Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pitch perfect: The Kinks

Long before there was a Vampire Weekend and their self-described "Upper West Side Soweto," there were the Kinks. The crazy, amazing Kinks:

Pete Townshend of the Who (a musical genius in his own right) once said of the Kinks' Ray Davies, "I've often thought he should be made a national treasure." The Kinks pioneered a grittier approach to the British Invasion, combining impeccable three-minute pop hits with dirty guitar licks and imperfect vocals - as a result, they sound pitch perfect among today's indie bands. (And it's not just because they have a song about gas being prohibitively expensive.)

In today's indiescape, bands seem to trip over themselves to prove that they are NOT professional singers, as if that somehow destroys the integrity of what they're trying to do. But long before it was hip to have a quirky-voiced lead singer, the Kinks had Ray Davies. He was far from golden-throated, but when he warbles above that irresistible guitar lick in "You Really Got Me," there is simply no resisting:

And from that inauspicious beginning has launched an entire modern genre in which the vocals are allowed, even expected, to be slightly off-kilter. But Ray Davies did it first, and he did it best:

So if you've somehow missed the Kinks, check out their greatest hits, aptly titled Come Dancing with the Kinks. You'll hear kernels that would eventually blossom into bands like the Eels, Vampire Weekend, even Flight of the Conchords.


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