Monday, November 12, 2007

"I'm A Muswell Hillbilly Boy, But My Heart Lies In Old West Virginia."

That line from the title track of today's feature nicely sums up the unique place that The Kinks come from in their criminally underrated 1971 album "Muswell Hillbillies." While the rest of The Kinks' catalog is also underrated, most musical hipsters (you know who you are) own Face to Face (1966), Something Else (1967), Village Green Preservation Society (1968), and Arthur (1969). Their next album, Lola vs. The Powerman (1970), had a legitimate hit song and a fair number of fans. But for many of us, that's where The Kinks "end." That's a big mistake. "Muswell Hillbillies" is a great album deserving of a place in the upper echelon of The Kinks' canon.

Basically, it's a British guy singing American "hillbilly"-inspired music. Hence the name. ("Muswell Hill" is the suburb of North London that produced the Davies brothers. You all know what a hillbilly is.) Like the rest of The Kinks' work from this fertile period, the songs are lyrically and musically interesting. Its place in musical history also intersects with the alt-country movement. While the Byrd's "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" can claim the title as the first alt-country record, "Muswell Hillbillies" is another important early influence on the genre. Read the AMG review here.

Two representative tracks are the title song, Muswell Hillbilly, and one of my favorites, Holloway Jail (buy album).

Yo La Tengo did a nice cover of another song from the Muswell Hillbillies album on their excellent covers record, Fakebook: Oklahoma, U.S.A. (buy album). That song mentions Shirley Jones (from the muscial movie) and contains one of the great Ray Davies' lyrics: "All life we work but work is bore, If life's for livin' what's livin' for?"

Good question...

Anyway, enjoy Muswell Hillbillies, and stay tuned for my next feature on Ann Arbor's only "Country and Eastern" band, Orpheum Bell.


brendan said...

Great post. You are dead on, no kinks collection should ignore this record.

I got it fairly early on during my Kinks kraze, and it took some adjusting to hear it. But a while later it just kept coming back to me. I sincerely love this record and probably put it in my top 3 kinks! The opening lick is my go-to guitar riff!


Paul said...

Thanks Brendan. I think when its all said and done, The Kinks legacy will shine as brightly or more so than their compatriots the Stones and Who (and maybe even the Beatles). It's just taking awhile for everyone to catch up. Their stuff ages well.

davesap said...

I like the Kinks too, but I have to disagree with you about their legacy. After 40+ years, those legacies have been largely decided. Some of their tracks have aged better than others.

brendan said...

Paul, agreed 100%. ;)

ScottyJ said...

There's a great cover of "Muswell Hillbillies" by Southern Culture on the Skids' album, Countrypolitan Favorites.

Paul said...

Yeah, that's a good one. One of these days I'm going to do a post of Kinks covers. I'll use that one for sure.

Robe said...

Definitely agree - I love Muswell Hillbillies. In fact, I just posted something similar on my blog, in relation to a poster I got to design for Ray Davies a couple of years ago!