s bands. More than ever music was my tuition, and storytellers such as Ray Davies were making up for what was lacking in my academic education. Davies spoke with wit and insight about society, class, and the nation’s blind desire to aspire, to wealth not wisdom, to material success not happiness.

“Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la

The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he’s too scared to complain
Cos he’s conditioned that way

Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio
For seven shillings a week
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la…”

– Shangri-La

Never mind that playground fools mocked my love of The Kinks, to me Golden Hour Of The Kinks was like a book I just couldn’t put down, instead wanting to read it again and again. Davies sharpened my interest in 60s culture – with fanciful prose about dandy, attire-obsessed gentlemen and sexual experimentation – and gave me a cautiously romantic view of life. He wrote with cynicism but with positivity, musically drifting between luscious melodies, dreamy soundscapes and thrash, garage guitar. Over thirty years on and Waterloo Sunset is still one of my all-time favourites and “Sha-la-la” has still never sounded so good. I loved The Kinks. Still do.

Squeeze – ‘Cool For Cats’

40 years later I would still say 1979 was a fantastic year for pop music. Punk had all but been and gone, but it had revitalised popular music, giving it an energy it had lacked since the 60s. Ska and reggae, offshoots of the punk era, as well as a mod revival made its way into pubs, clubs and ultimately mainstream radio and into the charts. As a 13-year-old kid wearing sta-pressed, Fred Perrys and argyle jumpers I loved it all, soaking it up like my life depended on it.

Over the next two years Radio 1’s weekly Top 40 show on Sundays became my obsession. I created my own chart system, writing down the Top 20 every week, giving the no.1 position 20 points, no.2 19 points, no.3 18 etc. At the end of the year I made my own Top 20 singles chart from the accumulated points. My obsession with lists was also becoming a bit scary. By the end of 1980 if anyone gave me the title of a single from the Top 20 in ‘79 or ‘80, I could name the artist, every time. Some would say this was an early sign of me becoming a music nerd, and I’d probably have to agree.

Five bands dominated my desires in 1979, the first of which was Squeeze. Cool For Cats was their second album and I played it to death. It contained four singles, two of which Cool For Cats and Up The Junction were, and still are perfect examples of the song-writing brilliance of Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook. Like many new lyricists at the time, Difford & Tilbrook wrote songs about real life, real people and modern culture, but unlike many bands who were influenced by the dawning of the Thatcher-era and the mountain of political issues affecting the country, Squeeze wrote songs about people. And sex. Not sex as in your modern day sexist, image obsessed, body fascist bullshit. No. Cool For Cats was littered with innuendo, slang and stories of masturbation, desperation, infatuation, heavy drinking and unwanted pregnancies, all brilliantly linked together by razor-sharp social awareness. It was perfectly real, like a Ken Loach movie set to music.

Cool For Cats was a brilliant single. Lyrically reminiscent of a pubescent Ray Davies, musically bombastic in a London pub style. I turned 13 the week after its release, but it’s Squeeze’s next single that was the first song I remember being able to sing from start to finish. I guess I needed to be a teenager first. Strangely I remember a specific time too… in the changing rooms after swimming at school. It’s funny the things you remember. I felt quite adult, nervously reciting the lyrics, like I was narrating a grown-up story to school friends who I hoped would be impressed.

Up The Junction was clearly lyrically influenced by Nell Dunn’s 1963 novel of the same name, sharing the same gritty, working-class realism starting from its opening line “I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham”. Just looking at the album’s sleeve brings back blissfully happy, innocent, wide-eyed memories. Squeeze were a pop-obsessed pubescent boy’s dream. Give the dog a bone indeed.