The Frustrating Reason The Kinks Were Never As Popular As The Rolling Stones

The Kinks
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Diorama fanatic Wes Anderson originally intended to use nothing but Kinks songs on the soundtrack for his second film, Rushmore. Only one wordy single, “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl,” ended up making it, though. According to Anderson, “I eventually expanded this concept to include the whole British Invasion, because they all basically dressed [in blazers and ties],” the preferred outfit of his angry teenager Max Fischer.

Some Kinks is better than no Kinks, which is what the United States dealt with during the heart of the British Invasion, when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who ruled the radio, and Ray and Dave Davies, Mick Avory, and Pete Quaife were kept abroad. For reasons still frustratingly vague, the American Federation of Musicians banned The Kinks from playing in America between 1965 and 1969. During that time, none of their songs charted higher than No. 13 here; meanwhile, the lesser Herman’s Hermits notched eight top-five singles. By the time the ban was lifted, “the Woodstock generation had arrived,” Ray Davies said, “and The Kinks were almost forgotten.”

It’s a shame, too, because no British band short of the Beatles had a better 1960s peak than The Kinks. I’ll take Face to Face, Something Else by The Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), and Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, all of which came out between 1966 and 1970, over Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Beggars Banquet, and Let it Bleed or A Quick One, The Who Sell Out, and Tommy any day. Lengthy album titles may have had something to do with their modest, but not overwhelming popularity in the States, as could Davies’ fascination with small-town British eccentricities. But the real culprit was the ban.

They certainly earned it. In 1965, a night after kicking over Avory’s drum set, Dave Davies spit figurative venom at his bandmate during a show, asking, “Why don’t you get your c*ck out and play the snare with it? It’ll probably sound better.” Avory responded by knocking Davies unconscious, and fled the gig. This sort of turmoil wasn’t uncommon: Ray Davies punched a union official who called the band a bunch of “commie wimps,” and The Kinks played “You Really Got Me” for 45 minutes during a concert in Sacramento because their promoter wasn’t able to pay them in cash. It was this promoter, Betty Kaye, who got the band, well, banned.

The American Federation of Musicians blacklisted them — although they never gave a specific reason as to why — and the Kinks could not return to the States for over four years. Years later, Ray Davies mused, “In many respects, that ridiculous ban took away the best years of the Kinks’ career when the original band was performing at its peak.”

Dave Davies, in a rare instance of agreeing with his brother, later added, “The reason we got banned was a mixture of bad agency, bad management, bad luck, and bad behavior. So we deserved everything we got. But it got lifted four years later. We literally signed a confession; it was a confessional. We didn’t even read it.” The Kinks continued to record throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and they even had two top-10 hits in “Lola” and “Come Dancing,” but they never could duplicate the massive success of some of their contemporaries, despite being more talented and clever than most of them.

Oh well, at least we’ll always have this scene.