I woke up this holiday weekend to the sound of magnificent birds hosannaing the dawn.
As the coffee brewed I switched on my radio and learned that 52 years ago to the day The Kinks released what will always be my favourite 45rpm single of all time.
The cultural historians of a thousand years hence will without question point to this Ray Davies masterpiece when they want to demonstrate the beauty those 1960s troubadours were capable of achieving.
So, today, 52 years on, The Jukebox punches once again the button and the unfading glory that is Waterloo Sunset floods the heart, mind and spirit with light and hope.
Ray Davies said :
It’s about how innocence will prevail over adversity. It starts out delicate, but by the end has become awesome in its power. Those triumphant chords come in, and the angels tell you everything is going to be OK”.
Everything is going to be OK.
And, that’s a message that will always be welcome.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
Thank you Ray and God Bless The Kinks!
‘The most beautiful song in the English language’ (Robert Christgau)
‘Divine … a masterpiece’ (Pete Townsend)
‘As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise’ (Ray Davies)
A song about : London, The River, A Lonely Man and Two Lovers by A Great Songwriter leading a great Group.
The Voice of London:
It is, of course, a song about London.
Londinium. The Capital. The Big Smoke.
Now, there are other fine cities on other great rivers in this nation.
But, but, there is only one London.
And, if you want to find out who you are, not who you’ve been told you are, and how far you can go – well then, London, London, is the place to be.
Nowhere else. Nowhere else.
Kings and Conquerors. Poets and Peasants. Saints, Sinners and Scholars.
Those looking for the limelight and others looking to hide out – they’re all drawn to London.
Thinkers and Tinkers. Songwriters and Singers.
Look around! They’re all here.
All here telling stories. Making dramas.
Tired of London, tired of life.
Come for joy, jasper of jocunditie.
Come for a mighty mass of brick and smoke and shipping.
Treasures in its depths.
Confront your counterparts – hero or villain, mountebank or mystic.
Find yourself. Get lost.
Work, work, work or lounge and idle away your days.
All around you beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics and the one, the one, just waiting for you.
Ray Davies. A watchful London boy who became a watchful London man and artist.
Alive to all the sights and sounds and atmospheres on the breeze, in the fog, in the streets and alleyways of his home town.
Watching the people. Watching the taxi lights shine so bright.
Aware of the lovers meeting on Friday night and the lonely friendless souls in the chilly, chilly, evening time.
Aware of the dirty old river flowing, flowing into the night.
Aware that the same world can be frightening and a paradise at the same time – it all depends where you are standing and what you see.
Lovers finding each other and finding themselves.
Making plans to stay. Making plans to leave.
Somewhere they’ll be safe and sound. Together.
Millions swarming round Waterloo Underground.
Every one with a story.
Every one dizzy with the possibilities of London Town.
Every one looking to be found and to be safe and sound as the chilly, chilly, evening descends.
Every one feeling London, London, all around them.
Day flows into night. Spring flows into Summer. Summer flows into Autumn and on and on, always, into Winter.
Chilly, chilly, is evening time.
But, but, look up, look around!
Gaze out on the Sunset.
The Waterloo Sunset.
Bathing London in balm.
Flooding the heart and soul with feeling.
A Feeling more powerful than all your fears.
As long as Londoners can gaze out on Waterloo Sunset they are in paradise.
It is, of course, a Song about London.Embed from Getty Images
The Voice of The River:
It is, of course, a Song about The River.
The Thames. Father Thames.
Rivers make Cities. Before the City there’s always The River.
Flowing through the ages. Flowing, flowing through time.
Carving out the landscape.
Liquid History. Liquid History.
Long before London, millennia before London, the River flowed.
The dark waters of River flow by the bridges and the burial grounds.
Past the wharfs and the jetties.
Past the piers and the palaces.
The River flows on when the roads are blocked.
The River flows on as the houses crumble into dust when the bombs fall.
The River flows on as the Romans arrrve and leave.
As the Vikings arrive and leave.
As Kings build palaces to rule for evermore.
As parliaments of men and women overthrow the divine right of monarchs.
They build walls round cities.
The River flows on. Free.
When the fires burn and the earth buckles and splits turn to The River.
The River will always flow on as long as the world turns.
Come to the River. Come to the River.
Mystics and Mudllarks.
Poets and Pirates.
Novelists and Ne’er do Wells.
Songwriters and Singers.
I will flow through your heart and soul.
I will fill your imagination to the brim.
Turner and Canaletto. Monet and Whistler. Stanley Spencer.
River Painters. Haunted by waters.
Humans are haunted by waters.
Dickens and Kenneth Grahame. Pepys and Conrad.
Wordsworth and Eliot.
River Writers. River Writers.
The River glideth at its own sweet will.
The River sweats oil and tar.
Stand by the River.
As the chilly, chilly, evening descends.
Look around. Look at your life.
Wipe your eyes. Wipe your eyes.
Try not to notice you’ve fallen in love (or out of love).
Ray Davies. Looking out on the River from the terraces of St Thomas’ Hospital when he was just 13.
Watching the River flow. Flowing on through the day into the night.
Watching the yellow fog settle over the River’s dark waters.
Always the same. Always different. Like his life.
A River he walked by waiting to become the artist he knew he was.
The River he walked by with melodies and words dancing in his head.
The River he walked by making plans for a future for himself, his wife and his family.
Walking, dreaming, by those dark waters.
Watching the River flowing, flowing, flowing.
Watching the lights reflected in the River’s dark waters.
Watching Lovers crossing over the River.
Looking for somewhere to be safe and sound.
Watching the Lovers looking deep into the dark waters looking for a glimpse of their future together.
Watching Lovers seeking the River’s blessing.
Watching the friendless lonely souls gazing out over the River.
Watching the millions of souls emerging from Waterloo Underground waiting to cross The River.
Watching them turn up their collars against the chilly, chilly, evening time as the wind blows in off the River.
Watching them look deep into the dark waters looking for an answer to questions too secret to ask out loud.
Watching them watching the River flow on. Flow on.
Watching the Sunset, the Waterloo Sunset, sink over the River.
Flooding the heart and soul with golden light.
The River flows on through Spring and Summer into Autumn and on and on, always into Winter.
Chilly, Chilly, is evening time.
But, but, stand by The River.
As the dark waters flow look into the sunset.
The Waterloo Sunset.
Bathing The River in balm.
Flooding, flooding, the heart and soul with feeling.
A feeling more powerful than all your fears.
As long as you can stand by the River and those dark waters and gaze out on Waterloo Sunset you are in paradise.
It is, of course, a Song about The River.Embed from Getty Images
The Voice of a Lonely Man:
It is, of course, a Song of a Lonely Man.
I’m a Londoner all my life. I’ve lived by The River all my life.
Seventy five years.
I was born in the 1800’s!
London and The River. Always the same. Always different.
London, The River and me. We’ve been through a lot.
We’ve seen two World Wars. I fought in the First one.
They call that The Great War. I lost a lot of pals, London pals.
Men who worked on the River with me.
It can make you lonely thinking of them.
Sometimes, as the chilly evening descends and I look into the dark waters of the River I think I can see them still, as they were, young men with bright smiles, bright smiles, making plans for after the War.
War teaches you that God laughs at your plans.
War teaches you fear and teaches you friends can lose their heartbeat in one of yours.
London was a hard old place in the 1930s.
Depression. They called it the Great Depression.
No work. For year after year after year.
Amazing we didn’t have a Revolution.
Still, somehow we got through.
I met Daisy, my wife, walking across Waterloo Bridge.
We were both looking down into the dark waters.
Watching the River flow on into the night.
Watching the taxi lights shining as the chilly evening descended.
I suppose we were both lost until we found each other.
Then, suddenly, we were safe and sound.
When we were courting (no one uses that word anymore!) we used to meet every Friday night at Waterloo Station.
There must be millions, millions, passing through there every day.
Funny though, as soon as I saw Daisy it always seemed as if they was just the two of us.
Safe and sound together.
Together, we didn’t need no friends and no matter how dark the times or chilly the evening we didn’t feel afraid.
We had each other.
Until the Second War.
A bomb can fall out of the sky and in a heartbeat your heart is broken and never the same again.
Never the same.
I did my best with the Nipper. But a girl, especially, needs a Mother.
She went out to Australia on one of those Assisted Passages.
A Tenner taking you tens of thousands of miles!
I get a card at Christmas and she says she’ll visit in a year or so.
Maybe, she’ll get married and I’ll be a Grandfather. I’d like that.
They say I’m lucky to have a flat in this block.
I preferred it when you had a garden and streets on the ground not in the sky.
Especially when the lifts break down.
One thing I will say. You get fantastic views out the window from the tenth floor.
I like listening to the radio and watching the football on the TV.
But mainly I like to look at the world from my window. From my window.
There’s a lot going on if you take the time to look.
The River keeps on flowing.
Always the same always different.
Something to do with the way it reflects to the light.
It’s a dirty old River. Oil and tar. But, it’s my River.
They say this Clean Air Act will have it sparkling again – alive with Fish.
Not sure I will be around for that day.
People are so busy these days.
They must make themselves dizzy rushing about.
Never time to stop and stare or to say hello to an old man looking into the dark waters of the River.
I like it when the chilly evening descends.
The taxi lights shine bright and somehow people look well in the dark.
I’ve noticed a couple meeting every Friday night just like me and Daisy did.
I call them Terry and Julie after that song on the radio about the Sunset.
I don’t know much about this beat music but the chap who wrote that song knows a lot about London and The River and Love and Loneliness.
It’s a song that has happiness and sadness running right through it like a river.
You can tell they love each other and that they feel safe and sound when they’re together.
I stay home at night. But I don’t feel feel afraid.
I don’t need no friends anymore.
I got my memories.
And, no matter how chilly the evening there’s warmth in the Sunset.
So I am safe and sound.
And, I know that today will flow on into tomorrow and that Spring will flow into Summer and on into Autumn and always, always into Winter.
Of course the evening is chilly.
But, looking out my window I can gaze on the Sunset.
Friends or no friends.
I gaze on the Sunset.
The Waterloo Sunset.
And, somehow, that Sunset is more powerful than any fear.
As long as I can gaze out on Waterloo Sunset I am in paradise.
That song. Well, of course, it’s about a Lonely Man.Embed from Getty Images
The Voice of Two Lovers:
Well, of course, it’s a Song about two Lovers. Us.
What else could it be about?Embed from Getty Images
When you’re in love the River flows and the chilly evening and dark waters are your friends.
Terry and Julie. Our names just sound right together.
We meet every Friday night at Waterloo Underground.
Sometimes we just walk across the bridge.
Have a drink by the River and watch the Sunset.
The Waterloo Sunset.
And, it seems we are in paradise.
We’re glad there’s a song about us.Embed from Getty Images
A Song by a great Songwriter leading a great Group:
Ray Davies is a Londoner.
A Londoner who grew up in a house filled with music and the laughter and warmth generated by loving parents and six older sisters.
Yet, a boy and a man, who needed solitude to give birth to the dreams, the melodies and words in his head.
A young man who found that he had a peculiarly English gift for expressing the bitter sweet aspects of life.
A writer who had been taken by his father to see the Festival of Britain on the South Bank of the River in 1951 where visions of a brave new world offered unlimited promise for the decades ahead.
A writer who seeing these new worlds being born could feel and express the loss as well as the gain in the new glittering times.
A writer who could evoke dreams in black and white as well as colour.
A writer who could evoke the flow of the River, the warmth of the Sunset and the chill of the evening.
A writer who could craft a song that had love and loneliness running through it like a river.
A writer who had as much in common with John Betjeman as he did with Chuck Berry.
The Laureate of English Pop Music.
A writer who could capture the light and the shadows of the world around him.
A world he watched with deep attention.
He took in the dirty old River, it’s dark waters and the glitter of the taxi lights.
The song of The River and the view from the windows above.
He gave voice to the young lovers and the lonely old man holding them in the embrace of his voice, his words and his aching melody.
A writer and performer who could make dark waters and the chilly, chilly, evening alive before us.
A writer who could tell the story of two lovers out of the millions of people emerging from Waterloo Underground.
Ray Davies was also a bandleader and producer who could capture all those elements in a record that will live as long as the dark waters flow and the sun sets over the River.Embed from Getty Images
To do this he needed the skill and commitment of his brother Dave Davies and brothers in arms Pete Quaife and Mick Avory.
He needed The Kinks.Embed from Getty Images
Together they created in the studio a great record from a great song.
The lovely bass line moves through the song like a stately barge ploughing through the tide of the River.
Dave Davies’ guitar using tape delay echo has a melancholy grace holding us in thrall throughout.
Mick Avory’s drums flow on like the River and alert us to the crescendos of feeling as the song moves to its climax.
Together The Kinks with Rsy’s first wife, Rasa, give us perhaps the most heart rending harmony vocals of the era.
So, it’s a song about London.
About The River.
About a Lonely Man.
About Two Lovers.
A song that flows on through the decades.
A song that will always flow on because Rivers always flow and evenings always get chilly.
Because, as long as we can listen to Waterloo Sunset we can, for those few minutes, be in
In Paradise.Embed from Getty Images
Time to hear it again:
Ray Davies is reported to have said that he was sure he had written the best song of the year in 1967.
I’ll go further.
I think in Waterloo Sunset he wrote the finest English song of the entire 1960s.Embed from Getty Images