Certain Songs #858: The Kinks – “All of My Friends Were There”

Album: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
Year: 1968

One of the things about The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society is that it’s one of those albums that is so loaded with weird, disparate songs that — outside of the title track and probably “Big Sky,” — there isn’t a whole lot of consensus as to what the best songs are.

So I’m guessing that people those who were scandalized, or at least puzzled, by me picking “Phenomenal Cat” yesterday are probably utterly gobsmacked by “All Of My Friends Were There,” which might be the weirdest song on the whole record.

For one thing, the verses are in an admittedly annoying “oompah oompah” music hall march, over which Ray Davies tells a tale as old as performance itself: a night where he gets up on stage and totally fucks up.

My big day, it was the biggest day of my life
It was the summit of my long career
But I felt so down, and I drank too much beer
The management said that I shouldn’t appear
I walked out onto the stage and started to speak
The first night I’ve missed for a couple of years
I explained to the crowed and they started to jeer
And just when I wanted no one to be there

And, suddenly, without any warning, the whole tenor of the song changes, as over a lovely organ-driven acoustic guitar waltz, Ray describes a scenario that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever written a social media post that not only their friends trolled them on, but a bunch of randos as well.

All of my friends were there
Not just my friends, but their best friends too
All of my friends were there to stand and stare
Say what they may, all of their friends need not stay
Those who laughed were not friends anyway
All of my friends were there to stand and stare

I’m sure this is familiar to anybody who’s played in a local band, or performed on stage or read their poetry or any other type of public performance. You invite your friends, and you want them to bring their friends. But some nights, you just don’t have it.

Ray’s initial reaction to this was pretty fucking hilarious.

Days went by, I walked around dressed in a disguise
I wore a mustache and I parted my hair
And gave the impression that I did not care
But oh, the embarrassment, oh, the despair

The way Ray sings about his embarrassment and despair is one of my favorite of his vocal moments, but here’s the thing: he got back up on stage. Which, of course is the only thing you can and should do.

Came the day, helped with a few large glasses of gin
I nervously mounted the stage once again
Got through my performance and no one complained
Thank God I can go back to normal again

To me, the key takeaway of “All of My Friends Were There” is that you should get up onstage fortified by gin, as opposed to beer. And a LOT of gin, clearly. Also, I love the detail that it wasn’t so much that he went over well, but rather “no one complained.” But in the end, it doesn’t matter.

I went to that old cafe
Where I had been in much happier days
And all of my friends were there
And no one cared
Say what they may, all of my friends were there
Not just my friends, but their best friends too
All of my friends were there
Now I don’t care

This was, of course, based upon a real incident, which is why it has such verisimilitude. It also feels like the closet thing to a solo Ray Davies song on the entire record. There aren’t any other vocalists, and even the organ and guitar are pretty anonymous.

There had been talk of Ray embarking on a solo career (Dave had already started releasing solo singles like “Death of a Clown” & “Susannah’s Still Alive”), and as much as I love “All of My Friends Were There,” I’m not sure if I would have wanted a whole album of novety-ish songs done with a bunch of studio hacks.

Which makes “All of My Friends Were There” an exception that proves the rule. The rule being that I love my Kinks songs recognizable as Kinks songs.

“All of My Friends Were There”

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