18
Oct 05

THE KINKS – “Sunny Afternoon”

Popular37 comments • 4,693 views

#218, 9th July 1966

I have a vivid image of Summer in the 60s, heat-hazed beauty, dollybirds in floral print minidresses, everything rich and green and the whole English countryside suffused with light. Since I wasn’t born until 1973, this can’t be from memory. My best guess is that it’s rooted in The Golden Oldie Picture Show, a tawdry early-80s TV show fronted by Dave Lee Travis whose hook was “what if old hits had had videos?”. Very cheap videos. I can’t remember if “Sunny Afternoon” was given the video treatment but later songs by the Mixtures and Mungo Jerry certainly were and they told me that the recent past was bucolic, full of rich young things, boaters, long legs, lawns, lanes and muttonchops.

“Sunny Afternoon”, with the Kinks playing an English Lovin’ Spoonful, is a seed for that languid vision, even if I didn’t realise it. It’s also a satire of the idly wealthy, but the languor overwhelms the satire for me, now and every time. Mind you, it seems to me that effective satire has to carry within it the temptation to become the thing it hates – or in this case the rueful fear that it already has. Pop itself was creating new wealth – yachts, stately homes, the taxman’s hand were hot topics and not just for mockery, especially given how the London scene mingled pop and fashion and the young aristocracy, all basking in each others’ glory. Distance and deference balance in “Sunny Afternoon”: compromised bliss is still, after all, blissful.

“Sunny Afternoon” is also one of those records where I wish I had any kind of musicological chops, so I could piece together exactly how the Kinks create its four-pints-down sense of boozy irresponsibility, where time meanders by and nothing matters except the sunshine and a refilled glass. Something in the rhythms, the pub backroom piano, the buskerly strum and Ray Davies dreamy, blurred vocal, no doubt.

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Comments

  1. 1
    bza on 18 Oct 2005 #

    Man, I love this review. You make the best point I can think of every one of the hundreds of times I’ve listened to this song: how hard it is to see the sarcasm when the feeling it evokes is so effective.

    I know Davies is being sarcastic, but I’ll be damned if every time I listen to this thing I’m not thinking “wow, that poor guy. I hope he gets his girl back.”

    It’s no “Waterloo Sunset,” but “Sunny Afternoon” is a great bridge between the old and the new Kinks.

  2. 2
    rjm on 19 Oct 2005 #

    This song was part of a loose trilogy on the Face To Face LP, along with “House In the Country” (which was a hit for The Pretty Things) and “Most Exclusive Residence For Sale”. Each song told basically the same story from different points of view–one third person, one somebody who hates the guy’s guts, and then from the first person point of view in “Sunny Afternoon” (even then, Ray was writing little operas). There’s a suggestion (I think) at the end of “Residence” that the guy kills himself–with drink if nothing else.

    This is one of the few songs from the 60s (I was eight when it came out) that I really remember from the time, and when I got into the Kinks more deeply years later, I often wondered if people, especially in the US, even noticed the lyrics and realized what the song was about. That’s the great thing about satire in pop: you can bury things under so many layers of catchy beauty that when the real meaning comes through it hits even harder.

    As for sources, this was the first song Ray wrote after suffering a nervous breakdown in February of ’66. He said it came from listening to a lot of Sinatra while he was recovering, and I think the tone owes a lot to some of Frank’s saloon songs. It really is a beautiful record, and though I agree it’s not up to Waterloo Sunset, or as hard hitting as “Dead End Street”, it’s better than most everything else that followed.

    And I like your mention of The Loving Spoonful (one of my favorites). I’d never really considered the connection to “Daydream”, but now it seems obvious. It was a pretty good year for summer songs (the Spoonful had two).

  3. 3
    Marcello on 19 Oct 2005 #

    I suppose the song could be viewed as a reclamation of “Daydream”‘s vaudeville, like the Karno boat sailing backwards. But there’s a barrier between me and the Kinks, and I think it’s to do with what I consider Ray Davies’ essentially High Tory perspective on the past and how it influences or even supersedes the present. As with Michael Powell in cinema, he recognises that the world he loves is coming to an end, though is equally cognisant of its multiple deep structural faults; unlike Powell, he can’t translate this melange of nostalgia and reluctant futurism into listenable art.

    It may be the smugness (second smug song in a row, and I do have a problem with smugness in music in general) of what sounds like Harry Champion rewriting “Taxman.” Does the “ice-cool beer” (why “cool” and not “cold”? Does the protagonist consider himself still to be cool in the splendour of his ruination?) signify his demeanour of surface calm/uncaringness, or does it simply mean that he persuaded the bailiffs not to take the fridge?

    Davies was wise enough to look through the other end of the societal telescope in the follow-up single “Dead End Street,” which is very similar in construction but explicates the misery imposed on those as a result of subsidising the whims of the protagonist of “Sunny Afternoon.” However, as Gissing did, Davies criticises The System but doesn’t see any useful or convenient replacement for it. Thus the drift into hallucinatory ruination (“Waterloo Sunset” is about a voyeur trying to pretend he’s happy and not living in a slum; and subsequently there’s the balance between the Quintin Terry mock-pastoralism of Village Green Preservation Society and the genuine rage of Arthur) and an elevated, etiolated past which Davies has never quite managed to convince me is worth revisiting or reclaiming.

  4. 4
    bza on 19 Oct 2005 #

    This post has been removed by the author.

  5. 5
    bza on 19 Oct 2005 #

    I wrote this about Village Green:

    http://www.prefixmag.com/features/T/The-Kinks/The-Kinks/177

  6. 6
    Alan Connor on 19 Oct 2005 #

    Resurrection Watch: Those of a sensitive disposition might like to hide their eyes before reading some of the covering artists: Stereophonics, Cathy Dennis, Jimmy Buffett, Brian Bennett, the Standells and, worst til last… Bob Geldof.

    But Baby Gramps went for it on the Sub Poppy covers thing, and the Flying Pickets went for that bassline.

    Marcello, thank you. Every so often, I decide that there must be something in the Kinks, and give them another try. Every so often, another “See my friend” or “Nothing in the world can stop me worryin bout that girl” comes along. But mostly, there’s archness.

    For a while, I thought it was residual memories of seeing Ray D giving his sour readings from his boring book in 1994ish and letting the author thing get in the way.

    But for the most part, I think it’s because there’s something about this kind of ‘satirical’ pop that has something in common with other forms of fakery which are my nightmare. I suppose I’m saying I can see why it appealed to Geldof and the Stereophonics.

    I’ll keep on trying, though.

  7. 7
    Frank Kogan on 20 Oct 2005 #

    I love this more than “Waterloo.” More voluptuous.

    Hearing this in real time age 12 I noticed not the satire, nor the wickedness. Did feel a sharpness, though, an r’n’r speed under the languorous sheen.

    Amazing balance between shimmer and snarl; don’t know how they kept it up through the Sixties, or why it collapsed so quickly and completely c. 1970-71. With the shimmer lost, the snarl became stupid.

  8. 8
    Frank Kogan on 20 Oct 2005 #

    Also, the Kinks may be the love of mine that friends have the most trouble sharing. (Well, that and hip-hop, and disco, and c&w, and Europop, and philosophy.) What I hear as style and twists, friends hear as lack of commitment.

  9. 9
    Frank Kogan on 20 Oct 2005 #

    bza, the authorities won’t let me onto your Village Green.

  10. 10
    Frank Kogan on 20 Oct 2005 #

    Same season as “Sunshine Superman.”

  11. 11
    Alan Connor on 20 Oct 2005 #

    bza, the authorities won’t let me onto your Village Green.

    Hmmmm… bza’s link works, but only if you copy and paste the text, rather than clicking on the hyperlink.

    See if this flies:

    http://www.prefixmag.com/features/T/The-Kinks/The-Kinks/177

  12. 12
    Lena on 20 Oct 2005 #

    For some reason the line “telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty” sticks out for me, and for all I know this song may be one. But it’s so gratuitously slackerly that I have a hard time caring. Maybe if I was British I’d get the sarcasm?

  13. 13
    bza on 20 Oct 2005 #

    how odd, maybe in my haste I pasted in the link to this comments section? We may never know…

    Hope you enjoy if you did get to read it. Don’t take it to seriously either.

    The Kinks are my favorite band, by the way, although they are certainly not for everybody. They did have so good songs post-Muswell, but their albums generally took a nose dive. So few bands stay relevant after ten years, though, it’s hard to single them out for their decline.

  14. 14
    Anonymous on 21 Oct 2005 #

    I think that the Kinks ( and Ray in particular ) were writing ” out of the box” in the sixties. NO spoon, moon june, for ol’ Ray – except of course when he wanted it that way. Cue the face paint and gas lamps of the venerable music Hall.

    Ray was into a broader palate than most at this time and writing about stuff he knew and cared about, England and it’s changing face in the sixties & seventies.

    As in the name of an LP they did – he’s a chronicler of that time.

    Incidentally , as all songwrtiters know , cool beer is a double rhyme with cruetly.

    And just in passing I live in the home town of Zal from the Lovin’ Spoonful – unfortunately he passed away 2 years this Xmas and besides the musical legacy established the best restaurant ( Chez Piggy ) and the best bakery (Pan Chancho ) – this side of Montreal…

    Brian in ( Kingston ) Canada

  15. 15
    It's Dadaismus on 27 Oct 2005 #

    As a dyed-in-the-wool Kinks’ fans since I was THREE YEARS OLD (goldarnit!) (…or so my mum tells me), I’ve never liked this song much. Musically, it drags – no doubt deliberately but nonetheless – and the satirical edge of the lyrics is dulled by the fact that Ray, being a clever chap, seems only too aware of the fact that he could be singing about himself, if not his current self then his future self – so, on cue, archness ensues.

    Also the reference to the taxman – 1966, a Labour government increases its majority from 3 to 97 and, all of a sudden, working class boys on the way up (yer George Harrisons and Ray Davieseseses) are bellyaching about their earnings disappearing to fuel Harold Wilson’s white hot technological bonfire instead of up their noses. Do I not like that…

    And, yes, it has always struck me as an English equivalent of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” (pettiness, cynicism and whingeing inclusive therefore) but then “Daydream” is another of my least favourite songs by another of my most favourite bands!

  16. 16
    Frank Kogan on 4 Nov 2005 #

    it’s so gratuitously slackerly that I have a hard time caring

    Lena, it’s interesting that you say this, since you and I are so close to each other in the way we hear “Paint It, Black.” In some ways – and not just the lyrics, but the delivery, the tone – “Sunny Afternoon” is “Paint It, Black,” with a sunny surface.

    The Kinks, like the Stones, put their song elements at war with one other. The word “irony” isn’t sufficient to describe what’s going on in “Heart of Stone” and “Get Off of My Cloud” and “Under My Thumb” and “Back Street Girl” and “Street Fighting Man” and “Sunny Afternoon” and “Waterloo Sunset.” You can’t say that there’s some “intended” message in these songs that runs opposite to the “literal” message, since the war between elements is never resolved, and no message gets to define the song.

  17. 17
    Frank Kogan on 4 Nov 2005 #

    “Sunny Afternoon” is notable for being one of my few absolute favorite Kinks songs that has neither drone nor rave-up. So it’s less Yardbirds-like than the others.

  18. 18
    Lena on 15 Nov 2005 #

    I agree with you, Frank, on the hopelessness of this song – it is very dark and it’s hard to tell where to look for the darkness (“the tales of drunkenness and cruelty”?), but Jagger’s darkness is a literal blackness and this seems more like a kind of blurry helplessness wherein the singer wants to be saved, but there is no salvation – whereas Jagger knows what he wants. I don’t know, aggression vs. passive-aggression? I agree that there is no irony in this song, at least, and as a listener I can’t tell what the heck is going on. Maybe that’s the point?

    Also, I don’t think this has much to do with the “Daydream” song which is uncomplicated to me – just slow and slack and kind of annoying.

  19. 19
    maxes on 29 Dec 2005 #

    well the blog is good but I don’t understand very well english but I think that the blog is good

    my blog is http://www.elblogmasinteresante.blogspot.com
    bye

  20. 20
    sj maclean on 3 Nov 2006 #

    What a brilliant post from Tom. Captures an emotional feeling of how we like to think of the sixties. What a beautiful sense of calm it captures.

  21. 21

    […] this Popular post for a perceptive and rounded discussion of the A side of ‘I’m not like everybody […]

  22. 22
    Caledonianne on 14 Jul 2007 #

    Don’t know about “the English countryside suffused with light”, but for me this is redolent of Glsgow Fair day-trips for my nigh-on-seven year-old self with the cousins to Ayr, getting grubby on exhaling-their-last steam trains (“change at Dalry!”), chomping boiled egg sandwiches on sizzling sands, and sniggering conspiratorially about the “big fat mama” – perhaps because the accompanying aunt was a slender Joan Sanderson-type schoolmarm.

    One of said cousins is now a Professor of Psychiatry. Wonder what he makes of it all?

  23. 23
    Matthew on 13 Jan 2009 #

    This is so much funnier, cleverer and more compelling than Paperback Writer.I know the Beatles are the greatest pop band of all time!!!1!, but what they were coming up with in this period seems infinitely more dated and of its time than the work of either the Kinks or the Stones.

  24. 24
    Conrad on 4 Jul 2009 #

    And the title…he said 4 pints down

  25. 25
    thefatgit on 30 Sep 2009 #


    What a cool No1 to be born under. This feels like Blur’s “Country House”. Or should “Country House” feel like this? I remember that DLT programme vaguely, although I couldn’t put my finger on any memorable vids from it.

  26. 26
    John V. Keogh on 24 Jan 2010 #

    One of the first records in our house – I was 9, I bought Hideaway by Dave Dee, Dozy, etc and my younger brother bought Sunny Afternoon. I’ve never been sure which is the better record!

  27. 27
    Darren on 27 Aug 2010 #

    I remember the Golden Oldie Picture show, and yes, Sunny Afternoon was featured as a video on there. Furthermore, the video produced was like 90% of the other videos shown on the programme – an incredibly literal transaltion of the lyrics. Girl drives of in the Rolls as the guy sips beer by the pool in his stately home.

  28. 28
    Tom on 6 Jan 2011 #

    Now THIS is a record I should have given more than 8 to.

  29. 29
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Ann Mallalieu, First lady President of the Cambridge Union(1968)

  30. 30
    James K. on 12 Jul 2011 #

    “Furthermore, the video produced was like 90% of the other videos shown on the programme – an incredibly literal translation of the lyrics.”

    There is an actual 1960s-era video of this on Youtube in which the Kinks perform the song in the snow, which for me reinforces the deadpan tone of the lyrics. To see “In the Summertime” or a Beach Boys song performed in the snow would be merely strange, but for this song it is actually funny,

  31. 31
    Mark G on 12 Jul 2011 #

    2005 reviews seem totally tired of the Kinks. Were they ubiquitous at the time? probably.

    now, being 2011, and (re)discovering them via my nice 10CD Pye box, it seems less about the mourning for a disappearing englishness, and more about laughing (a little) at those whose only way forward is nostalgia.

    I resisted getting the “Village Green” because of the “god save Donald Duck” line, but actually it was a purposefully throw-away line to distance the singer from the subject.

    “Walter” from the same album seemed more about regret for passing of an old friendship, but even then “If you saw me now, you would’t even know my name” is fake as walter’d certainly realise his mate was lead singer of The Kinks.

    Anyway, arch-toryism was endemic to much of the entertainment provided to yer working classes around this time: How many comedies were about “work-to-rule” and “striking” Unions, returning home to find yr house invaded by squatters, not to mention …….

  32. 32
    Lena on 30 Aug 2011 #

    A songwriter emerges: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/turning-points-gene-pitney-no-one-needs.html Thanks for reading everyone!

  33. 33
    Billy Smart on 4 Dec 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: The Kinks thrice performed Sunny Afternoon on Top Of The Pops;

    9 June 1966. Also in the studio that week were; Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, The Yardbirds, Tom Jones and Wayne Fontana. David Jacobs was the host.

    23 June 1966. Also in the studio that week were; Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames and Petula Clark. Jimmy Savile was the host.

    7 July 1966. Also in the studio that week were; Chris Farlowe, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Los Bravos, Petula Clark and The Shadows. David Jacobs was the host.

    None of these episodes survive.

  34. 34
    Mark G on 10 Jul 2012 #

    ..and now I have found it.

  35. 35
    lonepilgrim on 9 Nov 2012 #

    the number one hit in the USA at this time was a more primitive offering – as noted here.

  36. 36
    hectorthebat on 28 Apr 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Greil Marcus (USA) – STRANDED: “Treasure Island” Singles (1979)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 200
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  37. 37
    lonepilgrim on 6 Sep 2015 #

    this song provides the title for the 2014 stage musical based loosely on the life and times of the band. It has won awards and praise from critics and is still running in the West End. I don’t know anyone who has seen it so can’t comment on its quality.
    As for the song itself it sounds like a trad jazz shuffle minus the horns. I hear a little bit of Noel Coward in the lyrics but, whereas he often seems to want to dazzle you with his wit, Ray Davies obscures his opinion of his protagonist as he loses (or finds) himself in this booze addled perspective.

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