The Kinks’ Second in Kommand offers up ten years’ worth of riches
I’ve always been especially fascinated by the occasional contributor, the band member who cedes the songwriting duties to the group’s primary composers, but every so often offers up an occasional gem that rivals the work of those at the helm.
George Harrison offered an example of one who took that supporting role in the Beatles, and penned songs that were easily the equal of Lennon and McCartney’s best. Even though he was given only scant showcases on the group’s albums, there’s no denying the quality of such Harrisongs as “Something,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “It’s All Too Much” or for that matter, the full flourish of All Things Must Pass, a masterpiece that was necessarily delayed by design.
Praise is also due others that were relegated to secondary standing as song contributors in their respective ensembles — John Entwistle as far as the Who, Joe Walsh in terms of the Eagles, Denny Laine with Wings, Dennis and Carl Wilson versus brother Brian in the Beach Boys, chief among them. In each of these cases, the second string songwriters added a distinct sound that enhanced the band’s music with a bit of variety and also provided additional interest. In many cases, these additional efforts additives paved the way for successful solo careers that spotlighted songwriting skills that couldn’t be contained within the constraints of their groups’ dynamic.
Dave Davies consistently fit that category from early in the Kinks’ career through the time they called it quits. His list of song credits included any number of essential Kinks classics — “Death of a Clown,” “This Time Tomorrow,” “Strangers,” “You Don’t Know My Name,” “Lincoln County,” “Hold My Hand,” and other assorted originals — and though a solo album was widely rumored to be imminent in 1967, the idea was scrapped even as it approached fruition. The songs were scattered among many of the group’s subsequent releases or left to languish in obscurity. Dave’s solo career would eventually kick off in earnest with his first proper solo set, AFL1-3603, with later compilations like Hidden Treasures, Fortis Green and Unfinished Business collecting the odds and ends and gathering whatever rarities remained. When his individual albums picked up in earnest, there was less need to revisit his earlier efforts, although in truth, his seminal songs are still the best recordings of his career.
Granted, there’s no denying his brother Ray Davies’ genius or the need to give Ray due credit for overseeing the course and concepts that transformed the Kinks from early pop posers to arguably the most quintessential British band of the mid to late ‘60s. And while Dave served as the group’s wellspring of power chords and high harmonies, his riveting, high-pitched lead vocals and ongoing ability to veer between rowdy rockers and tender touchstones made him the band’s most essential additive other than Ray himself.
(For the record, I recall meeting the band at a Miami Beach hotel prior to a South Florida performance in the early ‘70s. Ray was absent from the gathering at the poolside bar, but Dave himself was gregarious and an excellent interview, which led me to write later that if Ray ever decided to vacate the helm, Dave seemed well equipped to carry the reigns on his own.)
All of which brings us to Decade, yet another anthology of solo sides that are either obscure or otherwise unreleased. The decade in question is the ‘70s, mostly encompassing 1973 through 1979, a time when Ray was preoccupied by a continuing string of concept albums — the Preservation series in particular — and the band’s creative energies were beginning to wane. Most of these tracks were a run up to AFL1-3603 and likely intended as a bid for AOR radio play. As a result, they shed the quaintness and curiosity of his ‘60s style set-ups while opting instead for a more unfettered approach. In some cases that deadened the distinctiveness of Dave’s delivery, although songs such as “Cradle to the Grave,” “Midnight Sun” and the stellar instrumental “The Journey” show that Dave was never truly idle even though his input to the band had become far less frequent. The fact that this material–which could be seen in the same warm, rustic light as the solo works of Ron Wood and Ronnie Lane–were discovered “under beds, in attics, in storage” as the liner notes contend, makes the consistent high quality of the material all the more impressive, leading one to wonder why they were hidden away at all.
In that regard, credit Dave Davies as an able representative of the infrequent contributor. If Decade proves nothing else, it offers evidence that for every gem that second string songwriter is allowed to share, there are likely other excellent offerings still waiting in the wings.