Song of the Day: July 31

Phil Kline‘s final Song of the Day this week. Thanks, Phil!

“Waterloo Sunset,” Ray Davies, The Kinks

Of all the amazing songs that came with the creative expansion of rock and pop music in the late sixties, I can think of none that I love more than Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks. It’s not psychedelic or wild, in fact it sort of tiptoes into the consciousness, and the emotions aren’t exuberant or extreme. But Ray Davies at his best excelled in vignettes about ordinary people. We get what the title implies, a picture of a certain place at a certain time. Not much happens. The river flows, people get out of the tube station and cross the bridge. The singer studies all that is going on around him, shy and overwhelmed but happy to be there, watching the sunset and going home. It’s hardly the young swinger’s London, in fact it’s more like the lonely old man’s. But it’s also exalting, in the way that certain 8th century Chinese poems are exalting.

Some years ago I was visiting London and found myself on the Victoria Embankment near Cleopatra’s Needle. I was looking out at the garbage on the Thames when my English friend softly said “dirty old river” and I was jolted by a sudden realization: we were standing in the song. There was the dirty old river, there was the bridge, there was the Underground station. God knows, Terry and Julie were out there, too. And I sang softly to myself “long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset I am in paradise.”

*Some of the images in this video are silly or overly literal, but I appreciate the attempt to give us a literal map of the song, albeit a few decades later.