Keeping up the bucolic, even idyllic, associations with “Greenman” and springiness, let’s turn to those bastions of all things Brit, The Kinks. Today’s song is from 1968, in the wake of all that Sgt. Pepperized costuming and Magical Mystery Touring The Beatles got up to the previous year, to say nothing of the Stones’ satanic psychedelia and other flights of trippiness galore. The Kinks threw a spanner into the works. A song celebrating the verities of British life, making “hip” claims for some pretty stodgy things.
Mind you, the ditties of McCartney, always a music hall maven, borrowed freely from the idioms of days gone by, and songs like “When I’m 64” and “Your Mother Should Know” gave one a jolly good feeling about the benefits of twee over tedium. But Ray Davies herein fashioned an anthem for the aging, a bravo for the bygone, a salvo for the soon-to-be-senescent. In its knowing post-war purview, “The Village Green Preservation Society” could sound like the call-to-arms for all those a bit put-out by the modish fabness of the times. Having skewered Carnaby Street legions with “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and the upper class twit with “Well Respected Man,” and having not yet undertaken his magnum opus on the fate of the average British blighter since the glory of Victoria, Arthur, or the Rise and Fall of the British Empire (1969), Davies here casts a fond eye on the land where he was born and bred.
|Ray Davies, Pete Quaife, Dave Davies, Mick Avory|
And it’s not all tongue-in-cheek. God Save Our King or God Save Our Queen are words spoken a bit automatically, true, but they can also be said with great “land that I love” feeling. How can you smirk at “God save Fu Manchu, Moriarty, and Dracula”? Well, you could point out that Fu Manchu is a stereotype and very un-PC, you could indicate that Dracula is sort of satanic, and that Moriarty is a dastardly nemesis, but then you’d be kind of a prig, wouldn’t you? And what about “little shops, china cups, and virginity”? What red-blooded defender of the faith could look askance at such quaint symbols of propriety? Particularly when promulgated by the Office Block Condemnation Affiliate.
Davies’ wit is shown in what each “society” wants to protect and also in what it wants to condemn—office blocks and skyscrapers, bad; village greens and Tudor houses, good. We might say they are retrograde and we might say their views are less than democratic, but . . . aren't they right? Ditto the “Sherlock Holmes English Speaking Vernacular,” though the stalwarts we might imagine primping for pro-nun-see-ay-shee-un are the very types complained of in Davies’ later “Muswell Hillbillies” (“they’re going to make me study elocution / Because they say my accent isn’t right”). An undercurrent of “Village Green” is not only the praise of all things British, since time immemorial, but the distrust of things not, shall we say, cricket.
Perhaps the best rhyme of all is “We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium / God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them.” Hear, hear. And how about “God save strawberry jam and all the different varieties.” No, stodgy old purist here, there’s more than one jam I’d die for, certainly. But what about marmalade?
The refrain is something swiped, it seems, straight from the “literature” of any grand old conservationist rag: “Preserving the old ways from being abused / Protecting the new ways for me and for you / What more can we do” and it's delivered in chipper, infectious sing-along fashion, with the air of a parade on a bank holiday. It’s a perfect introduction to the wit and wisdom of Ray Davies as it is so incredibly knowing about the people whereof it speaks—like so many great old novelists of yore—as well as ably aimed at the audience of his contemporaries. It’s a send-up of the hip and a send-off to the square. It’s catchy and curmudgeonly and utterly charming.
God Save The Kinks!