With each of the long-running 1960s artists that had somehow lasted into the late 1970s, there was a milestone that I call “The First Album That Came Out After I Became a Fan.” In other words, I’d been digging into their back catalogs, but look! here’s was a brand new record as well!
So for example, with The Rolling Stones, that record was Some Girls, for The Who, it was Who Are You, and for The Kinks, that record was 1979’s Low Budget.
My problem with Low Budget was simple: outside of the title track, I really didn’t care for it all that much. But I was clearly alone, as The Kinks rode their re-tooled late-70s hard rock to #11 on the U.S. charts — still the highest-charting album they’ve ever had here — and straight into the arenas that Ray had been coveting for quite some time.
But that was fine, because they were able to make a document of their 1979-1980 arena tour that still stands a pretty good sampling of their overstuffed song catalog, juxtaposing riff-filled early singles with Low Budget tracks, key rockers named after people from their klassic period, and relative obscurities like “Prince of the Punks” and the “The Hard Way,” a throwback from Schoolboys in Disgrace.
With a guitar sound that sounds close to The Clash’s “Guns on the Roof,” itself a clear rip of “I Can’t Explain,” which of course was Pete Townshend trying to be Ray Davies, “The Hard Way” was a gem buried on an obscure album that suddenly got put front and center. And done at punk speed, “The Hard Way” set the tone for the rest of One For The Road: hey punk rockers, we invented this playing fast shit, and we can still do it, so we’re going to try and reclaim “David Watts” from The Jam and “Stop Your Sobbing” from Chrissie Hynde.
Which, for some reason, was perfect for me in 1980. I really enjoyed the energy, stripped-down (with some studio overdubs because of course) arrangements and the overall “can you believe The Kinks are now an arena rock band?” goofiness that surrounded the whole thing.
And all of that was encapsulated in “The Hard Way:” the big chords, extraneous keyboards, Ray’s liberties with his lyrics, Mick Avory double-timing on the chorus, and Dave enjoying the fuck out his solos.
“The Hard Way (Live)”
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