Record Store Day usually brings with it some interesting, if not must-have, releases. This one, 3×4, is definitely the former and quite possibly the latter. With tracks by seminal Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” bands BANGLES, THE DREAM SYNDICATE, RAIN PARADE and THE THREE O’CLOCK, these dozen tracks make a unique set of a batch of great songs.
The idea was actually pretty simple. Each band involved covers songs by each of the other three groups: 3 tracks by 4 bands. As all four groups were contemporaries and fans of each other (frequently playing together on club dates and more back in the day), the concept makes sense and it offers – when it really works – an additional level of appreciation of the original tune or band. I say “when it works” because there are a few here that just feel like straight covers (see the video at the end of this review), adding next-to-nothing to the original tune’s stature. I should also mention that my two favorite bands here, Bangles and The Dream Syndicate, are not as impressive as I had hoped they’d be. The Three O’Clock does a nice job of interpreting “Tell Me When It’s Over” (Dream Syndicate) and Bangles’ “Getting Out of Hand,” the opening track of the album, but it is Rain Parade that actually carries 3×4. Not only are the covers of their songs quite good (Dream Syndicate does a nice “You Are My Friend”), but their versions of the others’ songs are the best tracks here. “When You Smile” is a more somber take of Dream Syndicate’s early tune, while their “Real World” adds some beautiful psychedelia to the Bangles song and their “As Real As Real” is a super sweet version of The Three O’Clock’s neo-psychedelic track.
3×4 is a must-have for fans of Rain Parade, for sure. If you’re not as big on them as the other bands, you might want to get the CD and not splurge so much on the vinyl. For Record Store Day, the release is available as a double purple swirl vinyl set and a single CD, and in January 2019 the album will receive a wider release that will include digital formats. Being a sucker for colored vinyl (especially purple!), I may seek out that version. On the other hand, the CD is a good economical way to go, and holding out for downloads wouldn’t really be as real as real.
There have been many 30, 40 and 50th year anniversary reissues in the last decade, despite physical media being given its theoretical death sentence some time ago. The record companies, though, realize that the kids may go for downloads and streaming but us older fans must have something to hold onto. The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society is 50 years old now and THE KINKS’ “record label” has regaled us with an over-the-top box that can barely be held with two hands, and it’s worth whatever backache you may incur upon its arrival.
You wanna talk about a sleeper of an album? Village Green Preservation Society (from here on out VGPS) died a quick death when it was released in late 1968 (January ’69 here in the US). Maybe it was The Beatles’ heralded White Album that kept people from realizing VGPS’s greatness, maybe it was that The Kinks hadn’t exactly been hot on the charts at the moment. Hell: Maybe it was all the turmoil in the world. After all, ’68 wasn’t exactly the most peaceful year of the decade. And maybe it’s that Ray Davies’s “rock opera” (before Tommy even!) was of such a pastoral, low-key nature that the pop press and record label PR types had no idea how to whip up a frenzy around its release. Or maybe it was just an album that – like The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle – needed time to incubate in the zeitgeist before it could be truly appreciated. Whatever the reason, VGPS gets more and more of the spotlight every year, and deservedly so.
I first learned about this great lost Kinks album in the early ’90s thanks to two local bands who were already tuned in. The Young Fresh Fellows covered VGPS’s “Picture Book” and Flop did “Big Sky,” both excellent covers by great Seattle groups. (If you don’t already know the Fellows or Flop, stop right now and look ’em up. I’ll wait…) Being the intrepid music fan I am, I found a copy of VGPS (not easy back then, actually) and was instantly transformed into not just a kasual Kinks fan, but a full-fledged one. What wasn’t to like about it? Those two songs, “Do You Remember Walter?” “Last of the Steam Powered Trains,” “Animal Farm,” “People Take Pictures of Each Other”… Every track a good one, full of Ray Davies’ unique viewpoint on life in his England home, and every track soaked in the band’s first great incarnation’s particular, spectacular arrangements. In hindsight, twenty five years after I discovered it, the only thing that is a possible negative is the slightly shoddy recording quality of the record. Though that ding definitely stands out on this new edition, it’s of little consequence because the album itself is so damn good. It’s not as gimmicky as Sgt. Pepper, not all over the place like The Who Sell Out (both albums that I absolutely adore), and not as lofty. And that’s the point! Davies wasn’t going for lofty — he was going for little. As in, small-screen vignettes about the people and places that then populated his life. I wonder how Ray feels now about that vanished Britain.
This big deal VGPS box obliviates the album’s quaintness, what with three LPs, three 7″ singles, five CDs, a nice book full of photos of era memorabilia, and a packet of reprints of posters, sheet music and more. (Initial orders through The Kinks web site got you a fourth 45!) And yet, if any great album deserves such a gala presentation, this one does. I can tell you, being the huge Beatles fan I am, that I was looking forward to this even more than the White Album box that comes out later this week.
The lowdown goes like this. Vinyl-wise, you get two LPs of the original UK mono and stereo mixes (in their then Davies-sanctioned 15 track configuration), an LP with the 12 track version sent to Europe and Down Under without Ray’s permission (some months before the 15 track iteration), and three 7″ singles from the era in replica sleeves. (The one that, errrr, reprises the US Reprise 45 is kinda lame – they don’t use the record company logo or fonts or anything, so it looks like someone forgot to include the actual artwork!) As for CDs, the first two are of the mono and stereo mixes (15 track version) along with period singles*, single mixes, B-sides, etc.; a disc of sessions recordings (early versions, work versions and demos, including a killer instrumental called “Mick Avory’s Underpants”!); a disc called Village Green at the BBC (guess); and a final CD of demos, sessions and live versions. Then there’s all the replicated memorabilia. And a big ol’ (picture) book. It all comes in a nice, substantial box that I only very slightly damaged trying to open. (I’ll get over that in time. Maybe.) All of it is good – if not great –and there’s more than enough here for dozens of listenings over the rest of your life.
After all this, all I can say is: God Save the Village Green Preservation Society; Long Live The Kinks!
* Here’s where I add that one of the singles here, “Days,” is included in numerous versions and never outstays its welcome. That’s because it might just be the most poignant, perfect song of all time. Listen to the words and the arrangement and tell me there’s not someone who was once in your life (a mom, a brother, for instance) who fulfills the role of the person in this song who is longed for, memorized, cherished. This paragraph – “Days” – is for Nel Blurton and Dana Gooch, my mom and my brother. Thank you for the days.