Certain Songs #848: The Kinks – “Sunny Afternoon”

Album: Face to Face
Year: 1966

1966’s Face to Face was a quantum leap for The Kinks; proof positive that Ray Davies could fill an entire album full of witty, observational songs in the vein of “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and “Well Respected Man.”

And its lead single, “Sunny Afternoon,” was a microcosm of everything that made Face to Face so great.

Anchored by a descending piano riff battling an almost jaunty guitar riff, “Sunny Afternoon” was a delicious contradiction from start to finish, and it gave The Kinks their first U.K. #1 since “Tired of Waiting For You.” (Which, to be honest, was only 18 months prior, but life came at you fast in the mid-60s pop game.)

On one hand, the song is about a rich douchebag who is ignoring the fact that his circumstances have gone south.

The tax man’s taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
And I can’t sail my yacht
He’s taken everything I got
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon

And in fact, you’d be completely within your rights to say “so what, fuck this dude,” and Ray doesn’t make it any better when he continues:

My girlfriend’s run off with my car
And gone back to her ma and pa
Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty
Now I’m sitting here
Sipping at my ice cold beer
Lazing on a sunny afternoon

But here’s the thing: armed by the harmonies of secret weapon (and new bride) Rasa Davies, the chorus of “Sunny Afternoon” makes the whole situation not just palatable, but desirable.

Who wouldn’t want to be lazing on a sunny afternoon, in the summertime? And so while the verses describe a person who doesn’t deserve your sympathy, “Sunny Afternoon” gets by with the appeal of how he’s reacting to his circumstances.

Ah, save me, save me,
Save me from this squeeze
I gotta big fat mama trying to break me
And I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime

My guess is that most people didn’t pay all that much attention to the verses, and instead sang along with the chorus, waiting for that descending piano and Ray and Raza harmonizing at the end, all the while imagining that they were the ones who were living that life of luxury.

“Sunny Afternoon” promo video

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