The Kinks - Album by Album (song by song)

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

  1. croquetlawns

    croquetlawns Forum Resident

    After a reasonably entertaining side 1, I struggle a bit with side 2 of this opus, especially the first two tracks. Scum of the Earth is probably the oddest track on the album in terms of musical style - there's certainly no doubt that this is musical theatre, making it a great shame that none of the concerts were professionally filmed. But the lyric is good, and the music is certainly arresting, even if I want to press 'skip' occasionally!
  2. Adam9

    Adam9 Русский военный корабль, иди на хуй.

    Toronto, Canada
    Talking about Brecht/Weill, I remember around the time Preservation Act 2 came out, I saw a production of their play on television, The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, which reminded me a lot of the Kinks' opus.
    It includes the well known "Alabama Song" covered by The Doors, among others.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022
  3. Steve62

    Steve62 Vinyl hunter

    Scum of the Earth/Second Hand Car Spiv
    I realise I risk the headmaster sending me to the corner for the twin sins of jumping ahead a song and going off on a tangent. But I couldn’t resist pointing out my own Tom Waits comparison. These songs are so theatrical and occasionally discordant that I have to switch my ears into Waits Mode to really get into them. A friend calls this style ‘mad clown music’ and he’s not entirely wrong. Waits was more influenced by Captain Beefheart and Howling Wolf but I still see a parallel in the segue between these two Preservation songs and Strange Weather/Rain Dogs. If you manage to enjoy these I think you’d have no problem with anything else Ray throws at us on this album.
  4. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

  5. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    There's a problem. I can't stand Tom Waits.
  6. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    Second Hand Car Spiv.

    stereo mix, recorded Jan-Mar 1974 at Konk Studios, Hornsey, London

    Sung by Spiv, Flash & Floosies

    Spiv: I was born a slum gutter infantile,
    Brute-force educated, delinquent juvenile.
    I am a product of mass produced factory fodder,
    Streets full of tenement blocks, rat infested filth and squalor.
    I left school, went straight on the dole
    And unemployment's no enjoyment,
    Welfare State owned my mind and my body and my soul.

    So I worked my way up to be a second-hand car spiv,
    But don't judge me harshly because I'm just a slum kid.
    I built up my business with a quick wit and fist,
    So don't double-cross me or my hoods will dissect you
    With their black jacks and shivs.

    Slum kids never get a break, they've got to fight their way up.
    Wheel and deal, beg and steal,
    Sweat blood to earn a buck.
    I didn't want to work on the factory floor,
    I wasn't content, I wanted more
    Than to be a slave of a lathe,
    Work all day and go home bored.

    So a second- hand car spiv was what I became.
    I built an empire because I used my brains.
    Chorus: He was a second-hand car spiv up from the slums,
    So don't judge him harshly because he's just a slum kid.

    Then he moved into property, stocks and shares,
    Spiv: And into high finance and you've got to agree
    That running a multi-million corporation
    Sure beats selling cars second-hand.

    Chorus: Once he sold old worn out heaps to the punters on the street,
    Spiv: Now I'm in control of the country as a whole,
    And the world is at my feet.
    Chorus: The world is at his feet.
    Spiv: Power, power, I've got power oozing out of me,
    And when you think of all the things I've done
    It says a lot for one
    Who worked his way up from the streets.
    Yes I'm a second-hand car spiv.

    Do a deal, buy and sell,
    It's my trade, I know it well.
    Make a sale, ring the bell
    And let the suckers go to hell.
    Bank the profits, count the change
    Another sucker comes your way.
    Life is a crooked game,
    And slum kids never change.

    Written by: Ray Davies
    Published by: Davray Music Ltd.

    Earlier in the thread it was mentioned that Madness were inspired by the Kinks, along with a lot of British bands in the late seventies early eighties in the punk, ska and new wave movements. We discussed what Kinks songs may be particularly like Madness.... well, when I started giving this album a closer listen, this song really stood out as a song that may have been influential to the Madness sound, or may just coincidentally sound like it could be off a Madness album.

    Interestingly this is sung by Spiv, Flash and Floosies, but interestingly Flash has no lines. That causes a moment to pause and think about it I guess, but when we go through the lyrics we get the line
    "Now I'm in control of the country as a whole,
    And the world is at my feet."
    Which kind of suggests that the Spiv is actually Flash, in which case this is Flash's backstory..... and it goes a long way to explaining how and why Flash ended up being seduced by the money and power.

    There is so much going on in the lyrics here.
    Born in the slums
    Educated in the pre-PC school world where a good whack was considered good education and discipline (Brute Force Educated)
    Grew up in the era of mass production (relatively speaking) where the working class were likely to be factory workers on a production line.
    Grew up in the tenement blocks ( I think that is the British equivalent of the Projects)
    Describes the slum as rat infested filth and squalor
    He left school and ended up straight on the dole (unemployment benefit).
    States that unemployment was a negative thing in his life.
    Speaks directly to the fact that the welfare state is a form of imprisonment, describing it as the government owning his mind, body and soul .....

    And that is just the first verse.
    This is a very descriptive song that covers an awful lot of ground.

    This takes us to the chorus, and we find that he managed to claw his way up to being a second hand car salesman....and using the term spiv suggests, as we looked at yesterday, that he was a flssh dressing, but disreputable car salesman.
    We also learn that at this stage he also had a kind of gang, who will sort you out if you double cross him.
    I'm not sure what a blackjack is, but I'm sure someone will tell us, and a shiv is obviously a form of knife, normally fashioned from a piece of metal, rather than bought from a store.

    In the next verse he speaks to the idea of fighting his way up from the ground floor. He didn't want to be a machine operator, who does his 8-12 hours and goes home bored to drink his dissatisfaction to sleep.
    And this verse and chorus speaks to the idea that this guy worked his butt off to get out of the gutter, and by means of necessity this didn't necessarily mean he was doing things the nice way all the time.

    Then we look at the fact that via investments he managed to move into the big leagues and moved from being a second hand car dealer and via his investments and wrangling he ended up being in charge of a multi-million dollar company..... and this led to him being "in control of the country as a whole"

    Then we get the Power Power section, which speaks to the idea that this kid from the slums who by whatever means ended up becoming a big wheel through hard work and graft, and some dubious means.
    It is quite an achievement, but of course it comes with baggage..... interestingly, he still relates to, or operates like, a second hand car spiv.

    We close out by stating that this world of politics is no different than his days wheeling and dealing as a second hand car spiv. Do deals, buy and sell, if anyone loses out, well that's just how it goes and they are losers and suckers.
    Although that may seem heartless and wrong, when one considers the place where the guy came from, how could he come to any other conclusion, when that is what he was shown was the only way to pull yourself out of the gutter.

    This song is quite an incredible social commentary, that covers so much ground that this quick look could balloon out to a hundred page essay if time and interest was there.

    This is essentially his life story in four minutes, and it probably also goes a long way to show why Ray has some sympathy for Flash....
    I get the impression that Mr Black is more of a well to do sort, who has likely found life a lot easier than Flash, and his plans and schemes are more insidious due to his privileged life and self important nature.
    But we'll see if we get any insight on that.

    So lyrically this is an essential piece of the story's puzzle. I had somewhat wondered what the purpose of this song was in the context of the story, and a closer look makes it very obvious, to me at least.

    Now musically this is quite stunning.
    It covers so much territory it is almost astonishing.
    The opening could almost be the inspiration for Madness's, Driving In My Car .
    It starts with this staccato, somewhat disjointed musical collage, that sounds kind of like mystery movie soundtrack music or something ... it is so good, I don't really know what to call it. It has elements of Ska, theatre and all sorts of other stuff, but I guess someone else may be able to give it a name, I can't.

    Whatever we call it, this is stunning. The arrangement is ..... just stunningly good.
    I don't know if Ray wrote this, or if he just directed the players to add their bits in an overdubbing manner, and put it together as a collage,but the end result is one of the most engaging pieces of music I can think of.

    The verse comes out over this fantastic musical arrangement as a part spoken, semi-sung, rapid fire, cockney accented rap of sorts that is as impressive as the music to me.

    The chorus has this wonderful dreamy descending melodic flow, with all these great licks coming in via guitar and keyboards. .... it's like the descending chordal melodic flow is a picture of Flash falling into moral decay, and the licks are the madness around him. It really is a wonderful piece of writing.

    The next verse is a halftime change up, and it almost portrays a sort of matter of fact feel. It fits with the lyrics that Flash is now a big man, with lots of power and control, and although he is still scheming, wheeling and dealing, it is a more laid back situation for him.
    When he starts on his power power line, there is a slight change of feel, and when he moves into the I'm a second hand car spiv line, it is delivered with the feel of resignation, in spite of it all the success, he is still just a second hand car spiv .... same dog, different leg action.

    Then it is back into the wonderful capers type music, and he winds it up by basically telling us it is still all go, and the music and delivery had sped up to back this up.

    Then we move into this, almost, spy movie type music, which works beautifully with all the layered instruments, and we end with what sounds like one of those fairground whistles with the slide to change its pitch .... and that would also be apt, for this circus, sideshow lifestyle being described.

    The musical performances by everyone are excellent, particularly with this being such a complex piece of structuring.

    What an amazing track. Like I say, a lot of it brings to mind Madness, but it has so much going on here that, from my perspective, even with all that, it is hard to sum up this song.
    I personally love it, and it is another highlight, on an album, that for me, so far at least, is all quite brilliant.

  7. Fortuleo

    Fortuleo Used to be a Forum Resident

    At last ! For quite some time, despite enjoying the various The Wall comparisons from other posters, I’ve refrained from joining in myself, waiting for this track to come along. The opening march-like rhythm is the thing: it was all but duplicated by Waters/Bob Ezrin/Michael Kamen for their own epic The Trial six years later. We know for a fact these guys were listening. We've noticed Gilmour used the Lazy Old Sun imagery and the Big Black Smoke church bells for his own Fat Old Sun on Atom Heart Mother ; we know key Ezrin collaborator Lou Reed was a self-professed Kinks adept ; we know the whole Wall (ah!) concept is hugely indebted to both Preservation and Schoolboys in Disgrace anyway… But this opening rhythm is the ultimate give away : not only were they listening, they were taking notes and waiting for the right moment to go and do their own Threepenny rock Opera impression.
    Apart from foreshadowing the Floyd, Second Hand Car Spiv is another prog-operetta spectacular, ever changing in form, style, melodies, rhythm signature(s), instrumental backing, complete with jazz-prog leanings, clavinet, virtuoso scales performed on keyboards and acoustics, multi-singers Queen-inspiring breaks, and what not. A shape-shifting Flash origin story (flash-back !) ending brilliantly with the revelation of the character's ominous theme, when the transformation from spiv/slum kid to ruthless ruler is complete. If Shepherds of the Nation was a big wtf moment for a lot of people, how are we going to describe this hallucinatory track? I won’t even try, and I’m glad @Mark did such a marvelous job at breaking down this fabulous set of lyrics (even though I'm still not convinced they're necessarily better than those of Why Don't We Do It in the Road ? :cool:). I’ll just add this may be the most stunning phrasing Ray's ever delivered, at least equal in versatility to what Peter Gabriel did on Genesis' 23mn epic Supper's Ready two years before, and edging out the likes of All of My Friends Were There and The Moneygoround as his own theatrical/music-hall crowning achievement, in terms of vocal performance. If only for that priceless quality, this is another 100% Preservation left-field nugget, sounding nothing like the Kinks and only like them.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2022
  8. ARL

    ARL Forum Resident

    "Second Hand Car Spiv"

    Where to start with this track? It opens with what sounds like a chorus of car horns, then goes into a semi-spoken section with a rhythm and subject matter that two decades later could easily pass for "gangsta rap". Then we go into a bizarre but melodic chorus. We pass through yet more distinct sections on the way to a brief reprise of "Flash's Theme", and end with a strange bit of ambient acoustic guitar. And all this in just over four minutes. It's a difficult track to digest - there is so much in it that each time you listen it feels you are hearing it for the first time. It's certainly not dull!

    I'm still not sure I'm buying this attempt to garner sympathy for Flash due to his upbringing. The bit about moving into property, stocks and shares suggests even more to me that Flash was Frankie Simes, and he got someone else to take the fall for his crooked dealings and they ended up in Holloway Jail, while he moved up the food chain.

    And yes, it feels like a blueprint for Madness is in here.
  9. The late man

    The late man Forum Resident

    Great song again. It goes on my alternate album, n°5 on side C.

    Flash could also be part of the Chorus, and the Spiv would be the economic/financial right hand of Flash. It's simpler if we assume Spiv = Flash, though. The Flash theme from Here Comes Flash (re-used again later in Flash's Confession) would make sense either way, but more so if we're telling Flash's backstory.

    The lyrics give more weight to the Flash = Ray thesis : both are working class, both elude their factory destiny by embracing an apparently futile activity that ends up being hard work, and both transform their local trade into a nationwide business. Is it too far-fetched to hear a hint of self-trial for class betrayal in this colourful picture of Flash ?

    I hadn't thought of the Madness comparison, but it's obvious now. And Pink Floyd's Trial too ! Was there something in the air or was this album more influential than one would have thought ?

    I get the feeling Ray's vocal is slightly sped-up, the tone is a bit altered. The roller coaster guitar and keyboard lines on the choruses are sped-up too, I guess. When you've spent some time as a youth recording at half-speed to hear very fast stuff once played at normal speed on a 4-tape, this is most obvious.
  10. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    This is probably my least favourite track on the album, I find it verging on the unlistenable - there's no way in God's green Earth Madness ever wrote anything this bad! It took some willpower after the last two tracks to carry on with this album.

    The words are nonsensical, they're either a self-aggrandizing fantasy of the Spiv or Flash or whoever or the patronizing musings of a rich rock star who has completely lost touch with his roots but not with the lifelong chip on his shoulder - possibly both. The same rock star who was bemoaning the destruction of the slums and decanting of its inhabitants to nicer homes and nicer areas - by, who else but the Welfare State - a few albums ago is now telling us how awful they are, make your mind up, Ray! I'm also more and more convinced that Ray Davies has no idea what he even means by the Welfare State - I mean, who does Ray think pumped his stomach out at the Whittington Hospital that time? I'm sure he appreciated not having to pay for it though!
  11. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    The song simultaneously recalls the famous (in the UK!) Four Yorkshiremen sketch. Monty Python's Doug and Dinsdale Piranha sketch and, much less palatably, the fascination with the London demimonde engaged in by middle class Mockneys in the 90s and just about every other decade in history.
    DISKOJOE and mark winstanley like this.
  12. ajsmith

    ajsmith Senior Member

    Re: whether this is sung by Flash or a seperate ‘Spiv’ character, FWIW the 1993 BRO production has this song sung by a separate actor/vocalist as per the stage directions. I appreciate it would be neater/perhaps more logical if sung by Flash but I don’t believe this was the original intention. The Kinks own live production essentially swerved the confusion (having Ray play yet another character) by essentially outright replacing this song with the more direct ‘Slum Kids’ .

    From around 23 minutes in: ‘I think I’m gonna sing this one, Flash! : take it, maestro!’

    Last edited: Jan 5, 2022
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  13. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    So that does make it seem like the song is a fantasy.
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  14. croquetlawns

    croquetlawns Forum Resident

    Sadly, this pretty much sums up my thoughts as well. Fortunately there are better songs to come, along with at least one that I skipped when listening on the weekend...
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  15. The late man

    The late man Forum Resident

    Kontroversy, at long last !
  16. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    So far, from my perspective this album is on par with anything the band has done. Perhaps in some regards the subject matter is less attractive to me, but that is likely more a mood thing than anything else. In a world full of political lies and manipulations, and teaming with ugliness everywhere, my musical escapism isn't satisfied by this .... in some ways, but just as I enjoy a serious documentary about serious issues on occasion, I can enjoy Ray sticking the boot into the pompous absurdity of both major political parties.

    Musically this is stunning work. Perhaps from the audiophile side of things it could be tweaked, and that just makes me hope that the lads put together some form of SDE with both albums together, and ideally get a Steve Wilson type character with a good ear and head for it, to drop it into a more clear and audiophile friendly 5.1 audio mix and spread.
  17. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line The Under Asst East Coast White Label Promo Man

    Less rocky slack tune!
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  18. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    Blackjack: a hand weapon typically consisting of a piece of leather-enclosed metal with a strap or springy shaft for a handle.
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  19. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    Nice! It’s a different character, one of Flash’s lieutenants.
  20. All Down The Line

    All Down The Line The Under Asst East Coast White Label Promo Man

    He's big in Japan!
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  21. Vagabone

    Vagabone Forum Resident

    Second Half Car Spiv
    Incredible song, combining fast rock 'n' roll and show tunes with a new take on that '60s harpsichord-heavy chamber pop.
  22. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    Second Hand Car Spiv: as a stand-alone song I’m not exactly keen on this. As a musical theater number, I hang on every word.
  23. stewedandkeefed

    stewedandkeefed Came Ashore In The Dead Of The Night

    Well said. That about sums it up.

    "Car Spiv" is a pretty unique song both lyrically and musically. I hear shades of "Alcohol" in the verses but the rest of it sounds like nothing else I can think of by the Kinks. Plus there are a lot of words ("It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) was brought up during "Money Talks" discussion and this reminds me a bit of that Dylan classic) and yes, I do think Ray's delivery and phrasing are pretty amazing here.
  24. ajsmith

    ajsmith Senior Member

    Second Hand Car Spiv

    I've always thought of this song as something special practically from first listen. I hate to be all 'my favourite Brit Invasion band could beat up your favourite' about this, but when I hear this track, I just think who else of The Kinks generation was doing anything remotely like this in 1974? In the mid 70s, things tended to get bluesier, folkier, mellower, rockier, proggier, more soulful, poppier even for those guys. Where no one else from the class of '64 (unless anyone can offer any suggestions, which I'd happily hear out) was going a decade on. was this kind of lean and angular, this kind of frankly proto new wave.

    This sounds like some kind of crazed Devo, Oingo Boingo, 1977-81 stuff to me! It's the aural equivalent of a corroded cyborg lurching it's way out of a scrapheap! It's not proto punk, because it doesn't 'rock' and it's way too complex, but I will gladly dub it proto post punk (of one stripe anyway) half a decade early. (The irony being that by the time The Kinks attempted to get up to speed again with contemporary post punk in 79-81, their efforts were a tad more forced, as they'd passed through the AOR stage by then).
  25. ajsmith

    ajsmith Senior Member

    The wiki entry for 'Spiv' is definitely worth a read for cultural context: the relevant Kinks songs feature, even if there are, annoyingly, small errors in the listing for each. I didn't know Joe Jackson termed his own early work 'spiv rock' but it figures with the cover of his second album!

    Spiv - Wikipedia


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