When Kinks bio-musical Sunny Afternoon took home the 2015 Olivier Award for Best Musical, it must surely have been a sweet moment for composer-lyricist and band frontman Ray Davies, whose concept albums and rock operas have long bore the hallmarks of strong theatrical storytelling. (He’s also written a handful of musicals over the years.) By the time of 1972’s Everybody’s In Show-Biz, Davies was already pushing the envelope of his quintessentially British sound, incorporating rootsy American country textures, Dixieland horns and even a dash of calypso into The Kinks’ heady, heavy rock-and-roll brew. Show-Biz, originally intended as a companion to a never-completed film about the band’s life on the road and another example of Davies’ conceptual rock writing, has recently been reissued as a 2-CD Legacy Edition by RCA and Legacy Recordings adding an entire disc’s worth of previously unheard live tracks, outtakes and alternates. Show-Biz gains even more depth in this beautifully curated presentation.
A sprawling 2-LP set, ten tracks on the original album (included on Disc One) were studio recordings with the second half culled from a March 3, 1972 performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The ten studio cuts could have held up in their own right, however, as follow-up to the band’s RCA debut Muswell Hillbillies (previously reissued in similar style by Legacy). Though they’re not theatrical in the sense of telling a linear story with specific characters, they’re of a conceptual piece as snapshots of the touring existence and the toll it takes.
For the droll, witty writer-producer Davies, showbiz was hardly a glamorous vocation. The opening track, “Here Comes Another Day,” matches Davies’ laconic if resigned lead vocal to a driving rhythm evocative of a musician’s nonstop pace: “Here comes yet another day/Creeping through my window/Drank myself to sleep last night/Beer stains on my pillow/I gotta pull my things together…” There’s dry humor and appropriately woozy brass for the menu recitations on “Maximum Consumption” and food recurs on “Hot Potatoes” (about the return to the “mundane” world of domesticity after a tour, and written in the style of a barroom sing-along) and the country-fried “Motorway.” The Kinks might have been rock stars, but they weren’t immune to “motorway food…the worst in the world!” When Davies asks, “Ain’t it a thrill to be so free, yeh?” one suspects he already knows the answer. Elsewhere, Show-Biz offers dry political commentary with a calypso lilt (“Supersonic Rocket Ship”) and takes jabs at hypocrisy in the record biz in “Look a Little on the Sunny Side.” New Orleans-style oom-pah brass decorates the latter, with its telling emphasis on the little in the title.
For all the wry humor on Show-Biz, Davies turned in one of his most affecting ballads with “Sitting in My Hotel.” David Fricke’s fine liner notes reveal that the song was bandied about to adult singers of the day such as Andy Williams, but Davies torpedoed its chances for any covers by refusing to alter its Cockney slang. (No mention, though, of changing the lyric about “Prancing ’round the room like some outrageous poove [sic]”!) The incisively observed rumination on the true disconnect between fame and “real life” did get its dramatic moment in the sun onstage in Sunny Afternoon. Dave Davies, in his one songwriting contribution to Show-Biz, addresses complementary themes in “Does Anybody Know My Name,” the feel of which today recalls Rod Stewart’s early work.
Best of all, though, is the first track composed by Ray for the project. A trip down Hollywood Boulevard inspired the beautiful ballad “Celluloid Heroes,” which name-checks Bela Lugosi, George Sanders, Mickey Rooney, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe before turning its lens inward: “I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show/A fantasy world of celluloid heroes and villains/Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain/And celluloid heroes never really die.” Of course, Ray Davies and The Kinks have attained that immortality – not on celluloid, but on record. But as his memoirs have revealed, Ray’s life hasn’t been absent of the turmoil experienced by many of those heroes he mentions. “Unreal Reality,” with its melodramatic introduction, ironically jaunty melody and boogie-woogie piano, seems to sum it up: “Is it truth or is it only fantasy? Is it a dream or is it unreal reality?” In The Kinks’ world, showbiz, and life, are all of those things.
The Carnegie Hall tracks (recorded months prior to the studio recordings) showcase the muscularity of the group in this iteration led by Ray and Dave, and featuring longtime drummer Mick Avory along with bassist John Dalton and keyboardist John Gosling. The set as preserved on the original album isn’t packed with hits, though a short, under-two-minutes run through “Lola” closes it out. Muswell Hillbillies songs dominate the set, including “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoid Blues,” “Holiday,” “Skin and Bone,” “Alcohol” and nominal title track “Muswell Hillbilly.” Unexpected covers pepper this portion of Show-Biz, such as a snippet of the Sammy Davis, Jr.-introduced showtune “Mr. Wonderful,” a brassy take on the 1926 standard “Baby Face” and even Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song.”
The thirteen live tracks on Disc Two of this new reissue have been culled from the same March 3, 1972 gig as on the original album as well as the concert one evening earlier, on March 2. A few songs are duplicated (though in different performances) while other favorites are added such as early hits “Sunny Afternoon” and “Till the End of the Day,” a couple more Muswell tunes (“Have a Cuppa Tea” and “Complicated Life”) and a cover of American soul man Don Covay’s “Long Tall Shorty.” The studio material on the second disc isn’t as plentiful, though it certainly is choice. The never-before-released “History” was recorded in London in March 1973, after the release of Everybody’s in Show-Biz. The rocker’s searching lyric, mentioning Shakespeare and King Arthur among other famous personages, has Ray in first-person mode, walking through a museum as he seeks his history. Davies, in Fricke’s notes, reveal that the song could be considered a bridge to The Kinks’ Preservation albums and stage project. “Money Talks,” from Preservation Act 2, appears in here in an embryonic rehearsal version titled “Sophisticated Lady.” The studio outtakes are rounded out with alternates of “Supersonic Rocket Ship” and “Unreal Reality,” both of which shed light on Ray’s songwriting and arranging process.
Produced by Andrew Sandoval with his usual keen eye to detail, Everybody’s in Show-Biz has been remastered in typically splendid fashion by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios. John Sellards has exquisitely designed the package which includes a 28-page booklet in its digipak. In addition to Fricke’s essay, the color booklet has credits and complete lyrics for the studio tracks. Everybody’s In Show-Biz is one of The Kinks’ most underrated LPs, frequently overlooked in comparison to Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround or Muswell Hillbillies. This compelling Legacy Edition makes the case for its inventively unreal reality.
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