The Kinks: Celluloid Heroes

Rock band The Kinks were a product of London in the Swinging Sixties. Formed in Muswell Hill in 1964 by brothers Ray, 20, and Dave Davies, 17, they dominated the pop charts for more than three decades, before splitting up in 1996. Fans were delighted in June 2018 when the brothers revealed they were in the studio, working on new material.

The boys were two of eight children, born to local working class couple Frederick and Anne Davies. They grew up in a musical household, as their parents enjoyed old-fashioned music hall songs, while their siblings listened to everything from rock 'n' roll to jazz, so they had a wide taste in music.

The Kinks

©W. Veenman / CC BY-SA 3.0

After forming The Kinks, they shot to mega-stardom almost overnight, when their third single, You Really Got Me, topped the UK chart in November 1964 and peaked at number seven in the United States. Their debut album, Kinks, made it to number three in the UK.

The line-up comprised Ray on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Dave on backing vocals and lead guitar, Mick Avory on drums and Pete Quaife on bass guitar.

Throughout the decades, The Kinks had a reputation for their social commentary on English culture and lifestyle, with the main songwriter, Ray, writing in an observational and chatty style. They were considered one of the most influential groups of their era.

American success

When The Kinks broke into the American market with You Really Got Me, it opened up new opportunities for lyrics. Their 1972 album, Everybody's in Show-Biz, reflected their experiences in the United States.

They released a single, Celluloid Heroes, from the album, when they compared the difference between stereotypical Hollywood stars and the reality of American life. The song looks at movie stars honoured on the Walk of Fame, where their handprints and autographs are permanently imprinted on the pavements of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

Ray wrote the song during a visit to Los Angeles, when he stayed at a hotel near the Walk of Fame. He believed the walk represented both success and failure. He based the title of the song on the transparent plastic, celluloid, which was manufactured in sheets and was used in the past for cinematographic film.

The track described how people often desired to become a movie star, a "celluloid hero", because they seemed immortal and invulnerable, but in reality, the person behind the star is just a human being, like anyone else, who may be exhausted by their life in the public eye.

Hollywood heroes

He said everybody was a "dreamer" and aspired to be a star, especially in Hollywood, but after studying the pavement stars of actress Greta Garbo and heartthrob actor Rudolph Valentino, he spoke in a rather melancholy tone.

He believed Garbo was "weak and fragile", so even after Hollywood turned her into a "princess", she disappeared from the public eye, with her famous catchphrase, "I want to be alone."

Valentino was one of Hollywood's first leading men in the silent film era of the 1920s and had a following of thousands of adoring female fans, but he died at the age of only 31, in 1926, from peritonitis, following emergency surgery for appendicitis and gastric ulcers.

His death led to mass hysteria among his legion of fans, some of whom committed suicide on hearing of his death. The swashbuckling star of romantic adventure films such as The Sheik and Blood and Sand was as vulnerable as the rest of us, unlike the image the fans imagined from his dashing roles on the silver screen.

Celluloid Heroes also mentioned Bette Davies, claiming she lived a "lonely life", while Marilyn Monroe was described as "not very tough" and "only made of flesh and blood". While he was acknowledging they were heroes on the silver screen, he realised their personal lives were nothing like their huge movie personas.

The song closes with the thought that everyone on Hollywood Boulevard was a person who "worked and suffered and struggled for fame" - but some had "suffered in vain" and their lives came to a tragic end.

The song is often played on the radio in the US to mark the death of a Hollywood star.

Personal journey

It was said to echo Ray's personal desire to be an immortal character, like those portrayed in the movies on the big screen. It was also said to reflect his own journey to fame and fortune as a pop star, which led to an apparently glamorous lifestyle, but which also left him exhausted and aggravated at times.

After 32 years at the top of the music industry, The Kinks split up in 1996. The Davies brothers said they were following solo projects, but these never hit the same heights of success as their work with The Kinks. In the summer of 2018, Ray and Dave again teamed up with drummer Mick Avory to begin work on a new album.

Ray said the idea of a Kinks' reunion was sparked after the recent tour by fellow 1960s rock icons the Rolling Stones. He said he had a backlog of songs that he wished to record with the band. A release date is yet to be announced.

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