When the Kinks’ Beloved ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ Flopped
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society was both ahead of and behind the times when it arrived on Nov. 22, 1968.
A critical success, but commercial disappointment at the time, the LP eventually became the Kinks’ bestselling studio album – prompting frontman Ray Davies to once refer to it as “the most successful flop of all time.”
Davies got the idea for a concept record about small-town life when the Kinks recorded the song "Village Green" in 1967 during the sessions for Something Else by the Kinks.
The rural snapshots seemed to capture his imagination. He wrote insightful and engaging songs about memories, nostalgia, eccentric village characters and acceptance, or rejection, of the changing times. The result was the audio equivalent to the scrapbook Davies sings about in "Picture Book."
The sounds of the Village Green album matched its subject matter: folksy and baroque, with an emphasis on acoustic strumming and symphonic arrangements. Most of the orchestral sounds heard on the LP were courtesy of legendary session man Nicky Hopkins playing the Mellotron.
Although the Kinks’ “pinky in the air” approach was an extension of recent hits like "Autumn Almanac" and "Days" (the latter was actually recorded during the Village Green sessions), when all of these songs were placed together, the album suggested a band that was out of step with the late ’60s. Even reviewers who heaped praised on Village Green Preservation Society couldn’t help but shake their heads at a group that was looking backward while war protesters were obsessed with the present and hippies were dreaming of a future.
Listen to the Kinks Perform 'Picture Book'
But is this why Village Green Preservation Society failed to connect with rock fans at first? Didn’t the back-to-basic approach of the Band and Paul McCartney’s dance hall obsessions sound just as antiquated in 1968? Maybe the album’s initial failure also can be blamed on the lack of a strong single. "Starstruck" was the only one released from the LP. One can’t help think that the title track or "Picture Book" would have been a better choice.
Regardless, the album (which Davies wanted to turn into a double LP, but settled on a 15-track single record) marked the end of an era for the Kinks. It became their first LP to not chart in the U.K. and appeared to slam the door on any future commercial ambitions in their home country.
Things were not as dire in the U.S., where the album came out in January 1969, even though it remains the only original Kinks album to fail to graze the U.S. charts. Village Green also was the last time the founding Kinks members would record together, after bassist Pete Quaife left the band in early 1969.
But Village Green Preservation Society would live on in many ways. Davies, pleased with the results if not the public’s reaction, would continue his efforts with two more Preservation albums, and he considers them a trilogy. The LP would become well respected as time passed, landing spots of “Greatest Albums Ever” lists and inspiring hordes of indie rockers in the process.