Release Date: 11/22/68
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, when it comes to ’60’s Pop Rock, there are few better releases, if any. The Kinks are a band who aren’t really known for their albums, but rather for a few handful’s of some truly excellent and highly influential singles. With 1968’s …Are the Village Green Preservation Society though, the band truly struck gold.
As per usual, Ray Davies, ever the lyrical anthropologist, offers stories that bring you straight into people’s lives, invoking numerous well-painted English lives in a breathtaking manner.
The Stereo Mix version* of the album starts with the sweet-sounding “The Village Green Preservation Society”, before heading into a song that can only be described as Kinks-esque. If you listen to their discography, you’ll find songs like this every now and again. I think they consider it a jug band tune? “Picture Book” is an upbeat, fun-sounding, acoustic-driven number with a memorable chorus and fantastic vocal harmonies.
Continuing the already excellent pacing, “Johnny Thunder” slows it down a bit, but keeps it driven mostly by acoustic guitar, with the addition of some clean electric guitar. The variety of audio mixing found on the stereo mix of this album is also pretty interesting. The lead vocals hang left here, while the ad-libbed harmonies and leads stay centered. This is another track bound to get stuck in your head.
The folksy calypso-infused “Monica” is another great change of pace. It’s one of the few moments The Kinks hint at knowing that there’s this massive movement called psychedelic rock. I think this is why this album had such crossover and long-lasting appeal. It’s an amalgamation of everything going on in 1968.
If their were a contender for weakest track on this album, it’d be “Days”. This track was removed after early versions of the LP. Then subsequently re-inserted in 1998 CD re-issue, and is now found on streaming services. It’s not a bad song by any means, it just doesn’t really sound like it’s a part of the album. In fact it’s a pretty good song, and unusual in the canon of pop.
This is followed up by the dark baroque pop of “Village Green”, one of the coolest tracks on the album. The variety of mood and feeling this album proffers is impressive. As always though, the band keeps it hyper-melodic and memorable.
“Mr. Songbird” is among the most psychedelic the band ever gets, with its winding organ leads and trippy swirling stereo mix, although the Dave Davies penned “Wicked Annabella” also hints at psychedelia and is also a pretty dark-sounding track.
“Starstruck” is another of Kinks’ most catchy moments. The vocal harmonies during the chorus and the “bah bah bah-da…” vocal lines are highly memorable. Instrumentally, it actually seems to precede the sounds of ’70’s pop music. This is followed by the most psychedelic the band ever gets, with “Phenomenal Cat”, lyrically and musically this track is pure psychedelia. In 2002, Ray Davies told The Onion that “Maybe Village Green Preservation Society was my psychedelic album. I withdrew into my little community-spirit … my trivial world of little corner shops and English black-and-white movies. Maybe that’s my form of psychedelia.”
“People Take Pictures of Each Other” is one of the funnest tracks on the album. It seems to act as the counterpart to “Picture Book”.
Because this was reviewed in order of the Stereo Mix bonus tracks, an admittedly whacky order to review this, this leaves 5 other songs from the Mono mix. In order, we have “The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains”, which is blues rock at its finest. It also gets super intense before its final verse. This is followed by the excellent big, punchy, psychedelic-tinged big “R” Rock song “Big Sky”. It’s the chorus and bridge that hint at the psychedelic elements that are sprinkled throughout this album.
The Kinks then take us back in time on “Sitting by the Riverside”, which evokes better times, simpler times, even if that’s a fallacy. Musically, it’s a mixture of 1800’s piano music hall and baroque pop with some “Day in the Life”-esque dissonant build-up’s about halfway through the track and towards the end. “Animal Farm” heads back to the more upbeat folk rock from earlier in the album.
Finally, there’s the circus-y “All of My Friends Were There”, another unique track in a track list of many. No matter the version, order, and variety of track listings, this is a perfect collection of songs – one of the greatest albums of all time.
*A note on track listing and mixes: if you have the means, taking the original track list but using the stereo mixes is my preferred way of listening to this album. Fortunately, it sounds and flows great no matter the mix or which of the couple previously chosen track orders the songs appear in. You’re truly not losing anything by listening in Mono, so that’s probably simplest. The stereo bonus tracks follow the original track listing for more than half the album, just broken up in different places, so you’ll find a good flow and common threads between sets of tracks no matter how you listen, but the original way is also probably slightly better, and again, easier.
Highlights: “The Village Green Preservation Society”, “Do You Remember Walter?”, “Picture Book”, ” “Village Green”,