The Kinks - Album by Album (song by song)

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

  1. ThereOnceWasANote

    ThereOnceWasANote Forum Resident

    Cape May, NJ
    It's great song! Probably received good audience participation as well.
  2. pyrrhicvictory

    pyrrhicvictory Forum Resident

    Hay Fever

    Has anyone ever written a good song about allergies? Maybe. A good lyric? No. One of my least favorite Paul Simon songs is ‘Allergies’ which did at least contain an interesting line or two, like one about being allergic to the women he loves, but if there was indeed a destination this lyric never quite got there. And talk about bad sequencing, this lead off Hearts and Bones. Paul does exonerate himself with the exquisite title track which follows. As for ‘Hay Fever’, it may have been a Misery in the studio but from a distance it’s a pleasant listen, harmless fun. I liked it then and now. Yes, even the rudimentary lyrics get a pass. As for running order, maybe swapping positions with ‘In a Foreign Land’ would work. IAFL, by the way, was included on many of my tape/cd mixes through the years, a great unknown (outside of this lot) song.
  3. ThereOnceWasANote

    ThereOnceWasANote Forum Resident

    Cape May, NJ
    Wasn't Allergies the lead single off Hearts And Bones too?
  4. ThereOnceWasANote

    ThereOnceWasANote Forum Resident

    Cape May, NJ
    What would be perfect would be the UK version of Live Life as the 3rd track.

    What about side 1 of Word of Mouth? I've always quite liked the sequencing there.
  5. ThereOnceWasANote

    ThereOnceWasANote Forum Resident

    Cape May, NJ

    Love those setlists! Too bad there is no studio take of Slum Kids. It's a highlight from the Preservation era (even though it wasn't on the album or recorded).
  6. ThereOnceWasANote

    ThereOnceWasANote Forum Resident

    Cape May, NJ
    Thank you for the first-hand insider info. there. Nice insights into one of my favorite bands. I've heard that before about Safe European Home and the Hagar song (not sure where). The Springfield version wasn't till '81 but the earlier Hagar version was popular too, released the same year as Give 'em Enough Rope. Glad they excised it!

    Oh, my apologies, I didn't mean to imply the background vocals was Pearlman's doing. I was referring to the overall production he brought to the album (which I like, though madman Guy Stephens was an even a better choice!). My bad if I was unclear there.

    The Clash were an amazing band. I worked with a former music writer of the Austin American Statesman and he had some great stories about the Clash visiting Texas. Off memory I remember three things he told me: they loved it in Austin, they became good friends with Joe Ely, and they were a bit freaked out when they saw fireflies (lightning bugs) for the first time.

    Always enjoy your posts here and IORR. I remember years ago on IORR when you broke the news of Mick Taylor doing recording for the Exile On Main Street re-issue (Plundered My Soul).
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2022
  7. TeddyB

    TeddyB Senior Member

    @ThereOnceWasANote, thanks for the nod. I may have been succumbing to some Clash-style mythology when I assigned the influence to Rick Springfield, because Sammy Hagar is such a non-favorite!

    On semi-topic, Ray Davies himself would appreciate the varied sources of lifts the Clash used to start song ideas. Who would have expected a Sammy Hagar riff! There’s a great P-Funk lift on the London Calling album Mick won’t admit to. Of course, London Calling itself features a great lift from… Dead End Street.

    When Mick and Joe Strummer were overdubbing Give ‘Em Enough Rope at the Record Plant in Sausalito, they must have heard that song a lot, Hagar being so local. On the other hand, they wrote the song earlier in Jamaica and recorded the basic track in London. Seems that it was the ubiquity of hearing it on the radio in the Bay Area when they were mixing that caused them to cut the riff from their song.

    Your stories about the Clash in Texas back in the day sound just like them.

    As for Taylor recording on the EOMS reissue, when Keith Richards initially denied it to reporters, he really didn’t know about it until after the fact. Jagger had kept him in the dark.
  8. All Down The Line

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

    Very interesting that he would choose to do that at that point.
    DISKOJOE and mark winstanley like this.
  9. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    I'm going to do my best to look at this lyric without offending anyone, because it is sincerely not my intention to do so.
    Please let's not get caught up in any futile race or political arguments that will derail or potentially have the thread locked out....

    Black Messiah.

    Single by The Kinks
    from the album Misfits
    Released 19 May 1978
    Recorded July 1977 – January 1978 at Konk Studios, London
    Genre Rock
    Length 4:08
    Label Arista 210
    Songwriter(s) Ray Davies
    Producer(s) Ray Davies

    stereo mix, recorded 28 Sep, 1977 at Konk Studios, Hornsey, London

    Everybody got the right to speak their mind
    So don't shoot me for saying mine
    Everybody talking about racial equality
    'Cos everybody's equal in the good Lord's eyes
    But if I told you that God was black
    What would you think of that
    I bet you wouldn't believe it

    There's a self made prophet living right next to me
    He said the Black Messiah's gonna come and set the whole world free
    He looked at me with his evil eye and prophesied
    And he really believed it

    He said a Black Messiah is gonna set the world on fire
    And he no liar, 'cos he has truly heard the word
    Everybody talk about racial equality
    But I'm the only honky living on an all black street
    They knock me down 'cos they brown and I white
    Like you wouldn't believe it

    They say a Black Messiah is gonna set the world on fire
    A Black Messiah is gonna come and rule the world
    Everybody talk about racial equality
    Everybody talk about equal rights
    But white's white, black's black and that's that
    Everybody got the right to speak their mind
    So don't shoot me for saying mine

    Everybody talking about racial equality
    Yea everybody talking about equal rights
    But white's white, black's black and that's that
    And that's the way you should leave it

    Don't want no Black Messiah to come and set the world on fire
    A Black Messiah is gonna come and rule the world
    Everybody got to show a little give and take
    Everybody got to live with a little less hate
    Everybody gotta work it out, we gotta sort it out
    Everybody got the right to speak their mind
    So don't shoot me for saying mine

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

    One of the most bewildering tracks in the Kinks catalog....

    I think I understand to some degree what Ray was going for here, but surprisingly a couple of lines in the song fail miserably to convey it clearly, and it ends up being an awkward and pretty careless lyric that somewhat fails to do what I think the intention was......

    I have found it sad and hilarious that white and black folks have had this nonsense argument about Jesus over the years..... Hollywood generally portrays this blonde haired blue eyed white guy, and some in the black community have portrayed this black guy, and it is very likely a kneejerk reaction to the stupidity of the Hollywood portrayal. Whether you believe who he was or not, Jesus was a son of Israel, and genetically middle eastern, a hebrew or a jew or however one wants to label him.... he was neither black nor white in all reality, and from my perspective there is very good reasoning for that... I only use this as a point of context.

    Personally I fail to understand racism, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Just because someone has more or less skin pigment doesn't really make any difference to me whatsoever.... it would be like hating a woman because she is a sunbather, and is constantly tanned ... wt absolute f ...

    Perhaps in light of more recent happenings this song seems more crazy than it did in 1978, I really don't know, but some poor phrasing and writing here seems to just make this song seem .... a little off.....

    I get the impression that Ray was going for a farcical type song, that was essentially making fun of the whole situation, before the finishing lines of the song inject some sense into the picture.
    I say that because looking at the opening verse Ray seems to be obviously making fun.... of everybody.
    To open a song with
    "Everybody got the right to speak their mind
    So don't shoot me for saying mine"
    one assumes that either Ray is about to talk about some incredibly significant topic, or he is about to make fun of something.
    To follow it up with
    "Everybody talking about racial equality
    'Cos everybody's equal in the good Lord's eyes"
    gives me cause to step back and think, hang on, where is he going with this.
    But then he tests his listeners with
    "But if I told you that God was black
    What would you think of that
    I bet you wouldn't believe it"
    This section is quite clever from Ray's perspective in many ways, because he likely knows he has a predominantly white fanbase, and he is really testing their mettle here.
    Everybody is equal, and the Good Lord created us all equal, BUT, what if I told you, white person listening to this song, that God is actually black!

    We have a tendency to visualise things from our perspective, which is understandable, and one of our petty human foibles, and to me here, Ray is challenging his predominantly white audience to envision that God is not this white man they may have in their heads. I actually think this is really quite clever, even though I think it is a topic best handled a little more gently, or left alone.

    Then we get a context, of sorts, of why Ray brought this up. He speaks of a self made prophet that lives next door to him who believes that God is a black man and he is coming to set the world free

    First off, and this will mean nothing to the atheists here, so forgive me for dropping this in, and I'll try and word it in a way that is of no particular offense to anybody..... I don't believe that God, or if preferable, some form of creator of the universe, is defined by skin colour, and it is hilarious to me that we, in our tiny little minds, with our miniscule little perspectives would try and ascribe one.
    To me God seems unlikely to be some old white guy with a big beard sitting in a big chair, just as much as he is unlikely to be some old black guy with a big beard sitting in a big chair, and I think it says more about humans than we would think that it even becomes an issue lol... and frankly I don't care if he actually turns out to be either.
    Anyway, apologies for the sideline, but it felt like I needed to touch on that.

    The next section is where I think it starts getting a little confused in what it is trying to say.
    For me whether black or white, I am not looking forward to anyone, God, man, or pygmy pony coming to set the world on fire, and I am probably going to react a little negatively to any of them lol

    Then we get to the abstract section
    "Everybody talk about racial equality
    But I'm the only honky living on an all black street"
    I'm not sure exactly what Ray was going for here to be honest....
    I was actually in this situation for just over a year when I first came to the US. My wife and I were actually the only honky's living on an all black street, and they referred to us as the Oreo's... We generally weren't very welcome, but it wasn't consistent .... it was really a strange situation to me, and after having guns waved in our faces and such, we eventually moved ... It doesn't make me dislike anyone, there has been so much BS from all over the place, that I understand that we were seen as out of place or whatever.... but it was such a strange situation, because one minute it was hugs and love and the next it was hate and vitriol, and then it was hugs and love again... (but that could have just come down to the Sherm that was seemingly quite popular) and it certainly gave me a pretty solid perspective on how it must feel the other way around.... and that makes no sense to me either.

    "They knock me down 'cos they brown and I white
    Like you wouldn't believe it "
    I think this points out how ludicrous the whole scenario is, no matter which race or colour you put in there, and again I get the perspective that Ray is directly testing his primarily white audience, because, it causes one to think about how stupid that situation is..... again no matter what race or colour or whatever we are looking at.
    I'll sit and have a drink with anyone, but no matter who they are, or where they are from, if they want to push me around physically, or even verbally, there is going to be a problem, and race or colour has absolutely nothing to do with it.

    The next section essentially repeats several lines we have previously looked at. The only different line here is
    "But white's white, black's black and that's that"
    Now I guess people could read many things into that statement, but essentially I just see that as a statement of fact. Nobody has control of what colour their skin is.... nor their hair for that matter, or their eyes, and it is ridiculous to think that it makes any difference... sure people may be attracted to certain things, if we we're talking about wanting to have sex, or date or something like that, but I'm not really looking to have sex with everyone I meet, and I meet more people that I don't want to, or am not interested in having sex with, than I do people I am, so I really don't see the issue there lol

    We get another lyrical repeat next up and this is where the real problem with these lyrics is for me, I think
    Another repeat of the everybody's talkin' sections and then
    "But white's white, black's black and that's that
    And that's the way you should leave it"
    The line " and that's the way you should leave it" is really a poor choice of phrasing, to me at least. I honestly get the impression that Ray meant it as that's all there is to it, that's just how it is, but when read into, it could mean several not so nice things.

    We get the chorus-like section again, and then we get the lines
    "Everybody got to show a little give and take
    Everybody got to live with a little less hate
    Everybody gotta work it out, we gotta sort it out"
    For me, this is the meat and potatoes of the song.
    It almost seems to me like Ray set up these really odd scenarios in his song to test his predominantly white audience, and then hit them with this dose of reality at the end.

    No matter who we are, or what we look like, we all need a little give and take, and hate is the most worthless of emotions, that often does the most damage.....

    I'm not going to suggest in any way that this is a great lyric. I think it is careless, and I think it fails to be as focused as a lyric on this kind of topic needs to be, but I also don't really think Ray was writing out some racist lyric .... I think he just showed an error in judgement on approaching this topic, because it is too volatile a subject to handle carelessly, and I think it ends up being a little careless in its presentation.....

    Musically we open with a nice gentle feel and we get the opening, somewhat apologetic lyric, over the organ and piano, and then we break into the bouncy rhythm.
    I know we are going to get into discussions about reggae, but initially it almost starts off like some kind of psychotic skiffle..... but sure enough it flattens out a little and we move into this sort of reggae feel.

    Perhaps there is some insidious meaning to the musical styling, but it's 1978 .... the song was recorded in September 1977, and there are a few things to take into account here.
    First - it isn't the first time that the band have played with Jamaican musical influences, so I'm not sure that it is really much of a big deal.
    Second - Bob Marley famously blew people's minds in London at the Rainbow in June of 1977, and that had a huge impact. One can pretty safely guess that the Police's change in direction from May 77's punkish Fall Out to April 78's Roxanne was likely directly influenced by this show, and also the sudden burst of Two Tone in the UK (uptempo, punk influenced Ska) seems also to have sprung somewhat from this point too. Though Madness and Bad Manners were together as bands in 1976, most of the bands seem to have formed just after this now legendary concert.
    As all of us eighties kids know, the late seventies and early eighties was full of Reggae and Ska influence in the pop music scene.

    If we take the Kinks and race out of the equation, this is a pretty convincing arrangement and execution.
    I think special mention of the guitar and bass is probably in order, as Dave does some lovely little things in here, and the bass seems to really capture the feel and spacing well.

    Essentially it is a really cool piece of music, and terribly catchy, which is why it likely came out as a single, but if Clive Davis was ever going to interject about the Kinks songs, this would be the time.... something like "Ray this is a great song, give it some words that give it some kind of chance"

    Through the song we get some subtle horns, and at the 2:30 point we get the little trad jazz break, and again, for me, it is really cool.

    We get quite a few nice little change ups in the song, and musically it works really well.....

    So we end up with a song that I should really love, but the lyrics end up making me cringe a little, and the big problem with that is the fact that this is the third song on the album.
    So we have had an out and out Kinks Klassic, followed by an almost filler somewhat novelty type song, followed by this track, which is ..... just probably best left off the album to be honest, or rewritten.....

  10. croquetlawns

    croquetlawns Forum Resident

    Ah, we have come to THE SONG! Just as Hayfever isn't a great song for side 1, track 2, Black Messiah probably shouldn't be on the album at all - perhaps saved as a guilty pleasure on a giveaway Flexi single in a magazine, or on an obscure various artists compilation... That it was chosen as a single is truly baffling. I don't mind the music itself, even if it's hardly top-tier, but the lyric just sinks any chance that the song had.
  11. ARL

    ARL Forum Resident

    "Black Messiah"

    It's probably not a good sign when a song opens with a disclaimer. For what it's worth, the first time I heard this song back in 1987 I found the lyric uncomfortable. I've never been entirely clear as to what Ray was driving at here. It's possible that the whole thing is supposed to be in character, but even that doesn't really help. It's actually the "Everybody gotta work it out, we gotta sort it out" line that I find most amusing - thanks for that, Ray - we hadn't thought of that!

    Musically it's a kind of unconvincing mock reggae/calypso, but OK for what it is. As for the mock Caribbean accent, well there wouldn't be much of The Police left if we were going to get rid of that. If this has to be on the album, I prefer it in its side two position as in the US running order, by which time the album's had a chance to establish itself before being on the end of a self-inflicted torpedo.
  12. Fortuleo

    Fortuleo Used to be a Forum Resident

    First, kudos to our esteemed leader to take it upon himself to carefully (and tactfully) determine the framework of the discussion. For years, I didn’t pay close attention to the lyrics. I just figured it probably was meant as a slice of tongue in cheek Kinks provocation directed at rock's mainly white audience. “What would you think of that?” being the key line.

    I now see things are (and have become even) more complicated. And confusing. Or confused. Especially in today's context, in which the reversed “we have the right to speak our mind!” claiming is going so strong (in France too).
    In Ray’s 1977 mind, I bet he put himself in a Randy Newman frame of mind, playing the bigot and then hinting at the idea that bigotry is not just a white thing but a human thing ? That's possible, but some lines are still clunky… I've always liked the music, the delivery and the throwback to the Kinks of (not so) old, a few records ago, when their albums were not just good music but a musical parade, a happening of sorts. When I listen to that New-Orleans reggae horns driven little tune, that’s what I still hear, even though it sounds a lot cleaner than it used to (closer to C Moon than early Wailers, if you will). Just a thing : I think there's a case for the "white's white, black's black and that's that" line meaning that colors should be just that, colors, and not skin colors or identities. In that case, the "that's the way you should leave it" main offender would make more sense. But clunky it is nonetheless… So I’ll just say this, maybe to Ray’s chagrin: in our even more polarized times, I think it’s fair to say we all know who’d feel represented and vindicated by the song and who’d feel most uncomfortable with it… So there. Still enjoy the catchy music, though, and wish I could come back to being able to listen without asking myself all these questions.
  13. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    I reckon that's a pretty solid observation

  14. The late man

    The late man Forum Resident

    Maybe it's time to read Ray the Riot Act ?

    (I never quite understood this Costello song (I never fully understand Costello songs anyway), but for some context it had to do with a drunken racist comment of his about Ray Charles, I believe)

    Everybody's got the right to speak their taste, so don't shoot me for saying mine: I've always found the lyrics a bit clumsy (and I don't mean "inappropriate" clumsy, mainly "technically" clumsy, like these opening words), but it didn't prevent the song from being one of my favorite tunes on misfits. I didn't even notice it had any thing to do with reggae until very late. It's a great blend of styles, and the horns are perfect, and finely recorded and mixed. A very pleasant tune. I guess I tend to like the non-rock songs by the Kinks, even if I enjoy some of the rockier tunes too.

    As for what Ray's intentions, I guess it was something like "Mummy, mummy, look, look, I'm doing something provocative!" and the right answer is [Mummy, not looking] "yes Ray dear, it's wonderful".
  15. ajsmith

    ajsmith Senior Member

    Sometimes when my minds wondering in the middle of night to the more abstract kind of worries that aren't directly concerned with my own life, I can get stressed about Ray Davies and The Kinks getting 'cancelled' (as the contemporary parlance has it) if enough people dug up this track and made it a thing ... while I find that that kind of recent (social media fuelled of course) knee jerk unnuanced good/bad tendency deeply unhelpful and poisonous in itself, in that notional scenario I'd find this very awkward lyric hard to defend on any level. It's at best a confused song about a BIG issue, and one that it has to be said Ray's not remotely equipped to adequately discuss in a pop song: I mean tbf there are few who are , but this is a particularly clumsy attempt, and esp unbecoming coming from such a master of the form of combining pop with meaningful sentiment.

    I mean it starts with a disclaimer (as @ARL says, not a good portent), then goes what seems like it could be a description of a Louis Farrakhan type, then into a bit about being an oppressed white minority: now, while these are hugely controversial subjects to be raising, they also have the potential to be a thought provoking basis for a song if the writer was able to tread very carefully. But then the rest of the song just bleps out with the insultingly pat platitudes of 'everybody gotta get along' etc and even worse 'whites white: blacks black, that's that and that's the way you should leave it': might as well have added 'Thoughts and Prayers' for all the insight and care the topic is ultimately given. And the lead and esp those backing vocal accents that Ray can't resist doing are REALLY not helping.

    On a structural note, while I guess it makes sense to end and begin the song with it I've always found the middle occurrence of the 'everybody's got the right to speak their minds' bit VERY jarring to the flow of the song: it's almost like Ray inserted it in case someone tuned into the song on the radio halfway through and missed the opening disclaimer, almost like a kind of 'you're listening to The Kinks, and this is a song that's skirting on some heavy themes, so don't touch that dial!' bumper.

    And why was this a UK single anyway? I used to assume it must have been issued in the wake of 10cc's huge success with the (arguably similarly cultural insensitive, but much more skillfully minted and charming) 'Dreadlock Holiday', but on checking the release dates, it turns out 'Black Messiah' was issued two months before Stewart/Gouldman's faux reggae smasharoo, so I've no idea. I guess reggae was in the air the time, and also maybe it was thought that the lyric might generate some buzz, at a time when something like that could be received as 'provocative' rather than 'career destroyingly idiotic' . In any case I'm SO glad this one was a flop!
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2022
  16. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    Yes, this actually a really catchy song. It even survives the fact that it's an almost textbook example of a white rock band trying and failing to play reggae - I don't know who's playing drums on it but whoever it is could obviously no more play reggae than walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls.

    Lyrically this definitely seems like a character study from Ray - a portrait of a misfit, to continue the loose theme of the album - but, in this case, why bother? In no way is this comparable to Randy Newman's portraits of similarly dubious characters on "Rednecks", those were subtle and profound and motivated by anger and sadness, what's the motivation behind this song? To me, this song sounds like one night in his local boozer got buttonholed by some geezer who was all, "I'm not racist but...", and was pouring his woes and resentments into Ray's ear, and Ray decided it might make a good idea for a song - well, it didn't.

    What makes the release of this as a single in the UK worse, even reprehensible, is what was going on in the UK at the time - especially on the streets of London - with the National Front riding high in the polls and black and Asian people regularly getting their heads cracked open by racist mobs. For Ray to write this shows just how out of touch he'd become with 'ordinary people' and life on the streets he'd grown up on. One thing it also shows is how insignificant the Kinks had become in the UK that this single escaped the notice (and wrath) of the Rock Against Racism movement (of which Ray's old, er, chum, Tom Robinson was a prominent supporter!)
  17. stewedandkeefed

    stewedandkeefed Came Ashore In The Dead Of The Night

    Yeah "Black Messiah" is a bit of a bewildering song. I guess it is a satire. I think the Kinks are not the band for the reggae lilt so I don't really care that much for it musically though the horns certainly add something to the second half of the song (I prefer much cruder reggae - more of a Peter Tosh guy than a Bob Marley guy). As a lyric it is a first person monologue from a "character" - Bob Dylan got into some trouble in 1983 for the dub influenced monologue near the end of "Union Sundown" which was presumably in "character" (in "Union Sundown" the comments are about globalization and the loss of US manufacturing jobs). Here Ray looks at race (and religion) - two topics one generally avoids in polite conversation though, apparently, not song lyrics. I don't truly understand what Ray was trying to do but it is a bit of a head-scratcher and certainly not a pinnacle of the Kinks Katalogue.
  18. Martyj

    Martyj Who dares to wake me from my slumber? -- Mr. Flash

    Maryland, USA
    I've always managed to look past the lyrics for this song and just appreciate it for the fun music. The Mike Cotton Sound make a welcome return to lift the Misfits LP as a whole with a splash of diverse, musical texture. I hear RCA Kinks more than Arista Kinks. I enjoy it more than most of the numbers on this LP.
  19. “Misfits”—a tired chord progression anchors (and I do mean anchors) a commonplace, root-note melody. The whole thing screams tenderness and empathy and big statement and yet remains uninvolving, perhaps sunk by clichéd sentiments about the misfits being everywhere and dogs having their day. I miss the Ray Davies who used to write movingly about oddballs and weirdos without having to announce that he was doing so.

    “Hay Fever”—inoffensive, catchy, though @Vangro called it “stupid,” and I can’t argue with this bald assessment. It is stupid. Very much so. Ray finds something else besides decorative ducks that interferes with his ability to make love. Perhaps there are larger issues.

    “Black Messiah”—Rantings, musically and lyrically. A personal benchmark: for me, this is their worst since “Look a Little On The Sunny Side.” Tedious.
  20. Endicott

    Endicott Forum Resident

    Black Messiah

    Here we go...:-popcorn:

    First, I'd like to say this is actually one of the most musically interesting tracks on the album. The reggae affectation doesn't quite work, but at least it's something different. And Muswell Hillbillies brass is always welcome in my home. It's a very catchy song.

    But "Black Messiah" is to Ray Davies what Some Time In New York City was to John Lennon. Whatever its musical virtues, they're pretty much irrelevant -- all eyes and ears are on the lyrical subject matter. So let's go there...

    The song starts with an unsettling disclaimer that an Unpopular Opinion is to follow. To me this is key, because it indicates that this is Ray himself speaking, not a detached narrator. And then we roll into the song itself, which actually starts out great:

    Everybody talking about racial equality
    'Cause everybody's equal in the good Lord's eyes
    But if I told you that God was black
    What would you think of that?
    I bet you wouldn't believe it

    What I initially thought Ray was doing here was challenging his audience about their unconscious racism. "Oh, you think you're enlightened? You think you're so clever and classless and free? Well, consider that God might be black... that ever occur to you? How would you react?" It's actually a good point to ponder.

    There's a self-made prophet living right next to me
    He said the Black Messiah's gonna come and set the whole world free
    He looked at me with his evil eye and he prophesied
    And he really believed it

    In the second verse, it seems like he's describing a black manic street preacher. Ray Davies has done dozens of character sketches in his songs; here's one more. No problem yet; we'll see where he takes this...

    Everybody talk about racial equality
    But I'm the only honky living on an all black street
    They knock me down 'cos they brown and I white
    Like you wouldn't believe it

    This is where the first orange flags start to flutter. Ray shifts the main character from the street preacher to the narrator, and talks about being the target of racial abuse in his neighborhood, even though he's white. Well, that kind of thing DOES happen, certainly, but it seems like an odd lurch from the setting he established in the first two verses.

    Everybody talk about racial equality
    Everybody talk about equal rights
    But white's white, black's black and that's that

    And this is the RED flag. Is he advocating for segregation here? Is he saying there are intrinsic differences between white people and black people and that equality is a pipe dream at best? When I heard this song for the first time and got to these lines, it was a WTF moment like no other in my Kinks journey. I still haven't come up with a "milder" interpretation.

    Everybody got to show a little give and take
    Everybody got to live with a little less hate
    Everybody gotta work it out, we gotta sort it out

    In the final verse, he lapses into bothsiderism --- a last-ditch rhetorical device (along with its close cousin, whataboutism) employed by the one who is losing the argument. Both sides do it! Russell might have shot Usian's family to death and burned his house down, but Usian's dog pooped on Russell's lawn once! See, both sides!

    Ray Davies was and is a highly intelligent and insightful artist, and there's no way he doesn't understand the difference between individual racism and institutional racism. In this song, he seems to pretend that the two are the same, forming a false equivalency. And his disclaimer -- which he repeats three times in the song -- makes it quite clear that this is his own point of view, not his character's. As far as I'm concerned, this is the most damning aspect of the track. It sounds like "I'm not a racist, but..."

    If he had just omitted the disclaimer and told the story from the perspective of the character, he could have produced a revealing song about what goes through the mind of a common white person who's seeing his privilege erode as times change. But... that disclaimer.

    This was Ray's Elvis Costello/Ray Charles moment. Except this wasn't a spontaneous drunken outburst. I don't believe that either Davies or Costello are racists -- the preponderance of the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. But "Black Messiah" was a serious misfire.
  21. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    Black Messiah:
    Bold subject matter, as Ray tackles race relations/racial equality circa mid to latter 1970s. In the UK? I’m not sure but it could be applied most anywhere.

    The music is ear-worm friendly reggae so when I first listened to it I was bopping along and then was drawn up short a time or two by the lyrics. But I’ve now taken a look at Ray’s lyrics and have decided that it was a rather bold, though confusing, move by Ray and by The Kinks. Very thought provoking (or, at the least, head scratching), “I bet you wouldn’t believe it.”

    The vocals are over the top at times with the Caribbean (Jamaican?) accent but I can live with it. Ray has always liked his accents and character sketches.

    Overall? A good song. 2 for 3 so far.
  22. Zeki

    Zeki Forum Resident

    I just looked to see if the song ever made the setlist. Per Setlist.FM: twice. June, ‘78 and February, ‘79. For a song released as a single…that’s highly unusual (to say the least). Setlist fm could be way off, I suppose…or?
  23. Vangro

    Vangro Forum Resident

    I was maybe a bit harsh in describing "Hay Fever" as a stupid song, it's more silly than stupid, "Black Messiah" though, that is stupid.
  24. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Certified dinosaur, who likes physical product Thread Starter

    I'd be surprised if nobody warned them away from it....
    DISKOJOE, All Down The Line and Zeki like this.
  25. fspringer

    fspringer Forum Resident

    New York City
    Black Messiah: Two clunkers in a row. He should have just written this down to screwing around in the studio and let it stay there. I don't think the expected explosion regarding race relations is going to erupt here. It's hard to get that excited over such a bad song! I recall liking this song well enough as a kid first hearing it, but, boy, this did not age well. AJ Smith notes the unlikely prospect of The Kinks getting "cancelled" if enough people with an agenda dig up this song and get riled up over it - a concept I find nearly as abhorrent as the perceived problems these people are attacking. I simply don't think the song is worth the trouble, for anyone.

    Strange sidenote: I had no idea, listening to this song as a teenager in a small town in Pennsylvania (nearly all white), that I would one day live out this song in terms of "being the only honky on an all black street." I moved to NYC in the late 80s, with hardly anything, and ended up living close to a decade in an outer-borough neighborhood where the only other white people I saw were in police cars, or the occasional elderly apartment dweller who had hung in there decades after nearly all the white folks fled the neighborhood in that post-war exodus to the suburbs. My naivete was my saving grace, as I didn't know that this simply wasn't done by most white folks and acted accordingly, humbling myself to the land, learning how to live this way. It was a valuable education, not just in race relations but in how to navigate the hard parts of a city. Of course, after close to 10 years of serving a lightning rod for any racially controversial episodes playing out on the news (which were constant), I got tired of this and moved when I started making more money. But I tend to look back positively on those first days here. In many senses, that rundown neighborhood was my home in terms of urban life, and it felt good to leave it!

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