Friday, January 30, 2015

Favorite Song Friday: Do It Again

One of the first things I remember learning about the Kinks was that Ray Davies was an extraordinary songwriter, one of the all-time greats, with an unsurpassed eye for detail and a penchant for looking at unusual subjects with incisive delicacy, or standard subjects from unusual points of view.

Since at the time, the only Kinks songs I knew I knew were "You Really Got Me" and "Lola," I simply took it on faith.

Turns out, for once, I was right to. All those things were true, and more. The Kinks are one of those bands that most rock fans know a good half-dozen or more songs, and that's enough for them. But, in my experience, the deeper you dig into their discography, the bigger a fan you tend to a point. Delve into their 60s output, going all the way back to their blues heavy debut, and you're likely in for life. Gaze too deeply into the abyss of their early 70s RCA concept albums and you risk overload and burnout, although for some it's entirely possible it'll be their favorite section of the oeuvre. Grow up in middle America in the 70s as a fan of classic rock, and it's their Arista LPs from the second half of the decade that might resonate most fully.

I like pretty much all of it. (Preservation Acts I-IX were a bit too much for me, to my shame.) But over the years, maybe my single favorite Kinks song is this 1984 semi-hit.

ensemble dance in videos has really come quite the long way, hasn't it

I liked their previous few hits, "Come Dancing" and "Don't Forget to Dance" quite a bit. If nothing else, it was a hoot seeing these British Invasion vets on MTV right next to the likes of Duran Duran and Adam Ant, especially given how defiantly retro those dancehall tunes were. But "Do It Again," now...that was rock and roll. Nothing wrong with genres that aren't rock, once you've accepted they aren't rock and are therefore inferior. (I kid, I kid...mostly.) But still and all, to see one of the main godfathers of punk kicking ass again 20 years on? Even as a teenager, I thought that was pretty badass.

But it took me another decade to realize that this wasn't just Ray Davies slumming with his take on the Rolling Stones pump-'em-up anthem "Start Me Up." It was something like that, sure. But it's hard to believe (a post-1965, at least) Davies would be capable of writing something as one-dimensional and ham-handed as that Stones gem, even if he tried. (More likely, he'd find himself exploring a protagonist whose lack of impulse control leads him into sordid adventures worthy of the Marquis de Sade...or perhaps a pipe-fitter whose wandering eye and love of alcohol led to the implosion of his marriage and alienation from his beloved children.)

So with "Do It Again." It is the kinda of get stoked song beloved by those who program time-out music for the NBA. But it's more than that. It's hard to believe it's not at least partially autobiographical, especially given that original Kinks drummer Mick Avory—the last non-Davies member of the band to have been there from the beginning—was fired after 20 years during the making of the album. Not to mention the simple fact that Davies was now 40 and looking around at his compadres—the Who had broken up, John Lennon was dead, the Stones were...whatever they were by that point (A: massive and rich and shitty)—he must have felt the impending, inexorable doom of time.

But it's so much wider in scope than that. "Do It Again" manages to be straightforward anthem, pointed analysis of the never-ending work cycle and matter-of-fact character study, all at the same time.
Standing in the middle of nowhere
Wondering how to begin
Lost between tomorrow and yesterday
Between now and then
And now we're back where we started
Here we go round again
Day after day I get up and I say
I better do it again
So far, it would seem to be largely autobiographical, a still popular but possibly fading rock star facing band turmoil and the need for more product, exhorting himself to yet again gird his loins and do what once upon a time came so easily.
Where are all the people going
Round and round till we reach the end
One day leading to another
Get up go out do it again
Then it's back where you started
Here we go round again
Back where you started
Come on do it again
This sounds more like a worker bee of some sort—perhaps in a factory, maybe in a cubicle—looking at the meaningless, faceless, endless nature of so many jobs in modern society, the pointlessness of this utter necessity.
And you think today is going to be better
Change the world and do it again
Give it all up and start all over
You say you will but you don't know when
Here the tone shifts and it's easy to imagine the singer is addressing a more youthful listener, perhaps someone just past the apex of optimism, or someone who's always just about to go to the gym, stop smoking, finally finish That Thing. You know, That Thing you really want to finish and are going to. Any. Day. Now.
Then it's back where you started
Here we go round again
Day after day I get up and I say
Come on better do it again
The days go by and you wish you were a different guy
Different friends and a new set of clothes
You make alterations and affect a new post
A new house a new car a new job a new nose
But it's superficial and it's only skin deep
Cause the voices in your head keep shouting in your sleep
Get back, get back
Once again, the focus changes, and it closes inward, gets more personal, less socio-economic. And while it's extremely unlikely Davies had that year's earlier mega-hit, "Dancing in the Dark," in mind when writing this verse, the similarities are striking.
Back where you started, here we go round again
Back where you started, come on do it again
Back where you started, here we go round again
Day after day I get up and I say, do it again
Do it again
Day after day I get up and I say, do it again
And we're out, ending on the somewhat precarious subtonic, rather than resolving to the more common tonic, with its sense of stability. And what we're left with is a general sense of unease, all pounded into us through the scalpel of one of Davies's catchiest melodies, and powered by the never surpassed and rarely even close to equalled assault of Dave Davies guitar playing, here in all its stabbing, distorted glory.

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