Certain Songs #871: The Kinks – “Juke Box Music”

Album: Sleepwalker
Year: 1977

As if to draw a line in the sand between phases of their career, 1976 was the first year in the Kinks history without a new studio album. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I really like in an artist is prolificness, and The Kinks — Ray Davies, really — were more so than most.

To make a comparison with their surviving British Invasion peers, The Who had started skipping years in 1968 (skipping ’68, ’70, ’72,’74 & ’76) and the Rolling Stones in 1970 (skipping ’70 & ’75), but not only had The Kinks put out 14 studio albums from 1964-1976 (compared to 13 by the Stones and, er, seven by The Who), they would put out eight more between 1977-1989, when they finally started slowing down. By comparison, The Who only put out three albums in that period, and the Rolling Stones six.

Whether or not all of these records were any good is a different point — obviously, the Kinks output after 1970 wasn’t as good as what they had done before, but there were a bunch of great songs scattered throughout their last couple of decades. Like “Juke Box Music,” the highlight of the album that kicked off the fourth phase of their career, Sleepwalker.

Dumping the cluttered arrangements and the cluttered concepts that had dominated their records in the first half of the decade, Sleepwalker was a conscious effort to become the same kind of arena-dominating band that their peers were. And while it didn’t quite fully succeed, a song like “Juke Box Music” and companions “Life on The Road” & “Live Life” got them on the FM — and maybe even some AM — radio enough for Sleepwalker to become their highest-charting U.S. album since . . . well, ever.

Like a lot of their strongest songs from this period, “Juke Box Music” tries to imagine the world through the eyes of a fan.

There’s a lady plays her fav’rite records
On the jukebox ev’ry day.
All day long she plays the same old songs
And she believes the things that they say

With a big arena-ready riff and plenty of screaming Dave Davies lead guitar throughout, “Juke Box Music” skirted the line of being like a “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” kind of pisstake, making fun of their fans for caring so much about them.

It’s only juke box music
Only juke box music
It’s only music
Only juke box music
Only juke box music

But you know what? They might say that it’s “only juke box music,” but you and I? We know that it’s more than that. It’s the source of nourishment. The source of life and all that is holy and good and well with the universe, even if the rest of the world says it isn’t. And it’s the weight of the rest of the world that causes “Juke Box Music” to almost collaspe upon itself.

It’s all because of that music
That we’re slowly driftin’ apart
But it’s only there to dance to
So you shouldn’t take it to heart

Music, only juke box music.
Only music, only juke box music

Almost. But with Dave screaming the high harmonies like a banshee, I choose to believe that it’s more than that, and they know it’s more than that. I think they’re on her side, understanding the transcendent power of truly digging into a piece of music as much and as hard as you can.

On Ray’s new solo album, Americana, there’s a short spoken song about a conversation he had in New Orleans with his neighbor, Alex Chilton — whom, of course covered “Til The End of The Day” during the sessions that became Third — and the gist of the conversation was about the enduring power of music and how playing a song was a direct connection to their youth.

So yeah, not so much only juke box music, as forever juke box music.

“Juke Box Music”

“Juke Box Music” performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1977
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzjoqpTqSR4

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