The Kinks Sum Up Life in the 20th and 21st Centuries

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Classic Rock Album Reviews


I was born in a welfare state,
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in grey
Got no privacy, got no liberty
Cos the twentieth century people
Took it all away from me

Don’t wanna get myself shot down
By some trigger happy policeman

20th Century Man – The Kinks (1971)

The movie and music industry is well known for its anti-capitalistic mentality and left leaning politics. The Kinks’ music stands in stark contrast to the trite, save the world utopian platitudes often served up by their crooning colleagues.

Formed in the early sixties by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, the Kinks were a successful band from the mid-1960’s to the mid-1980’s. The Kinks were overshadowed by their contemporaries, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, along with a host of other British Invasion Bands from the mid sixties, (e.g. The Who, Hermans Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers) but did hit it big in 1964 with two singles “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” These two songs introduced an innovative guitar style featuring distorted sounding power chord riffs. (the Kinks achieved the distortion by either by placing pin needles in their amplifiers or slicing the cones in their amps, a technique used before guitar fuzz boxes were invented). “You Really Got Me” was later covered by Van Halen.

Mainstream success in the United States eluded the Kinks in the mid-sixties as their ability to tour America at the height of the British Invasion craze was thwarted by The American Federation of Musicians who denied the band a license to perform in the United States for refusing to sign a union contract to play live on American television. The ban remained in effect from 1965-1969. Effectively shut out of touring in the U.S., Ray Davies’ songwriting became more observant/introspective. The Kinks released a string of singles the U.K. and U.S:”Well Respected Man” (1965), “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” (1966) “Dead End Street,” (1966) “Mister Pleasant,” (1967) “Waterloo Sunset” (1967) and “Lola” (1970).

Below we examine some of the Kinks more trenchant observations of life in the 1960’s and 1970’s that are still relevant today.

From the 1960’s:


The Kinks were never fans of the over reaching tax man. In “Harry Rag” they sang “Ah, bless you tax man, bless you all, You may take some, but you never take it all“). In the U.K. income tax levels reached 90% on high earners in the late 1960’s causing the Rolling Stones to record their album “Exiles on Main Street” in France to avoid the tax. The cross channel tax exile exodus now flows in the opposite direction as French citizens leave socialist France to lower taxed England.

In “Sunny Afternoon”, the Kinks echo the Beatles’ disdain for the “Tax Man” (“here’s one for you nineteen for me, be thankful I don’t take it all“):

The taxman’s taken all my dough…
He’s taken everything I’ve got

Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks (1966)


In 1969, with the Vietnam War raging, the Kink’s released “Some Mother’s Son”

Some mothers son lies in a field
Someone has killed some mothers son today

Two soldiers fighting in a trench
One soldier glances up to see the sun
And dreams of games he played when he was young
And then his friend calls out his name
It stops his dream and as he turns his head
A second later he is dead

Some Mother’s Son – The Kinks (1969)

From the 1970’s


In “Shangri-La” Ray Davies observes how debt based consumerism eviscerates the individual by reducing grown men to backyard kingdom debt slaves:

The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hangin over his head
But he’s too scared to complain
Cos he’s conditioned that way

Shangri-La The Kinks (1970)

Right to Work

In “Get Back in Line” the Kinks, who themselves felt the wrath of a union scorned that prevented them from working in the United States for five years, criticize the power that labor unions had over the working class in England in the 1970’s:

Will I go to work today or shall I bide my time?
Cause when I see that union man walking down the street
He’s the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve, or I eat
Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine
Then he walks right past and I know that I’ve got to get back in the line

Get Back In Line – The Kinks (1970)

From the late 1970’s


In “(Wish I Could Fly) Like Superman” and “Low Budget” the Kinks captured the essence of the late 1970’s economic malaise, which for some is strikingly similar to today’s sputtering economy:

I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead
The news was so bad that I fell out of bed
There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike
Got to be a Superman to survive
Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills
I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive

(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman – The Kinks (1979)

Towards the end of the Carter years when it appeared that the United States was in terminal decline, the Kinks penned the surprise hit “Catch Me Now I’m Falling”. In it the Kinks portrayed an America that was looking to the rest of the world to bail them out of their financial misery. This, of course, was before the United States realized that it had the power to bail itself out!

I remember when you were down
You would always come running to me
I never denied you and I would guide you
Through all of your difficulties
Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I’m falling

Catch Me Now I’m Falling – The Kinks (1979)


War has been a permanent feature of the 20th and 21st centuries. In 1984 Dave Davies wrote “Living on Thin Line”:

All the lies we were told,
I see change
Now another leader says
Break their hearts and break some heads.
Is there nothing we can say or do?
Blame the future on the past,
Always lost in blood and guts.
And when they’re gone, it’s me and you

Living on a Thin Line – The Kinks (1984)

The Individual

In their 1966 hit “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” the Kinks summed up their desire to stay remain fiercely independent in an increasingly homogenized world – a trick that still requires gargantuan effort.

I won’t take all that they hand me down
Make out a smile, though I wear a frown
And I’m not gonna take it all lying down
‘Cause once I get started, I go to town

‘Cause I’m not like everybody else
I’m not like everybody else
I’m not like everybody else
I’m not like everybody else

I’m Not Like Everybody Else-The Kinks (1966)

20th Century Man (reprise)

This is the twentieth century
But too much aggravation
This is the edge of insanity
I’m a twentieth century man but I don’t wanna be here

all lyrics copyright – Ray Davies or Dave Davies

Further Reading and Listening:

The Kinks official web site

The Who album reviews

The Doors album reviews

Black Sabbath album reviews

The Rolling Stones Album Reviews

Pink Floyd Album Reviews

Jimi Hendrix Album Reviews

Led Zeppelin Album Reviews

Eric Clapton Albums Reviewed

Bob Dylan Album Reviews

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