Where Are They Now?

Ray Davies is a creative and often erudite song-writer, known by many for his work in pop music and, by some of us, his rock operas as well. Working mainly with the Kinks, his lyrical content ranges from current events, to popular themes, to some that are more timeless, and philosophical.  During the height of the British Invasion, Davies recorded “You Really Got Me”, a high energy proto-punk love-song that is still played on the radio in 2018.  In the later period of the Kinks, Davies’ wrote mostly about the plight of the common man in the face of current events, with songs like “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” and “A Gallon of Gas” solidly reaching the charts.  In between these two periods came the art-rock movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, during which time Davies seems to have switched to writing music of a more theatrical nature.

Many of the concept albums of the period sought to explore social issues in one form or another.  While some where simply loosely connected selections songs (the Beatles “Rubber Soul,” the Eagles “Hotel California”) others took the form of theatrical works, such as the Who’s “Tommy,” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”  Ray Davies, with the Kinks, released the rock opera Preservation: Act 1 in 1973 (the same year as another concept album, “Dark Side of the Moon,” was released.)  Preservation: Act 1 described, through the voices of its characters, a desire for social change, in response to the abuses of crooked politicians.  The album’s storyline includes the rise of a new leader who promises wonderful things, but it’s not clear that he is any better than the previous administration.

It has been common for Davies to use cultural references of all manor to engage his audience while making his point, and the song “Where Are They Now?” is a classic example of his talent.  I’ve long wondered about the people referenced in this song, many of which I was not (until recently) familiar with.  I finally got around to tracking them down, along with a few significant phrases, and it seems worthwhile to share what I’ve found.  In the song, “Where Are They Now?” refers to the subculture and activists of late 1950’s and early 1960’s London.  It’s a pivotal song to the album, and worth taking the time to grok. 

The lyrics below are annotated only with inline hyperlinks.  My hope is that you find this reading as engaging as I have, wearing out your back button into the night as you move from one to the next.

Where Are They Now?
Preservation: Act I
The Kinks (1973)
(Annotated with hyperlinks)

I’ll sing a song about some people you might know
They made front pages in the news not long ago
But now they’re just part of a crowd
And I wonder where they all are now.

Where have all the swinging Londoners gone?
Ossie Clark and Mary Quant
And what of Christine Keeler,
John Stephen and Alvaro,
Where on earth did they all go?
Mr. Fish and Mr. Chow,
Yeah, I wonder where they all are now.

Where are all the teddy boys now?
Where are all the teddy boys now?
The brill cream boys with d.a.s,
Drainpipes and blue suedes,
Beatniks with long pullovers on,
And coffee bars and ban the bomb,
Yeah, where have all the teddy boys gone?

I hope that Arthur Seaton is alright.
I hope that Charlie Bubbles had a very pleasant flight,
And Jimmy Porter‘s learned to laugh and smile,
And Joe Lampton‘s learned to live a life of style.

Where are all the angry young men now?
Where are all the angry young men now?
Barstow and Osborne, Waterhouse and Sillitoe,
Where on earth did they all go?
And where are all the protest songs?
Yes, where have all the angry young men gone.

I wonder what became of all the rockers and the mods.
I hope they are making it and they’ve all got steady jobs,
Oh but rock and roll still lives on,
Yeah, rock and roll still lives on.

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