How The Kinks bemoaned the “camouflage” of the 1960s

Everything looks brighter in hindsight, but the era of the 1960s cannot seem to escape its rose-tinted reputation. In fairness, it is easy to see why: the image of the ‘swinging sixties’ is one of vibrant art, sexual liberation and, above all else, fantastic music. However, the decade was not entirely made up of mini skirts and World Cup wins. It was also a period of great class inequality, political unrest and widespread racism. Even The Kinks, who were largely representative of the coolness and style of the ’60s, were keen to point out that it was not all sunshine and rainbows.

Although the band were briefly part of the British invasion scene, they certainly are not one of the many average rock outfits jumping on the bandwagon. Pioneering the use of guitar distortion and adrenaline-fuelled, fast-paced rock songs, they provided a voice for the disenfranchised youth of post-war Britain. Spearheaded by the songwriting of Ray Davies and with close ties to the fashionable mod subculture, The Kinks are rightly hailed as one of the greatest British rock groups of all time.

Despite their success and their reputation as giants of the 1960s, The Kinks weren’t all too pleased with the prevailing image of the decade. After all, Davies had spent the majority of his early years sharing a small terrace house with seven other siblings, a common occurrence for the working classes of ’60s Britain. If the 1960s was a prosperous time, then it certainly did not extend to the terrace streets of Fortis Green.

In an attempt to quell images of the 1960s being endlessly optimistic, Davies penned the classic song ‘Dead End Street’, showcasing the reality of working-class life during the time. “My whole feeling about the ’60s was that it’s not as great as everyone thinks it is,” Davies explained to Q, “Carnaby Street, everybody looking happy, that was all a camouflage. That’s what ‘Dead End Street’ was about.”

Issued as a non-album single in 1966, ahead of the release of Face to Face, ‘Dead End Street’ provided The Kinks with a top-five hit in the UK. Its chart position comes as a bit of a surprise when looking at the content of the song, which reads like the plot of a particularly bleak Ken Loach film. The track focuses on a couple who try to emigrate to Australia using the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme, which allows working-class families to move down under for a very low cost. When the plans fall through, this couple cannot find work and find themselves destitute.

Talking about the inspiration behind the bleak song, Davies said, “I wrote it around the time I had to buy a house, and I was terrified. I never wanted to own anything because my dad had never owned property.”

Explaining, “He’d inherited from his dad that he had to rent all his life. So I still have inbuilt shame of owning anything. It’s guilt.”

Although, presumably, Davies’ fears over ownership gradually got better as The Kinks grew from working-class rockers to global superstars. Although ‘Dead End Street’ is, by no means, one of The Kinks’ greatest efforts, it remains a vitally important moment within their discography, encapsulating the musical manifesto and songwriting genius of Ray Davies.

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