Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #3: “Wicked Annabella” by The Kinks (1968)

Anyone that knows me for even three seconds knows that of the British Invasion groups of the '60s, while I do have great reverence for the Beatles and an ongoing respect for the Rolling Stones (especially their incredible longevity as a live act), my favorites are always going to be the Kinks and the Who. Either one could be ahead of the other in my heart or head on any given day, though usually I am just happy that I have lived through a period of time where I got a chance to hear all of these bands and can continue to listen to them to my heart's content.

As a result, Ray Davies is pretty near the top of my fave songwriters, and has long impressed me with his attention to small details of character and setting in his pieces. For a period, Davies became known, after the band's early years tearing it with songs like You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night for crafting pastoral pop pieces based around English life, so it comes as a surprise that one of his truly darkest (and Halloween-worthy) tunes springs forth out of this time.

Wicked Annabella, which appears on the Kinks' 1968 release, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, is clearly a tale of a witch, or at least a woman suspected by locals in the town of being a witch, whose dark deeds are told from person to person in wild rumor and speculation. While the album, a concept album built around the personalities in a small English village, at times seem draped in a haze of nostalgic warmth and cotton candy, much like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, there is grime just below the surface. There are songs built around local hoodlums, drunks, and prostitutes, a pair of songs rail against the modernization of the Western world, and another discusses the indifference of nature to the plight of mankind.

Elsewhere on the album is a strange song called Phenomenal Cat, which is rather like a fairy tale or children's rhyme, which tells the tale of a very fat cat and exactly why "he gave up his diet and sat in a tree/And ate himself through eternity". It's the odd song out on Village Green, and is, by my estimation, probably the weakest track on the album (though I still like it just fine; lower bar Davies is still top-notch anyone else, in most cases). It really doesn't seem to fit, except perhaps as an example of the sort of tale the local children might sing amongst themselves, but even that doesn't sell it very well because the lyrics don't really identify such an angle.

Which brings me around to Wicked Annabella, which is of a similar bent to Phenomenal Cat in that it seems more like a fairy story, though a very horrid and frightening one, especially if you are the described target of Annabella's actions. The difference between the songs is that Wicked Annabella can more easily fit into the overall narrative of Village Green, by explanation that it is likely meant to represent someone in the village area who is untrusted by most of the locals, around whom they spin lies and increasingly bizarre tales of her adventures, leading to their use in keeping the local children in line, or otherwise, Wicked Annabella might get them... 

"In a dark and misty house,
Where no Christian man has been,
Wicked Annabella 
mixes a brew
That no one's ever seen.

Relatives have passed her by,
Too scared to even say hello.
She's in perpetual midnight,
She shuts out the day,
And goes about her sinful ways.

I've seen her hair, 
I've seen her face,
Look towards mine.

I've felt her eyes 
burning my soul,
Twisting my mind.

Little children who are good
Should always go to sleep at night,
'Cause Wicked Annabella
is up in the sky
Hopin' they will open their eyes.

Don't go into woods tonight,
'Cause underneath the sticks and stones
Are lots of little demons 
enslaved by Annabella
Waiting just to carry you home."

Written by Raymond Douglas Davies • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Any town, even in modern times, usually has someone that the kids, even just in fun (hell, we did) like to pretend is a witch just for the thrill of it. Such a thing is really not fair to that person, but that's the way kids operate. Hell, right now we are going through this weird, mass hysteria "clown sighting" thing, and that plays off the same emotional response and defenses to fear. Focusing back on the song, it is even possible that the character of Annabella no longer even lives in the town, but is still used by locals to instill fear in children and make them straighten up and fly right.

The song itself is a tight little rocker, dominated early on by Pete Quaife's burbling bassline (Quaife described it in an interview as "a Bach bassline"), and then the song gets increasingly frenetic as Ray's too unsung brother Dave (who takes over lead vocals) throws great reams of feedback from his guitar over the latter half of the tune. The way it rambles along, in tandem with the quite vivid lyrics, the song quite reminds me of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (already in the distant past by this point in time, believe it or not).

I had wanted to go with a less obvious and more obscure version of the song for this mixtape. I have numerous covers of Wicked Annabella – by Jason Falkner, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and the Ophelias, to name a few – but none have ever approached the original (thought I quite like Falkner's), and I just can't resist have the Kinks on a Halloween collection. And so it shall be...



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