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Ray Davies: That's What Friends Are For

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Ray Davies: That's What Friends Are For

Ray Davies: That's What Friends Are For

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I hear this song and I'm transported back. I'm 15 years old, WORC Radio A-Go-Go in Worcester, Massachusetts crackles over a transistor radio, and I wait by the telephone for my crush Paul Ericson to call.

(Soundbite of song, "Tired of Waiting")

Mr. RAY DAVIES (Songwriter): (Singing) So tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you...

HANSEN: The songs of Ray Davies and the Kinks became a lifelong soundtrack for rock bands the world over, and today on my last broadcast as host of this program, I must admit an interview with the master songwriter has been on my bucket list for a long time. Through the years, other NPR hosts have beat me to the punch or the timing didn't work out.

But I'm happy to say that Ray Davies joins me now from our London bureau. Ray, the wait was worth it.

Mr. DAVIES: OK. It's nice to meet you at last.

HANSEN: We're talking to you because you have a new CD, "See My Friends." It's collaborations with big stars covering your songs - Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Spoon, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams and others we'll mention later. Did you ever consider the title, "Hear My Friends"?

Mr. DAVIES: I didn't. It's a good idea but "See My Friends" seems to be see my friends. It's friends like these, who needs enemies? It's a natural. When Spoon recorded it, it just fitted what the album was.

(Soundbite of song, "See My Friends")

Mr. DAVIES: (Singing) See my friends, Layin' 'cross the river...

The songs are like friends as well. Every one of these artists had a favorite Kinks song and it was really interesting to hear and surprising on occasions to hear what their choices were.

(Soundbite of song, "Better Things")

Mr. DAVIES: Bruce Springsteen really surprised. You know, he expressed some interest to be on the record. And I naturally thought it would be one of the usual suspects, you know, "You Really Got Me," "All Day and All of the Night." And he chose a song called "Better Things."

(Soundbite of song, "Better Things")

Mr. DAVIES (Musician): (Singing) Here's wishing you the bluest sky, and hoping something better comes tomorrow.

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Musician): (Singing) Hoping all the verses rhyme, and the very best the choruses to follow...

Mr. DAVIES: That was a minor, minor success for the Kinks in America in the 1980s when we were touring. But I thought about it and it really has some what I call Springstonian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

A little Bruce Springsteen in it and it seemed to be a natural. But it's the energy that everybody had on the record. I was expecting people to literally phone in their performances. But everybody gave the maximum, certainly Bruce.

HANSEN: And there's such a good contrast between both of your voices.

Mr. DAVIES: I know. I thought I had a strong voice 'til I sang with him.

(Soundbite of song, "Better Things")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN and Mr. DAVIES: (Singing) It's really good to see you rocking out and having fun, living like you just begun. Accept your life and what it brings. I hope tomorrow you'll find better things...

HANSEN: I have to ask you about the terrific British singer Paloma Faith, who sings "Lola." How did you find her?

Mr. DAVIES: They're all saying that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVIES: She found me. I was having a few days off - rare time when I had a holiday was in the West Country in a place called Sidmouth in Devon. And my daughter, Eva, she listens to a lot of different types of music but she recommended I work with Paloma. And in the west country in England you just don't always get a mobile signal. I found one hot spot on this hilltop in a field full of sheep.

And I was looking at this sheep and Paloma rang me. I was talking to a sheep and Paloma at the same time. And she said, you know, I know what you're thinking: it's a strange a girl singer would want to do this song. And I said, exactly. And she said she understands about the transsexual world and cabaret and burlesque. And we thought we'd turn it into, like, a burlesque performance. But she has got an incredibly soulful voice.

(Soundbite of song, "Lola")

Ms. PALOMA FAITH (Singer): (Singing) I met her in a club down in old Soho, where you drink champagne. It tastes just like cherry cola, C-O-L-A cola. She walks up to me and she asked me to dance. I asked her her name, in a dark brown voice she said Lola, L-O-L-A Lola, la, la, la, Lola...

HANSEN: I'm speaking with songwriter Ray Davies. I love the version with Jackson Browne that you do of "Waterloo Sunset." You were in a hospital when sort of comes from a memory of you being in the hospital?

Mr. DAVIES: Well, Waterloo is very pivotal in my life. I did a few months at Croydon College and I used to get the train there, change at Waterloo. I also was in the hospital - I had an accident - and a few fractures. My ward looked over the Thames. I don't think the hospital's there anymore, but I could see the Thames every morning when I woke up. And it's part of my musical heartbeat if you like.

(Soundbite of song, "Waterloo Sunset")

Mr. JACKSON BROWNE and Mr. DAVIES: (Singing) Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night...

Mr. DAVIES: When Jackson came to the studio and I hadn't thought of him to do "Waterloo Sunset." You know, he's a great singer-songwriter but he's from southern California and I thought maybe it's too English, this song. But when he started singing on his, you know, beaten up old Gibson guitar, he just drifted into this world, his vocal world. And it was difficult for me - it's like having a child, letting it go. So, I just let him drift with it. I thought my child was in safe hands. He was a mature adult.

And he drifted off into his version, and I kind of floated around with my vocal not to get in the way.

(Soundbite of song, "Waterloo Sunset")

Mr. BROWNE and Mr. DAVIES: (Singing) But chilly, chilly is the evening time, Waterloo sunset's fine. Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night...

HANSEN: It is my last broadcast on this program today, and we're trying to think of a song to go out. And I think my request would be the version of "Celluloid Heroes."


HANSEN: I mean, I remember my first visit to Hollywood Boulevard and as I was walking down the street, having your song in my head as I'm walking down the street. But here you're doing it with, gosh, it's Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVIES: Yeah. You know, "Celluloid Heroes," it's one of those songs that's a very personal song. But it means something to everybody who's been on that strip of, you know, Hollywood. And I wrote it because the duality. You know, once success walks hand in hand with failure, and it's a comment on the world I work in - show business, whatever you call it, entertainment, rock music - it does. I mean, you're as good as your last record. You're lucky if people remember the hits.

(Soundbite of song, "Celluloid Heroes")

Mr. JON BON JOVI and Mr. RICHIE SAMBORA and Mr. DAVIES: (Singing) Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star. And everybody's in show biz, doesn't matter who you are. But those who are successful, be always on your guard. Success walks hand in hand with failure, along the Hollywood Boulevard. You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard...

Mr. DAVIES: I grew up in a family, had all these sisters who went to the movies a lot and they had their heartthrob heroes, but they come from another generation, they'd have people like Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and people like that. And people do burn out. People have great careers but it's soon over.

There's something permanent there on the boulevard. It's the endless quest. People still pursue that dream and it's really an important part of what I call Americana. And I'm sad you're leaving the airwaves. You're moving on to better things, hopefully?

HANSEN: Yes. It's a personal decision. I'm going to move myself to where I'm happy, which is on the eastern shore on Delaware right by the ocean and I'm going to pursue some new opportunities. I mean, you get to a certain age and you want to try something different, so. And I've been...

Mr. DAVIES: You know what?

HANSEN: ...doing it for a long time.

Mr. DAVIES: I might see you there.

HANSEN: But I do have one more question, and I've saved it for last, because I've learned in my long career that if it's a tough question, ask it last, because if you walk out of the studio at least I have an interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And you know it's coming up. Is there a possibility of a reconciliation between you and your brother Dave and the reformation of the Kinks as a band?

Mr. DAVIES: Well, we met last week and we are reconciled to not doing it anymore. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVIES: Reconciliation, I think, is a very good word. If I perform again with my brother, it would not be in a position of peace and harmony because that's not a great situation for us. The fire and the energy is the important thing. It's the thing that made us fight and punch our way into a career. Nobody was going to do it for us.

And I hated to be sedate and, you know, sitting down, discussing things in a sensible way. If I worked with my brother again, it would have fire and energy. And as long as we continue to talk, I think we will do something. We're on the verge of coming to some agreement on how to move forward. So, I am hopeful.

HANSEN: I think we all are.

Mr. DAVIES: And I'd just like to say on behalf of everybody who you've ever interviewed, you've been wonderful in this interview, as you probably have been in all your others, and I wish you well. I'm sure everybody here, and all the listeners, wish you well.

HANSEN: They do. And coming from you that really means a lot to me. I thank you kindly.

The inimitable Ray Davies. His new CD is called "See My Friends" and he joined us from London. What a pleasure. Thank you.

Mr. DAVIES: Thanks, Liane. Bye.

(Soundbite of song, "Better Things")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN and Mr. DAVIES: (Singing) ...wishing you the bluest sky. Hoping all the verses rhyme, hope that all your verses rhyme. Hope tomorrow you'll find better things.

HANSEN: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION. Thanks, everyone. I'm Liane Hansen.

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