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.