the kinks’ plastic man wants to be ten feet long like king kong

Estimated reading time is 9 minutes.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO SAY why the Kinks fell out of favor as hit-makers, but by the end of 1968 they looked like they were already a part of rock & roll’s history. They were making music that veered off from most contemporary music pathways and as 1969 opened, remaining a Kinks fan was almost an act of defiance. The release of Plastic Man / King Kong didn’t make things better.

While 1968 had seen both the continued flowering of psychedelia and the beginning of a return to an earthier ‘roots’ music in rock & roll, the Kinks were making records that were neither. Both their singles and their albums were often flavored by Ray Davies’s affection for older traditions, including plain pop music and British music hall tunes. 

This was originally published as part of an article addressing plastics polluting our oceans. To read more on that topic, click here.

Davies also had a flair for camping it up. These factors made some of the Kinks’ records sound less than serious, if not actually giving them a goofy, cartoon-like quality. 

Their first major single of 1969, Plastic Man, was such a record, even though it addressed the supposedly soulless ‘plastic people’ that the youth of the times saw normal adults as being in the UK and US.

The record had a jaunty ‘retro’ feel to it—in the heady competition for radio play in ’69, it was more a novelty record that was out of place in the Top 40.

But jaunty and goofy and retro were nothing new to the Kinks . . .

 

Kinks Kwyet EP UK

Released in September 1965, KWYET KINKS was the group’s third EP in the UK. As that format was dead in the US, the four tracks here were used on the KINKS KINKDOM album in the States. Reprise took a fancy to A Well Respected Man and issued it as a single, which was a good-sized American hit in early ’66.

You really got me tired of waiting

In August 1964, the Kinks released You Really Got Me, one of the hardest and ‘heaviest’ rock & roll records yet released. It topped the British charts and announced the group’s presence with authority!

In October, they followed with All Day And All Of The Night, which was arguably harder, heavier, and better than You Really Got Me. It reached #2 in the UK. In January 1965, the somber Tired Of Waiting took the Kinks back to #1, giving them three smash hits in a six-month period. 

Over the next three years, they scored nine more Top 10 hits, with Sunny Afternoon reaching #1 in 1966. Then it all fell apart rather quickly. Careers in rock & roll were historically short-lived in the 1950s and ’60s, so a 3-year run at the top of the charts was a worthwhile accomplishment.

But during the same time, peers of the Kinks (notably the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Who) were just establishing a base for even greater accomplishments and successes, both artistically and commercially.

The personal and professional decisions and the events that led the Kinks to fall from the toppermost of the poppermost to being a golden oldie in a few years requires far more attention than I am going to give it here. But some of the blame lies on the directions that Raymond Douglas Davies took the band in his songwriting and his delivery of those songs. 1

 

PlasticMan comic 1 1943 1

Plastic Man was introduced in the first issue of Police Comics in 1941, and in 1943 he was finally given his own title (Plastic Man #1 above). In the hands of Jack Cole, Plastic Man was one of the wittiest and best-drawn superheroes of the Golden Age. Fortunately, the Kinks Plastic Man has absolutely nothing to do with the Plastic Man comic book.

Well respected follower of fashion

In 1965, Ray Davies introduced a new persona for himself as a songwriter and a singer: A Well Respected Man harkened back to an older sound in British music. And Ray’s singing was so affectatious as to make the record a bit of a novelty number—hardly what was expected from the hard-rocking band of 1964-1965. Nonetheless, it was a Top 10 hit on the Cash Box Top 100 in the US.

This was followed by the delightful, if ham-handed, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, where Davies’s vocal mannerisms were decidedly camp. And sounding even remotely gay in 1966 was not something that led to a long career in pop music. Nonetheless, it was a Top 10 hit in the UK.

The success of these records apparently inspired Ray to continue experimenting with idiosyncratic topics, old-time music traditions, and campy vocals.

The Kinks were able to get away with goofiness and nostalgia on these and a few other hits (Dead End Street and Autumn Almanac) because they were still riding their 15-minutes of fame accrued with those earlier hits in 1964-1965.

But later singles like Mr. Pleasant, Starstruck, and Picture Book were judged too weak for Pye to even release in the UK! And sales of their albums plummeted: SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS (1967) and THE KINKS ARE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY (1968) were gems that went unnoticed upon release. 2

 

Plastic people look the same

Released as a single in the UK in late March, Plastic Man / King Kong met with immediate problems: in the UK, the BBC supposedly refused to give Plastic Man airplay due to the word ‘bum’ in the song, which the BBC denied. The record peaked at a disappointing #31 in the UK. 3

In the US, the Kinks had sunk so low that Reprise didn’t even bother to release Plastic Man / King Kong. Consequently, many American fans didn’t know of its release until years later. 4

Here are the lyrics as I transcribed them from the record (punctuation imposed by me):

A man lives at the corner of the street,
and his neighbors think he’s helpful and he’s sweet
because he never swears and he always shakes you by the hand.
But no one knows he really is a plastic man.

He’s got plastic heart, plastic teeth and toes.
He’s got plastic knees and a perfect plastic nose.
He’s got plastic lips that hide his plastic teeth and gums,
and plastic legs that reach up to his plastic bum.

Plastic Man got no brain.
Plastic Man don’t feel no pain.
Plastic people look the same.
Kick his shin or tread on his face,
pull his nose all over the place—
you can’t disfigure or disgrace Plastic Man.

He’s got plastic flowers growing up the walls.
He eats plastic food with a plastic knife and fork.
He likes plastic cups and saucers ‘because they never break,
And he likes to lick his gravy off a plastic plate.

Plastic Man got no brain.
Plastic Man don’t feel no pain.
Plastic people look the same.
Kick his shin or tread on his face,
pull his nose all over the place—
you can’t disfigure or disgrace Plastic Man.

He’s got a plastic wife who wears a plastic mac,
and his children wanna be plastic like their dad.

He’s got a phony smile that makes you think he understands,
but no one ever gets the truth from Plastic Man.

 

Everybody wants power

The flip-side, King Kong, was a much ‘heavier’ number, and arguably the better selection as the hit side. With references to six-guns and hydrogen bombs, the song was a poke at America, one of the world’s reigning bullies. (Yes, there was the Soviet Union but they weren’t known for six-shooters.)

I’m King Kong and I’m ten feet long,
got a big six-gun and everybody is scared.
I’m King Kong, got a hydrogen bomb,
I can blow up your houses so you better beware.

Everybody wants power.
Everybody wants fame.
Everybody wants money.
Little man’s weak and big man’s strong,
Everyone wants to be King Kong.

I’m King Kong, I got so much money,
I can buy anybody who gets in my path.
I’m King Kong, and I’m big and strong,
I can blow up your houses so you better beware.

Everybody wants power.
Everybody wants fame.
Everybody wants money.
Little man’s weak and big man’s strong,
Everyone wants to be King Kong.

I’m King Kong and I’m ten feet long,
got a big six-gun and everybody is scared.

I’m King Kong, got a hydrogen bomb,
I can blow up your houses so you better beware.

Everybody wants power.
Everybody wants fame.
Everybody wants money.
Little man’s weak and big man’s strong,
Everyone wants to be King Kong.

On this side, there were hints of the sound that would emerge on the group’s ARTHUR album. Parts of Ray Davies’s vocal sound like they influenced Marc Bolan’s approach to singing with T-Rex a few years later.

 

Plastic Man: front cover for THE GREAT LOST KINKS ALBUM from 1973.

The Great Lost Kinks Album of 1973 collected fourteen tracks from 1966-1969. A few were from singles but most were previously unreleased. Overall, it was an uneven compilation but we Kinks fanatics loved it—except for the weirdly inappropriate cover art.

International picture sleeve gallery

While neither the UK nor the US saw fit to issue Plastic Man with a picture sleeve, Pye Records did issue sleeves in other countries. 

 

The Kinks' Plastic Man / King Kong picture sleeve from France.

France: Nice sleeve that probably would be nicer without the orange blocks that make up an unfinished border.

 

The Kinks' Plastic Man / King Kong picture sleeve from Germany.

Germany: The photo is from the cover photo sessions for the WE ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY album of early 1969.

 

The Kinks' Plastic Man / King Kong picture sleeve from Italy.

Italy: The photo is from the cover photo sessions for the WE ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY album of early 1969. This is my favorite of these sleeves.

 

The Kinks' Plastic Man / King Kong picture sleeve from Japan.

Japan: Innocuously mice sleeve of the group posing at the village green.

 

The Kinks' Plastic Man / King Kong picture sleeve from the Netherlands.

Netherlands: This is a rather goofy sleeve with three different types used for the group name and song titles (not counting the logo in the upper right corner).

 

The Kinks' Plastic Man / King Kong picture sleeve from Scandanavia.

Scandanavia: This is an attractive sleeve, if conservatively attractive. I had a pair of pants like Dave’s once upon a time . . .

God save the Kinks!

Neither Plastic Man nor King Kong found its way onto 1969’s ARTHUR, where neither really belonged. (And frankly, neither were good enough to take the place of the weakest track on the fantastic album.)

In 1972, King Kong was included on THE KINK KRONIKLES, a compilation that highlighted the group as both Top 40 hit-makers and brilliant rock artists. Oddly, Plastic Man was left on the shelf.

In 1973, Plastic Man was included on THE GREAT LOST KINKS ALBUM, a compilation of non-hits and unused album sides.

While not one of their greatest achievements, Plastic Man was an interesting single and deserved more exposure in 1969. As we diehard fans never tire of saying, “God save the Kinks!”

 

KingKong 1933 skyline 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is one of the models from the original 1933 movie King Kong with additions and embellishments by staff artists. While Ray Davies uses Kong to represent an overpowering threatening force, in the movie the great ape is the victim, not the villain. 

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   I focused this article on the Kinks on the UK charts, which more accurately reflects their aesthetic successes and turmoils. Their story in the US is even kinkier, as a ban by the musician’s union kept them from playing in front of American audiences for several years. This ban may also have affected the amount of airplay their singles received (or did not receive) from Top 40 radio.

Each of the first three British smash hits made the Cash Box and Billboard Top 10, making the Kinks one of the most important parts of the British Invasion of 1964-1965—a fact that often goes unremarked. They didn’t place another side in the American Top 10 until 1970.

2   I recall reading years ago that those two albums sold in the tens of thousands, losing money for the record companies involved.

3   The BBC denied banning the record for this reason but failed to give another reason for its not playing the Kinks new record.

4   In the Netherlands, Plastic Man reached the Top 20, one of the few instances where it hit big.

 

2 thoughts on “the kinks’ plastic man wants to be ten feet long like king kong”

  1. Hi!

    I appreciate your narrative about The Kinks in the late 1960s, and find it rather insightful, but it’s dismissive of some landmark music that they released. For instance, there is no mention of 1967’s “Waterloo Sunset,” which was a #2 hit in the UK (though only #74 stateside), and is widely regarded as one of the finest songs of the era. Its May 1967 release fell between “Dead End Street” (the previous November) and “Autumn Almanac” (in October of 1967), both of which were Top-5 UK hits in their own right. Rolling Stone Magazine ranks it at #42 in the Greatest Rock Songs of All Time.

    (Concurrently, the Dave Davies “solo” single “Death of a Clown” [recorded and performed by The Kinks, but featuring Dave] was a #3 hit.)

    Cheers,
    Benb Gallaher

    Reply
    • BENB

      Thanks for the comment.

      Your use of the word dismissive threw me, as it means “serving to dismiss or reject someone or something; having or showing a disdainful attitude toward someone or something regarded as unworthy of serious attention ” (Merriam-Webster). As I am none of the above nor did I do any of the above, I wondered what were you referring to. Then it struck me that the first sentence in the article was too inclusive and I think I saw your point!

      As published, that sentence read, “It’s difficult to say why the Kinks fell out of favor as hit-makers, but by the end of 1968 they looked like they were already a part of rock & roll’s history.”

      Corrected, it now reads: “It’s difficult to say why the Kinks fell out of favor as hit-makers in the US, but by the end of 1968 they looked like they were already a part of rock & roll’s history to American fans.”

      Thanks for pointing that out and keep on keepin’ on!

      NEAL

      PS: It has been estimated that in 1968-1969, Kinks 45s and LPs were only selling in the tens of thousands in the US, making them money-losers for Reprise Records. I am able to brag that I was one of those few thousand fans buying those records at that time. Suggested reading: “The Kinks’ ARTHUR Album and Related Singles 1969.”

      Reply

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