Underrated Gems Of The Modern Era (1980-Present): The Kinks 'Give The People What They Want'!



It should go without saying that Give The People What They Want isn't just a decent album by a sixties band stuck in an eighties world, but also the last truly great album of the "pre-MTV" age, but since it doesn't yet go without saying, here I go:

Released into the world quite literally on the cusp of MTV's launch (August 1981), it stands as the last truly innocent album, for which no thought was given to whether a song needed a $125,000 concept video to be a hit.

Sadly, it would become a serious concern by the time of their next album, but the band handled it like the champs that they are and had their biggest worldwide hit ever ("Come Dancing", anybody?).

Of course, fluke that it was, the band would never reach such heights again.



In 1981, though, the Ray Davies that had written, produced and released Give The People What They Want into the world had no idea any of this was to come.

It is that last breath of innocence, jaded though it may be, that makes the album so great.

Even as Davies rails against the corporate mergers that render a once-influential rock DJ obsolete or the court machinations that tear a daughter away from her father, we soon realized that a bigger tsunami would have wiped them all out anyway: MTV.

While radio has certainly "stuck around", the once-thriving medium was an absolute Goliath throughout the '70s as the thousands of regional ma-and-pa stations that gave this country its unique flavor from state to state took a serious hit, from which they never recovered.



Sure, there may have been extenuating circumstances, but MTV created the very environment for those circumstances to take root and fester, ultimately rotting out the whole damn industry.

In other words, the friendly environs within the otherwise ma-and-pa world of rock radio (think WKRP minus the "flying turkeys") that had helped rejuvenate the Kinks career in the late '70's would, by the mid 80's, go the way of the dodo bird and the esoteric genius of albums like Waterloo Sunset and Village Green Preservation Society would be lost on a video generation.

What's so refreshingly honest about Give The People What They Want is that Ray finally applies his lyrical storytelling "genius" to himself, coming up with a gaggle of characters that look and sound very much like him, albeit with an American bent.  In a way, Ray had moved from quaint '70s working-class Musberry Hill to New York's Lower East Side circa '81.



"Art Lover", the album's dark-horse track, most certainly takes place in Central Park, where the song's subject sings of admiring young girls in the park and wanting to take them home. When performed on Saturday Night Live in 1981, the song received no media outrage over the song's subject matter, where, in today's world, it might never be performed at all.

There is obviously much more conventional fare throughout: "Destroyer" (about a paranoid schizophrenic), "Around The Dial" (about that favorite radio DJ we alluded to earlier), "Killer's Eyes" (a woman realizes only too late the man she loves is a bad, bad man). and its all presented in a stadium-friendly rock format thanks to Dave Davies' ripping riffs and Mick Avory's thunderously in-the-pocket drumming.

The result are songs that can be appreciated by the "rock crowd" without a need to leave your brain at the door.

Sadly, British fans of the day got the short end of the stick and would be deprived of this gem for another six months after Ray Davies took one look at this MTV thing and suddenly wanted to make an album-length video for Give The People What They Want. Only after financing fizzled on the project did Davies finally let the thing out in the UK.

In the end, not a single video was filmed for the album.

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