Kinks – Sunny Afternoon

Anytime I can cover a song from 65-66 I’m more than happy to do it. This is my favorite period in pop/rock history. Bands were experimenting with new sounds and also leaning on older sounds. This song written by Ray Davies peaked at #14 in the Billboard 100, #1 in the UK, #1 in Canada, and #2 in New Zealand.

Shel Talmy was The Kinks’ producer at this time. He also worked with The Who, which gave him access to two of the great songwriters of the era: Pete Townshend and Ray Davies. When the song hit #1 in the UK it knocked off Paperback Writer by The Beatles.

Ray Davies: “The only way I could interpret how I felt was through a dusty, fallen aristocrat who had come from old money as opposed to the wealth I had created for myself.” In order to prevent the listener from sympathizing with the song’s protagonist…  I turned him into a scoundrel who fought with his girlfriend after a night of drunkenness and cruelty.”

 

From Songfacts

Despite the title, this is not a breezy, carefree summer song. The guy in the song is a moneyed elite whose mansion has been emptied by the tax man, who even took his yacht! All he has to enjoy himself is the sunny afternoon.

The song was written by Kinks frontman Ray Davies, who was going through a very difficult time. The Kinks were in the midst of a sudden rise to stardom, but group tensions, lawsuits, an unrealistic workload and craven management made them miserable. Davies was also dealing with fatherhood, and left the band for a while.

While he was recovering, Davies wrote “Sunny Afternoon,” putting the music together first and then creating an alter ego to voice his feelings. “The only way I could interpret how I felt was through a dusty, fallen aristocrat who had come from old money as opposed to the wealth I had created for myself,” he said.

In a Rolling Stone interview on November 10, 1969, Ray Davies talked about recording this song. “‘Sunny Afternoon’ was made very quickly, in the morning,” he said. “It was one of our most atmospheric sessions. I still like to keep tapes of the few minutes before the final take, things that happen before the session. Maybe it’s superstitious, but I believe if I had done things differently – if I had walked around the studio or gone out – it wouldn’t have turned out that way. The bass player went off and started playing funny little classical things on the bass, more like a lead guitar: and Nicky Hopkins, who was playing piano on that session, was playing “Liza” – we always used to play that song – little things like that helped us get into the feeling of the song.

At the time I wrote ‘Sunny Afternoon’ I couldn’t listen to anything. I was only playing The Greatest Hits of Frank Sinatra and Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm – I just liked it’s whole presence, I was playing the Bringing It All Back Home LP along with my Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller and Bach – it was a strange time. I thought they all helped one another, they went into the chromatic part that’s in the back of the song. I once made a drawing of my voice on ‘Sunny Afternoon.’ It was a leaf with a very thick outline – a big blob in the background – the leaf just cutting through it.”

Released as a single with “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” on the B-side, “Sunny Afternoon” was the third (and final) UK #1 hit for The Kinks, following “You Really Got Me” and “Tired of Waiting for You.” Americans didn’t take to The Kinks like they did to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and from 1965-1969 a union dispute kept them from touring in that country. Still, their early singles did reasonably well there, with “Sunny Afternoon” reaching #14 even though they couldn’t set foot in the US.

According to Talmy, Davies was a very prolific songwriter who provided plenty of material when it came time to make their albums. “‘Sunny Afternoon,’ I think I heard four bars, and said, ‘That’s probably our next #1,'” Talmy told Songfacts. “It was so obvious.”

Ray Davies recalled writing the song’s intro in the book Isle of Noises by Daniel Rachel: “I’d bought a white upright piano,” he said. “I hadn’t written for a time. I’d been ill. I was living in a very 1960s-decorated house. It had orange walls and green furniture. My one-year-old daughter was crawling on the floor and I wrote the opening riff. I remember it vividly. I was wearing a polo-neck sweater.”

Backing vocalists on this track were Dave Davies, bass player Pete Quaife, and Ray Davies’ wife at the time, Rasa.

Ray Davies was suffering from a bad cold on the day he recorded this song. He recalled to Q magazine in 2016: “I did it in one take and when I heard it back I said, ‘No, let me do it properly,’ but the session was out of time. So that was the vocal. I heard it again the other day. I was 22 but I sound like someone about 40 who’s been through the mill. I really hang on some of the notes. A joyous song, though, even if it’s suppressed joy. I had real fun writing that.”

Ah, save me, save me, save me from this squeeze
I gotta big fat mama trying to break me

Ray Davies explained the lyric to Q: “My mother was quite large. But that also alludes to the government, the British Empire, trying to break people. And they’re still doing it… (sighs) How are we going to get out of this f—ing mess?”

Sunny Afternoon

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 everything I got
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon

Save me, save me, save me from this squeeze
I gotta big fat mama trying to break me
And I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime

My girlfriend’s run off with my car
And gone back to her ma and pa
Telling tails of drunkenness and cruelty
Now I’m sitting here
Sipping at my ice cold beer
Lazing on a sunny afternoon

Help me, help me, help me sail away
Well give me two good reasons why I oughta stay
‘Cause I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime

Ah, save me, save me, save me from this squeeze
I gotta big fat mama trying to break me
And I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime
In the summertime

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

20 thoughts on “Kinks – Sunny Afternoon”

  1. I had an Economics course in college called Financial Cost Analysis and I hated it, but I will always remember the professor telling me that some of the richest people in the US don’t pay any taxes. They have to file, as it is against the law not to file a return, but they write that they refuse to pay any tax because the whole principle is illegal. These people have enough lawyers to have their case taken to the Supreme Court, so the government never messes with them, because the last thing that they want is to have this case heard and risk having all taxes found to be illegal.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ray and Pete have a lot of similarities. I do want to look for one by him or someone about them.

        Like

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