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.https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.gq-magazine.co.uk/culture/article/the-kinks-songs/amp
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.https://www.uncut.co.uk/reviews/kinks-arthur-decline-fall-british-empire-50th-anniversary-edition-112691/
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.https://www.allmusic.com/album/arthur-or-the-decline-and-fall-of-the-british-empire-mw0000713876
“Now that you’ve found your paradise, this is your kingdom to command. You can go outside and polish your car, or sit by the fire in your Shangri-La. Here’s your reward for working so hard. Gone on the lavatories in the back yard. Gone all the days when you dreamed of that car. You just want to sit in your Shangri-La. Put on your slippers and sit by the fire. You’ve reached your top and you just can’t get any higher. You’re in your place and you know where you are. In your Shangri-La. Sit back in your old rocking chair. You need not worry, you need not care. You can’t go anywhere. Shangri-La, Shangri-La, Shangri-La. The little man who gets the train got a mortgage hanging over his head. But he’s too scared to complain. ‘Cause he’s conditioned that way. Time goes by and he pays off his debts. Got a TV set and a radio for seven shillings a week. Shangri-La, Shangri-La, Shangri-La . . . . All the houses in the street have got a name, ’cause all the houses in the street they look the same. Same chimney pots, same little cars, same window panes. The neighbors call to tell you things that you should know. They say their lines, they drink their tea, and then they go. They tell your business in another Shangri-La. The gas bills and the water rates, and payments on the car. Too scared to think about how insecure you are. Life ain’t so happy in your little Shangri-La. Shangri-La, Shangri-La la la la la la la la la . . . . Put on your slippers and sit by the fire. You’ve reached your top and you just can’t get any higher. You’re in your place and you know where you are. In your Shangri-La. Sit back in your old rocking chair. You need not worry, you need not care. You can’t go anywhere. Shangri-La . . . .”
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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: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RrmakJHnyfw.
Oh, and here is a super-group performance:
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