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Andy Miller, on “Sitting By the Riverside” (The Kinks)

September 24, 2009

“Sitting By The Riverside” was probably recorded in July 1968; it was definitely performed by The Kinks during their appearance on Late Night Line-Up at the end of the month. Yet oddly it was absent from the twelve-track version of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society prepared by Ray Davies for release in September. “This is a fishing song,” he said in November. “I went fishing a lot when I was about eight, ” and it may be t4241_85671803250_708108250_1886815_6638871_nhat the song’s inclusion on the finished album owes more to considerations of pacing and flow than to its nominal subject matter. By the illustrious standards of its predecessors, “Sitting By The Riverside” is a slight, if charming, piano and accordion (i.e. Mellotron) shuffle, two minutes to pause and cast your metaphorical eye on the waters before tuning the record over. However, Davies being Ray Davies, there is something awry in this picture of riparian bliss. Anxiety shrouds the riverbank. The singer needs to be “calmed” and “pacified,” not just loved. He sounds exhausted, utterly passive, happy to let the water pass him by–at last he can “close his eyes.” But when he does so, a dizzying rush of instruments–memories, or fears–threatens to overwhelm him. The second of these gentle cacophonies (at 1’55” into the song), mixed with the melancholy image of a willow tree (“Oh, golly gee, it is heaven to be like a willow tree…”), is an instance of Davies’ production and songwriting skills combining to produce something richly impressionistic. At the song’s close, the fog clears and the singer is left surveying the view with a bottle of wine, suspended half-way between a harmless sunny afternoon’s lazing and a more insidious self-regarding torpor, like the phenomenal cat at its journeys’ end, high in a tree, eating itself forever.

–from Andy Miller, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, a volume in the 33 1/3 series.

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