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210 × 148 × 18 mm
248 pages
40 illustrations
16 Mar 2020

The Kinks Songs of the Semi-Detached Mark Doyle

Of all the great British bands to emerge from the 1960s, none had a stronger sense of place than the Kinks. Often described as the archetypal English band, they were above all a quintessentially working-class band with a deep attachment to London.

Mark Doyle examines the relationship between the Kinks and their city, from their early songs of teenage rebellion to their album-length works of social criticism. He finds fascinating and sometimes surprising connections with figures as diverse as Edmund Burke, John Clare and Charles Dickens. More than just a book about the Kinks, this is a book about a social class undergoing a series of profound changes, and about a group of young men who found a way to describe, lament and occasionally even celebrate those changes through song.

‘Doyle extracts meaning from narrative without simply going through the lyrics. Rather, he offers what he calls “historically informed rock criticism”: careful descriptions of the social, political and cultural contexts of each album, with the Kinks placed convincingly in the longer continuum of English artistic expression, from Hogarth to Dickens, from Orwell to Betjeman. The result is a beautifully crafted, sustained meditation on postwar, working-class London and on the gentle balance between memory and nostalgia . . . For those unfamiliar with the Kinks in all their “sloppy, joyous and occasionally maudlin” glory, Doyle’s Songs of the Semi-Detached is both an informed guide and sterling companion. And at a time when the very idea of England is changing, the Kinks’ music is both a bright remnant of the past and a dark portent of times to come.’ — TLS

‘As a piece of rock criticism this is a masterful text, and as an examination of social change in 20th Century Blighty, it is as illuminating as it’s possible to get. Doyle unravels the Kinks’ relationship to working class England in a variety of ways, casting a light on Ray Davies’ genius for creating immediately identifiable characters as vehicles for social commentary. Doyle’s insights into the subject matter of Davies’ lyrics are particularly illuminating, with the deliberate ambiguity of meaning in his composition a vital factor in their enduring appeal. That half-smile may have lent a clue, but Davies’ veering between sneering hipster and Victorian Romantic meant that one was never sure that all was what it seemed. Davies’ own love affair with London and its people is brought to life through the author’s exhaustive research and his commensurate skill in both contextualising the songs and celebrating the “apartness” of their creator. A compelling read for anyone even remotely interested in the band and its music.’ — Shindig

‘Doyle is less a fanboy, more inclined to trace the psychogeography of Ray Davies's immaculate lyricism, drawing a ley line from Fortis Green to all things Carnabetian . . . As an example of critical rather than academic investigation, Songs of the Semi-Detached nails Davies's observational cynicism and class-consciousness, revealing his many masks.’ — Classic Rock Magazine

‘Mark Doyle's excellent The Kinks: Songs of the Semi-Detached, which traces the band's music from their formation in Muswell Hill, North London, in 1964 to 1971's Muswell Hillbillies . . . His book is a welcome piece of historically informed criticism that situates the Kinks in their proper milieu – postwar, working-class North London – and their cultural moment: the British music explosion of the 1960s.’ — Wesley Stace, Wall Street Journal

‘Here in 2020, writing about the Kinks — about any of the groups of the 1960s —is increasingly a nostalgic act, a paean to a lost world of hit parades, Top of the Pops, the Beatles v. the Stones, albums and singles, the dwindling ecology of pop music as it once was. As a series of 80th birthdays and 60th anniversaries hove into view in the decade ahead, what until recently still felt like celebration is beginning to assume the quality of commemoration. They are knighting the survivors, among them Sir Ray Davies. So it is to Mark Doyle’s considerable credit that in this book he succeeds in making the Kinks’s records, these historical recordings from a bygone era, seem brand new, fresh and relevant; and he does so by recreating the past . . . I know these records inside out, but Doyle sent me back to them with fresh insights and enthusiasm . . . There are more straightforward accounts of the Kinks’s career available, including some by members of the group, but few are as eloquent, persuasive or fully engaged as Songs of the Semi-Detached. ’ — Andy Miller, The Spectator

‘Doyle finds the world of postwar Britain, rapidly changing yet also nostalgic, endlessly fascinating. He sees class and social attitudes through the eyes of an outside observer, and places Davies in the company of Betjeman, Auden and Larkin as a chronicler of suburbia . . . The Kinks is thoughtful and readable.’ — Literary Review

‘The author interprets Lola versus Powerman . . . and Muswell Hillbillies as distinctly angry responses to personal and social issues, as Davies chronicles his disillusionment with the music business and rages about urban renewal. Doyle's wide-ranging analysis takes in town planning, modern architecture, the seeds of Thatcherism and much more.’ — Irish Times

‘By studying the Kinks’ musical output in the context of the spheres in which they operated, Doyle creates an almost sociological portrait of the group’s values, city, and views on the music industry. The author pays special attention to Ray Davies’s lyrical brilliance on songs such as Sunny Afternoon and The Village Green Preservation Society and albums including Muswell Hillbillies, in which he depicted working-class England with such ambiguity that listeners could hear either sarcasm or bittersweet empathy, depending on one’s point of view . . . This thoughtfully researched book will be best appreciated by true fans of the band, as well as devotees of 1960s rock and pop.’ — Library Journal

‘What enriches Doyle’s explication of the band’s output is that he digs deeply into the historical and contemporary context behind these tracks and albums . . . The Kinks are frequently held up as paradigms of Englishness and in this carefully researched study, Doyle peels back layers of cultural baggage to reveal how deeply ingrained ancient elements of Englishness – a bricolage of music, poetry, and art—had an effect on Ray Davies’s observation and expression . . . Doyle explicates the Kinks’ ambiguity,
confusion, detachment, passion, anger, self-effacement, and vulnerability – the bigger picture behind the familiar smirk on dolly Ray’s face.’ — Journal of British Studies

‘Just when you think most everything that could be written about (or by) The Kinks has been published, along comes a wonderful assessment about the band and the city it has always called home . . . Doyle brings an academic but far from dry lens to the crucial years of the band, from inception in 1964 to the autobiographical Muswell Hillbillies album from 1971 . . . Davies clearly loves and hates the past. He has grappled with that dichotomy for decades, and Doyle does a fabulous job of elucidating the conundrum that is Ray Davies.’ — Entertainment Today

‘Compact, readable . . . Perhaps in a serendipity of a curriculum, this text might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses . . . Recommended for fans seeking education along with immersion into this band's melody and wit, Doyle conveys the Kinks' vision of a familiar, if elusive, bit of English decency.’ — Popmatters

‘Few bands have expressed as strong a connection to a particular geographical location as the Kinks. Waterloo Sunset is perhaps the ultimate London song, but as this fascinating book points out, the connections to the capital and its cultural, historical and literary traditions run even deeper.’ — Choice Magazine (UK)

‘This is the kind of critical work I love best: Cogent, insightful, well written, a bit quixotic and showing a complete mastery of the subject. Mark Doyle brings something else entirely to the growing library of Kinks histories and memoirs. Just as Dave Davies provided the sonic architecture for entire genres of rock, Ray’s songwriting established him as the quintessential London chronicler of the 20th century. The Kinks are well worthy of this deeply researched book, delivered with analytical rigor and wit.’ — David Smay, author of Swordfishtrombones (33 ⅓) and co-editor of Lost in the Grooves

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Mark Doyle is Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of Fighting Like the Devil for the Sake of God: Protestants, Catholics, and the Origins of Violence in Belfast (2009) and the editor of The British Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia (2018).

Introduction: A Face in the Crowd

1 The North London Post-war Affluent Society Blues
2 The Kinks vs Swinging London
3 Ready, Steady, Stop! (or, Rock Music as Historic Preservation)
4 The Glory of Being Boring
5 Muswell Hillbillies vs Big Brother


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