The Essentials: One for the Road by the Kinks

What makes a go-to album a go-to album? It’s hard to say, as what’s go-to for me may not be go-to for you. In the case of the Kinks’ live One for the Road, a double-LP set released in June 1980, there are a myriad of reasons why it’s my most-played Kinks album. In a fashion, it’s little more than a live greatest-hits package released to cash in on their late-‘70s renaissance, when they transitioned to arena rockers after signing with Arista Records in 1977, featuring a mix of the band’s classic hits from the 1960s, a few gems from the earlier ‘70s, and a half dozen tracks from Low Budget, the 1979 studio set that cemented their comeback. Yet it’s also one of the greatest live sets to ever grace my turntable, coming across as if it was processed in spatial audio long before that gimmick became a thing.

There, center stage, is Ray Davies, looking dapper in sport coat and thin tie. There, to his side, is brother Dave, cranking out killer riff after killer riff and glorious solos, too, including a heartfelt accent to “Celluloid Heroes.” There, too, is drummer Mick Avory keeping a steady beat, while bassist Jim Rodford and keyboardist Ian Gibbons further color the songs with aplomb.

Some folks dislike “live” albums because of the artist’s patter and audience sing-alongs, not to mention the renditions of the songs deviate anywhere from a little to a lot from their studio incarnations. Such was the case for Chris Jones of the Charlotte News, at any rate, who in his June 12th, 1980, review opined “rarely do these live versions approach the magic created in the studio” and “the best part of this album is the giant full-color album of the Kinks on stage. At least you get to see the band.” He encapsulated those thoughts in his closing argument, too: “One for the Road is an album that proves the video disc isn’t such a bad idea after all.” (Perhaps he was unaware, but a video version of the album was also released on VHS that same year!)

Yet, in the contemporaneous reviews that I’ve read, Jones was in the minority. As Dave Marsh put it in his syndicated Rolling Stone Record Review column that summer, “This set is so hot I’m prepared to renounce my skepticism and admit that this is the great rock band its partisans have always claimed.” Along the same line, an uncredited review in the June 13th Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “a classic live album.” Ken Paulson of the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press, whose review was syndicated to other Gannett-owned newspapers, agreed, calling it “the finest live album in years.” He followed up with: “The double LP succeeds on two fronts: as a showcase for one of rock’s most creative bands and a vivid reminder of why Kinks performances are so much fun.” The Fred Schruers-penned Rolling Stone review that appeared in the magazine that October agreed with those sentiments: “Kinks concerts, once the chanciest of propositions, now have the friskiness and precision of One for the Road as a model with which to be compared.”

The album consists of 21 tracks spread across four sides of vinyl. It opens with “Opening,” a minute-and-forty seconds’ worth of atmospherics that set the mood for all that follows, and although recorded in 1979 at five cities (Lowell, MA; New Brunswick, NJ; Providence, RI; Syracuse, NY; and Zurich, Switzerland), the set flows without any hiccups. The songs are rock, punk and pop all at once, with the common thread Ray’s idiosyncratic lyrics—check out “Prince of the Punks,” which was the b-side of “Father Christmas.” The Low Budget-era songs, inspired by the economic calamities then ensconcing the U.S. and U.K., remain as relevant as ever. Also included are lively spins on the band’s classic ‘60s singles “All Day and All of the Night,” “Till the End of the Day” and “You Really Got Me,” plus “Victoria” and “Lola.”  

I should mention that I was 15 when I bought it in the fall of ’80, likely the same week that I read Schruers’ review, and thoroughly thrilled with it from the get-go; I plastered the poster that came with it across the back of my bedroom door. The album sounded to my ears the way a concert should sound, which is to say loud, fun and filled with heavy guitars—and that would be born out in a few years at my first concert, the Kinks at the Spectrum. In fact, my memories of that concert are forever intertwined with this album even though the sets only shared nine songs. Maybe that’s why, for me, it’s one of my go-to albums—I can’t hear it and not think of that night in ’83, which actually exceeded what Schruers called One for the Road’s “friskiness and precision.”   

The track list:

One thought

  1. I have this double set LP too. I haven’t played it in years. The most disappointing part of it is that my favorite Kinks song, Celluloid Heroes is presented here in a truncated version. I believe it’s missing a whole verse.


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