"A Gallon of Gas" 45 RPM single
This blog has been overdue for a Kinks entry for awhile now, so I might as well do one today. As anyone who has followed the Kinks’ storied history knows, The Kinks have gone through several distinct phases, both commercially and artistically. First, there was the Era Of Initial Success (1964-66): The Kinks, starting with “You Really Got Me”, (and ending with “Sunny Afternoon”) had several hits in the U.S. Then there was what I call the Era Of Limited Commercial Success (1967-69): The Kinks failed to score a U.S. Top 40 hit, but they release a series of critically acclaimed concept albums. There was a brief “revival” period in the early 1970’s, when The Kinks, buoyed by the commercial success of “Lola” (peak U.S. chart position: #9) and “Celluloid Heroes” (U.K. Top 20), saw their commercial fortunes restored, but once they signed with RCA Records in 1973, they seemed to be doomed to once again releasing low-selling concept albums.
The band’s move to Arista Records in 1976 seemed to be a turning point. “Low Budget” (1979) was their third album for Arista and eventually became their best-selling album in the U.S. By now, the band lineup had changed somewhat from what it had been in the 1960’s. Ray Davies (lead vocals, guitars), Dave Davies (vocals, lead guitar), and Mick Avory (drums) remained from the original lineup (together, they constituted three-fourths of the original lineup), but in addition, Jim Rodford (bass guitar) and Ian Gibbons (keyboards) joined the band; both would remain until 1984, when the departure of Mick Avory helped signal the end of The Kinks’ salad days. It was not a concept album in the sense of being a rock opera, but most of the songs seem to be thematically linked, and the theme is that hard times have befallen us. Both sides of today’s featured single, “A Gallon of Gas” b/w “Low Budget” are related to this theme.
“A Gallon of Gas”, along with “Catch Me Now I’m Falling”, are the two tracks from the album that deal with the album’s subplot: hard times for America in the global economy, and the nation’s corresponding loss of prestige. The song is a simple blues melody; the keyboards are muted for this track, with the song driven primarily by the Davies brothers guitars, complemented well by Rodford and Avory. The lyrics – about a man who has bought a brand new Cadillac, but who can’t afford gas for it – puts a humorous spin on the gas crisis of the late 1970’s: “I went to my local dealer to see if he could set me straight/He said there’s a little gas going but I’d have to wait/But he offered some red hot speed and some really high grade hash/But a gallon of gas can’t be purchased anywhere for any amount of cash”. The song sounds a bit dated, but from a lyrical standpoint, it sounds as if it could have been written more recently. And here’s an extra verse, from the long version: “I love your body work, but you’re really no use/How can I drive you when I got no juice?/Because it’s stuck in neutral and my engine’s got no speed/And the highways are deserted and the air smells unnaturally clean”. As the liner notes for the CD point out, given the fact that Ray Davies dissected the carcass of British imperialism and class structure so viciously on such albums as “Arthur” and the “Preservation” albums, this is a surprisingly lighthearted (and perhaps even sympathetic) look at the Carter era United States.
The B-side, “Low Budget”, is such a good song that when I started researching this entry, I thought that “Low Budget” was the A-side and “A Gallon of Gas” was the B-side. Only when I checked a Kinks discography did I discover that it was the other way around. “Low Budget” starts with with a simple, mid-tempo Dave Davies melody; although some of the tracks on the album feature keyboards more prominently, that is not the case with this song. According to Dave Davies (in the liner notes of the “Low Budget” CD), the title track was recorded on the second take, with live drums and live guitars, and the song does have a “live in studio” feel to it, in keeping with the back-to-basics attitude of the album. The rhythm section of Rodford and Avory makes a difference here, giving the song a solid, punchy rock beat. And as Ray Davies noted, “I really got it to be a good dance record on the re-mix”; he felt it passed the test when he heard it in a Stockholm disco and “it knocked the balls off everything else.” Although the lyrics are about someone who has fallen on hard times, the plight of this man is described humorously: “Even my trousers are giving me pain/They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn’t complain/They squeeze so tight so I can’t take no more/They’re size 28 but I take 34”. And check out this extra lyric, cut from the final version of the song: “Quality costs, but quality wastes/So I’m giving up all of my expensive tastes/Caviar and champagne are definite no’s/I’m acquiring a taste for brown ale and cod roes”. This single did not chart in the U.S., but “Low Budget” became a staple of AOR stations for many years, and the song would become a staple of The Kinks’ live show. Unlike many of The Kinks’ singles from this era (which included picture sleeves), “A Gallon of Gas” was issued with a standard paper sleeve and the label has the standard Arista logo from the late 1970’s.