Certain Songs #852: The Kinks – “Two Sisters”

Album: Something Else By The Kinks
Year: 1967

It’s weird being in a band with your brother. Especially if you really don’t have all that much in common with said brother. So it’s no wonder that Ray Davies found his relationship with his younger, wilder brother such a fertile subject for songs, from “Dandy” (possibly) to “Rock and Roll Fantasy” (definitely).

But my favorite is the allegorical “Two Sisters,” which, in a great bit of sequencing follows Dave Davies’ allegorical song about giving up (or at least toning down) his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle with Ray’s allegorical song about being jealous of said rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

With Nicky Hopkins providing a lovely harpsichord bed — and serious, why has the harpsichord disappeared from rock rock records? — Ray sets up the conflict.

Sylvilla looked into her mirror
Percilla looked into the washing machine
And the drudgery of being wed
She was so jealous of her sister
And her liberty, and her smart young friends
She was so jealous of her sister

Unlike the vast majority of the songs on Something Else By The Kinks, “Two Sisters” doesn’t have any backing vocals. Ray is double-tracked, and often sings a contemplative “hmmmmm” before singing the end of each verse, but it’s all Ray, because it was probably the most personal song on the record.

Sylvilla looked into the wardrobe
Percilla looked into the frying pan
And the bacon and eggs
And the breakfast is served
She was so jealous of her sister
And her way of life, and her luxury flat
She was so jealous of her sister

Ray had just gotten married to Rasa — somewhat unwillingly, if you believe the Raymond Douglas Davies character in X-Ray, the fictional autobiography Ray wrote — and while the wild life wasn’t ever really going to suit him anyways, it was clear he was resenting not having the choice to not choose the wild life, which comes out in the devastating bridge:

She threw away her dirty dishes
Just to be free again
Her women’s weekly magazines
Just to be free again
And put the children in the nursery
Just to be free again

By this point, not only is Nicky Hopkins playing circles around the song, Mick Avory is bashing away like it’s “You Really Got Me” and he’s trying to be heard over a cranked up electric guitar. And while it’s also a bit incongruous, it also represents the Sylvilla in the song: the appeal of just letting it go, regardless of the circumstances.

But of course, that’s not how this song was ever going to end, as the harpsichord and drums are joined by a soaring mellotron, giving us a clue as to which sister is writing this song.

Percilla saw her little children
And then decided she was better off
Than the wayward lass that her sister had been
No longer jealous of her sister
So she ran ’round the house with her curlers on
No longer jealous of her sister

And as Ray Davies hums “Two Sisters” to its conclusion, you realize that you’ve just listened to a rock ‘n’ roll song about not choosing the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, and while that’s probably not the last time it’s happened, it was certainly one of the very first.

“Two Sisters”

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