The Kinks’ classic 1968 album “The Village Green Preservation Society” has always needed some fervent champions to keep its reputation alive, or even to keep it in print, in the 50 years since it first came out and proved to be a massive flop. You could give a name to the fervent cult that’s made a five-decade mission out of evangelizing for the album. Something like, say, the “Village Green Preservation Society” Preservation Society.
A meeting will come to order Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, as the Wild Honey Foundation presents its annual benefit concert at the restored movie palace. After wildly successful tributes to Buffalo Springfield and the Band the previous two Februaries, this year the mass homage moves on to the early catalog of the Kinks — with a special focus on “Village Green,” which will be played through in its entirety as the first half of the show.
Among the guest vocalists are some singers and bands with cults of their own: Mike Mills of R.E.M., Dan Wilson, Mark Eitzel, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey of the dB’s, Jason Falkner, Jody Stephens of Big Star, Freedy Johnston, Syd Straw, the Cars’ Elliott Easton, Redd Kross, the Three O’Clock, Terry Reid, Mike Viola and literally dozens more. In all, promises event organizer Paul Rock, close to 40 songs will be spread around the two sets, including well-known favorites like “You Really Got Me,” “Waterloo Sunset” and “Well Respected Man” after intermission for any fair-weather Kinks fans who didn’t recognize the “Village” songs that came before.
“Village Green” is “the north star of Kinks records for me,” said singer-songwriter Chris Price, taking a break during full-cast rehearsals at a North Hollywood studio Thursday night. “It’s one of my top five albums ever made.” The people who feel that way long constituted “a club,” he figures. “And it still is. It’s maybe a bigger club now, but it’s still an insiders’ thing — a bunch of outsiders in an insiders’ club.”
It’s hard to think of many other major bands that have an album in their catalog that most diehard fans consider their best that also happens to be among their weakest selling. The Rolling Stones, certainly, don’t have anything comparable to that. Well, hold on — Andrew Sandoval, who produced the boxed set commemorating the album’s 50th anniversary that came out a few months ago, can think of one.
“’Pet Sounds’ at one time was that for the Beach Boys, but it is no longer,” said Sandoval, who will also be singing a number in Saturday’s show and backing up other performances. “Now, more people know that record more than know a lot of what were considered the more classic or hit Beach Boys records of the ‘60s. So I think history has kind of changed the narrative with ‘Village Green,’ too” — albeit probably with not as pronounced a turnaround. “I still don’t know what to expect from the audience” and what their devotion to that particular record will be, he said. “I just know we’re recreating the record as faithfully as possible, with every instrument and detail within the instrumentation.”
Unlike the Buffalo Springfield show, which had a mini-set from Richie Furay to cap the night last year, and the Band show before it, which had a guest turn from Garth Hudson, none of the surviving Kinks could be persuaded to come join the party — even though guitarist Dave Davies did participate in one of the very first Wild Honey benefits in 1995. “We tried very hard,” said Rock. “Everyone gets older, so traveling gets harder.” Ray Davies doesn’t like to travel overseas anymore, his brother only does periodically, and drummer Mick Avory didn’t respond. (Avory quit in 1984 and the band broke up, seemingly for good, in 1996, though rumors of a potential thaw between the eternally battling brothers, who are now in their 70s, always persist.)
But nearly everyone interviewed at rehearsal Thursday night had some sort of tangible connection to the band. Said Clem Burke, Blondie’s drummer, “I had drinks with Mick Avory at his house in Barnes a couple of Christmases ago, and he and his wife came to the show when we played in London a couple weeks ago. And in 1978, right when ‘Parallel Lines’ was being released, we opened for the Kinks for six weeks. The legendary one was in Atlanta, with Tom Petty, Blondie and the Kinks, when there was a big fight about room on stage between Tom and Ray.”
Carla Olson of the Textones chimed in with her own fond memories. “I saw them in Austin for the ‘Schoolboys in Disgrace’ tour, and (Ray and Dave) were lobbying Heineken bottles at each other.” Olson will be performing a non-“Village” song, “Top of the Pops,” that she used to do in the late ‘70s with the Violators, a band she was in in Austin with Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s and Eddie Munoz of the Plimsouls. “I didn’t have to learn anything” for this performance, she joked. Her fondest memory: “The first single that I bought was ‘You Really Got Me,’ when I was like maybe 11, 12 years old. My girlfriend and I danced till we were wringing wet, playing the single over and over again.”
Syd Straw came over to the conversation and showed everyone a screen capture. “Let me just say that I Googled this show to see about getting tickets for some friends — I Googled ‘Wild Honey, Village Green, Kinks show.’ You know what came up? I’ll show you. I have proof. What came up was, ‘Sexy Russian babes looking to meet North Hollywood men. I don’t make things up.” She showed us side by side images of the album cover and a presumably wild and kkinky Russian babe as proof. “They’ll stop at nothing to sell this show!”
But seriously, said Straw, “It’s very good to be temporarily inundated by the Kinks. I love it. It’s very good time traveling. It reminds me of the way I thought men were.”
“Village Green” was a distinctly peculiar album to come out in 1968, consumed with the pros and cons of nostalgia at a time when Ray Davies’ flower-child peers were hoping for a revolution and had little interest in looking back.
“It’s an album about harsh reality versus memory, and about the way that we rely on nostalgia to make us feel better in the present,” said Price. “Ray seemed to be really interested in ripping that away. He was very much at odds with what was happening (in the rock world). I think he reacted to the counterculture with an eye on what used to be. And perhaps that was the right thing to do, looking back now, but at the time it kind of marginalized them, which I think was a shame. The touring ban didn’t help either,” he added, referring to a legal quagmire that kept the Kinks from making good on their chart success on U.S. stages for years to come (although they ultimately became an American arena act in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s).
The musical director of Saturday’s show, as with all Wild Honey benefits, will be Rob Laufer, whom Rock estimates puts in 200 hours getting the arrangements just right — which includes offering instruction to a huge cast of musicians and backup singers, and also, in this case, a string section, woodwinds and a giant harp. This year, Laufer has an unofficial co-pilot in Andrew Sandoval, who has put in even more hundreds of hours listening to the “Preservatin” album and its outtakes as he assembled the boxed set over a period of years with the help of Ray Davies.
Sandoval was grieving Thursday night; he was the manager of the Monkees and his friend Peter Tork had died earlier in the day. But he was finding uplift in the Wild Honey community coming together again in service of autism charities, and in service of reviving classic rock material that even the long-dormant Kinks didn’t have much of a chance to play live back in their heyday. The super-deluxe version of the album that was issued in the fall — containing five CDs, three LPs, three 45s, a hardback book and much more — was a dream come true for Sandoval, who relayed the story of his fixation.
“I bought my first copy of the album in 1987, when I was 15, in San Diego,” Sandoval explained. “I lived in L.A., and my father and I drove down there to buy this record down there because no record store in L.A. had it. It wasn’t available on CD or cassette, was totally out of print of vinyl, and there weren’t even used copies at stores like Rhino. So we drove two hours to get a record that I had just read about, and had heard songs on compilations. It went from that point to today, when it’s my favorite album of all time by any artist.
“In 2004, I got to do a three-CD reissue,” Sandoval continued, “and then 14 years later got to revisit it with ray Davies, and it was a total dream come true. The 14 years between the two things were spent finding more tapes and gaining his trust to finally get access to the things that he had personally. Because it’s such a personal record to him. The demos and things like that that he let us put on, he was so aggrieved at even letting anybody hear them. When he made the record, he didn’t even let anyone hear the vocals or see the lyrics to the songs, because they were so personal, and he wanted to have a direct communication with his audience — even his band. He had something he wanted to express as a 24-year-old, and it’s this timeless thing — an expression of loss and friendship and nostalgia and regret, and questioning whether all those feelings are valid or not.”
Saturday’s concert will be hosted, for the third year in a row, by Variety’s Chris Morris. Tickets benefit the Autism Think Tank of New Jersey, which Rock — the parent of a teenaged autistic son, whose condition has improved to the point that he can now attend the concerts — says will likely net about $25,000 from the show, with $150,000 raised over the years. The show is close to sold out, but balcony seats are available here.