The Kinks’ State of Confusion was just the second LP I ever purchased. With loose change I’d saved from scrounging around in the couch or picking up from the piles left on countertops (don’t all kids do that?) I came up with the $9.98 required to buy the record soon after its release in the summer of 1983. On my beat-up hand-me-down ten-speed I rode to the Great Northern strip mall in downtown North Olmsted and bought State of Confusion at Record Theater. As it was such a painstaking task to accumulate the money I needed (we didn’t receive allowances and it was always torture for me to ask for cash from my parents), my decision to buy this Kinks album had been thought out well in advance. While the group’s surprise comeback single, “Come Dancing” (with its inspired video) was climbing the charts, it wasn’t the only song I knew. WMMS in Cleveland was also giving steady airplay to the title track and the rocker, “Definite Maybe.” With these three great songs in mind, I figured the rest of the album would be fantastic. I quickly found myself walking around the house singing the opening line of “Labour of Love” (“Marriage is a two headed transplant/Sometimes that’s how it seems”) and humming the poignant melody to “Heart of Gold.”
I was 13 that summer, and only owned three or four records, meaning the latest addition to my small collection would receive the most attention and repeated plays. I spent a great deal of those hot summer months in the cool basement listening intently to Ray Davies’ lyrics and learning how to play the drums like Mick Avory. As for my friends, I was shocked whenever they looked at me funny once I told them what I was listening to. I mean, come on, it was the Kinks! The band that gave us “You really Got Me,” “Ape Man,” and of course, “L-O-L-A- Lola!” Years later, when I delved deeper into the Kinks catalog, I discovered that they were an underappreciated band, overshadowed by the Who and the Stones. Their songs were deep and poetic like their English counterparts, yet I always felt a sadness coming from Ray Davies’ singing that I didn’t get from the other two bands.
I don’t know why that sadness attracted me so much. Maybe it was too much time in the basement or perhaps I felt, with the ensuing school year coming, my seventh-grade friends and I were beginning to splinter off from each other. On several occasions I’d already felt the sting of being excluded from a party or get-together. I know it sounds melodramatic for a 13-year-old to be wallowing in loneliness, especially over friendship, but at that age the bond with your best friends is still more important than those with your family or girls. It didn’t help that every girl I really liked didn’t reciprocate my feelings.
While the rockers on State of Confusion were what motivated me to buy the album, placing the needle on Side Two soon brought me greater joy. As the needle graced the vinyl groove I had just enough time to jump back into my favorite yellow recliner before the first chords of “Don’t Forget to Dance,” Ray Davies’ elegant reflection on middle age, began to play. It may seem odd that a ballad about an unmarried woman would resonate with my young mind. Yet the great songwriters, like Davies, are able to place universal messages in between the lines of their stories. “Don’t forget to dance/Don’t forget to smile” could be talking to anyone feeling down, not just the protagonist in his song. Meanwhile, this lyric haunts me with every listen is:
There’s no reason to just stop living
There’s no excuse to just give in
To a sad and lonely heart
Much more than the “guy meets girl and they get it on” mainstream rock I’d been listening to, this was mature, heartfelt pop. This may be why my friends gave me the strange looks. “Who cares about some old fart? We want cool-looking rockers who can shout at the devil!” Okay, maybe I wanted that, too. But old? Just 39 when State of Confusion was released, Ray Davies wasn’t old. No, Ray Davies and his music are timeless. This is why I still pull out the vinyl and listen to State of Confusion in its entirety.
There are songs that inspire nostalgia when you hear them on the radio or playing in the background on a Saturday afternoon. If I heard Def Leppard’s “Photograph” right now, I might raise my fist and recall some of my better seventh-grade memories. Then there are other songs, timeless compositions like “Don’t Forget to Dance” that offer new insights to the listener as they mature. Looking at my life, at age 39, there are a number of reasons why I could feel down, any number of reasons why I might want to hole up in my house and shut out the world. That’s when the timeless words of Ray Davies, a man who has been where I am and sang about it 25 years ago, gain new meaning and inspire me to dance a little, smile a little, and keep moving forward.