The Kinks — “Shangri-La”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — May 15, 2022

450) The Kinks — “Shangri-La”

I may be skirting the outer limits of “obscure” here, but “Shangri-La” is one of my favorite Kinks songs (see #100, 381, 417), from the ’69 concept album Arthur (Or the Decline of the British Empire), and as my daughter says, “I [meaning she] make the rules.”

David Levesley tells us:

The[ Kinks’] focus on microscopic analyses of our nation’s best and worst qualities doesn’t make for stadium anthems and immortal singalongs, but it does make for work that deserves to be held next to Rudyard Kipling or John Betjeman and “Shangri La” is one of the songs that deserves that comparison most. Inspired by Ray and Dave visiting their sister, Rose, after she moved with her husband to a designed community in Adelaide, it does what The Kinks do . . . best. It takes the idea of a particular idyll, the “Shangri La” of the comfortable atomic family in a comfortable house, and explodes it for the hypocrisy and insecurity at its core. . . . such a perfect description of suburban mundanity that it beggars belief.

Alastair McKay notes incisively that:

“Shangri-La” is one of The Kinks’ finest moments, with a gorgeous melody and ambiguous lyrics which deploy empathy and satire in equal measure. Davies’ vengeful instincts are present, but it’s a mistake to imagine that the writer’s anger is directed at the little man whose reward for a lifetime of toil is a rocking chair and a pair of slippers. It’s the modesty of reward Davies is angry about, not the desire to overcome insecurity.

Yeah, I’m not sure that Sting could ever have written “Synchronicity II” had it not been for “Shangri-La”.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine adds regarding Arthur:

Arthur . . . . tell[s] the story of a London man’s decision to move to Australia during the aftermath of World War II. It’s a detailed and loving song cycle, capturing the minutiae of suburban life, the numbing effect of bureaucracy, and the horrors of war. On paper, Arthur sounds like a pretentious mess, but Ray Davies’ lyrics and insights have rarely been so graceful or deftly executed, and the music is remarkable. An edgier and harder-rocking affair than [The] Village Green [Preservation Society], Arthur is as multi-layered musically as it is lyrically. “Shangri-La” evolves from English folk to hard rock . . . . The music makes the words cut deeper, and the songs never stray too far from the album’s subject, making Arthur 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.

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Here is a wonderful later-in-life acoustic performance (with a chorus!) by Ray prefaced with an equally wonderful interview about the song and the times:

Oh, and here is a super-group performance:

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