Ray Davies, The Beatles, and the World Cup Magic of the Summer of ’66
By Stuart Mitchner
In 1966, the victorious English team famously sang “Sunny Afternoon” in the baths after the World Cup final…
—from @The Kinks
Ray Davies calls it the “mystical fairy tale of ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and the World Cup” in his “unauthorized autobiography” X-Ray (Overlook Press 1995). After landing a song at the top of the charts the same month England’s team was at the top of the sporting world, Davies composed “Waterloo Sunset” the following spring, a British anthem for the ages that he would sing half a century later at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
Clips of the highlights from England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany can be viewed on YouTube, the same black and white images that Ray saw on his home set, including the moment when a beaming Queen Elizabeth shakes hands with the captain of the British team before handing him the cup. In the aftermath of the Queen’s September 8 death, it’s moving to see her happily, unceremoniously caught up in the excitement of a cheering crowd 96,000 strong. Recalling the “magic” of July 30, 1966, Davies writes of himself and his band mates, “Patriotism had never been so strong. We were all war babies, we had all seen Hungary beat England when we were at primary in the early sixties.” When midfielder Bobby Charlton, considered one of the greatest players of all time, “buried his head in his hands as he fell to his knees and wept on the English turf,” Davies “felt like millions of others watching on television: I wanted to be next to him …..”
“Killing Off” the Beatles
Six days later, with England still on a World Cup glory high and Swinging London the center of the pop culture universe, the Beatles released a World Cup of an album called Revolver and a single, “Yellow Submarine,” soon to become a pub sing-along favorite, like “Sunny Afternoon.” In his preface to the World Cup passage, Davies makes special mention of the fact that “Sunny Afternoon” had replaced the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” at No. 1 on the UK charts “after it had been there for just one week.” In an interview, he called it “one of the great joys of my life.” In X-Ray, the gloves are off — “Nobody had ever killed a Beatles record off that quickly before.”
A revealing turn of phrase, “killed off,” especially in light of an earlier passage in X-Ray about the time the Kinks opened for the Beatles when audiences were known to start screaming for the Fab Four even as lesser groups were trying to perform. Ray sets the scene as the Kinks are being rushed by the organizers, get on and get off, Paul and John are already peering from the wings, Lennon comes out and brazenly inspects Ray’s guitar, (“Is this yours?”), peers through the curtains at the screaming crowd, and when Ray nervously points out, “It’s our turn, you go on after us,” John rubs it in: “You’re just here to keep the crowd occupied until we go on. If you get stuck and run out of songs, we’ll lend you some of ours.”
Besides being captain of the football team at his secondary school in Muswell Hill, Ray was a track star and a boxer, and so he imagines the bell ringing for round one as the curtains open and on come the Kinks with the crowd still chanting “We Want the Beatles.” The chant hits Ray like a series of “swift punches to the head” and with each blow, he sees “a flash of white light” as happened during a boxing match with the school champion, a staccato nightmare of white lights that left him reeling but still standing; in the spirit of his song “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (“And I’m not gonna take it all lying down, ‘Cause once I get started I go to town”), he refused to let the ref stop the fight. This time his way of counterpunching the Beatles and the audience was to open with “You Really Got Me,” soon to become the Kinks’ first No. 1 hit and a rock legend. This frenzied, passionate precursor of Led Zeppelin, Punk, and Heavy Metal was powered to life with his younger brother Dave in the Davies’s front parlor, with Dave literally slashing the amp to produce maximum feedback, as he does now, the howl drowning out the “We Want the Beatles” chant. “As soon as Dave played the opening chords,” Ray writes, “they were with us. It was as if we had taken the first round.” Even when the Beatles were playing, some in the crowd were screaming “We want the Kinks.”
“Rain”: Summer of ’66
But let’s get real, there was no beating the Beatles three years later in the summer of 1966. And it wasn’t “Paperback Writer” that carried the day, it was the B-side, “Rain,” which my wife-to-be and I were playing on jukeboxes from Venice to Athens during our summer-long hitchhiking pre-marital honeymoon. Whenever we were waiting by the road, bereft of jukeboxes, we tuned in “Rain” on my battered blue transistor radio — you had to hold it high to catch the song and Lennon’s gritty, searing vocal, the word “Rain” taken to the multisyllabic limit in the long, drawn-out ecstasy of the chorus. Somehow it fit perfectly with the state of things that while England followed football to World Cup nirvana, the Beatles were away on a world tour, raising political tensions in Japan, causing riots in the Philippines, and coming home in time to release Revolver, the album now generally regarded as their greatest accomplishment.
Back to the Future
All these years later my old hitching partner and I are sitting side by side on the sofa watching the zany Americans-in-England series Ted Lasso, where the misadventures of AFC Richmond have a comic energy that reminds us of the mad escapades of Ab Fab’s Edina and Patsy. And having almost given up on The Crown after the opening episodes of the fifth season, we went back in time to see Lesley Manville’s brilliant turn as Princess Margaret, a mixture of pathos, sense and sensibility that reminded me of her Oscar-worthy performance in Mike Leigh’s Another Year, a film, as Manville put it at the time, “about hearts and minds and heads and souls” and “the stuff of life.”
It was a pleasure to see Manville teaming up with another graduate of Mike Leigh’s school of hard knocks, Imelda Staunton, as the late, once and future Queen Elizabeth. And how great that the still faintly glowing embers of Margaret’s romance with Peter Townsend would be set to the music of Bloomington, Indiana’s Hoagy Carmichael singing his song of songs, “Stardust.”
My favorite of The Crown’s Elizabeths is the first one, as played by Claire Foy. I thought of her when reading Ray Davies in X-Ray describe watching the Coronation on TV, at age 7, a ceremony young Ray found arousing, or, as his older self words it, “very erotic … it had something to do with all these old men in heavy cloaks paying homage to this young, beautiful woman at Westminster Abbey.” In fact, Davies was no stranger to the Royals even before he became Sir Ray, having played Buckingham Palace more than once; in their teens Princes Harry and William were known to be fervent Kinks fans; and in 2004 Queen Elizabeth presented Davies with a CBE, telling him, so he claimed, “I hope they catch the bastards who shot you!” She was referring to his brush with death in New Orleans that January. Spokesmen for the Queen were quick to insist that Her Majesty would never have used “that sort of language.”
After listening obsessively to the music of Stevie Nicks for a month while sometimes skipping over other songs on her Fleetwood Mac albums, the news of Christine McVie’s death sent me back to the “white album” and Rumors. Determined to focus on the uniqueness of Nicks, I’d missed out on the power and warmth of McVie’s singing and playing, especially on solo performances like “Songbird” and those inimitable harmonies when McVie, the girl from England’s Lake Country, teamed up with Arizona-born Nicks, the girl from the American desert.
According to Rob Jovanovic’s biography, God Save the Kinks, Ray Davies and singer Rod Stewart attended the same school in Muswell Hill and were football teammates on the first eleven, Stewart running defense, Ray in midfield. Jovanovic says that although Ray and Rod were both passionate Arsenal fans, they were also both extremely “competitive.” In other words, “they hated each other,” said Kinks bassist Pete Quaife. That was long ago and far away. It’s safe to say that next Saturday they’ll both be watching when England plays France after moving to the quarter finals with a 3-0 victory over Senegal.
October saw the release of a super deluxe newly expanded, remixed, and remastered box set of “Revolver.” A review in the Guardian mentions a bonus disc that includes “a jaw-dropping sequence of ‘Yellow Submarine’ work tapes” tracing “the song’s evolution from a fragile, sad wisp sung by John Lennon” to Ringo Starr’s “boisterous stoner singalong.”