Certain Songs #872: The Kinks – “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy”

Album: Misfits
Year: 1978

In one of those coincidences that really only could have happened in the late 1970s, there was not one, but two relatively big songs written by British rockers with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” in the title.

Which makes some sense, as both Ray Davies and Paul Rodgers were pushing the ripe old age of 30, and the 1970s was pretty the peak of rock ‘n’ roll fantasy lifestyle, so not only was it not that surprising they wrote these songs, what is surprising is that Pete Townshend, Robert Plan and Mick Jagger didn’t also write songs called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy.” Though honestly, Townshend at least wrote tons of songs where that was the theme.

That said, both of these songs came out at what was probably the last possible moment for anybody to accept a song with that title without snickering behind its back. Put it this way: no way Dave Grohl or Chris Martin are ever going to write a song with that title, much less 21 Pilots or Harry Styles.

Naturally, the one written by Paul Rodgers for Bad Company was the bigger single — they were one of the more reliable (in terms of both quality and chart position) hard rock singles artists of the era — but it was also brutally horrible, especially lyrically.

Any song called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” that starts off with “Here come the jesters, 1-2-3 / It’s all part of my fantasy” is trying to swim with a 100-pound stone strapped to its back, and I can’t tell you how much I disliked hearing that Bad Co. song on the radio all of the time. Ugh.

Much much better was Ray Davies’ take on the subject, which yeah I know, duh, and while “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” was musically kinda blah but pretty, it got over as another look at his relationship with his brother as well as another sympathetic portrait of their fanbase.

Hello me, hello you, you say you want out
Want to start anew, throw in your hand
Break up the band, start a new life, be a new man
But for all we know, we might still have a way to go
Before you go, there’s something you ought to know

There’s a guy in my block, he lives for rock
He plays records day and night
And when he feels down, he puts some rock ‘n’ roll on
And it makes him feel alright
And when he feels the world is closing in
He turns his stereo way up high

That guy, of course, was spending his life in a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. And Ray projects just the right amount of sympathy and distance when singing about this dude — and others, like a fan who’s seen all of their shows — whom he posits as a pretty good reason to keep the band together.

Well maybe: one might argue that a band that is staying together for the fans might actually come to resent those fans, and if that’s the only reason — as opposed to having something to say or even just enjoying the music you’re making — maybe it’s time to hang it all up.

Which I guess they did 15 years later.

Meanwhile, maybe the guy from this song could hook up with the girl from “Juke Box Music” and they could live on the edge of reality together forever, dancing to “All Day and All of the Night” and “Victoria” forever and ever and ever amen.

In the end, of course, Ray can only commit to not wanting to live his live in a Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy, which honestly, in this context, I’m not even sure what he means. And it’s quite possible that he doesn’t either, but either way, it casts the seemingly tender words about their fans on their ear: basically Ray is saying that all of that bullshit hero worship that goes along with being a fan is OK for you, but not for me. But here’s a really pretty song about you!!

Fan-made video for “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy”

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