Muswell Hillbillies is an album by the English rock group The Kinks. Released in November 1971, it was the band’s first album for RCA Records. The album is named after the Muswell Hill area of North London, where band leader Ray Davies and guitarist Dave Davies grew up and the band formed in the early 1960s.
The album introduces a number of working class figures and the stresses with which they must contend. It did not sell well but received positive reviews and critical acclaim.
Muswell Hillbillies was the band’s first album for RCA Records, their prior recordings having been released on Pye Records (Reprise Records in the United States). Their contract with Pye/Reprise expired the same year. The album was recorded between August and October 1971 at Morgan Studios, London, using a new brass section, the Mike Cotton Sound, which included Mike Cotton on trumpet, John Beecham on trombone and tuba, and Alan Holmes on clarinet.
The album was not a commercial success (it failed to chart in the United Kingdom and peaked at #48 in the U.S.), and its sales were a disappointment following the success of Lola the previous year. Stereo Review magazine called the poor-selling record “album of the year” in 1972 (even though it was released on 24 November 1971). In the 1984 Rolling Stone Album Guide, Rolling Stone editors gave the album five stars out of five and called it Davies’ “signature statement” as a songwriter. In a retrospective review for Allmusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called the album a wide-ranging collection of Ray Davies compositions which focus on the tensions and frustrations of modern life.
The front cover picture was taken in the Archway Tavern, a pub in Archway (more than two miles away from Muswell Hill). The back inset picture, showing the band below a signpost giving directions to Muswell Hill, was taken on the small traffic island at the intersection of Castle Yard and Southwood Lane in Highgate. (by wikipedia)
How did the Kinks respond to the fresh start afforded by Lola? By delivering a skewed, distinctly British, cabaret take on Americana, all pinned down by Ray Davies’ loose autobiography and intense yearning to be anywhere else but here — or, as he says on the opening track, “I’m a 20th century man, but I don’t want to be here.” Unlike its predecessors, Muswell Hillbillies doesn’t overtly seem like a concept album — there are no stories as there are on Lola — but each song undoubtedly shares a similar theme, namely the lives of the working class. Cleverly, the music is a blend of American and British roots music, veering from rowdy blues to boozy vaudeville. There’s as much good humor in the performances as there are in Davies’ songs, which are among his savviest and funniest.
They’re also quite affectionate, a fact underpinned by the heartbreaking “Oklahoma U.S.A.,” one of the starkest numbers Davies ever penned, seeming all the sadder surrounded by the careening country-rock and music hall. That’s the key to Muswell Hillbillies — it mirrors the messy flow of life itself, rolling from love letters and laments to jokes and family reunions. Throughout it all, Davies’ songwriting is at a peak, as are the Kinks themselves. There are a lot of subtle shifts in mood and genre on the album, and the band pulls it off effortlessly and joyously. Regardless of its commercial fate, Muswell Hillbillies stands as one of the Kinks’ best albums. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
Mick Avory (drums, percussion)
John Dalton (bass guitar, background vocals)
Dave Davies (lead guitar, slide guitar, banjo, background vocals)
Ray Davies (vocals, guitar)
John Gosling (keyboards, accordion)
John Beecham (trombone, tuba)
Vicki Brown (background vocals on 04. + 09.)
Mike Cotton (trumpet)
Alan Holmes (saxophone, clarinet)
Ken Jones (harmonica on 07.)
01. 20th Century Man 5.58
02. Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues 3.33
03. Holiday 2.40
04. Skin And Bone 3:39
05. Alcohol 3.36
06. Complicated Life 4.03
07. Here Come The People In Grey 3.46
08. Have A Cuppa Tea 3.45
09. Holloway Jail 3.29
10. Oklahoma U.S.A. 2.39
11. Uncle Son 2.33
12. Muswell Hillbilly 4.59
13. Mountain Woman 3.09
14. Kentucky Moon (demo) 3.55
All songs written by Ray Davies.
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