Lazing on a sunny afternoon...

Beer in Popular Culture #1
 
The Kinks is one of those rock groups of the early 1960s that were part of the famous British Invasion: a phenomenon in which various British cultural expressions, mostly music, gained enormous popularity in the United States. It would be foolish of me to venture and say if they profited or not from the utter success of The Beatles, but in any case it is clear that while the former remain world famous almost 50 years after dismantling the group, the others are quite unknown to the vast majority (disclaimer: here in Barcelona). Or not quite.


"Ray Davies imagined the protagonist of Sunny Afternoon sipping a Stella Artois"


In television commercials, on the radio, in some pubs... I'm sure that we all have heard Kinks' songs on many occasions. It is even possible that one of them is familiar to us. Their version of "Long Tall Sally" or songs like "You Really Got Me," "All day and all night", "Waterloo Sunset" or "Days" have been played many times, in every kind of possible situation. But today I want to focus on a specific song that brings me great memories of my previous lives.

"Sunny Afternoon", the great single from the album Face to Face (1966). A song written by Ray Davies in a difficult personal moment in which he was facing stress factors such as the recent rise to fame of his group, the first internal misunderstandings with peers, lawsuits and paperwork, or his recent fatherhood. In a fun twist, he created an undesirable and cruel character, totally opposite of how he regarded himself, in order to express his present mood. The song begins:
 
 
“The taxman's taken all my dough
and left me in this stately home
lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can't sail my yacht
he's taken everything I got
all I've got's this sunny afternoon”

 
The character embodies a disgraced aristocrat who earned his wealth through inheritance, a privileged child, who reflects on his concerns while having a beer, lazing on a sunny afternoon in his stately home. The first day I paid attention to the letter I was pleasantly surprised to hear the specific mention of beer, possibly because at that time there was probably no better song to put me in the mood to do the same in the pub with friends. Specifically it says:
 

“Now I’m sitting here
Sipping at my ice-cold beer
Lazing on a sunny afternoon”
 
 
One day, when my love for beer had already gotten out of hand, I began to think of the beer the aristocrat was so reflexively drinking... To me, "ice-cold beer" clearly suggests that he is taking one of those Lager beers that by then had already overrun half of the world (remember, we are in 1966). In the UK, these beers had managed to reduce traditional Ales to a testimonial product (hence, some decided to found the CAMRA, five years later).
 
But what brand could he be taking? In spite of his disgrace, he keeps his stately home, and probably still has servants around, who do the shopping for him. They would possibly choose imported beer for their lord, as it seems to be more prestigious. A "Premium Lager" for our Master. Giving credit to what I read some three years ago in the book Man Walks into a Pub, by Pete Brown, my bet would be that our friend is having a Stella Artois, as it seems that at the time it was the international beer that transmitted more quality appearance to the consumers. Meanwhile, Heineken and Carlsberg were in battle to penetrate the UK market.
 
But there's even more. The fact that the lyrics specify "sipping at" and not "drinking" can easily respond to pure aestheticism, or that it was syllabically accurate to the composer for that song line. But whatever the reason, we could assume that he's having the beer from a glass or, even better, from a cup. Possibly for its refined spirit and sophistication, the aristocrat can not afford to drink pint after pint in pubs crowded with ordinary people.
 

 

Anyway, beyond the parallel stories that someone who thinks more of beer than he should can draw, Ray Davies manages to convey much in a song that, being so easy-listening, it may be overlooked as yet another pub theme. Just like with many "easy" beers. They always seem to be there, and their quality is never put into question, but they get very little attention today.


Salut i birra!


To follow this new series of posts about beer and popular culture, you can use the following label: Popular Culture.
 

Comments

  1. Let's not forget the kinks were the draught beer preservation society in 1968,long before camra.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point made, Tom Cat. Will have to think of a future post on it :-). Cheers.

      Delete
  2. The ice cold part of that line I always found puzzling. It seems to be a plausible idea. I like Stella.

    ReplyDelete

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