KingKong 1933 skyline 1500

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

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 …

 

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 that 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

 

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

 

The Kinks - Plastic Man [Beat Club 1969]

Plastic people look the same

Re­leased as a single in the UK during 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.

 

The Kinks - King Kong

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 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!”

 

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.

 

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