20th Century Man
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|"20th Century Man"|
|Single by The Kinks|
|from the album Muswell Hillbillies|
|B-side||"Skin and Bone"|
|Released||Dec 1971 (single)
24 Nov 1971 (US LP)
26 Nov 1971 (UK LP)
|Recorded||Aug-Sep 1971 at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London|
|Genre||Rock, blues rock|
4:57 (Celluloid Heroes LP)
|Label||RCA Victor 74-0620|
|The Kinks singles chronology|
"20th Century Man" is a song recorded by British rock band The Kinks. It was released as a single in December 1971 from the band's 1971 LP Muswell Hillbillies, an album with blues and country roots. It centered on such themes as poverty, housing development, alienation, the welfare state, and other troubles of the modern world.
In "20th Century Man", the singer expresses his regrets and worries about the modern world, "This is the age of machinery, a mechanical nightmare", and that there is "too much aggravation". As such, the singer claims that he's "gotta get out of here", and that "we've gotta find a solution". As part of the refrain he exclaims he's "a twentieth century man but I don't want to die here". As the song progresses he criticizes modern art claiming he prefers time-honored masters such as William Shakespeare, Rembrandt van Rijn, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Gainsborough ("You keep all your smart modern painters, I'll take Rembrandt, Titian, Da Vinci and Gainsborough"). The song culminates with a bridge, in which he explains that he was born into a welfare state, "ruled by bureaucracy", as he claims. The singer also claims that he's "Got no privacy", and "got no liberty". The song finishes with a resounding protest against these "20th century men".
National Review named the song number 10 on their list of the Top 50 conservative rock songs.
"20th Century Man" is a slight departure from the rest of the songs on Muswell Hillbillies, with a heavier rock sound and beat. It begins with a gentle strum on the acoustic guitar, but slowly rises and changes into a powerful rock song (see "synopsis" section). Whilst the rest of Muswell Hillbillies featured purposely dated recording techniques, to give it an antiquated feel, "20th Century Man" was recorded separately with then modern recording equipment.
"20th Century Man" was released as a single in December 1971 in the US (it would never see single release in the UK), and was backed by "Skin and Bone". It failed to gain a significant hold on the charts, not managing to reach the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #106. The single reached #9 in Boston, and #113 on the Cash Box "Looking Ahead" survey.
Multiple versions and edits of "20th Century Man" exist. On the original Muswell Hillbillies full-length version, the length is 5:57. In the case of the 7" single, the length is two minutes shorter, at about 3:57. On the "Greatest Hits" compilation The Kinks' Greatest: Celluloid Heroes an edit of about 4:57 is present. A live version, which omits some of the lyrics in the bridge of the studio recording, is included on The Kinks' 1980 album One for the Road. Ray Davies also performed the song in his 1996-1997 "Storyteller" show in support of his semi-fictionalized autobiography X-Ray, a recording of which was released on the album, The Storyteller, in 1998.
- Ray Davies - Acoustic guitar, Lead vocals
- Dave Davies - Lead guitar, Slide guitar, Backing vocals
- John Dalton - Bass guitar
- John Gosling - Keyboards
- Mick Avory - Drums, Percussion
- Mike Cotton - Trumpet*
- John Beecham - Trombone, Tuba*
- Mike Bodak; Richard Edwards - Engineer 
*Not present on this track, but part of the group on other tracks on the album