Ray Davies is ensconced in the annals of premiere British songwriters. Over the least four decades he has penned some of the most enduring songs emanating from the fertile landscape of English rock in the 1960s. With an irony he and his fervent fans fully appreciate, in the space of a few days he appeared at the relatively intimate House of Blues in san Diego and then at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. In both cases he performed with aplomb.
One day, perhaps 80 years from now, visitors to Westminster Abbey will be strolling through Poet’s Corner. Amidst the pantheons of writers celebrated, perhaps people will point to the stone marker for Ray Davies.
He has been a road warrior since his earliest days fronting The Kinks, and inevitably celebrated those ups and downs in a variety of songs. At the House of Blues, he took the stage accompanied by a guitarist compadre and treated the fans to a series of his beloved acoustic numbers. Most of the songs were essentially sing-alongs, as the audience had long ago embedded the lyrics. “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” perhaps written for fellow closing ceremony performer Roger Daltrey, was given an extra chorus. “Sunny Afternoon” fit well with the summer heat of the day. “Apeman” is as corny and prescient as the day Davies first recorded the song. The bliss of “Victoria” and “Waterloo Sunset” never fails to satisfy; no matter how many times I see that pair of songs performed by Davies I remain astounded by their beauty and simplicity. “Celluloid Heroes,” inspired by Hollywood Boulevard 100 miles to the north, was a timely reminder of Marilyn Monroe’s death 50 years ago.
The only song missing from the setlist was “Days.”
Davies was soon joined by his backing band, which amped up the proceedings. Radio staples like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” rounded out the evening at the House of Blues in San Diego. The lucky 1000 fans were satisfied.
Fast forward to the splendor of Wembley Stadium, where the Olympics Closing Ceremony was held. As with the superb Opening Ceremony, British music played a significant role. Some folks wondered about the conspicuous absence of Clapton and the Rolling Stones. Perhaps because both artists owe their early success to American blues they were not invited? Mick was shown in the stands, and Eric spends much time in bucolic Columbus Ohio. But far worse was the omission of Ray Davies by the dunderheaded NBC producers. Davies was invited, and he performed arguably the most English song of the evening. Search out the clip on YouTube, and you will see Davies being chauffeured to centre [sic] stage. As he climbs out of the limo, he surveys the expansive proceedings, wryly grins, and lopes into “Waterloo Sunset.” A priceless moment, lost to most Americans. But not to those who now know better!