WELL RESPECTED MAN marks a turning point for song-writer and Kinks’ front man Ray Davies; originally hitting the charts with proto-punk and ur-metal songs such as “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All the Night”, WELL RESPECTED MAN marks for the first time Ray’s interest in satirical, character-driven songs. Here Ray deliberately directs his energies at mocking the middle-classes, and this song laid the foundation on the one hand for the Kinks as social commentators and on the other for their predilection for rousing sing-alongs; such songs would serve to inspire other story-telling songsters (such as Pete Townshend) and to create an “English mystic” that distinguished the Kinks from other groups in the 1960s.
The inspiration for WELL RESPECTED MAN came after Ray took a short holiday in July 1965. Recording sessions began on 5th August 1965 at Pye Studios number 2 in central London while the group worked on other songs which would end up on Kinks Kontroversy (Pye, November 1965). Pye chose to release the song on an EP rather than as a single; Kwyet Kinks was released on the UK on 17th September 1965. While the EP reached number one in the UK, the EP format was never fashionable in the US, so the Kinks’ American distributer (Reprise records) waited to release the song as a single (backed with “Such a Shame”) on 3rd November 1965, then to include the song on Kinkdom on 24th November 1965. In Britain, the EP was noted by the New Music Express as being “just as good” as any of the usual rockers released by the Kinks, and that the Kinks “are just as attractive as softies!” (as quoted in Hinman 66). Nevertheless, while Kwyet Kinks went to Number 1 in Britain, the US single did not chart, probably due to both the ban on Kinks’ live and televised performances in the US (see below) as well as lack of any publicity for the new single. One of the first (live) television performances was on Britain’s Ready, Steady, Go! on 24 September 1965.
From September 1964, the Kinks were flying high on the success of “You Really Got Me”, with its over-driven, screaming power chords and expression of teen-aged lust. Their early catalogue was defined by blues-inspired riffs and distorted guitar that earned them in later years the nicknames of godfathers/grandfathers of punk and of heavy metal. While they appeared on stage dressed as Edwardian fox-hunters in their matching pink jackets and ruffled shirts, their concerts were marred by violence both on and off stage as the band quarreled with one another (physically beating on each other in some instances) and repeated scenes of fans rioting and tearing apart concert venues. They were more overtly sexual on stage than even their rivals the Rolling Stones, and they were met with no little distaste from adults and music critics alike. Ray Davies’s sexual menace on stage belied a troubled, introverted young man off-stage; while his brother Dave lived the sybaritic rock star’s life to the hilt, Ray was married and had a young child by the time he was 18, and was faced, as the song-writer and front man for the group, with increasing pressure from the record company to produce songs as quickly as possible. While Ray complied with a surfeit of blues-inspired tunes that reflected typical teenaged angst, he also began to reveal a more introspective compositional side. Early on he penned songs that reflected his own feelings of stress and rebellion against the pressures of fame (a good example would be “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” a lament for the simpler life, written when he was only 20!). Ray also found himself increasingly interested in writing character songs that either focused on members of his family, life (and longing for) an idealised England of the past, or poked fun at class distinction, especially the middle classes. WELL RESPECTED MAN marks the first time Ray decided to make good on the idea that he could write interesting songs about ordinary people, and it is also the first time he composed one of his class-centric, satirical songs.
In addition to the pressure of cranking out songs so that his publishers and record label could get the most out of the group in the shortest amount of time, Ray and the rest of the Kinks were exhausted following grueling international tours and television performances between September 1964 and the summer of 1965. While they were still quite successful through this period and striking the top ten with a number of hits, they faced an economic catastrophe in the summer 1965: during their second tour of the United States, an extremely important and lucrative market for a British band, the Kinks were slapped with an injunction by the American Federation of Musicians – this resulted in a five-year ban against both live and televised appearances by the group. The repercussions were felt almost immediately as subsequent US releases (the single version of WELL RESPECTED MAN being one of the first after the ban) failed to chart due to lack of publicity. As a consequence of this ban, Ray Davies turned inward with the topics of composition, moved away from teeny-bopper-flavored lyrics, and focused on more thoughtful, character-driven and story-telling songs. The band thus re-invented itself, moving away from its heavy-metal sound, and became defined by their “Englishness” and thought-provoking, if not catchy, songs.
WELL RESPECTED MAN was the first time Ray Davies deliberately set out to write social satire. Coming off the American tour, exhausted from travel and the demands of work, Ray and his wife took a rest at the behest of the Kinks’ management in July 1965. What should have been a long, relaxing holiday was cut short: the Davieses went to Torquay, Devon, “the English Riviera”, and stayed at the posh Imperial Hotel. Ray felt awkward and out of place as he was not only recognised by staff and clientele, but felt snubbed and looked down upon by everyone involved. He took as an insult an invitation to a round of golf with several middle-class guests, packed up the family belongings, and went home to London. The incident inspired him to write the song, which looks down on the precise movements of an apathetic, middle-class man, especially as Ray felt the hotel guests had invited him along to play golf only so they could say they had “played golf with a pop star” (Kitts 63).
In creating the image of the WELL RESPECTED MAN, Ray made good on his desire not only to start “using words well” in composing his songs, but, as Hinman points out, Ray felt this was the point in which he ceased to envy American musicians and to embrace his own Britishness, and come to terms with his identity as British (Hinman 61). While the Kinks continued to tour around the world (save for the US), they still horrified critics with their overt sexiness – as well as violence – on stage, and the audience’s violence and destruction in the venues; Ray insisted that their appeal is in their raw, amateur persona on stage (and felt any polish would be selling out), yet Ray spoke to interviewers “off-stage” about his homesickness for his wife and child, how he was concentrating more and more about writing songs about people, and how he desired to leave the band to touring without him so that he could behind and concentrate on composition. Choosing to create songs with a music-hall feel was quite a daring thing to do – instead of following the trend-setters and psychedelic experimenters, Ray looked backwards to the music of his parents’ and grandparents’ generation, a rather uncool thing to do in the Swingin’ Sixties.
WELL RESPECTED MAN satirises the middle classes and their aspirations from its opening verse, and embodies Ray’s perspective of the middle class partly from his own working-class roots, but also in direct response to his aborted holiday in Torquay – he felt as if not only were the wealthy people at the hotel looking down on him for being out of place, but that the staff and help were mocking him for attempting to “pass” as one of the wealthy clientele and to rise above his station in life – another theme that Ray would explore in subsequent songs.
The lyrics of WELL RESPECTED MAN belie the complimentary title – the man may be well-respected, but he is, in reality, an unambitious man-child, held hostage by dull routine, and expects to get ahead simply by virtue of the actions of his parents. The man and his parents are shown as living dull, desperate lives behind the scenes of their affluent, middle-class façade. In verse one, the man’s safe routine is revealed – he gets up at the same time at dawn every day, takes the same train into work; he’s safe in his sheltered world because he relies on routine, punctuality, and that someone else has set the schedule that he simply follows; being late, being spontaneous, is not a part of his psyche. He does show somewhat more ambition than his father, who apparently doesn’t work, but instead relies on his “loot” – it’s Mother who actually goes to work every day, flirting with all the young men and passing paper; Father stays at home and cheats with the maid. The young man’s pursuits and interests are safe and passive – he plays at stocks and shares; he goes to the boat races (the regatta); working class Ray grew up playing football and running track, going to Arsenal matches – even with his music he took risks, wanting to become a jazz musician, and so braved the wilds of Soho as a teen to earn his way into the local music scene.
The safe cycle of bourgeois comfort for the man in the song will apparently continue, as this young man made lazy by class and by his mother’s safety net will eventually himself go on to marry – not the girl next door, whom he pines over but won’t approach, but to the girl his mother picks out, as she knows how to arrange properly a match for him. He’ll be well rewarded for doing absolutely nothing: he’ll get a good wife because his mother has chosen her, and he’ll remain rich simply by waiting for his father to die. He’s also quite the snob, preferring his own cigarettes (‘fags’ – the British term for cigarettes, but American slang for homosexual, leading some commentators to wonder if Ray intended additional slander in the song) and the smell of his own sweat – ironic, of course, because he seems to expend no effort over the course of the day that would cause him to perspire.
So despite his chances for something different, despite that he is actually at work, he remains boring, predictable, and child-like. Nevertheless, he’s “good” and “fine” and is well-respected by those around town who see him coming and going; they know nothing about him, but they respect his conservative respectability, the façade that they see as they observe him going to and fro on the train – one is reminded of the factory workers in Paul Simon’s vicious “Richard Cory” (itself based on a poem by E A Robinson). Davies sees through this façade, scorns the man beneath, and intends for his audience to feel the same way.
Musically, the song belies the vicious social satire and anger in the lyrics. It opens with a gentle riff down an acoustic 12-string guitar, so the audience is prepared for a story. Then the song gambols along with a relentlessly perky, two-beat, knees-up, Cockney rhythm section; its jaunty beat usually elicits clapping from the audience at stage shows. The chorus invites further participation from the audience to join in singing superficial praise for the man as Ray’s nasal vocals are joined by his brother Dave. The chorus reflects the view outsiders have of the man, and the persona he presents to the world at large; each verse, however, is sung with a bit more urgency by Ray – despite the working-class, music hall style of the music, the vocabulary mocks the man’s station in life (going to the regatta, waiting for his Pater to die, &c.); each verse is also sung in a somewhat mocking upper-class accent, the “RP” or “Received Pronunciation” accent one might have heard from BBC announcers and from the upper classes in the mid-’60s. He returns to his own every day north London accent in the choruses (and by this point in time, Ray has finally abandoned either trying to imitate the Beatles’ Liverpudlian accents, as he did in very early Kinks’ efforts, and certainly no longer trying to sing like an American – this song is whole heartedly English, in tone and content.) The chorus is for the observers who may have praise for this upright, seemingly responsible young man, but the verses are Ray on his own, expressing his anger for what he sees as ignorant reward for laziness, routine, and lack of ambition.
WELL RESPECTED MAN set the stage for Ray Davies’ character songs and social commentary which range from cruel satire (“Mr Pleasant” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”) to affectionate, if not bittersweet nostalgia (“Picture Book”, “Do You Remember Walter?”), and from songs about family and friends (“Rosy, Won’t You Please Come Home?”) to a longing for the England “that never was” (“Village Green Preservation Society”, “Victoria”), to the dreams, failures, and desires of people to try to rise above their situation (“Dead End Street”, “Big Black Smoke”, “Shangri-La”) – in other words, songs about ordinary people living ordinary lives. Davies’s work may be personal and introspective, but he successfully includes his audience in his musing about those mundane and every day events and people universally familiar. Eventually Davies’s song-writing ambitions would take him beyond the two minute, thirty second mark of singles as he created entire concept albums based around these themes (Village Green Preservation Society, 1967, and Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1969). Davies blossomed as a social commentator and made good on his desire to “use his words” carefully. WELL RESPECTED MAN was met by fan appreciation in concerts from the time of its original release, and Ray Davies still frequently performs it in his solo shows (as of 2012). While the song reached number one in Britain as Kwyet Kinks rose to the top spot, it fared less well in the US; both its single and subsequent album (Kinkdom) were chart failures owing to the ban on Kinks’ performances in the States. Nevertheless it was a staple in live performances, and became known to a fresh audience in 2007 as part of the soundtrack to the film Juno. The song was published as sheet music in Britain in 1965, and has been covered a number of times since its original release by such artists as Gary Lewis and the Playboys (1965), Petula Clark (in French for British release, 1966) and Cheap Trick (1979), and in languages ranging from Dutch, Norwegian, French, Italian, German, to Spanish.
Lead vocals: Ray Davies
Harmony and backing vocals: Dave Davies
Guitar: Ray Davies
Lead Guitar: Dave Davies
Bass: Pete Quaife
Drums: Mick Avory
Lyrics: Ray Davies
Producer: Shel Talmey
Recorded: on or around 3 August 1965
Length: 2:38 (original mono mix)
Initial Recordings (from the time of original release in the UK and US):
- The Kinks. “Well Respected Man”, Kywet Kinks, 1965, Pye, NEP 24221, UK (7″/EP).
- The Kinks. Well Respected Man/ Such a Shame, 1965, Reprise 0420, USA (7″/Single).
- The Kinks. “Well Respected Man”, Kinkdom, 1965, Reprise, 6184, USA (12″/LP).
- The Kinks. You Really Got Me/ It’s All Right, 1964, Reprise, 0306, USA (7″).
- The Kinks. All Day And All Of The Night, 1964, Pye, 7N 15714, UK (7″).
- The Kinks. “Dead End Street”/ “Big Black Smoke”, Dead End Street, 1965, Pye, PNV 24184, France (7″/EP).
- The Kinks. “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”, The Kink Kontroversy, 1965, Pye, NSPL 18131, UK (LP/Album).
- The Kinks. Kwyet Kinks, 1965, Pye, NEP 24221, UK (7″/EP).
- The Kinks. Kinks Kinkdom, 1965, Reprise, R6184, USA (LP/Mono/Album).
- The Kinks. Dedicated Follower Of Fashion/ Sittin’ On My Sofa, 1966, Pye, 7N 17064, UK (7″).
- The Kinks. “Rosy Won’t You Please Come Home”, Face To Face, 1966, Pye, NPL 18149, UK (LP/Mono/Album).
- The Kinks. Victoria, 1967, Pye, 7N 17865, UK (7″).
- The Kinks. Mr. Pleasant, 1967, Pye, HT 300086, Germany (7″/Single).
- The Kinks. Starstruck/ Picture Book, 1968, Pye, 7NH 132, Netherlands (7″).
- The Kinks. “Do You Remember Walter?”, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968, Pye, NSPL 18233, UK (LP).
- The Kinks. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968, Pye, NSPL 18233, UK (LP).
- The Kinks. “Shangri-La”, Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, 1969, Pye, NPL 18317, UK (LP/Album).
- Gary Lewis & The Playboys. “A Well Respected Man”, Hits Again, 1966, Liberty, LST-7452, USA (LP/Album).
- Petula Clark. “A Well Respected Man”, 66, 1966, Vogue, VF 47021, France (Vinyl/LP).
- Davies, Dave. Kink. New York: Hyperion 1996.
- Davies, Ray. X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography. New York: The Overlook Press 1995.
- Emlen, Dave: Dave Emlen’s Unofficial Kinks’ Website. URL: http://www.kindakinks.net/ [11.03.2012].
- Hinman, Doug. The Kinks, All Day and All the Night: Day-by-day Concerts, Recordings, and Broadcasts, 1961-1996. San Francisco: Back Beat 2004.
- Hinman, Doug. You Really Got Me: An Illustrated World Discography of the Kinks, 1964-1993. Rhode Island: Rock ‘n’ Roll Research Press 1994.
- Kitts, Thomas. Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else. New York & London: Routledge 2008.
- Rogan, Johnny. The Complete Guide to the Music of the Kinks. London: Omnibus Press 1998.
- Savage, Jon. The Kinks: The Official Biography. London: Faber and Faber 1984.
- Juno. Director: Jason Reitman. Writer: Diablo Cody. 20th Century Fox, 2007. (DVD/ 2250687).
Video of a performance from 1965 (with original soundtrack; this video has been posted numerous times to youtube and DailyMotion with the sound replaced by the studio recording; watermark suggests this video was shown on VH-1) http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xm9su_the-kinks-a-well-respected-man_music [20.04.2012].
About the Author
All contributions by Carey Fleiner
Carey Fleiner: “Well Respected Man (The Kinks)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/wellrespected, 04/2012 [revised 10/2013].Print