With over 20 studio albums spanning a 30-year period and spawning multiple hits, the Kinks have a lengthy and varied discography. Their styles flowed through many genres and subgenres, including garage rock, pop, vaudeville, rock opera, and arena rock. Ray Davies wrote several iconic tunes over the years such as their groundbreaking “You Really Got Me” to “Lola” to “Come Dancing,” and younger brother Dave also penned notable tunes with “Death of a Clown,” and “Living on a Thin Line.” Despite having such a wide array of recognizable tunes that still get decent radio play on any respectable “classic rock” station, the true beauty of the Kinks lies in their lesser known songs, often penned during the years when they nearly faded into obscurity in mainstream rock before making a major comeback in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Here are 10 deep tracks from the Kinks.
1) “Too Much on My Mind,” Face to Face (1966)
The first few Kinks albums are typical of your general pop/rock fare of the early-to-mid ’60s, but Face to Face, in my opinion, was the seminal album where Ray Davies began to shape his reputation as one of of Britain’s most prolific songwriters. This beautiful track is currently featured in the West End musical Sunny Afternoon.
2) “Big Sky,” The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
This is a song carrying a lot of philosophical baggage and existential worry despite being penned by a then 24 year old. Ray Davies liked to tackle a lot of big, all-encompassing emotions and thoughts of the human condition and pass them off as pop. Not bad.
3) “Strangers,” Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1 (1970)
Dave Davies’ talents in songwriting were unfortunately and probably unfairly pushed to the background throughout the Kinks’ career, but when he did get album time, he shined. Perhaps his most emotionally powerful ballad, “Strangers” looks to recognize the essence of humanity by connecting us through our equal standing as beings just trying to journey through life.
4) “The Way Love Used to Be,” Percy (1971)
The Percy album tends to be overlooked, likely because it’s technically a soundtrack album and more so because the movie of the same name is unheard of by most casual listeners and often ignored by the more dedicated fans. But this song is one of the most melancholy and heartfelt love songs even written.
5) “Sweet Lady Genevieve,” Preservation: Act 1 (1973)
Another track in the love-song vein, this song is a hidden gem of the Kinks’ theater-rock period. Fans have a lot of mixed feelings on the overall premise of the Preservation albums of the mid-’70s (like marmite, you either love or hate them), but each album had a few truly brilliant pieces of music, and this is certainly one of them.
6) “Headmaster,” Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975)
Schoolboys in Disgrace was the concluding album of the theater period for the band and acted as a nice transition piece for their return to their roots in rock. “Headmaster” doesn’t make much sense outside the context of the album, but Dave Davies’ excellent guitar work is what really makes this song so catchy and lovable.
7) “Life Goes On,” Sleepwalker (1977)
Once the Kinks escaped the cycle of opera-esque songwriting, Ray Davies returned to his niche in observational lyrics. Davies is the king of writing about the ups and downs of human emotion and has a particular knack of bringing any negative notion back into the positive.
8) “Permanent Waves,” Misfits (1978)
There are a number of quirky topics covered in Kinks songs that veer away from the usual motifs; Ray Davies has composed songs about everything from trains to tacky home decor to allergies and beyond. Here he tackles the idea that a hairstyle can make or break a man’s confidence, love life, and general well-being — tongue well in cheek, of course.
9) “Loony Balloon,” UK Jive (1989)
Part sci-fi fantasy, part allegory for the uncontrollable progression of 20th century socio-politics, Ray Davies delivers an ominous message in a dream-circus atmosphere. Elements of the song were recycled in the track “Drift Away” on Phobia.
10) “It’s Alright (Don’t Think About It),” Phobia (1993)
Another Dave track, this song tears down capitalism and all physical landmarks constructed by man over the centuries in favor of preservation of the soul. Although Phobia was the final album for the band as it stands, it was perhaps the most collaborative work between the Davies brothers.