12.02-SHANGRI-LA (Kinks)



Now that you've found your paradise
This is your kingdom to command.
You can go outside and polish your car
Or sit by the fire in your Shangri-la.

Here is your reward for working so hard.
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard.
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car.
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la.

     Put on your slippers and sit by the fire.
     You've reached your top and you just can't get any higher.
     You're in your place and you know where you are
     In your Shangri-la.

     Sit back in your old rocking chair.
     You need not worry, you need not care.
     You can't go anywhere.

     Shangri-la (3x)

     The little man who gets the train
     Got a mortgage hanging over his head
     But he's too scared to complain
     'Cos he's conditioned that way.

     Time goes by and he pays off his debts--
     Got a TV set and a radio
     For seven shillings a week.
     Shangri-la (6x)

          And all the houses in the street have got a name
          'Cos all the houses in the street they look the same--
          Same chimney pots, same little cars, same window panes.

          The neighbors call to tell you things that you should know.
          They say their lines, they drink their tea, and then they go.
          They tell your business in another Shangri-la.

          The gas bills and the water rates, and payments on the car.
          Too scared to think about how insecure you are.
          Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la.

               Shangri-la, shangri-la la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, etc.

     [Repeat 1st & 2nd verses of B section]

     Shangri-la (6x)

The Kinks never did really make a psychedelic album, but there are moments in the album Arthur that draw from psychedelia. Arthur as a whole was developed as a concept album which had been written to accompany a television production that was never released. In the manner in which the songs developed around a story line independent of lyrical development, Arthur resembles the Pretty Thing’s SF Sorrow more than the Who’s Tommy. Still, it effectively told the story of a man of the previous generation who had participated in World War II, with Ray Davies’ signature nostalgia for the great days of the British Empire. It helps the story that Davies is able to express a sort of tender sympathy for the subjects he criticizes. His ironic social statements come off as less caustic than the “piss takers” he’d made in the Kinks' 1965 hits (such as Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Well Respected Man).

Ray Davies lyrics had sometimes been a voice through which his audience could become self-aware of its own foolishness. In the Kinks previous album Village Green Preservation Society, for instance, he had People Take Pictures of Each Other (“to prove that they really existed”). But to this listener, no song by any musician of my generation had as much impact on my personal life as Shangri-la. The way in which the lyrics, the vocal delivery and the musical accompaniment portray the suffering of capitalist consumer “too scared to think about how insecure” he is, trying to keep up with the “mortgage hanging over his head”, effectively instilled me an aversion to ever buying a house and strapping myself with mortgage payments. As in the Kinks song Autumn Almanac, it seemed that to buy a house was to find oneself pigeon-holed with little possibility of breaking free (“All the people like me seem to come from my street”). Indeed, this song, in and of itself, is mainly responsible for instilling in me an attitude of not using any credit cards for fear of incurring debt until the 21st century (when the convenience of paying bills online finally got me).

Of course, it is not the social commentary that made Shangri-la a psychedelic song. (If so, his far more sarcastic & potty-mouthed American lyrical peer, Frank Zappa, would have shown up more often in this study.) Social commentary generally was not an aspect of psychedelic music, since its lyrics tended to find psychological solutions: “All you need is love”; “Wave your freak flag high!” were typical psychedelic solutions to social problems. Rather, the psychedelia in the song is reflected in its use of the harpsichord. In this we’re back to the beginning of psychedelic music, with the Yardbirds’ For Your Love. As in that song, Shangri-la uses harpsichord and orchestra to contrast with straight-on rock and roll in an alternate section. But whereas For Your Love had used the instrument only for its shocking, ham-fisted incongruity, Ray Davies used it as an instrument that effectively creates an ersatz refinement of days long past and reflects upon moments in the lyric. An outstanding example is the mincing harpsichord accompaniment which accompanies the line Put on your slippers and sit by the fire.

Whereas the Kinks’ previous album had been practically ignored, Arthur received a lot of attention from American music critics when it was released which helped bring (along with the ability to tour in the U.S. again after their four year ban) a gradual improvement in the Kinks sales. Of course, the #105 position gave the Kinks little to brag about, especially as they contined to be ignored at home depsite their British point of view. Perhaps the English resented the fact that Ray Davies sang of their society as being in its “decline and fall”. In 1970, the Kinks joke song Lola, about a transvestite, would play incessantly in America and make it to #9, and in England to #2.