Making comparisons between pop groups is invidious and ultimately pointless. But I was listening to a song at work yesterday, Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks and attempted to explain the song to a younger colleague in its temporal and political context. As an example I quoted the Beatles song, Taxman, as I knew she was a Beatles fan . It was the first time I had considered the songs side by side and, for once, The Beatles came off second best.
Taxman was one of George Harrison’s first compositions for the Beatles and was pretty much a rant (bleat?) against the ridiculous tax regime introduced by Labour PM Harold Wilson which taxed big earners at up to 95%. It begins:
Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman
If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.
I have to admit, it’s not one of my favourite Beatles numbers but I always found it evocative of the time and agreed, pretty much, with the sentiment. However, as with John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, I found it difficult to swallow whole – coming as it did from a millionaire rock star. But that’s another matter.
Sunny Afternoon was written and released in the same year, 1966, and I must suppose for pretty much the same reason. Here, yet again, I must profess my love for the song and my respect for the writer, Ray Davies, who produced some of the best pop songs of the 1960s and early seventies. What a shame the band had such problems delivering quality albums; the songs on even their best vary from sublime to risible. But at their best they were a match for anyone. And Sunny Afternoon is definitely The Kinks at their magnificent peak. Compare the lyrics and approach:
The tax man’s taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
And I can’t sail my yacht
He’s taken everythin’ I’ve got
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon.
So there you have it. Ray Davies has made the argument much more eloquently than I ever could.