On the one hand sitting on a couch is not a very auspicious way for a story to start; on the other hand it ties in perfectly with the ‘discovery’ I was about to make.
I’m afraid I cannot quite remember how I first came across The Kinks’ Dead End Street. I confess to not being a typical twenty-something in my music tastes (or any tastes for that matter). I’m still not entirely sure what music my contemporaries listen too. But on this particular day as I trawled through the abyss of YouTube I was indulging, as I often do, in my fantasy of living in 1960s London. And there it was: Dead End Street by The Kinks.
I had long been aware of The Kinks and loved songs such as You Really Got Me and Sunny Afternoon but this song in particular was something of an epiphany.
I felt I had discovered the greatest song of all time, and for a little while it felt like a glorious secret that only I knew about.
It begins with a melancholic march, for this is no paean to a psychedelic summer of love, this is a story that tells the other, darker side of the sixties dream.
Finally here was a rock song that, hidden beneath a jaunty music hall piano and sing-a-long chorus, understood the bleakness of life. A song that accepted that not everybody was having a wonderful time – when life is not going well it is a relief to hear a song such as Dead End Street, even when the rest of the world seems to be living in a summertime dream.
And like all great Kinks songs Ray Davies creates beautiful poetry out of the most ordinary parts of life, and somehow every moment becomes relatable. I may not be a working class Londoner but ‘What are we living for?’ is something I ask on a daily basis.
Here was a song that had all the atmosphere of a novel. I could visualise these two characters in their miserable flat with its cracked ceilings and leaky taps. This is a lament more powerful in its 3-minute time frame than any dramatic film; in three finely tuned minutes Ray perfectly encapsulates the agony of being. And I long to write something equally succinct and atmospheric.
So though I was a young woman living in Australia I found myself relating to this once young English man. Sitting in my house, which on occasion does have a leaky roof, I was fully transported into the narrow streets of 1960s London.
The story of how Dead End Street – song and film clip – came into being is full of stubbornness, misunderstanding, discovery and of course, wonder.
During the recording of the song, and under the cover of darkness, a trombone player was hired from a local pub and asked to rerecord a part originally for French horns. The horns had been the idea of producer, Shel Talmy, but they weren’t grungy enough for Ray (perhaps tellingly Talmy never noticed the change!). Next came the film clip – The Kinks were one of the first bands to use film as a medium for pop songs and the clip for Dead End Street is full of their wry observations and humour, but the BBC felt the film was in poor taste (basically because it was about a funeral) and refused to show it. Consequently Dead End Street never received the airplay it deserved, but for those that did hear it, it was another example of how quintessentially English The Kinks were and how in tune Ray was to his surroundings.
…So there I was ‘sitting on my sofa’