Here is our time-worn copy of the The Kinks’ album Arthur from 1969, released in the US on Reprise Records division of what was then called Warner Bros-Seven Arts Records. Cover rubbed from years of being repeatedly taken on and off the shelf for a listen, but the record inside is still graded Very Good +. Had to rehab it a bit with the Record Doctor system and a little scrubbing to get rid of the skips. Cleaned up quite nicely. This item can sell for $99 these days in more pristine condition, but we have appraised ours at $9.00 due to the worn jacket and some surface noise on the disc.
Arthur (or the decline and fall of the British Empire)—the complete title–was not a hit when it was released. It did not chart in the UK, and it only reached #105 in the US. It’s highest charting single, “Victoria,” only reached #33 in the UK and #62 in the US, and “Victoria” is in no way even the best song on the album. Nevertheless, this album is far greater than any of these statistics would imply. Listening to it today evokes a nostalgia trip about the sound and ethos of the British Invasion, and reinforces why The Kinks should be considered patron saints of later British punk rock and modern Britpop.
When people think these days of the legacy of the British Invasion, they tend to think of the lasting influence of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and maybe The Who. Paul McCartney, the Stones, and the last gasping remnants of The Who are still selling out concerts. It is easy to overlook The Kinks, because even their greatest albums never sold that well, and they are chiefly remembered for a handful of singles. If you ask most serious music fans these days to name some Kinks songs, they will likely come up with “You Really Got Me” (a cover version of which kick-started Van Halen’s career) and “Lola.” However, the Kinks did have 14 top 10 singles in America, and unlike most 1- or 2-hit wonder bands, a lot of their greatest music comes from the same awesome sound universe that produced the two songs everybody remembers. So, the wonderful thing about the Kinks is that they might well be the greatest band you never really listened to. There is a wealth of good material to be discovered in their discography.
Arthur is the kind of album that plays from beginning to end without any detectable weak spots you want to skip over when you go back for a second listen. It is not quite a concept album, because each song is a distinct piece, but it has a “concept” feel. It was actually written as a soundtrack to a planned TV drama, but the show was cancelled and never produced, so the sense of a conceptual unity persists in the final record. There is a kind of flouting of staid British tradition that gives it a rebellious character, so it is a little bit proto-punk in its sensibility. That aspect of the album comes out in its alternate title and songs like “Victoria,” “Mr. Churchill Says,” and “She Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina.” The song “Australia” mockingly depicts how moving to Australia might be a sought-after way to escape from the UK, but you get the sense that it is probably just a false promise. The very British-ness of all these songs may have limited the album’s appeal in the US in 1969, but it is all that much more evocative of the British Invasion today. Likewise, songs like “Yes Sir, No Sir” and “Some Mother’s Son” should have fit right in with the anti-Vietnam War sentiment of pop music in 1969, but they are so British-sounding that they make you think more of World War I when you hear them.
The Kinks excel at mashing up a parody of old-fashioned British music hall tunes with hard-driving rock’n’roll in a way that no other band achieved. Much more than the Beatles, the Stones, or The Who, the Kinks are the spiritual grandfathers of the succession of British pop music that has occurred in the years since 1964 as we saw the British Invasion yield to punk & new wave, indie pop of the ‘80s, Britpop in the ‘90s, and more contemporary British bands (such as the Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand.)
Arthur represents a case study in all that was great about The Kinks and all that made The Kinks the “also-ran” band of the British Invasion. It was the last album recorded before the end of the Kinks US touring ban, and it was the soundtrack to a TV show that never happened. The American Federation of Musicians (the major professional musicians’ union) had much more power in those days of the early 1960’s, and they refused to certify The Kinks as professionals for touring in the US for four years after 1964 because of the rowdiness, fights, and riots that had occurred at some of their British shows. The ban ended in 1969, but it had the effect of keeping The Kinks on the sidelines during the peak years of The British Invasion when all their compatriots were making a killing touring and appearing on TV in America. We were lucky enough to see The Kinks in 1980 at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum (on a double bill with The Ramones). They were slick showmen, and there were no riots.