Okay, so I was bad and splurged today. I went down to Vinyl Fever, where my stepdaughter Erin used to work, and I bought Richard Thompson’s box set Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009 and The Kinks’ Picture Book (from their first record to their last–SIX CDs of amazing music). I basically took out a loan on some of the money coming to me from my work on [REDACTED--classified], for which a check will be coming soon courtesy of Bli-[REDACTED--classified], Mi-[REDACTED--classified], and T-[REDACTED--classified].
I’m glad I did. Both collections are thoroughbreds through-and-through. The Kinks’ retrospective in particular puts the lie to the idea that they didn’t create great music on their last few albums. Songs like “Heart of Gold,” “The Informer,” “Scattered,” and “Come Dancing” are brilliant, as is the under-appreciated classic “Summer’s Gone.” “Drift Away” is also great, and “Million Pound Semi-Detached,” never before released in the U.S., is another classic Kinks tune. From garage rock to Britpop to grunge to you-name-it, The Kinks did it, and they’ve been a huge part of my life, from my teen years until now–with Ray Davies’ two great solo CDs making up a little for The Kinks having disbanded. “Scattered” from their great last stand of a CD, Phobia, is still one of my favorite songs of all time. Great melody, great chorus, and brilliant lyrics. It makes me smile and sad at the same time every time I hear it–happy because it’s such a wonderful song and sad because it was the last track on the last CD The Kinks ever put out. (You can see the video here, which isn’t all that great, but at least allows you to hear the song; lyrics here.)
The Richard Thompson collection is, of course, just as good, if in a different direction: using British folk as a lightning rod for creating amazing rock songs with a depth and relevance rarely achieved by anyone else, anchored by Thompson’s signature guitarwork. It, too, provides ample evidence for the folk singer turned rock icon not having shoved off to the Gray Lands on his latter albums. Three tracks with Danny Thompson–”Last Shift,” “Big Chimney,” and “Lotteryland”–prove that, along with “Bathsheba Smiles,” “Cooksferry Queen,” and “She Sang Angels to Rest.” The thing about even Thompson’s ballads is that they usually have a musical complexity, and his voice remains a potent instrument. (You can watch the official video for one of my favorites of his, “I Feel So Good,” here.)
(The booklets that accompany the boxed sets.)
Both collections include a number of classics, as you might expect. On Walking on a Wire, you get “The Calvary Cross,” “Strange Affair,” Waltzing’s for Dreamers,” “Tear Stained Letter,” “Shoot out the Lights,” and dozens more—71 songs total. Picture Book, meanwhile, includes everything from “You Really Got Me” to “This Is Where I Belong,” “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” and all of the rest–listing classic Kinks’ songs would take forever—along with live versions of “Alcohol,” “Low Budget,” and “Do You Remember Walter?” Kinks completists may not find much new material here, but for someone like me who has misplaced or had to sell back in various collections, it’s great, with six CDs and 138 songs. Both collections come with lovingly compiled oversized booklets that constitute solid overviews of their careers and eccentricities, complete with lots of photos and grace notes.
To say I’m happy tonight as I work on the book tour and listen to ten CDs of classic music would be a stunning understatement.