I spent a lot of very young years listening to radio stations which would frequently play ‘classic rock’, and as such, I was introduced to many of the great British rock acts of the ’60s, such as today’s artist, The Kinks. However, though I probably listened to ‘Sunny Afternoon’ countless times growing up, it’s name completely escaped me for the longest time. Around this time, I also happened to forget about the song until I happened upon it on a compilation CD. After giving it a listen, memories of hearing in my younger years flooded back, and it then became a permanent fixture in my musical collection.
Of course, I always viewed the song as a rather typical ‘summer song’, due to the frequent mentions of a sunny afternoon. The social satire never really made sense to me until I was a bit older, so I never understood this song to have somewhat of a deeper meaning, so when I realised this was indeed the case, I grew even more in love with the song.
The Kinks’ fourth album, 1966’s Face To Face, is often considered as one of rock’s first concept albums. With a rather loose underlying theme of social observation and critique, it was either fully appreciated by the more observant listeners, or it passed over the heads of casual listeners, who still were able to appreciate the record as a collection of great tunes.
‘Sunny Afternoon’ however is a unique little tune that looks at the life of a member of high society whose wealth has been taken by the tax man, leaving him with nothing but his luxrious life. A satirical track of sorts, The Kinks’ Ray Davies said that he had composed the song whilst sick at home for a period of time. “The only way I could interpret how I felt was through a dusty, fallen aristocrat who had come from old money as opposed to the wealth I had created for myself,” Davies said. Though the lyrics could see the song’s character as somewhat sympathetic, Davies made a conscious decision to veer away from this line of thinking, saying “I turned him into a scoundrel who fought with his girlfriend after a night of drunkenness and cruelty.”
While ‘Sunny Afternoon’ is frequently overlooked in The Kinks’ oeuvre in favour of some of their more rock-based tunes, the satirical lyrics and somewhat baroque-style pop influences within the song cement it as one of rock’s little oddities that is well worth rediscovering from time to time.