The Kinks – Autumn almanac
It actually felt like autumn there for a week or two. Winter now for sure in this northern hemisphere. Once the Christmas lights arrive, autumn knows it’s not welcome any more. Those high street window displays give it the right bum’s rush.
There are very few songs paying tribute to autumn, have you noticed*. Plenty for spring, summer and winter but autumn seems to hold no glamour for songwriters. Just a stopping off point between the warm and cold rushes of July and December. A gloomy counterpoint to the growth and renewal and libido of spring. Maybe it’s a reflection of the discomfort we in the west feel about death. It’s more of a season for poetry, apparently, mists and mellow fruitfulness and all the rest. And poetry seems to fit better with musings of mortality than pop music.
*Although this link does a good job of making a case –
I suppose ‘California dreamin’ would be one (even though it’s a winter’s day, all the leaves are brown), although autumn is only really represented in that first line. Plus you couldn’t call it a tribute. It’s about loss, doubt, a desperate search for something. These are the things synonymous with autumn for most songwriters, those who bother with the season at all.
There is one glorious tribute to the poor relation of seasons. It’s by that great chronicler of Englishness, Ray Davies. A couple of things. The simple narrative switch is so refreshing in itself – a jaunty atmosphere, jolly even, things are on the up, to start anyway. Yes yes yes it’s my autumn almanac. Celebrate it.
Also trust Ray Davies to locate some essential qualities of his own people in autumn. The brass band, the cooing choir, the dancehall high hat, something communal. The kitchen sink symphony, the comfort of domesticity. Tea and toasted buttered currant buns. Some other qualities too. A certain strangeness. There’s something about the way he emotes “sweep them in my sack”, referring to the leaves blown by the breeze. Perhaps Ray – or his narrator - finds those multicoloured beauties more of an irritant than a decoration (in which case I’m with him). Plus there is that backwards tape in the fadeout – a very psych undercurrent.
The song takes a distinct turn around the midpoint. The hitherto homely details (football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sundays, Blackpool on my holidays, all sung in some kind of semi-parody Goons-alike voice) are seen in a different light. This is my street and I’m never gonna leave it. No I’m always gonna stay here, if I live to be 99. Even that age is totally strung out in the delivery, with something like anguish. It’s almost like a cry, a plea to broaden your horizons, to go out and experience what you can before it's gone, a grabbing by the lapels and a good shaking. All the people I meet, seem to come from my street. And I can’t get away... Every time this gets me. It’s unbearably poignant, like the best English social realism. Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, it’s up there.
So a kind of tribute to autumn. And a backdoor critique of smalltown Englishness (it could be smalltown anywhere, except for the detail). Or a paean to the deep pull of home. All of these things.
It is a work of quiet genius, a masterpiece of tiny accumulated detail. And a blinding pop song at any time of the year.