The Kinks - Album by Album (song by song)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by mark winstanley, Apr 4, 2021.

  1. ARL

    ARL Forum Resident

    Location:
    England
    "Scum Of The Earth"

    I think this one and the next one are basically trying to set up Flash as a victim of his upbringing - a slum kid who never had a chance to earn an honest living (perhaps his family didn't get moved out to a nicer house in Muswell Hill). Whether I'm buying this is another matter!

    We are very squarely in show tune territory here - it is very difficult to hear this without seeing the troupe on stage hamming it up - and this is probably as hammy as Ray ever got with a vocal. It is an absurdly enjoyable track, though - if you've got this far into the album you're probably prepared for anything by now!
     
  2. Fortuleo

    Fortuleo Used to be a Forum Resident

    I'll admit it : Scum of the Earth is my favorite song on Act 2. It’s the music that kills me, this beautiful mitteleuropa melody, Ray’s pleading voice, his supreme performance. But of course, he'd never write this music if not for those brilliant words, sung by this fabulous double-faced character, part sincere, part comedian, and trying to get away with his own act.

    This may be the very best brass-based tune in the entire Kinks catalogue. Even greater than Alcohol ? Well, I don’t know about that, but the best follow-up imaginable. Tom Waits and/or Kurt Weill have been mentioned a few times upthread regarding the brass-supported vaudeville Kinks tunes, and here’s another case in point (how I wish Waits would’ve covered Scum of the Earth, what a perfect fit!). More surprising, the “But if you could see / deep inside me” yearning moment also has a kind of Sicilian/Napolitan tear-jerking appeal to it, it almost makes me think of the Godfather’s love theme.
    But overall, this mainly plays like a sad Yiddish blues performed during a New-Orleans funeral. There are definitely some Jewish allusions by the way of some Shylock’s Merchant of Venice turns of phrases, as a lot of critics noted about this song. Which would make another case for Ray Davies’ questionable attitude towards some stereotypes (as Flash was last heard singing “money talks”), after When I Turn off the Living Room Light and the manager of Top of the Pops. But as I said previously, I choose not to take offense and to look instead at the genuine emotions and feeling he’s shooting for. Even the aforementioned Shylock almost comedic sped-up part (“and if I cut myself I Bleed” etc.) is incredibly moving, especially when we get to the “stop the music” arresting “Well ain't I human” moment. And when he goes “like e-very-bo-dy eeelse”, it is, to me, one of the single most powerful few seconds Ray’s ever recorded. This without even taking into account the devastating self-reference to one of his most personal iconic songs… Same with the way the mocking elevator rock’n’ roll music (“we knooow that he’s only a maaan”) sets off Ray’s return for a few extra bars, “So don't put me down because I've / done / weeeell”. This kills me every time. A shape-changing tune, consistently comic and tragic, funny and sad, pastiche and genuine, pure performance and pure songwriting, true and false, sincere and counterfeit, Ray and Flash, Flash and Ray. Perfect in concept and execution, a formal and emotional masterpiece for me.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022
  3. ajsmith

    ajsmith Forum Resident

    Location:
    Glasgow
    (EDIT: was writing this while @Fortuleo posted with his superior explanation of the Shakespearean allusion here. Still worth posting for the full quote though)

    Definitely worth noting that Ray is riffing pretty heavily off Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice here, to the extent to which some lines are near quotes:

    The Merchant of Venice: Important Quotes Explained | SparkNotes

    'I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.'
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022
  4. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Location:
    UK
    Scum of the Earth
    Another Weimar-cabaret-styled number in the vein of "Alcohol" with that promenent Bolanesque sheep-like quaver in Ray's voice we've noted before. The female vocals add a lighter touch of Broadway /the London West End.
     
  5. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Shepherds Of The Nation

    I have this on a compilation and I have learned quickly in reverse that:
    A) It was not a wholly satisfying discovery in isolation (I picked up the bizarre VGPS title song lyrical repurposing rewrite on 1st spin) &
    B) It fits very well on Act II and is far more likeable in that context

    Some superb posts on this topical song which for me is tounge in cheek and definitely comedic.
    The Announcement sounds to me like a set up for a Monty Python sketch.
    In the song proper we get a miasma of styles and genres including, medieval, operatic, folk & rock with meticulously arranged voices as if part of a play.
    The main riff has me thinking Sabbath yet again which is odd as I am not even a fan of theirs.
    The punchy bass immediately stood out as an excellently set up instrument to record.
    The most audible and therefore visual Python part of the song to me is the harmonised voices repeating "So sodomites beware" as it is at this point that i could fully accept a servant bounding up from behind banging 2 coconut halfs for horseplay!
    I was aware of Mary Whitehouse who likely tirelessly morally crusaded for (me & for you) much of her 90 years so I found it ironic to today discover that her first name was Constance!
    Not getting into the (deliberately) idiotic lyrical politics of it all however as for Ray's song title it may have been more apt than he realised as we all know which animal is most associated with following a Shepherds direction!
     
  6. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Is that a Johnson & (his) Johnson reference?
     
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  7. stewedandkeefed

    stewedandkeefed Came Ashore In The Dead Of The Night

    Once again, I have to say that this is different. The Kinks may draw on T-Rex or the Stones on one song but because Ray was exploring songs that tell a story with various characters, a variety of other musical/lyrical sources crept in. Tommy and Quadrophenia are still based around a series of rock n roll songs but a song like "Scum Of The Earth" is not a rock n roll song. As I age, I think I gain an appreciation for what the band was trying to do even if the results were still mixed. The song touches on some pretty universal themes - how perception aside, we are all human. William Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice is referenced in the line "For if I cut myself I bleed" ("If you prick us do we not bleed"). It isn't something I would play if someone asked me to play some Kinks but it shows the versatility of the band.
     
  8. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Here's where the album starts going off the rails for me. Having quickly sketched out the ludicrously one dimensional Mr. Black character he promptly disappears until near the end of the album. Ray has painted himself into a corner: Mr. Black has such little depth and inner life that there's not much left you can do with him.

    So begins the (too) lengthy process of turning Flash into someone we're set up to have some empathy and sympathy with. Ray's pretty much discards the Tramp too because he's found his hero. So Flash is not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy, and the Flash as warm hearted gorblimey Cockernee villain - he never 'ad nuthin' - scenario which is painted is almost as absurd and superficial as Mr. Black.

    The song itself is a clunky attempt at some kind of Brecht/ Weill thing which only serves to remind me of how far short this album falls of that sort of depth and quality.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022
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  9. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Blasphemy i sing, with stacked operetta style harmonies!
     
  10. GarySteel

    GarySteel Bastard of old

    Location:
    Molde, Norway
    Mary Whitehouse was the subject of a couple of songs. A very hateful putdown from Roger Waters in Pink Floyd's "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" and a more lighthearted and ironic one on Deep Purple's Who Do We Think We Are called "Mary Long" which also called out her running mate Lord Longford.

    When it comes to Ray, it is pretty obvious that most of his stuff is deeply ironic, even when the sentiment is heartfelt to a degree. Most of it is written (somewhat) in character. The longing for Victorian values on Arthur are the main subject's, not Raymond's. The Acts let the players condemn themselves thru their words and actions. The inventing 'Jello Biafra' comment is really spot on. Quite a few people thought that Biafra wanted to kill the poor and was lusting for a holiday in Cambodia.
     
  11. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Is there a 3rd viable option or would we get a hung parliament that Black would label as morally unsavoury?
     
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  12. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Sorry can't open the image next to Brian.
     
  13. zipp

    zipp Forum Resident

    It's a young Boris in the days when he use to comb his hair.

    Here he looks more like a rock star than Brian Jones.
     
  14. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Our Kinkdom is not that Black And White!
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022
  15. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    Keenly observed

    Thanks!
     
  16. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    Scum of the Earth:
    Flash, the Spivs and the Floosies are back again, this time in this tune that I take to be comic relief, something like King Herod’s Song in Jesus Christ Superstar.

    Flash is full of self-pity, “they call me a rogue and a villain but if they could see deep inside me, they’d see a heart that once was pure” and so on. His “for if I cut myself I bleed and if I catch a cold I sneeze” is laugh out loud funny. And rather pathetic.

    It’s sung initially in a Tiny Tim type warbling, 1930’s type bluesy manner until it shifts to the cartoonish, upbeat jazzed up “if I cut myself I bleed” part.

    “Stop the music!” and we’re back to a New Orleans jazz band beat and sound.

    And the Floosies, probably in white blouses, hair pulled back into ponytails, “we know that he’s only a man…” 1950s-era girl chorus sound; this is now the third tune within a tune!

    And then it’s back to the main melody, ponderous sounding as they declare themselves as the scum of the earth but “we’re all brothers.”

    Yet another fun song that I wish I could have seen performed live.
     
  17. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Thanks for the Shakespearean reference.
    I was working in the bank at 15, so I missed a lot of education, in that regard.
     
  18. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Really I wish I could see your early Johnson picture as i have only seen him as a world leader that resembles Sir Les Patterson and gives off the impression that if you turned your head he may look into a bin for leftover food!
     
  19. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line Senior Member

    Location:
    Australia
    Scum Of The Earth

    Once again what can one add after such a superb song write up from @Fortuleo
    I heard the affecting Ray blues but needed that Yiddish background though the Godfather feel was more revealing to myself.
    I enjoy the music and Ray's vocal but having just heard it really don't know what else to immediately add other than reiterate that it is still show tune music hall time albeit with some of Ray's now customary mix of genres thrown into the genre melting pot and stirred!
    My biggest takeaway from this is that virtually from the moment Flash opens his mouth he is politically doomed.
    It's not sincere and he tries to have a Bob each way with guilt v blame and it all seems that in a Flash (pun intended) enough negatives will be obvious to enough voters.
    Like Mark iam no Shakespearean scholar so am a little uncertain just what to make of Ray's quotations used but feel it at least apt in that it reveals Flash as rotten, scheming, desperate and undeserving of any trust whatsoever!
     
  20. The late man

    The late man Forum Resident

    Location:
    France
    Scum of the earth

    Great song again, the fourth song on my double Preservation's side C. I will agree somehow with @Vangro's point of view later in the album, but certainly not at this point. The sight of a beaten Flash whining, wringing his hands and trying to play the victim he's so obviously not is delightfully painted and designed. The way he aggregates his fate with that of lesser delinquents is both clever and true to life. Simultaneously, there is the beginning of a liberal critic of moral totalitarianism as being worse than plain ill-conduct ; and also the notion of social causes of bad behaviour, which would seem to belong to the left-wing way of thinking. That's something I'm getting to really like with Ray's story : the way he doesn't follow conventional right/left lines, while setting up what I find to be rather credible characters.

    When he goes as far as granting Flash redemption through love, by giving him a part in "Sweet Lady Genevieve" Part 2 ("Nothing Lasts Forever"), a part obviously designed for Ray himself and which could have been credibly lent to the Tramp... Well I quit. But this lies further down in January.

    I must have read the Merchant of Venice at about the same time as I listened to this album, I went into a Shakespeare frenzy in my early 20s (we French don't have to study Shakespeare at school, so it's fresh and compulsion-free for us). I remember, at some point, thinking that Ray made too heavy a point of quoting Shylock, but thanks to Avid @ajsmith I realise now it's not that he didn't quote the play that extensively. I never thought about the potential for offensiveness of the Shylock impersonation, but then I'm not Jewish myself. I guess it would be problematic if Flash was jewish himself, which nothing allows us to believe, neither in Preservation nor in its prequel Schoolboys in Disgrace.

    In the latter, we will see, though, that if Flash's heart was once "pure", it must have been a long long time ago.
     
  21. Fortuleo

    Fortuleo Used to be a Forum Resident

    Re-Jew or not Jew, since that is the question : I'm pretty sure any direct quote from a character as famous and studied as Shylock could not be lost on any English-born listener back in 1974, so Ray must've done it purposefully, to communicate an idea. True, Flash is never said to be Jewish but he's deliberately established both by the lyrics and by the use of a central Europe yiddish-type melody, as being a famous Jewish Character's offshoot, so there. I'm jewish myself and as I said, I don't think there's anything to be too furious about (not saying that no one would/should take offense, just that I don't). As any writer, Ray works with stereotypes and archetypes. But being a great writer, he makes use of those to flesh out real characters. In Flash's case, it works, the character comes to life, never more so than in this spectacular song. That's what matters. It works if he's not a Jew and just this gangster-type of no specific origin seeking Redemption and Pardon or understanding, but it works even better if he is indeed a Jew, and his demise is partly due to his origins and to the prejudices that go with them. In both scenarios, the character is there, consistent, interesting, sincere and insincere, using all the tricks in the book to buy his way out of the spite he gets from the people, both obviously legitimate and (maybe…) prejudiced.
     
  22. donstemple

    donstemple Member of the Club

    Location:
    Maplewood, NJ
    Scum Of The Earth

    In 8 years, we have gone from "I'm not like everybody else" to "Well ain't I human like everybody else?"

    I have called this Preservation Music Hall as it incorporates the English Music Hall and New Orleans' historic Preservation Hall Jazz venue. :shtiphat:

    One thing you can certainly say about this album (and this song in particular) is that Ray has NOT lost his gift for melody. The melody of the verse (and the chorus at the end?) is stunningly beautiful. The way Ray's voice rises on the third lines of these "But deeeep insiiide..." "But if they could see....." is such a great hook.

    Lyrically, this sort of duality has certainly been written about by many artists, but this is a wonderful way of putting it:

    "For good and evil exist in all of us, and no man is a saint, and each creates his heaven and his hell."

    The way Ray delivers this line is delightfully devilish. To quote Billy Joel, I am guessing that Flash would "rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints."
     
  23. DISKOJOE

    DISKOJOE Boredom That You Can Afford!

    Location:
    Salem, MA
    "Scum of the Earth" , a song that encompasses many musical styles & in which Flash uses Shakespeare & modern thought to say that he's not really that bad, but it's all society's fault, yeah, that's the ticket, society's fault that he & his cronies have turned out to be a bunch of no-goodnicks. This is a highly theatrical song which would probably been a show stopper if performed live. It certainly was in the Boston Rock Opera version. It also shows that Ray putting more detail on Flash while Black remains a cipher.

    Avid The last man says, "....we French don't have to study Shakespeare at school..."
    What do you study instead, Jerry Lewis? :laugh: Just kidding, or as we Americans like to say, "just yanking your chain". I was thinking of you & Avid Fortuelo last night reading the first Life Magazine of 1952 which had of photo essay of the teenage children of American officials running around Paris, playing Yank football in the parks & drinking Cokes in the sidewalk cafes.
     
  24. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    I think the Shylock quotations are there because they're just good quotations! I don't think they imply Flash is Jewish, I don't see any other evidence to suggest that. Thankfully Ray avoids using any kind of Jewish accent later on! The music could be interpreted as having a Jewish feel but that could also be attributable to the Kurt Weill/ Threepenny Opera influences.
     
  25. The late man

    The late man Forum Resident

    Location:
    France
    We study Molière, Corneille, Racine, who are no match for the Bard but deserve better than being vivisected by inattentive schoolboys, in or out of grace !
     

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