Having watched The World’s End the other day, it put me in mind, of course, of Hot Fuzz. That, in turn, put me in mind of Village Green Preservation Society, the only album I know by the Kinks and the only real non-Beatles British Invasion-er album I know intimately. It was Hot Fuzz that first put onto the album, with the title track appearing during Nick Angel’s morning jog through the town, foreshadowing the town’s obsession with its old British ways and fear of change. The album deals with very much the same thing, 40 years earlier.
The title track has the narrators claim to be parts of groups with increasingly silly names, all of which are concerned with sticking to the status quo and trying to upkeep old traditions (“God save little shops/China cups and virginity”), while at the same time preventing any progress or change that might encroach on that goal (“The Office Block Persecution Affinity”, “The Skyscraper Condemnation Affiliates”). Upon hearing this in full for the first time, I was bowled over by the tongue-in-cheek nature of the song, but also the close harmonies and cheery, pastoral feel to the proceedings.
As I implied, it was my first exposure to much if any non-Beatles British Invasion music, and it surprised me hearing the more observational lyrics rather than the Beatles’ love and psychedelia – it gives a little more of a picture of what 60s Britain might have felt like and what the perception of the youth of the time was. Village Green Preservation Society was clearly a dig at the previous generation’s traditions and outrage at the actions of the next one. It’s a tale as old as time, but fascinating from this particular vantage point.
It’s not only a look back at people’s outdated, rural notions, but also of people gone by as well. “Do You Remember Walter?” recounts a childhood friendship, when “We said we’d fight the world/so we’d be free” and “buy a boat/and sail away to sea”. the first part of the song builds up all of the optimism and ambition of youth that, as we get towards the last verse, slowly deteriorates as life gets on – to the younger generation, very much a betrayal of the notions they still hold dear. “I bet you’re fat and married/and you’re always home by half-past eight” ponders the narrator, content in the fact that “people often change/but memories of people can remain” – another example of the way things used to be being much better than they are now.
“Last of the Steam-Powered Trains” was always my favourite track. It has a kickin’ harmonica riff, and, instead of a key change near the end, the song kicks up the tempo and gets faster, which I did and still do think is a brilliant way to kick it up a notch. The narrator goes on about he’s “the last of the good old renegades”, for whom “all this peaceful livin’/Is drivin’ me insane”. “Johnny Thunder” tells the tale of an old renegade – a badass who wouldn’t listen to reason and wouldn’t ever grow up and rejects everyone else pleas for reason, but is still prayed for by “sweet Helena”. Over and over on the album, these youthful figures of badassery are portrayed, but always surrounded by nothing to rebel against and quite alone in their quest – the ultimate fear of your ideals and anger fading away, ’till you’re not quite sure what you’re holding onto any longer.
With a solid 15 tracks – each memorable, cheeky and deftly played – Village Green Preservation Society is an album that I will always return back to every now and again when I’m in the mood, and I always manage to get a little more out of every time. It’s successfully been catalogued with the ‘nostalgia’ stuff in my brain, it’s been long enough. I intend to explore more Kinks’ albums in the future, as their talent becomes more and more apparent as I re-listen, but this album is always going to hold a special place for me in their oeuvre.
“The Village Green Preservation Society”:
“Last of the Steam-Powered Trains”: