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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Great Popular Songs (5): Waterloo Sunset

Sir Raymond Douglas Davies, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), better known as Ray Davies, singer and songwriter of the very successful UK band The Kinks, wrote and self-produced Waterloo Sunset in 1967. In Great Britain it is relatively rare for songs to feature geographical locations, especially when compared with the USA.
Waterloo Station is one of several major railway termini in London being named after Waterloo Bridge which was itself named after the famous British victory at the Battle of Waterloo. It is located on the south bank of the River Thames.
The wistful lyrics of the song were a Ray Davies speciality. They are a bit mysterious, describing a scene from the point of view of a person apparently content to be a 'loner'. Or is he? Are Terry and Julie figments of his imagination or is he Terry. It's a strange and intriguing mix of perspectives. Ray said in a recent interview, “Of course, everyone thought “Terry and Julie” was a reference to Terry Stamp and Julie Christie, since they were immensely famous because of Far From the Madding Crowd. But actually, the image I had in my mind was of my sister and her boyfriend walking into the future”. But this was said nearly fifty years after the record was released.
Many of Davies's song have a strong social element and he is a keen observer of his world; Sunny Afternoon, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and Well Respected Man are typical of this vein of writing.
The song is so iconic that it hasn't been covered very often. David Bowie is a notable exception but I find his version doesn't add anything new to it.
Originally the song was to be called Liverpool Sunset because Ray Davies had a strong affinity to that city bit realised he should "write what you know" and changed the title. The guitar sound as heard in the introduction was achieved by using a tape-delay device.
Listen to the song HERE
Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don't need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise
Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine
Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don't want to wander
I stay at home at night
But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise
Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine
Millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise
Waterloo sunset's fine


Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, I am not sure how popular this song was in America--at least I do not recall it. Why don't English songs have place names? It seems rather typical to me--Ferry Cross the Mersey, Finchley Central, Penny Lane, etc., for popular songs, and more traditionally The Lass of Richmond Hill, and Twickenham Ferry (lots of ferry songs, apparently), or The Lambeth Walk for a jazzier number. Also, practically any Scottish/Irish song: Maxwelton's Braes are Bonny (Annie Laurie); Coming Thro' the Rye; Where the River Shannon Flows, 'Twas Within a Mile of Edinboro' Town, and so forth. Although come to think of it, some of the Irish songs especially were probably U.S. Tin Pan Alley creations (My Wild Irish Rose, Ireland Must Be Heaven, etc.)!

bazza said...

Hi Jim. The song is like an anthem for London in the UK. As for song titles - I did say 'relatively' few! I think that is because Great Britain is so much smaller than North America. You have certainly found plenty.
The Kinks had scores of hits fron the sixties onward inluding many in the US.

David said...

Hi bazza,
I used to be a bit if a fan of The Kinks. I remember when I first heard the strains of "You Really Got Me" when I was growing up, and the brilliant guitar riff blew me away. And, of course, "Waterloo Sunset" is another classic - I've heard the popular rumour that the line about Terry and Julie was a reference to Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, so it's interesting to hear that Ray Davies himself never intended such an interpretation.
Thanks bazza!
Best Wishes,

bazza said...

David: Me too! (To ALL of the above). Several members of Ray Davies's family have claimed it was about them. I think, more importantly, it was about himself in the same way that Strawberry Fields was about Lennon.
"But I don't need no friends as long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise. Every day I look at the world from my window"
That tells us a lot I think.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

My sweet daughter converted a bunch of my favorite music to CDs for my birthday one year, so I still listen to the Kinks from time to time. However, I don't recall this particular song. The words feel a bit sad and melancholy to me. Then again, I'm an extrovert, so maybe the loneliness I perceive in the song is something I project on it, rather than something the songwriter intended.

bazza said...

Susan: It wasn't much of a success in the States but is definetly their most popular song around the English-speaking world. Your detection of melancholy in the lyrics is spot on. Ray Davies is a rather melancholoy and introspective person and as I alluded to, he is a pecepptive social observer and commentator. Above all of this, it's a song that I never tire of listening to. It may be to do with nostalgia for my lost youth but I think its a beautiful song. Maybe listen to it a few times?

Sherry Ellis said...

I'm not familiar with this song, but the lyrics are certainly introspective.

bazza said...

The Kinks were part of the 1960s 'British Invasion' which followed on after the Beatles in the USA. Have a listen to this song Sherry - you might like it!

klahanie said...

Hey Bazza!

Oh yeah and Waterloo Sunset was a very well known song in that cultured country of Canada, eh.

Love me a bit of Kinks. And yep, you were so tired, tired of waiting for a comment, from me...

Toodle pip, old chap.


bazza said...

Gazza: Nice to hear from you. I knew Canada would have had the sophistication to like this song! I suppose gents of a certain age are bound to like the music of the Kinks.