Certain Songs #853: The Kinks – “Afternoon Tea”

Album: Something Else by The Kinks
Year: 1968

The thing about writing about an album as jam-packed with great songs as Something Else By The Kinks is trying to narrow it down to only a handful of songs, especially since it’s only the first of four utter classics in a row.

So, it’s been difficult to pick which songs to write about. While the opening and closing tracks were always going to be written about, just because I didn’t write entries on the likes of the jaunty “Harry Rag,” the rollicking “Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” the domestic drama of “Situation Vacant” or the psychedelic “Lazy Old Sun” — notice how even the song titles are evocative — doesn’t mean I couldn’t have.

All of the above songs are catchy, funny, observant and are filled with weird, unexpected instrumental flourishes, to boot. Just like “Afternoon Tea,” which perfectly captures that disconnect after a break-up when a basic simple life thing that you used to do with your ex-partner is forever altered.

You know, the little rituals that were just for the two of you, that arose naturally from whatever bond you had. Those are the things you’re going to miss the most, when all is said and done.

Tea time won’t be the same without my Donna
At night I lie awake and dream of Donna
I think about that small cafe
That’s where we used to meet each day
And then we used to sit a while
And drink our afternoon tea

That opening is framed by Pete Quaife’s McCartney-esque bass and Rasa Davies’ “oooooooooooooooh” and slowly builds to the full band joining in as they get to the chorus, which is indulging in memories that he’s never going to get back.

I’ll take afternoon tea (afternoon tea)
If you take it with me (afternoon tea)
You take as long as you like
Cause I like you, girl

I take sugar with tea (afternoon tea)
You take milk if you please (afternoon tea)
Like you talking to me
Because you ease my mind

With Dave doing a long, somewhat disjointed guitar lead throughout, “Afternoon Tea” does everything in its power to keep you from realizing how sad its narrator actually is, even having everybody singing “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba (afternoon tea)” in order to distract you from the gut punch in the second verse.

Tea time still ain’t the same without my Donna
At night I lie awake and dream of Donna
I went to our cafe one day
They said that Donna walked away
You’d think at least she might have stayed
To drink her afternoon tea

The level of denial that’s contained in that last couplet is utterly devastating. Of course she isn’t going to stay. It’s over, move on. But instead, he’s probably going to go back to that cafe every single day for the rest of his life in hopes that she changed her mind.

But of course she isn’t, and the tea is never going taste the way it once did.

“Afternoon Tea”

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