An Expansive Look at Two Classic Early-’70s Kinks LPs

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The Kinks circa 1971 (Photo via their website)

You may feel you can skip your daily weightlifting session on the day you lug home Muswell Hillbillies/Everybody’s in Show-Biz—Everybody’s a Star, 2022’s eight-pound, 50th-anniversary edition of the Kinks’ first two albums for the RCA label.

Delivering everything but group leader Ray Davies’ kitchen sink, the boxed set includes four CDs—one for each of the two original albums, plus one with 11 new remixes by Davies and one with a “tour montage” that incorporates previously unreleased versions—as well as all the above content on six colored vinyl LPs. Also featured are an oversized 52-page hardcover book with liner notes and new band interviews; a 1971 home movie from Davies on a Blu-ray disc; six photo prints; a map of London’s Muswell neighborhood, where Davies and his brother and bandmate Dave grew up; and a pin/badge with a Kinks logo.

Watch the unboxing video

All of these extras notwithstanding, the main attractions are well-remastered copies of the two original albums: Muswell Hillbillies, which came out in November 1971, and Everybody’s in Show-Biz—Everybody’s a Star, which showed up only about nine months later and combines studio recordings with excerpts from a pair of March 1972 Carnegie Hall concerts in New York.

The 2022 deluxe edition of the two combined albums

Muswell Hillbillies, which flopped commercially, lacks an obvious follow-up to “Lola,” the Kinks’ lyrically ahead-of-its-time hit from the prior year. Still, this 10th studio album offers Ray Davies’ engaging albeit acerbic take on the working class and modern life. There are numbers that musically and lyrically reflect his roots, such as the title cut, which employs some trad-jazz elements and references his childhood neighborhood, but that song and others also draw on American country music as well as rock and theatrical and cabaret styles.

Though some of the songs are upbeat, the lyrics, which showcase Davies’ sardonic wit, paint a decidedly different picture. “I’m a 20th-century man but I don’t want to be here” is among the first lines he utters on the LP, and it seems most of the album’s other protagonists would rather be somewhere else as well. The one in “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues,” for example, confides that “I’m too terrified to walk out of my own front door,” and the one in “Complicated Life” confesses that “I woke this morning with a pain in my neck, a pain in my heart, and a pain in my chest.”

In “Here Come the People in Grey,” the state is forcing the unhappy singer from his home while the poignant “Oklahoma USA” describes a woman living in her dreams because her work bores her and her home is in decay.  You might expect the proceedings to be cheerier in “Holiday,” where Davies proclaims, “Oh what a lovely day today…to have a little holiday”—but only until he adds that he’s “lookin’ in the sky for a gap in the clouds” and “the salt gets in my blisters and the sand gets in my hair.” And: “The sea’s an open sewer but I really couldn’t care, I’m breathing through my mouth, so I don’t have to sniff the air.” A lovely day indeed.

The discontent continues on the studio disc in Everybody’s in Show-Biz—Everybody’s a Star, which also failed to rack up significant sales. Another loosely constructed concept album, this record focuses on touring and fame. In “Here Comes Yet Another Day,” for instance, Davies seems to be talking about himself when he sings, “Drank myself to sleep last night, beer stains on my pillow, I gotta pull my things together…Tune up, start to play…can’t be late, mustn’t make the people wait.”

Amid the gloom, though, is some beautiful music, including the reflective “Sitting in My Hotel” and “Celluloid Heroes,” a song about stardom that musically and lyrically ranks with the best numbers Davies has ever written.

Related: How “Celluloid Heroes” came to be

“Travelling With My Band” is a previously unreleased Kinks track, recorded in 1972, composed and newly mixed by Ray Davies. The song was written about the Kinks 1971 and 1972 U.S. tours.

The album’s campy concert tracks have their moments but mostly disappoint. The band delivers the title cut and three other numbers from Muswell Hillbillies, several other Kinks compositions, and vaudevillian readings of “Banana Boat Song” (aka “Day-O”), the Jamaican folk song; “Mr. Wonderful,” the 1955 Broadway number; and “Baby Face,” the 1920s Tin Pan Alley jazz standard. The only Kinks hit on the program is “Lola,” but on that track, the group merely provides instrumentation while the audience supplies the vocals.

Still, this boxed set has a lot to offer. Serious fans will be interested in its wide array of extras and many listeners will likely warm up to Muswell Hillbillies and Everybody’s in Show-Biz— Everybody’s a Star, both of which deliver more pleasures than their initial sales and reviews would suggest.

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  1. Lanny
    #1 Lanny 16 September, 2022, 09:07

    You missed 2 incredible songs – alcohol and holiday LIVE ….someone may need to get their ears checked.

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