Since October 23 is (all right, was) my birthday, I’m going to indulge myself with one more song from the Kinks. So here’s “Victoria,” originally from Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), but here recorded live for the BBC in 1973.
And let’s send this one out especially to Strummer Dunn, who loves this song almost as much as I do.
Critics tend to think of The Village Green Preservation Society (1968) as the Kinks’ masterpiece, and understandably so — it’s a whole lot of awesome. But I’m probably even more fond of their next record, Arthur (1969). Whereas Village Green is predominantly nostalgic in tone, mourning the loss of traditions and values in an increasingly capitalist materialist world (or perhaps just tracing the waning of Britain as a world power and the waxing of America), Arthur is much more sophisticated, reflective, and self-critical.
It’s tough to sift through the layers of irony to know what Ray Davies is getting at: “Long ago, life was green / Sex was bad, called obscene, / And the rich were so mean.” At times, the song seems to be celebrating the old days, the height of the Empire, a time when Village Greens brought people together as a community, a time when Victoria was queen. But at other times, he’s throwing hard punches — or at least backhanded compliments. The second verse is classic and wry: “I was born (lucky me…) / In a land that I love / Though I’m poor, I am free. / For this land, I will fight; / For this land, I will die: / Let her sun never set.”
Easily one of the greatest songs about England ever written.