The Kinks, ...Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
In the late 70s/early 80s, the Kinks were experiencing a career resurgence after their increasingly theatrical productions of the prior decade had fallen out of favor. Their live double-album One For The Road was something I played like crazy, a go-to rave-up favorite for my bunk at summer camp (Camp North Star in sleepy Hayward, Wisconsin). So I was intrigued by the review I read of Village Green Preservation Society in the Rolling Stone Record Guide, describing it as a quiet, intimate, largely acoustic masterpiece, which sounded nothing like the power chord blasts of "You Really Got Me" and "Hard Way" and "Attitude" and the hits with which I was familiar.
I picked it up at the local Musicland -- the lame local retail chain, but my only option as I still wasn't old enough to drive and it was within biking distance -- and brought it home. (Also purchased the same day: Genesis' Musical Box and The Velvet Underground & Nico. It was a pretty damn good day.)
I loved this from the opening notes. The lead-off title track is a simple, repetitive 4-chord hook, just loaded with charm, an embrace of nostalgia at a time of great social upheaval, celebrating Donald Duck and Vaudeville and strawberry jam and virginity. And it was unlike anything I'd heard from the Kinks previously. From there, we get an array of little tales of the denizens of the Village Green, disarming, under-amplified ditties extolling lost friendships, photography, an apathetic sky/deity, well-traveled cats, the neighborhood witch, and so on. It's not a concept album, but the songs are of a piece, a brief glimpse inside a quaint English village that hangs together remarkably well.
While it's a surprisingly mellow affair relative to their early British Invasion singles and later return to arena rock, that doesn't mean it isn't upbeat and engaging, particularly on tracks like "Picture Book," "Big Sky," and "Johnny Thunder," all of which rank among the band's best and most underappreciated.
The best track of all, and certainly among the Kinks' finest moments, is "Days," a song that wasn't event included on the original US version of the album I first purchased, though it's included on the various reissues (which append loads of bonus tracks and alternate versions, depending which package you end up with).
Here's a truly stunning live version of the title track circa '73: