Songs of the ’60s, as we’re relentlessly reminded, were full of social and political commentary and criticism. They range from nakedly indignant (“Fortunate Son” by CCR) to poetic (“Blowin’ In The Wind” by Bob Dylan) to accidentally funny (“Cherokee People, Cherokee Pride” by Paul Revere & The Raiders) to terrible, desperate, and stretching it (“Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion). The music itself didn’t change much (outside of the work ethic of 50 million young Americans); after all, Vietnam didn’t end until 1975, except for the Vietnamese and Cambodians. But I digress.
Do we ever tire of hearing about ’60s counterculture? Yes, of course. It’s overrated and obnoxious. But we don’t tire of the music, and for good reason: It’s among the best ever recorded in human history.
In any other era, the Kinks would have been considered top of the heap. Having peaked in the late Sixties, however, they are relegated to supporting players in the great musical carnival that was playing out. As hip British songsmiths, they rarely even get mentioned in the same breath as the Stones, Beatles, Who, or Cream. The Kinks are one of the great underrated bands in history, especially when you dig deeper than their two or three classic rock radio staples.
Some bands attack or protest with anger or shaming; the Kinks used whimsy. “Ape Man” is a terrific example. At first blush it sounds like the daydreaming nonsense of just another lazy, sardonic hippie: “The only time that I feel at ease / Is swinging up and down in the coconut tree / Oh what a life of luxury, to be like an apeman.”
But writer/singer Ray Davies isn’t content to wax wispfully about paradise. “Ape Man” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, social commentary masked in playfulness. Rather than weigh in on the clash of civilizations, Davies takes on civilization itself. Inflation, overpopulation, vegetarians, politicians, the “motor traffic rumble”- you can have it, he’s off to the Cook Islands. Better to live like a savage than die in a nuclear war.
It’s a fantasy as old as civilization itself. Of course most of us don’t want to disengage completely with society, but we’ve all entertained thoughts like this after a bad day at work, or during a traffic jam or packed subway ride. This is the kind of song you blast on your plane to St. Lucia, Fiji, Seychelles, or any other remote, tropical corner of the blue marble to which you plan to escape…for a week or two.