Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
The front cover artwork of the album. A white coffee mug with the word "Arthur" and a picture of two men sits in the foreground; a sepia-tone profile photo of the Kinks sits behind it; a swan and other small, various objects sit behind the photo. A hand raises a flag from behind the pileup, which reads "The Kinks". These objects sit on a green background, with the exception of the top border, which is covered by storm clouds.
Studio album by
Released10 October 1969
RecordedMay–July 1969 at Pye Studios, London
GenreRock
Length49:17
LabelPye (UK), Reprise (US)
ProducerRay Davies
The Kinks chronology
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
(1968)
Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
(1969)
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One
(1970)
Singles from Arthur
  1. "Drivin'"
    Released: 20 June 1969
  2. "Shangri-La"
    Released: 12 September 1969
  3. "Victoria"
    Released: 15 October 1969

Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) is the seventh studio album by English rock band the Kinks, released in October 1969. Kinks frontman Ray Davies constructed the concept album as the soundtrack to a Granada Television play and developed the storyline with novelist Julian Mitchell; the television programme was never produced. The rough plot revolved around Arthur Morgan, a carpet-layer, who was based on Ray and guitarist Dave Davies' brother-in-law Arthur Anning. A mono version was released in the UK, but not in the US. It is now available on the 2011 deluxe edition re-issue.

Arthur was met with nearly unanimous acclaim upon release. It received generous coverage in the US rock press, with articles running in underground magazines such as Fusion and The Village Voice. It garnered back-to-back reviews by Mike Daly and Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone magazine's lead section; Daly rated it "the Kinks' finest hour", and Marcus ranked it "the best British album of 1969".[1] In the UK, Arthur received a mixed review in New Musical Express, Disc & Music Echo praised the album's musical integrity, and Melody Maker called it "Ray Davies' finest hour ... beautifully British to the core."[2]

The album, although not very successful commercially, was a return to the US charts for the band.[3] Their previous album, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, received acclaim from critics but failed to chart in any country upon its 1968 release, with total US sales estimated at under 25,000 copies.[4] The Kinks returned to the Billboard charts in 1969 after a two-year absence, with Arthur's lead single, "Victoria", peaking at number 62.[5] The album reached number 50 on the Record World charts, and number 105 on the Billboard album chart, their highest position since 1965. It failed to chart in Britain. Arthur paved the way for the further success of their 1970 comeback album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One and its accompanying US Top 10 and UK Top 5 hit "Lola".[6]

Background

Four men sitting or standing next to each other. The man furthest left gazes upwards; he wears a black leather suit. The man to the right is seated, wears black, and stares towards the left. Behind and to the right of him stands another man, barely visible and staring straight ahead; he wears white. Next to him, and furthest right, stands a man dressed in white; his gaze is turned towards the left of the image, and his face is viewed in profile. All men stand in front of a black background.
The Kinks with a newly hired Dalton in 1969. From left: Dave Davies, Ray Davies, John Dalton, Mick Avory.

British production company Granada TV approached Ray Davies in early January 1969, expressing interest in developing a film or play for television. Davies was to collaborate with writer Julian Mitchell on the "experimental" programme,[7] with a soundtrack by the Kinks to be released on an accompanying LP.[7] Agreements were finalised on 8 January, and the project was revealed at a press release on 10 March. Separately, the Kinks began work on the programme's companion record, entitled Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Development of Arthur occurred during a rough period for the band, due to the commercial failure of their previous album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society and the subsequent single, "Plastic Man", as well as the departure of founding member and bassist Pete Quaife.[8] In early 1969, Quaife had told the band he was leaving,[9] though the other members did not take the remark seriously. When an article in the New Musical Express mentioned Maple Oak, the band he had formed without the rest of the Kinks' knowledge,[9][10] Davies unsuccessfully asked Quaife to return for the upcoming sessions of Arthur.[11] As a replacement, Davies called up bassist John Dalton, who had previously filled in for Quaife.[11][12]

Davies travelled to United Recording Studios in Los Angeles on 11 April 1969, to produce American band The Turtles' LP Turtle Soup with engineer Chuck Britz.[13] While in Los Angeles, Davies helped negotiate an end to the concert ban placed on the Kinks by the American Federation of Musicians in 1965.[13] Although neither the Kinks nor the union gave a specific reason for the ban, at the time it was widely attributed to their rowdy on-stage behaviour.[14] After negotiations with Davies, the Federation allowed the group to return to touring in America. Once the main sessions for the Turtles LP were completed, Davies returned to England. While Davies was abroad, the other members of the band had been rehearsing and practising for the upcoming album, as well as lead guitarist Dave Davies' solo album, nicknamed A Hole in the Sock of.[7][13] When Ray returned, the Kinks regrouped at his house in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, to rehearse Arthur.[13]

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