Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

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Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
The front cover artwork of the album. A white coffee mug with the word "Arthur" and a picture of two men sits in the foreground; a sepia-tone profile photo of The Kinks sits behind it; a swan and other small, various objects sit behind the photo. A hand raises a flag from behind the pileup, which reads "The Kinks". These objects sit on a green background, with the exception of the top border, which is covered by storm clouds.
Studio album by The Kinks
Released 10 October 1969
Recorded May–July 1969 at Pye Studios, London
Genre Rock, pop, hard rock[1]
Length 49:18
Label Pye (UK), Reprise (US)
Producer Ray Davies
The Kinks chronology
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
(1968)
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
(1969)
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One
(1970)
Singles from Arthur
  1. "Drivin'"
    Released: 20 June 1969
  2. "Shangri-La"
    Released: 12 September 1969
  3. "Victoria"
    Released: 14 October 1969

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) is the seventh studio album by English rock band The Kinks, released in October 1969. Kinks frontman Ray Davies constructed the concept album as the soundtrack to a Granada Television play and developed the storyline with novelist Julian Mitchell; however, the television programme was cancelled and never produced. The rough plot revolved around Arthur Morgan, a carpet-layer, who was based on Ray Davies' brother-in-law Arthur Anning. A mono version was released in the UK, but not in the US. It is now available on the 2011 deluxe-edition re-issue.

Arthur was met with almost unanimous acclaim upon release. It received generous coverage in the US rock press, with articles running in underground magazines such as Fusion and The Village Voice. It garnered back-to-back reviews by Mike Daly and Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone magazine's lead section; Daly rated it as "the Kinks' finest hour", and Marcus went so far as to call it "the best British album of 1969".[2] Reviews in the UK were also positive. Although it received a mixed review in New Musical Express, Disc & Music Echo praised the album's musical integrity, and Melody Maker called it "Ray Davies' finest hour ... beautifully British to the core".[3]

The album, although not very successful commercially, was a return to the charts in the US for The Kinks.[4] Their critically well-received previous effort, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, failed to chart in any country upon its release in 1968, with total US sales estimated at under 25,000 copies.[5] The Kinks returned to the Billboard charts in 1969 after a two-year absence, with the lead single from the record, "Victoria", peaking at number 62.[6] The album itself reached number 50 on the Record World charts, and number 105 on Billboard, their highest position since 1965. It failed to chart in Britain. Arthur paved the way for the massive success of their 1970 comeback album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One and its accompanying US Top 10 and UK Top 5 hit "Lola".[7]

Background[edit]

Four men sitting or standing next to each other. The man furthest left gazes upwards; he wears a black leather suit. The man to the right is seated, wears black, and stares towards the left. Behind and to the right of him stands another man, barely visible and staring straight ahead; he wears white. Next to him, and furthest right, stands a man dressed in white; his gaze is turned towards the left of the image, and his face is viewed in profile. All men stand in front of a black background.
The Kinks with a newly hired Dalton in 1969. From left: Dave Davies, Ray Davies, John Dalton, Mick Avory.

British production company Granada TV approached Ray Davies in early January 1969, expressing interest in developing a movie or play for television. Davies was to collaborate with writer Julian Mitchell on the "experimental" programme,[8] with a soundtrack by The Kinks to be released on an accompanying LP.[8] Agreements were finalised on 8 January, but the project was not revealed until a press release on 10 March. Separately, The Kinks began work on the programme's companion record, entitled Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Development of Arthur occurred during a rough period for the band, due to the commercial failure of their previous album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society and the subsequent single, "Plastic Man", as well as the departure of founding member and bassist Pete Quaife.[9] In early 1969, Quaife had told the band he was quitting,[10] though the other members did not take the remark seriously. When an article in the New Musical Express mentioned Maple Oak, the band that he had formed without the rest of The Kinks' knowledge,[10][11] Davies unsuccessfully asked Quaife to return for the upcoming sessions of Arthur.[12] As a replacement, Davies called up bassist John Dalton, who had previously filled in for Quaife.[12][13]

Davies travelled to United Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California on 11 April 1969, to produce American pop band The Turtles' LP Turtle Soup with engineer Chuck Britz.[14] While in Los Angeles, Davies helped negotiate an end to the concert ban placed on The Kinks by the American Federation of Musicians in 1965.[14] Although neither The Kinks nor the union gave a specific reason for the ban, at the time it was widely attributed to their rowdy on-stage behaviour.[15] After negotiations with Davies, the Federation relented, opening up an opportunity for the group to return to touring in America. Once the main sessions for the Turtles LP were completed, Davies returned to England. While Davies was abroad, the other members of the band had been rehearsing and practising for the upcoming album, as well as lead guitarist Dave Davies' solo album, nicknamed A Hole in the Sock of.[8][14] When Ray returned, The Kinks regrouped at his house in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, to rehearse the upcoming album Arthur.[14]

Recording[edit]

The group turned to the recording proper on 1 May 1969.[14] The first tracks worked on were "Drivin'", intended as their next single release, and "Mindless Child Of Motherhood", written by Dave Davies (the latter would eventually be used as the B-side to "Drivin'", and was not included on the LP). The Kinks began a two-week series of focused sessions on 5 May, laying down an early version of the entire Arthur album. Recording was interrupted when The Kinks travelled to Beirut, Lebanon on 17 May to play three dates at the Melkart Hotel;[16] sessions for Arthur resumed the day after their return, and most of the recording for the album was finished by the end of the month.[16] Mixing and dubbing began in early June, with arranger Lew Warburton handling string overdubs.[17] The Kinks played a few small gigs in England throughout the remainder of the month, but devoted most of their time to finishing Dave Davies' solo album.[17]

Writing for the TV play progressed through May and June, and on 15 June mixing for Dave Davies' solo LP was completed (tapes for this record were eventually delivered to Pye and Reprise Records, although it never saw official release).[16] A press release announced that the Arthur LP was scheduled for a late July release.[16] As Davies and Mitchell completed their script, the Arthur TV play began to crystallise, and British filmmaker Leslie Woodhead was assigned the role of director. By early September production was scheduled to begin, with a planned broadcast of late September, but these plans were continually delayed.[18] As problems with the TV play got progressively worse—and, consequently, distracted The Kinks from completing the post-production of the album—the release dates for both projects were pushed further and further back.[8][16] In early October Ray Davies moved from Borehamwood back to his old family home on Fortis Green Road, in Muswell Hill, and travelled to Los Angeles, where he deposited the tapes at Reprise for Arthur's American release.[19] The album's release date was finally set for 10 October,[19] and The Kinks began gearing up for an upcoming US tour to support the album, for which they would depart on 17 October.[20] Shooting for the TV play was eventually set for 1 December. Roy Stonehouse was hired as a designer, and the casting was completed; however, the show was cancelled at the last minute when the producer was unable to secure financial backing.[21] Davies and Mitchell were frustrated at an entire year's work wasted—Doug Hinman stated that Davies witnessed "his grand artistic visions once again dashed by bureaucracy and internal politics."[22]

Release[edit]

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) was released in the US and UK on 10 October 1969, in both mono and stereo versions.[3] The album set the stage for The Kinks' return to touring the United States in late 1969,[15] and paved the way for even greater commercial success with the hit song "Lola" in 1970.[7]

Singles and chart performance[edit]

"Victoria", the most successful single released from the record. The lyrics discuss an old, specifically Victorian, Britain. Matt Golden in Stylus commented that "'Victoria' [is] the strongest song on the album and one of the five best songs of the Kinks' career. A tribute to the 'Golden Age of the British Empire.'"[23]

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While the sessions for Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) were nearing completion in June 1969, the track "Drivin'" was released as a single in the UK, backed with "Mindless Child of Motherhood". For the first time since their breakthrough in 1964, a Kinks single failed to make an impression on the UK charts[24]Johnny Rogan notes that "This was the first of two pilot singles for ... Arthur and its failure did not augur well."[25] The group followed with another single in September, "Shangri-La", which again failed to chart in the UK. As with Village Green, the album itself failed to chart when released in October.[24]

In the US, "Victoria" was chosen as the lead single, backed with the album track "Brainwashed", and was released the same week as the LP. The single proved to be relatively successful, and reached number 62 on the Billboard Hot 100—their highest position since their Top 20 hit "Sunny Afternoon" in 1966. The success of the single led to its release in the UK; backed with "Mr. Churchill Says", it reached a peak of number 30.[26] Arthur itself was a moderate commercial success in the US, where it peaked at number 105 (the highest for a Kinks album since 1965)[26] and remained on the charts for 20 weeks.[6]

Promotion[edit]

A drawing of a richly dressed queen, wearing a black dress, crown, and white headdress, lies vertically along a black background. She holds in her hands a tiny house, with a small man looking out of the window.
Insert from Arthur's LP release, showing Queen Victoria holding a house containing Arthur Morgan. The insert, along with the rest of the album's artwork, was created by Bob Lawrie.

Reprise Records, The Kinks' US label, devised an elaborate, multi-levelled promotional campaign for Arthur in early 1969. The most famous branch of the programme involved a promo package entitled God Save The Kinks. The set featured various items, including a consumer's guide to the band's albums, a bag of "grass" from the "Daviesland village green", and an LP entitled Then, Now and Inbetween.[20] The set was accompanied by a positive letter from Hal Halverstadt of creative services at Warner/Reprise, part of which read, "... [We are led] to believe that The Kinks may not have had it at all ... The Kinks are to be supported, encouraged, cheered. And saved."[20] The campaign was officially launched on 3 July, at a meeting between Ray Davies and Reprise executives in Burbank, California.[27] Reprise considered seeding false stories in the press to create an "outlaw" image for the group as part of the campaign, including pieces about marijuana possession and income tax evasion.[28] Ray called the idea "mad", and the programme was dropped. Several pieces, however, were used in the press kit for Arthur's release, with titles like "English Pop Group Arrested on Rape Rap".[28]

Packaging and liner notes[edit]

Artwork for Arthur was created by Bob Lawrie.[29] The album was packaged in a gatefold sleeve, and included a shaped insert depicting Queen Victoria (holding a house containing Arthur Morgan), with lyrics on the reverse. Liner notes in the UK were written by Geoffrey Cannon and Julian Mitchell; in the US, notes by rock critic John Mendelsohn replaced Cannon's.[30]

Critical response[edit]

The album was critically acclaimed at the time of release, especially in the US rock press.[31] It was favourably compared to contemporary works, namely Tommy by The Who, released earlier in the year.[31] In Rolling Stone magazine, Arthur was spotlighted in its lead section, with back-to-back reviews by Mike Daly and Greil Marcus.[28] Daly called it "an album that is a masterpiece on every level: Ray Davies' finest hour, the Kinks' supreme achievement."[2] Rolling Stone reviewer J.R. Young also praised the record, and said: "Less ambitious than Tommy, and far more musical ... Arthur is by all odds the best British album of 1969. It shows that Pete Townshend still has worlds to conquer and that The Beatles have a lot of catching up to do." A review by Sal Imam ran in Boston's Fusion magazine read that "If Tommy was the greatest rock opera, then Arthur most surely is the greatest rock musical."[28][31] Writing in his Consumer Guide column of The Village Voice, Robert Christgau gave the record a positive review, saying, although Ray Davies' lyrics could get "preachy at times", that the album featured "excellent music and production".[32]

Reception in the UK was not as warm, although reviews were still generally positive.[31] Disc & Music Echo commented that "Arthur works as a complete score because it is basic and simple and pleasing to the ear, and powerfully conjures up pictures in the eye."[3] Melody Maker seconded Mike Daly's comments in Rolling Stone, again calling it "Ray Davies' finest hour", and adding that it was "beautifully British to the core."[3] Doug Hinman would later comment on the album's reception in Britain: "In the British music press there [was] less celebration, and coverage [was] relatively routine, though everyone saw the rock opera angle."[31]

Recent reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[33]
Blender 5/5 stars[34]
Robert Christgau A−[32]
Rolling Stone Favourable[2]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[35]

Today the album receives generally positive reviews. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic stated that Arthur was "one of the most effective concept albums in rock history, as well as one of the best and most influential British pop records of its era,"[33] and in 2003 Matt Golden of Stylus called it "the best rock opera ever".[23] Switch magazine included Arthur on their "100 Best Albums of the 20th Century" in 1999, and in 2003 Mojo featured the album on their list of the "Top 50 Most Eccentric Albums".[36]

Story and theme[edit]

"Arthur", the last track on the album. The lyrics sum up the entire plot line of the album, retelling the story of Arthur Morgan. It is also notable that Dave Davies takes over lead vocal duties on the first verse: "Arthur was born just a plain simple man/In a plain simple working class position/Though the world was hard and its ways were set/He was young and he had so much ambition."[37]

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The story is partially inspired by the Davies brothers' older sister Rose, who emigrated to Australia in 1964 with her husband Arthur Anning.[38] Her departure devastated Ray Davies, and it inspired him to write the song "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home", included on the 1966 album Face to Face.[38] The lead character in the album, the fictional Arthur Morgan—modeled after Arthur Anning—is a carpet layer whose family's plight in the opportunity-poor setting of post-war England is depicted.[29][38] Writer Julian Mitchell detailed the story line and characters in depth, explaining in the liner notes for the album's LP release:

"Arthur Morgan ... lives in a London suburb in a house called Shangri-La, with a garden and a car and a wife called Rose and a son called Derek who's married to Liz, and they have these two very nice kids, Terry and Marilyn. Derek and Liz and Terry and Marilyn are emigrating to Australia. Arthur did have another son, called Eddie. He was named for Arthur's brother, who was killed in the battle of the Somme. Arthur's Eddie was killed, too—in Korea."[29]

Davies would later comment in his autobiography, X-Ray, that Arthur Anning later "told me that he ... knew it [Arthur] had been partly inspired by him ... [it] reminded him of home ... I told Arthur that I felt guilty for using him as a subject for a song, but he shrugged off my apology, saying that he was flattered."[39] With an underlying theme of nostalgia,[40] the songs describe the England that Arthur once knew[23] ("Victoria", "Young and Innocent Days"), the promise of life in Australia for one of his sons ("Australia"), the emptiness of his superficially comfortable life in his home ("Shangri-La"), the resolve of the British people during the Second World War ("Mr. Churchill Says"), the privations that marked the austerity period after the war ("She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina"), and the death of his brother in World War I ("Yes Sir, No Sir", "Some Mother's Son").[33][38]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Ray Davies, except when noted.

Side 1
  1. "Victoria"  – 3:40
  2. "Yes Sir, No Sir"  – 3:46
  3. "Some Mother's Son"  – 3:25
  4. "Drivin'"  – 3:21
  5. "Brainwashed"  – 2:34
  6. "Australia"  – 6:46
Side 2
  1. "Shangri-La"  – 5:20
  2. "Mr. Churchill Says"  – 4:42
  3. "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina"  – 3:07
  4. "Young and Innocent Days"  – 3:21
  5. "Nothing to Say"  – 3:08
  6. "Arthur"  – 5:27
Bonus tracks (Castle 1998, Sanctuary 2004)
  1. "Plastic Man" (Mono mix)  – 3:04
  2. "King Kong" (Mono mix)  – 3:23
  3. "Drivin'" (Mono mix)  – 3:12
  4. "Mindless Child of Motherhood" (Mono mix) (Dave Davies)  – 3:16
  5. "This Man He Weeps Tonight" (Mono mix) (Dave Davies)  – 2:42
  6. "Plastic Man" (Alternate stereo version)  – 3:04
  7. "Mindless Child of Motherhood" (Stereo mix) (Dave Davies)  – 3:16
  8. "This Man He Weeps Tonight" (Stereo mix)* (Dave Davies)  – 2:42
  9. "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" (Mono mix)  – 3:07
  10. "Mr. Shoemaker's Daughter"[a 1] (Dave Davies)  – 3:08

*A broken stereo version (due to a mastering error) was included in Castle Records' 1998 release. This was fixed in subsequent reissues[41]

Personnel[edit]

The Kinks
Production
  • Lew Warburton – horn and string arrangements
  • Andrew Hendriksen – engineering
  • Brian Humphries – engineering on "Drivin'"
  • Bob Lawrie – album art
  • Austin Sneller – credited as "album 'tester'"[29]

Chart tables[edit]

Album[edit]

Year Billboard Cash Box Record World
1969 105[6] 53[6] 50[6]

Singles[edit]

Year Title Peak chart positions
UK US NL
1969 "Plastic Man"[a 2] 28[24] 17[6]
"Drivin'"
"Shangri-La" 27[6]
"Victoria" 30[26] 62[26]
"—" denotes the release failed to chart.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Unreleased track from Dave Davies solo album
  2. ^ Not included on the LP release of Arthur

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (1969-10-10). "Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) - The Kinks | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-06-13. 
  2. ^ a b c Daly & Marcus 1969
  3. ^ a b c d Hinman 2004, p. 133
  4. ^ Miller 2003, p. 133
  5. ^ Miller 2003, p. 4
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Emlen, Dave. "International Chart Positions". Kindakinks.net. Retrieved 1 December 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Rogan 1998, pp. 65–75
  8. ^ a b c d Hinman 2004, p. 124
  9. ^ Savage 1984, pp. 104–106
  10. ^ a b Hinman 2004, p. 123
  11. ^ Hinman 2004, p. 127
  12. ^ a b Hinman 2004, p. 126
  13. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "The Kinks Biography on All Music.com". Allmusic. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Hinman 2004, pp. 128–129
  15. ^ a b Alterman 1969
  16. ^ a b c d e Hinman 2004, pp. 126–130
  17. ^ a b Hinman 2004, p. 129
  18. ^ Hinman 2004, p. 131
  19. ^ a b Hinman 2004, pp. 130–135
  20. ^ a b c Savage 1984, p. 110
  21. ^ Savage 1984, p. 114
  22. ^ Hinman 2004, p. 136
  23. ^ a b c Golden, Matt (1 September 2003). "On Second Thought: The Kinks – Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 5 February 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  24. ^ a b c Rogan 1998, pp. 21–22
  25. ^ Rogan 1998, p. 21
  26. ^ a b c d Rogan 1998, pp. 20–23
  27. ^ Hinman 2004, p. 130
  28. ^ a b c d Hinman 2004, p. 132
  29. ^ a b c d Mitchell, Julian; Geoffrey Cannon (1969). Arthur UK liner notes
  30. ^ Mitchell, Julian; Mendelssohn, John (1969). Arthur US liner notes
  31. ^ a b c d e Hinman 2004, pp. 132–133
  32. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Consumer Guide: The Kinks". Village Voice/Robertchristgau.com. Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  33. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen. "Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)". Allmusic. Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  34. ^ Powers, Ann. "Arthur". Blender. Retrieved 9 March 2010. [dead link]
  35. ^ Rolling Stone Album Guide (1992), p. 401
  36. ^ Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Acclaimed Music.net. Retrieved 12 January 2010
  37. ^ Davies, Ray. "Arthur" lyrics. Hill & Range Songs (US, 1969)
  38. ^ a b c d Kitts 2007, p. 131
  39. ^ Davies 1995, p. 211
  40. ^ Marten & Hudson 2007, pp. 101–102
  41. ^ Dave Emlen. "Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire [1998 Castle release]". Kindakinks.net. Retrieved 11 October 2010. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Print articles
  • Alterman, Loraine (18 December 1969). Who Let the Kinks In?. Rolling Stone 
  • Daly, Mike; Marcus, Greil (1 November 1969). Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Rolling Stone 
Bibliography
  • Davies, Ray (1995). X-Ray. New York, NY: Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-611-9 
  • Davies, Dave (1996). Kink. New York, NY: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8269-7 
  • Hinman, Doug (2004). The Kinks: All Day and All of the Night. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-87930-765-X 
  • Kitts, Thomas (2007). Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else. London, UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97769-X 
  • Marten, Neville; Hudson, Jeff (2007). The Kinks. London, UK: Sanctuary Publishing. ISBN 1-86074-387-0 
  • Miller, Andy (2003). The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-1498-2 
  • Rogan, Johnny (1998). The Complete Guide to the Music of The Kinks. London, UK: Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-6314-2 
  • Savage, John (1984). The Kinks. London, UK: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-13379-7 
Album notes
  • Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (LP). The Kinks. Reprise. 1969. 
  • Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (LP). The Kinks. Pye. 1969. 
  • Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (CD Reissue). The Kinks. Reprise. 2004. 

External links[edit]