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June 12, 2011



I think it's a fairly typical, old-fashioned middle-class notion that the wealthy (and the urban) are corrupt - and that your rural working-class people are much more moral. The way this played out with women isn't unusual for the era, or certainly for earlier eras...but its specific conservatism is unusual for rock. Davies has always been an odd fit with prevailing rock'n'roll ethos - he's never been a hedonist, let-it-all-hang-out kinda guy.

I'm not defending these views - just noting that in my perspective, they're not surprising given Davies' overall vision.


'into astonishingly simplistic Victorian morality lessons' Are you not in danger of simplistic interpretations. Several of these are observations of events rather than necessarily prescriptive. Possibly the thing Ray Davies helped introduce into popular music was writing more complex characters that allowed him to explore subjects and air views that might not be his own.

Yes he does suggest at times that the lure of the bright lights and the big city isn't always a good thing but that applies equally to a wide range of people in his songs. And dealing with the greater social and geographic mobility was certainly current affairs in sixties Britain. 'Rosy' could be seen as far more like Ray Davies himself than the people wanting her to return and he recognises that in songs like 'Do You Remember Walter?' on Village Green Preservation Society.

You may be right but I don't think the songs back you up. Particularly on the concept albums untangling Ray from the characters and there motivations is very difficult. It is his sister, Rosy, going to Australia not him. Yes that Rosy, though the events in the song don't seem to specifically pertain to her, missing her does. So there's a bit more to that one for starters.

I'm interested to know why you picked out cigarettes rather than purple hearts from the line about spending money in Big Black Smoke? I would have thought amphetamines were more significant than harry rags.


"Two Sisters" is really about Ray's concerns and desires over his younger brother Dave's lifestyle. Ray was married with kids at the time and somewhat of a homebody while Dave was out on the town, always having a goodtime. Ray mentioned this during his introduction to "Two Sisters" on his X-Ray solo tour. As mentioned by Rob, "Rosie" was Ray's sister who I believed partly raised him, the song was about him missing her since she moved to a more socially mobile Australia, a theme also explored on the "Arthur" album.


Ah ha! I've been rather slow on the uptake. You were relating cigarettes to the smoke of the song title. It may be a translation problem as certainly in my case as an Englishmen of a certain age, and I suspect in Ray and many others, the Big Black Smoke equates to London without any concious thought.

The phrase may originate in the pollution from coal powered heating and industry but it's usage outlasted and outgrew that definition. It may be a pun but it wouldn't be obvious to people familiar with the real meaning and common usage.

It's not a perfect comparison but I imagine people can buy apples in New York without a particular nickname for the city coming to mind.

Staying on this song don't you think that the choice of 'according' and it's repetition suggests that those describing her as so pure and free of sin might be ignorant of, or not telling the whole truth about what she was like before leaving. Or perhaps choosing to ascribe all blame to city rather than look to problems closer to home?

I don't understand how Wicked Anabella fits in with your argument or indeed with Devil Woman (lyrics written by a woman if you mean the Cliff Richard song) or Evil Woman (ELO?) which seems fairly straightforward though unrelated.


hmmm....not sure if the "Ray's questionable treatment of women in lyrics" theory is holding a whole lot of water here. Isn't Davies' often satirical treatment of and love/hate relationship with British moral and social temperature (which naturally would include gender roles and attitudes)of the day kind of what makes him special? I just have a hard time seeing Ray Davies as misogynistic. Certainly no more--and perhaps even less--than many other pop star peers of the era. Not sure if that's where you were going with this post and forgive me if I've read into something that isn't there.
That said, check out the lyrics to "Run for Your Life" by John Lennon. Wow.


I don't quite buy your idea. Two reasons would be:

1. The theme of the city and the modern world generally as corrupting influences applies to both men and women in Davies' work. (Village Green Preservation Society, Apeman, 20th Century Man, etc.)

2. In one of the songs you cite, Two Sisters, look at the line following the one about how she looks at her kids and decides she is better off than the wayward lass that her sister had been. "So she ran 'round the house with her curlers on, no longer jealous of her sister." Somehow that does not suggest that her jealousy and internal struggles have really been resolved. This is hardly a simplistic conclusion. Ray clearly sympathizes with her, but that does not mean that he necessarily accepts the characterization of the other sister as "wayward". The song is not really about the other one anyway, but about how she appears to the housewife sister, who would, at least in some moods, give anything "just to be free again." Who knows but that the big-city girl might not feel jealous of her sister's stable family life?


Bit of misogyny there disguised as social commentary. Perhaps songs like "Under My Thumb" & "Stupid Girl" were more honestly direct.


"Two Sisters" is Ray imagining himself and fancy-free Dave as women, as noted above, and "Rosie" is about missing an older sister (one of six) who moved away to Australia -- isn't that markedly non-misogynistic? Given Ray's yearning for freedom in "Two Sisters," I'm not sure how you can read "now there's not a place that Polly hasn't been" strictly as a prudish condemnation. The last verse of "Polly" says, "Pretty Polly, she learned that life is just a game/She is sorry, she just had to break the chains/And Mama knows, 'cause Mama was the same/Oh, she's happy now, her baby's coming home again." To me, that's more complicated/ambivalent/empathetic than condemning. I think in these songs there's a lot of "Arthur, could be you were right all along" and "you can cry, cry all night, but it won't make it right" when he talks about parents. And it should be noted that most of the songs you call out cite the opinions of left-behind Mom and Dad as evidence for the notion that those women are doing something wrong.

murray van creme

Yeah, but I catch a distinct tongue-in-cheek vibe to some of these lyrics.

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