Saturday, January 30, 2010

Picture Book

Ah, the power of advertising!

I am often struck by how just one song can open one's mind to an album, a group, a musical genre. Back in college, I was quite biassed against the Who because, at that time, I had been inundated by certain radio staples (e.g. Baba O'Reilly) that kept me investigating their albums further. A senior gave me a cassette of "Who's Next", and I felt obliged to listen. First song, of course, was Baba O'Reilly, but when I got to the second song "Bargain", I discovered a Who that I had not heard before. So impressed, I would soon own most of their albums.

Fast forward to 2004, when Hewlett-Packard used the Kinks Picture Book in one of their commercials. An infectious, sing-songy tune, I was immediately drawn to it. No surprise - I had always liked the Kink's singles and radio staples. Still, it made me realize that, though I owned several Kinks singles collections, I had very few of their albums. Well, you can guess what happened next.

"Picture Book" appears on the Kinks' 1968 album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, quite a different album from the psychedelia of the day (e.g. The Beatles White Album, Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland", Jefferson Airplane's "Crown of Creation"), but not wholly independent of the era's sensibilities. Still, much like their British contemporaries The Small Faces (who released "Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake" that year), the Kinks produced an album of tunes influenced in both topic and style by England's past. The album as a whole was a concept piece that hearkens back to days in the English countryside and small towns and is both sentimental and twee.

"Picture book, your mama and your papa and fat old Uncle Charlie, out boozing with their friends.
Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast, in sunny Southend."

Of course, the album at the time (though critics liked in) was not very successful. The Kinks had been declining in popularity from their mid-60's heydey, and were banned for unclear reasons between 1965-1969 from touring in the United States. Certainly this contributed to lesser exposure in the US. During this time they produced a series of amazing albums ("Face to Face", "Something Else"), that, like "The Village Green...", are lyrical, melodic and nostalgic; consequently, they don't often grab you at first listen like, say, a Stones or Beatles album. With repeated listens, one is hooked - hopefully songs like "Picture Book" will serve as a gateway to such wonderful music.

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