February 19, 2011

A Storytelling Lyric Appreciation of “Come Dancing” by the Kinks

Filed under: Entertainment — boomaga @ 6:23 am


The Kinks were a good band, historically an important band, but maybe not a “great” band.  Musically this song by Ray Davies is not overly complicated to say the least, just a I – V – I / IV- I – V- I.    But these lyrics tell a story far beyond its scant syllables.


They put a parking lot on a piece of land
Where the  supermarket used to stand
Before that they put up a bowling alley

On the site that used to be the local Palais.
That’s where the big bands used to come and play.
My sister went there on a Saturday.

 Come dancing, 
 All her boyfriends used to come and call. 
 Why not come dancing, it's only natural. 

We’ve introduced the theme, we have a time setting, we have two main characters, all with great economy and direct language. The marking of time by changing structures in places we remember from childhood gives us a nostalgic feeling, and here it also brings us back over a chunk of time which is marked in decades without having to specify a year or other benchmark event. We’re in the same spot, and time passes backwards over us. “They” put up a bowling alley, they put up a supermarket, they put up a parking lot,
which has in itself a sadness, being a emptiness where something once was – a nothing replacing something functional and vital, something recreational and social, and finally beginning with a place of courtship and celebration. We also have some lovely alliteration, “parking lot” “piece of land” matching “Palais.” We have a narrator’s point of view and the other character, his sister – she goes regularly, so we can infer her age, and he does not, and we can infer his.

Another Saturday, another date.
She would be ready but she’d always make him wait.
In the hallway, in anticipation,
He didn’t know the night would end up in frustration.
He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week
All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek.

We have an implied time of day, we have a repeated word signalling repeating action (Another… another…) Then we have a classic joke: a woman’s psychological trick. Our boy knows his sister’s scheme, and is amused, and maybe not entirely unsympathetic, towards his sister’s date. He must have been told by one of the poor blokes how much money was being splashed out for their night on the town, and may have even overheard the complaint that he was expecting more affection for that much outlay.

Come dancing,
That’s how they did it when I was just a kid,
And when they said come dancing,
My sister always did.

My sister should have come in at midnight,
And my mum would always sit up and wait.
It always ended up in a big row
When my sister used to get home late.

Again, moving forward in time, we have a total setting, we have emotions, we have a new character. Just in case you forgot she’s a teenager

Out of my window I can see them in the moonlight,
Two silhouettes saying goodnight by the garden gate.

Sex is the furthest thing from this world – this is all still very couched and cushioned in genteel 1950’s prudery. But still he is interested enough to watch from his window. This is revealing of his age and condition. In the studio recording of course they play an angry yelling female voice here, the girl’s mother shooing away the beau.

The day they knocked down the Palais
My sister stood and cried.
The day they knocked down the Palais.
Part of her childhood died, just died.

This is the bridge, this is a great bridge, this does exactly what a bridge is supposed to do and does it so well. This moves us forward in time, this moves us to a different emotion. It’s pronounced as though it’s a capitalized event that everyone remembers.

Now, here’s the lyric that just blows me away. We’re back to the jaunty feeling of verse 1 and we’re back to the very first scene. We rocket forward in time and land in the narrator’s adulthood, and it just so happens that he is the singer of the band we’re listening to and claiming this as autobiographical.

Now I’m grown up and playing in a band,
And there’s a car park where the Palais used to stand.
My sister’s married and she lives on an estate.
Her daughters go out, now it’s her turn to wait.

 She lets them get away with things she never could, 


Brilliant full-circle ! This much narrative usually takes a whole novel. And the next line not only sets up the last chorus, but changes the interaction

But if I asked her I wonder if she would,

Come dancing,
Come on sister, have yourself a ball.
Don’t be afraid to come dancing,
It’s only natural.

Come dancing,
Just like the Palais on a Saturday.
And all her friends would come dancing
Where the big bands used to play.

Lyrics (c) 1982 Ray Davies


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