I can only imagine the excitement felt by the citizens of 1976 when it was reported (on the internet of 1976) that famous baldy Clive Davis had hung Ray Davies by his ankles off of a 20th-story balcony, demanding that he stop recording shitty rock operas. Ray found Clive’s message to be persuasive, and thus, fellow Red Sox fans, did we get Sleepwalker and Misfits, two albums of boring, middle-aged plod-rock that induce yawns aplenty by offering up ultra-slick, Showbiz-style rock-life complaints; beefy, dum-dum Seger-isms; and keyboardarific proto-power ballads. Now, as much as those reviled concept records tended to stink, they at least had a distinctly Kinksian personality… these albums play like Ray Davies wrote them desperately needing a hit and is therefore trying to fit into some sort of AOR mainstream that he doesn’t really understand; it’s here where the Kinks fall behind the times rather than simply out of step with them.
But between those two LPs, the band released “Father Christmas,” a non-album holiday single that showed there might still indeed be some life left in these paunch-rockers. With a sneering, class-conscious lyric about mugging Santa Claus, it’s the most frantic, supercharged song from the Kinks since maybe 1966 (laugh all you want, but calling it Motorhead-lite is just a slight exaggeration), and its memorable chorus and hooks are a welcome respite from the facelessness of so much of Ray’s writing around this time. You: Love it! And then play it repeatedly on your local bowling-alley jukebox, just as I did all the time back in high school! And then prepare to be disappointed by the B-side! “Prince of the Punks,” allegedly a slam directed at ex-bud Tom Robinson, swipes the chorus of “Substitute” and hopefully – given its piano, horns, and bouncy choogle – isn’t actually supposed to sound like punk. The “Substitute” rip could be considered semi-clever, what with the Sex Pistols covering that song and all, but the whole thing isn’t nearly as sharp or damning as I’m sure Ray thought it was at the time.
The A-side is now a bonus track on the Misfits CD, the B is on the Sleepwalker reissue. Good to know, but Smarty Smartman will get either the original 7” or the 99-cent download of “Father Christmas” and just ignore the rest of that era’s Kinks material altogether.