Let’s hear it for the bad old days! Back in late 1983, the Kinks’ concert program, One For the Road, was almost the very first prerecorded videotape that I purchased. Back then, there really were no “sell-through” tapes, and videos with a price of $40 were a bargain. I think that’s how much the copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark set back my Dad when he got it for us as a family Christmas present, and I also recall that it was the price of another “cheap” tape I almost bought, An Officer and a Gentleman.
Alas, my purchase of One For the Road never occurred, mainly because my local video outlet had trouble snagging me a copy of the program. I needed to special order the tape, and it took them weeks to get it. Too much time went on, and I eventually withdrew my request and blew the money on a tape deck for my car, known as the Oxmobile due to my high school nickname. $40 for a cassette player? You know that’s high-quality audio!
In any case, I never did get a copy of Road, and I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw the program. I don’t know if it ever appeared on laserdisc, but I believe it’s been out of print in any format for quite some time. Imagine my shock - and pleasure - when I found it on a DVD release schedule.
Granted, I’d have been more excited about the show 15 years ago. During the early and mid-Eighties, I was an enormous Kinks fan. Although technically KISS were the first band I saw live - I took in a December 1977 concert of theirs - I’ve always regarded the Kinks’ local show in January 1982 as my introduction to the pleasures of live music. I loved that performance and grew to become exceedingly fond of the band, with a particular emphasis on the splendid material they made in the Sixties. From 1967’s Something Else through 1968’s The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society and 1969’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), pop music didn’t get much smarter or more winning.
Not that you’ll experience much of those glory years on Road. We do hear a version of Arthur’s leadoff track, “Victoria”, and a few songs from the Sixties also make the cut. Of course we get the obligatory versions of “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night” from 1964, and we also find a track off of 1966’s The Kink Kontroversy, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”; the latter remains additionally notable - to me, at least - as the only Kinks song covered by David Bowie.
Otherwise all of the material on Road comes from the Seventies, which makes sense; although the program was filmed in 1980, the band didn’t release an Eighties album until 1981’s Give the People What They Want. 1979’s Low Budget was their current record at the time of this show, and it dominates the performance. Five of the video’s 12 songs came from Low Budget; these included the title track plus “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”, “Attitude”, “Pressure” and “Catch Me Now I’m Falling”.
A few additional Seventies tunes round out the collection. “Lola” originally appeared on 1970’s Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One; there never was a part two, by the way. 1972’s Everybody’s In Show-biz provided the melancholy “Celluloid Heroes”, while the rocking “Hardway” came from 1975’s Schoolboys In Disgrace. While it would have been nice to hear more tunes from the Kinks’ late Sixties heyday, the setlist provided a clear representation of the band as they existed in 1980. They rarely touched on tracks from the Sixties albums I mentioned earlier, so this DVD showed a typical offering from the era.
Although I don’t love the setlist, I did find Road to provide a very entertaining experience. I’ve seen the Kinks nine times over the years, but it’s been a while; my last show was in 1995, and I only took them in twice over the last decade. As such, I’d forgotten how manic singer/rhythm guitarist Ray Davies could be on stage. During Road, he’s a constant source of activity as he runs, leaps, and prances all over the platform. As I watched the show, I found it hard to believe that Ray was once painfully shy and introverted as a performer; the Ray of 1980 gave Jagger a run for his money, and he provided a consistently fun and engaging presence.
Other than Ray, Road offered a modest visual experience. Lead guitarist Dave Davies had a couple of moves of his own, but he didn’t get around as much as big brother Ray. However, I was amused by one moment during “You Really Got Me”. Dave had a little side-stage that jutted slightly into the crowd, and he’d occasionally go there for his solos. During “YRGM”, he slid to his knees right in front of the audience. In typically moronic fashion, these dweebs grabbed out him, and Dave actually had to swat away one jerk who snatched at his guitar.
As a whole, Road offered a simple but effective presentation. In those years prior to MTV, no one tried too hard to add silly frills and effects. As such, almost all of the show was depicted in a logical and clear manner. No, there wasn’t much flash, but that was a good thing. The program focused on the performers and didn’t distract us with quick cuts or excessive visual alterations. During “Celluloid Heroes”, we saw shots of the crowd as they filed entered intercut with shots of the band backstage and images of the performance itself, while “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” featured archival film of the band from the mid-Sixties. I could have lived without either of these, but they lasted only a short time, so I didn’t find them to be too objectionable. At least the producers exhibited restraint not seen on Paul McCartney’s Get Back, a movie laden with useless extraneous images.
When I indicated that Road showed a typical Kinks performance of the area, the comment also extended to the quality of their playing. To call the Kinks a loose and sloppy group would be an understatement. From what I understand, their Eighties shows were tighter than the drunken concerts of the Seventies, but you’ll still hear quite a few mistakes throughout Road. Bum notes - both instrumental and vocal - abounded, and the whole show sounded pretty rough at times
But you know what? I didn’t care. While there’s a fine line between positive looseness and negative sloppiness, the Kinks managed to stay on the endearing and winning side. The energy behind the show more than compensated for any flaws, and the rough-hewn product seemed to be pleasantly real in this day of excessively rehearsed and practiced performances. It’s good to hear a group that sounded like a real band, warts and all.
I’ll more clearly endorse criticisms of the Kinks’ style at the time, however. During this metal and punk influenced portion of their career, they tended to bludgeon songs. They rushed through them and appeared to mainly try to make them as loud and raucous as possible. At times, this worked for the better. For example, “Celluloid Heroes” lost some of its more sappy and precious tones because of the aggressive treatment. A proto-punk tune like “Hardway” lost nothing through the insistent performance either.
However, this tendency removed some of the charm from more subtle songs. “Good Times” and “Victoria” still work due to their inherent brilliance, and the energy of the show helped carry the day, but I couldn’t help but feel that the tunes lost something along the way. “Victoria”, “All Day” and “You Really Got Me” rocked well enough in their original incarnations; they band didn’t need to beat them to a pulp to bring them up to then-modern standards of volume.
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed One For the Road. I hadn’t seen the show in years, and since I’ve not been a very active Kinks fan for quite some time, I was afraid I’d be somewhat disenchanted with the program. However, this wasn’t the case, as I reveled in this active and endearing performance. My viewing of One For the Road made me want to dig out my Kinks kollection and give them all another spin. A better endorsement one cannot find.
One For the Road appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Is it reasonable to expect that a 21-year-old program videotaped during VHS’s early days will offer crisp visuals? Probably not, and Road displayed a series of significant concerns. Nonetheless, one should anticipate such problems, which is why objectively, I have to relate that Road looked bad as a whole, but subjectively, I felt satisfied with the product.
Sharpness varied quite a lot. During most close-ups, the picture seemed to be reasonably accurate and distinct. However, once the camera moved out past that point, the image became less consistent. Some wider shots were acceptable, but most appeared rather vague and soft. Actually, most of the show seemed to be somewhat hazy; the softness wasn’t extreme except during a few instances, but it did make much of the program look mildly ill-defined.
Moiré effects weren’t a concern, and only a few jagged edges cropped up during the show. Source flaws were a greater problem. The main issue revolved around distinct examples of video interference that often appeared. These took the form of light, semi-translucent bars that would cover the screen. The performers remained evident, but the bars distracted me from them. Early in the show, the bars mainly appeared during shots of Dave, but they moved on to Ray for the second half of the concert.
Colors consistently were dreary and fuzzy. Virtually the only hues we saw resulted from lighting, and these tones rendered much of the show drab and muddy. Brighter colors like orange seemed to be especially oppressive and heavy, while blues tended to fare a little better. Nonetheless, the lighting showed runny and bland tones throughout the concert, and their dim qualities also made parts of the program a chore to watch. Actually, shadow detail wasn’t bad, as the performers usually remained pretty visible even through the murk, but the piece suffered from a muddy drabness that made it quite ugly most of the time.
Frankly, it seemed very clear that no one who produced the video or worked for the Kinks understood that some modifications to the show would have resulted in a better video. I got the impression that they just brought in a few cameras and went to town. This didn’t mean that I found the production to appear amateurish, for that wasn’t the case; some awkward moments occurred, but I thought it was generally well-framed and composed, and the camera operators aptly followed their subjects. Still, it looked as though no one tried to optimize the show for video, which meant that One For the Road presented a fairly unattractive piece.
How much should one be concerned with the weak visual quality? Not very, in my opinion. As I noted earlier, the source material caused all of the concerns, but not due to neglect. I’d guess that this version of Road accurately reflects the material as it appeared in 1980. This wasn’t a big-budget production, and these kinds of programs didn’t worry about the production values more typical today. Put simply, I believe this is as good as Road will ever get.
On the other hand, the audio portion of One For the Road did improve upon the original product. Whereas the 1980 videotape featured only monaural sound, the DVD provides a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While this indeed offered some benefits, don’t expect it to come across with the quality you’d hear in a modern recording. The soundfield seemed to be quite limited. Music remained virtually monaural for the most part. Some mild spread to the sides occurred, but it appeared to be a bit off-kilter. The imaging leaned toward the left side of the spectrum, not that I heard any distinct instrumentation from either the right or left speakers. I didn’t discern any clear stereo separation, as the music showed fairly mushy definition that remained anchored around the center channel.
Although you’ll usually not believe this, I confirmed that the surround speakers were active during the program. For the most part, they offered nothing more than reinforcement of the front channels. It sounded as though the sound designers wanted the “you are there” experience from the rears. The only problem was that “you were there” outside of the arena; the surround audio usually sounded muffled and flat. On a few occasions, the imaging picked up and provided some fairly active crown noise, but as a whole, the soundfield rarely left the center of the spectrum.
Based on these comments, you may wonder why I’d feel that the 5.1 mix improved upon the original monaural track. Although the breadth of the DD version was limited, it did provide decidedly more robust audio. The sound quality still didn’t appear fantastic, but it certainly topped the thin and drab tones heard on the included monaural mix.
Audio quality varied a bit throughout the show but for the most part, the songs sounded reasonably distinct and vivid. During a few tunes - such as “Attitude” - Ray’s vocals displayed some crackling, but as a whole they seemed to be fairly warm and natural; any concerns related to intelligibility resulted from Ray’s diction. Guitars were acceptably crisp and raw, and drums usually displayed a good thump and bang.
Dynamic range fluctuated between decently rich and vibrant tones and some more flat and muffled sounds, but for the most part, I thought the track showed acceptable fidelity. It wasn’t a terrific reproduction, but I felt that it sounded good enough to ensure that I stayed involved in the concert. Some tape hiss appeared at times, but this wasn’t a tremendous distraction. Ultimately, the audio of One For the Road didn’t approach CD-quality, but it seemed to be good enough for most of the program.
Actually, that last sentence related to an area in which the DVD might have been to improve upon the VHS even more than it did. Parts of this concert ended up on the Road record, so obviously the show was recorded for purposes above and beyond this video. While I don’t know from where the stems used for the 5.1 mix came, I find it hard to believe that they emanated from the stereo source recordings made for the album. I can’t state authoritatively that the video of Road could have sounded better; it’s possible that the full recording of the Providence show has been lost over the years. Nonetheless, I suspect that this wasn’t the clearest and richest audio we could have had for the video, though I’m still fairly satisfied with it.
I remain shocked that an old, obscure video like One For the Road merited a DVD release, especially since the VHS tape had been out of print for many years. Not only do we get to see the show, but also it includes a few supplements. The biggest draw of these is an audio commentary from lead guitarist Dave Davies. He appears along with an unnamed interviewer for this running, scene-specific piece.
I was excited about this track, and I wish I could report that it was informative and entertaining, but unfortunately, it was mainly a dud. For the most part, Dave just seemed delighted to see the show, and he didn’t have much of use to say about it. Sample quote: “Heeeey, man! That’s cool!” Similar remarks popped up frequently during the commentary, and Dave offered little of interest. Occasionally he related a few good details about life on the road and in the band, and he also added occasional anecdotes about cohorts, but as a whole, this was a pretty unrevealing piece. Perhaps he saved all the good material for his book, Kink: An Autobiography.
For a few songs, we can watch Video Commentary segments with Davies. From the main “Special Features” menu, you can access clips for “Hardway” and “Lola”. You can also find a piece for “Celluloid Heroes”; I’ll cover the way to find it later. In any case, I preferred these video snippets to the audio track. Yes, they come from the same session, but there are some differences. For one, the audio commentary was edited, which we clearly see during these bits. A little bit of material has been chopped for the audio piece, though I don’t know why; the remarks seemed innocuous, and the edited track actually retained some of the more crude statements!
I also preferred the video commentary because it made Dave seem like less of a moron. Being able to watch him while he remarks helped flesh out his attitude. Frankly, he appeared to be pretty dopey during the audio track, but the visuals showed his demeanor more clearly. It’s too bad the entire DVD couldn’t be watched with the video commentary; since the entire program lasted less than an hour, there was more than enough room for it.
A little additional video material showed up in the Kinkdom. This was an “interactive map of London showing important Kinks locations”. What this means is that we can access brief factoids about 15 spots, and we also see some filmed footage of the areas. While the details could have been more extensive, I still thought this was a fun and interesting addition, especially because it makes it easy for someone to go through their own Kinks tour; the program even displayed the closest tube station for each location!
Next we discover a decent little Trivia Game. Most of the 10 multiple-choice questions were fairly easy. I missed two, but even then, the game was forgiving; a wrong response still allows you to try again without penalty. Once you get all ten of them right, you’re allowed to watch the “Celluloid Heroes” video commentary I mentioned earlier. I hate trivia games that offer no pay-off, so this modest bonus pleased me, especially since we hear additional remarks no present during “CH” on the audio commentary.
Finally we get a very rudimentary Discography. This just shows the album covers and lists their titles and release dates. Some errors appear, and whoever proofread this DVD needs to be fired; we find lots of mistakes like Schoolboy’s In Disgrace and “Celluloid Heros” here and elsewhere on the DVD. Frankly, the “Discography” is somewhat useless since it doesn’t offer track listings or additional information.
On one hand, I was very pleased with the extras found on Road. When I first learned of its DVD release, I assumed it would be a no-frills effort; the decent collection of bonus features it offers was a very pleasant surprise. On the other hand, I must admit I’m somewhat disappointed the DVD’s producers didn’t offer even more. Obviously this 12-song roster doesn’t represent the entire Kinks concert from 1980, so it would have been terrific to see the show padded with additional numbers.
But I really need to shut up at this point. DVD fans can get spoiled, and in this case, I’m griping inappropriately. The simple fact that One For the Road exists on DVD amazes me, and the improvements made for the disc are even more pleasing. The show itself was a sloppy but exciting and endearing picture of the Kinks as they went through their final resurgence; we see them just as they embarked on a few years of renewed popularity, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
As for the DVD, the picture quality is quite drab and weak, but these concerns clearly stem from the source material. The audio still seems a little flat at times also, but it receives a nice boost through a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix; for purists - if anyone feels that way about a program from the early days of videotape - the original monaural track appears as well. Lastly, the DVD includes a smattering of extras that offer some additional value.
One For the Road won’t receive any use as my demo DVD, but I’ll definitely count it as one of 2001’s most pleasant surprises. I’m still stunned someone released this long-out-of-print program, and to give it this much positive attention astonishes me even more. Already-established Kinks fans will be very pleased with this collection, and those less acquainted with the band should give it a look. Once you get past the muddy visuals, you should really enjoy the introduction to one of rock’s all-time greatest bands.