Friday, April 28, 2017

Certain Songs #863: The Kinks – “Mindless Child of Motherhood” | Medialoper

Album: The Kink Kronikles
Year: 1969

I know that I’m spending over a month writing about the amazing oeuvre of The Kinks, because the songwriting of Raymond Douglas Davies has spoken so clearly to me for most of my life, but the irony is that my favorite Kinks song might not be “Till The End of The Day” or “Shangri-La” or “Waterloo Sunset” but rather this b-side written by David Russell Gordon Davies.

And I swear that I’m not even being contrary: that’s how beautiful, how powerful and how wonderful I think “Mindless Child of Motherhood” is. It can stand with pop songs that are universally acclaimed as being among the greatest ones ever written.

When he was 15, Dave Davies got a girl pregnant, followed by his mother lying to him by telling him that the girl wanted nothing to do with him, so he never saw his daughter. It was clearly a key incident in his life, as it came out in more than one song, notably “Funny Face,” from Something Else by The Kinks, the solo single “Susannah’s Still Alive” and finally, the crashing, cathartic “Mindless Child of Motherhood.”

Starting off with a rolling bass, rumbling guitar and delicate harpsichord, “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” suddenly crashes into drum rolls and power chords as Dave pulls no punches about his pain, with his lead guitar — which will never abandon him! — echoing nearly every line.

I know that it’s not fair
To bear a bastard son
But why do you hide there
When we could have shared a love?

Then, during the pre-chorus Ray comes in, singing the low harmony — he knows what’s coming, and he just wants to be supportive of his little brother, who is clearly working through some issues.

How long must I travel on
To be just where you are?
How long must I travel on
To be just where you arrrrrrrrre?

And then, with a quick build, “Mindless Child of Motherhood” completely explodes into its chorus, with Mick Avory trying to talk Dave down of the ledge with crash cymbals, but failing at every turn.

And then there’s the eerie high-pitched harmony vocal on the chorus. Who is it? Is it Ray? Is it Rasa? Is it an overdubbed Dave? It’s so weird and incongruous that you almost get distracted from utter despair that Dave is venting on the harrowingly glorious chorus. Almost.

I was your friend
I was a fool
I feel for you, though we’re far apart
I see your face
Lost without trace
I see your mind, just an empty space

Mindless child of motherhood
You have lost the thing that’s good
Mindless child of motherhood
You have lost the thing that’s good

This is followed up with the most sublime music The Kinks have ever created — Dave’s guitars swirling in and around a keyboard (unless it’s another guitar) and Mick Avory stop-timing with his snare and crash and the whole thing is haunting and lovely and uplifting.

That’s what’s so amazing about “Mindless Child of Motherhood:” the vocals and lyrics are one long scream from hell, but the music sounds like the chimes of heaven itself. It’s that tension that makes “Mindless Child of Motherhood” infinitely listenable, sad and uplifting at the same time, and an absolute peak for one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever.

P.S. Wikipedia tells me that Dave finally met his daughter in 1993.

“Mindless Child of Motherhood”

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