Songs that saved your life: The Kinks – “Days”

click image above to play clip

THE KINKS – Days (1968)
The first time I heard this song I welled up by the second chorus, thinking of my pet dog dying a few months earlier. “Days” thus became part of the firmament, because I only have a handful of songs I’ve reacted so strongly to upon first listen. Evidently the song has that kind of effect on people.

 

I’d cut my wrists to write a song as good as ‘Days’ – Bob  Geldof.

“Days” was written and recorded in the spring of 1968, following the first serious downturn in The Kinks‘ commercial fortunes. They’d already suffered stateside, as a performance ban had effectively killed their progress in America (blacklisted, following a 1965 no-pay, no-play fiasco in California). But now their records were stiffing in England as well: where once a run of 12 out of 13 singles made the Top 10, the last pair had peaked no higher than #20.

With fan interest subsiding, bassist Pete Quaife on the verge of quitting and leader Ray Davies‘ songwriting taking a decided turn away from the mod zeitgeist that had sustained the band through its early successes, “Days” has an elegiac bent, and this is why the song is so powerful. In terms of intent, Davies wrote it under the belief The Kinks’ days were numbered. He was always a disarmingly direct lyricist, so perhaps there’s nothing unexpected about the wistfulness herein:

Thank you for the days,
Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me…

Days I’ll remember all my life.
Days when you can’t see wrong from right.
You took my life, but then I knew that very soon you’d leave me.
But it’s all right, now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me.

But I think it’s the music that packs the killer punch here. Taken at a gentle, acoustic amble, “Days” flows like a pretty folk song through its first 80 seconds, until Davies’ masterful arrangement kicks back the curtain to take on an even deeper melancholy. It’s at this point – that second chorus which had me on the verge of tears – when Mick Avory‘s beautifully recorded, lightly delayed drums grow more assertive, when Dave Davies‘ harmony vocal raises the hairs on your arms, when the mellotron string accompaniment grows even richer, that “Days” gains its unstoppable momentum, encapsulating what’s so wonderful – and bittersweet – about companionship in all its myriad forms: it’s possibly impermanent, as life itself is fleeting, but the experience will stay with you forever. The tag line (“thank you for the days…”), followed immediately by a gorgeously, absurdly simple five-note melodic climb, seals the deal. It’s one of the most transcendant passages in pop music’s long history, I tell you.

The rest is icing. Wait until the double-timed drums punch a hole in the sky during the last chorus. Wait until the dramatic final call out, all rising bassline and searing strings and clattering percussion. “Days” temporarily restored The Kinks to the upper reaches of the U.K. charts, peaking at #12. A year later, the BBC elected to air this clip during its final music program of the decade, as if to acknowledge its potential as an ideal song for the closing credits to life’s little movies.

“Days” is one of the greatest songs of its year, or any other year. It’s my favourite Kinks song, and possibly my favourite song of the decade by a British artist. And if I have a say in what gets playlisted for my closing credits…

And though you’re gone,
You’re with me every single day, believe me…

 

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4 responses to “Songs that saved your life: The Kinks – “Days”

  1. You should hear the live choral version of this song, it’s absolutely fantastic. I downloaded this live NYC concert from last year and then cut out the individual tracks using Audacity.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121757293

    I had tickets to see Ray and his chorus at the end of 2010 but the tour was canceled due to health problems.

  2. Yes, lovely one, Len. I wish more of the Arthur songs would get the chorus treatment– “Arthur” and “Nothing to Say” seem particularly well suited for it. Of the songs that Ray has rearranged for the choir, I don’t think the version of “Do You Remember Walter?” “All Day and All of the Night” and “You Really Got Me” live up to the standard of the originals. But overall I’ve found the reinventions to be a welcome effort, and I’m happy to get a chance to see Ray play these in concert in any format.

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