How the Kinks Found Some Footing With ‘Schoolboys in Disgrace’
Some say the concept album was born with the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Others will claim the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow was first. Another candidate is The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, which was released in late 1968. Certainly, all carry a theme of sorts, but unlike the Beatles or the Pretty Things, Ray Daives of the Kinks took the ball and ran with it. .
From 1969's Arthur onward, Kinks albums came with some sort of conceptual tie. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround: Part One, Muswell Hillbillies and both Preservation LPs all told stories loosely held together, some working better than others. Davies seemed obsessed with conceptual work throughout the first half of the '70s, but by the time of the Soap Opera album in 1975, the concepts had overtaken the songs. Schoolboys in Disgrace saw that turn around.
Released in November 1975, Schoolboys was a step out of the conceptual arena for the Kinks. Though it was still held together by a theme, carried over in part from the Preservation LPs, the songs were more concise, direct and straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. It was a return to a simpler way of doing things for Davies and featured some of his best songs in years to boot.
The opening track, "Schooldays," signals the start of the album's story, but it works just as well as a stand-alone Kinks song, with just Davies and piano at first. By the second song, "Jack the Idiot Dunce," things turn toward the record's concept, which has something to do with a "naughty little schoolboy" whose punishment at the hands of teachers leads him to an evil adulthood.
While the album is spotty (parts of it recall the sounds of '50s pop and doo-wop), it shows signs of life throughout, especially on the side-two opener, "I'm in Disgrace," one of the band's most underrated songs, complete with a prime Dave Davies-powered guitar riff at its center. "The Hard Way" also echoes this vintage Kinks riffing. (The song has been covered by the Knack and the Sonics.)
The Kinks took the album on the road as a theatrical presentation -- even sporting schoolboy outfits -- but by the time the tour wrapped up in 1976, Davies and the band were ready to move on. Schoolboys in Disgrace was the last record they made for RCA Records, and the last in their long run of themed albums. In 1977, they got even more on track with a new label and a new album (Sleepwalker) that would be the start of a rise in fame and fortune for the band.