Certain Songs #862: The Kinks – “Arthur”

Album: Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
Year: 1969

After a whole album that basically spanned the history of the U.K., the Kinks finish the album that they started off exhorting her majesty Queen Victoria with a paean to the titular character, about whom they’re worrying way more than the Queen.

Musically, “Arthur” is the simplest, least-cluttered song on the record — no keyboards, no horns, driven mostly a Dave Davies’ 12-string guitar riff that barely kept from tripping over itself.

But that was all they needed, of course, because “Arthur” is one last summing up of the story and themes of the rest of the album.

If only life were easy it would be such fun
Things would be more equal
And be plenty for everyone
Arthur the world’s gone and passed you by
Don’t you know it, don’t you know it
You can cry, cry all night but it won’t make it right
Don’t ya know it
Don’t ya know it

Of course, Ray Davies having sympathy for someone for whom the world has passed by is basically his sweet spot, so while at first, it might seem that he’s making fun of poor Arthur — like just about any any of his peers would be, if they even deigned to include someone like Arthur in their songs about decadence and pinball — he soon makes his feelings clear, bringing the entire band in on the chorus.

Arthur we know and we sympathize
Don’t ya know it, don’t ya know it
Arthur we like you and want to help you
Somebody loves you don’t you know it

And they hammer that point, asking Arthur “don’t you know it?” over and over and over, making sure that he gets it — The Kinks are on his side.

But not just his side. During the coda — over handclaps!! — first Ray, and eventually, the rest of the Kinks start chanting over the ringing guitars and rolling drums.

Oh! we love you and want to help you
Oh! we love you and want to help you
Oh! we love you and want to help you
Somebody loves you, don’t you know it?

By the third or fourth time around, it seems like it changes to “All, we love you and want to help you.” In other words, not just Arthur, but you and me, as well. And while I’m no doubt reading too much into this, I choose to believe the coda of “Arthur” turns into the most positive statement of love and support for their fanbase that The Kinks ever recorded.

“Arthur”

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