Every now and then, someone will ask the question ‘go on then, name the best ever single by The Jam,’ Personally, my default setting is always to go with ‘When You’re Young’ which nearly always gets a slating. Obviously, others are more fondly remembered and revered, but I just love the line ‘Life is a drink and you get drunk when you’re young.’ Gets me every time.
If I had to then go with a different pick, it would probably be ‘David Watts.’ Simply an outstanding tune. At the time of release by The Jam I have to confess, I had no idea it was actually written by Ray Davies of The Kinks. Back then in 1978, I would have only really have known classics by them, like ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset.’
Then a good few years later as I started to examine their body of work more closely. I began to pick up their albums as well as the many singles. That is how I found ‘Something Else by The Kinks’. I remember standing in the record shop (I know, those were the days eh?) and read the track listing and realised that by then that I knew a few of the tracks, so couldn’t wait to dive in on the rest.
It was their fifth studio album and saw the light of day in the September of 1967 and was once again produced by Shel Tamy, the American who had been at the controls with the band from their very early days.
As ever with this band, the mix of clever lyrics and storytelling allied to the music hall feel of some of the songs captured a slice of life familiar to me.
‘This is the master.’ ‘Nice and smooth…’
We’re off, and straight into the pub piano playing style of session man Nicky Hopkins, skipping into ‘David Watts’ which rattles along at a fair old rate punctuated by classic lines like ‘Can not tell water from champagne’ as it relates a story of envy, of wishing to be the head boy at your school.
In truth, it was written about a real guy called David Watts, who happened to be gay, which explains the line ‘they try their best but can’t succeed’ in relation to all the girls who try to go out with him.
Is it better than The Jam version? Yeah, today anyway, I think it is.
A rare Ray and Dave collab is up next with the composition ‘Death of a Clown’ – a maudlin tale of an ageing alcoholic funny man in a run-down circus. The words paint a thousand images in your mind.
A classical sounding harpsichord heralds the song ‘Two Sisters.’ It’s the tale of sibling rivalry between a sister living the daily drudgery of everyday life, jealous of the supposed glamorous life of her sibling. It’s been said this is really about Ray and Dave, with Ray married with kids at the time and Dave ‘living it up’ in the 60s heyday. Truly, a play for today in two minutes.
Then, Muswell Hill goes all Bossa Nova for ‘No Return.’ The ever inventiveness of this line up of Pete Quaife on bass and Mick Avory on drums marvellously accompanying Ray and Dave always leaves a smile on your face.
An ode to a having a nice smoke is celebrated in the sing-along ‘Harry Rag.’ The derivation of this particular piece of rhyming slang for the word fag is down to a real life one-time jockey called Harry Wragg, and it’s Pete who shouts ‘bingo!’ at the end.
If for nothing else, I am here to serve you up trivia, dear reader
A melody sounding like it’s being played by a stoned brass band, which is almost impossible not to whistle along to incidentally, leads you into ‘Tin Soldier Man.’ The mage of a salaryman on his daily commute is conjured up, with him all buttoned up and shoes shining. And, if you can listen to the line ‘wickie wack wack ooo’ without singing along, you are a better man than me old fruit.
A real head nodding groove opens up ‘Situations Vacant’ the tale of ‘Suzie and Johnny’ trying to keep up with the aspirations of a domineering mother in law. The closing bars always put me in mind of the kind of groove The Small Faces were noted for.
Dave’s back for the track ‘Love Me Till the Sun Shines’ and he makes a fair fist of it, with the fuzzy guitars overlaid on a decent bit of drumming from old Mick.
There’s a real sloppy drums Psych feel to ‘Lazy Old Sun.’ Definitely a feel of the Pink Floyd to come to the groove and none the poorer for that. Trippy, dippy and fabulous.
Everything stops for tea as ‘Afternoon Tea’ shuffles along, with Ray relating his love of the beverage and his drinking companion Donna. Dave is on particularly fine form on guitar.
A lovely little groove kicks in on ‘Funny Face’ revealing the band at their most inventive musically on this track by Dave. ‘Funny Face is alright’ he sings and the guitar and ‘clipped’ drum sound, ain’t too bad either thank you very much.
A 1920s countryside tea dance vibe is evident on ‘End of the Season.’ Ray gives his best ‘Noel Coward singing through a megaphone’ impression on the vocal accompanied by a very chirpy dawn chorus.
Then the album ends with ‘Waterloo Sunset’.’ Ray’s love letter to London. When people use the phrase classical music around me, this is what I immediately think of. From Pete’s ‘sha la las’ to Dave’s classic guitar riff, this is genius. End of.
Hard to believe when you listen to it now, that ‘Something Else’ sold poorly upon release and indeed failed to make the top 20 album charts in the UK. What were they thinking?
For me, it is a great body of work and I was delighted to have finally got to it.
Believe me, there is a gap in your collection if you haven’t yet.
The Mumper of SE5