The Story of the Kinks’ Biggest U.S. Album Ever, ‘Low Budget’
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For all their mid-to-late-‘60s success in England, it never got as good for the Kinks in the U.S. as it did when they released Low Budget on July 10, 1979.
In 1965, the American Federation of Musicians issued a ban on the Kinks from touring America for four years time. So while their English cohorts like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and Cream performed, cavorted and raked in the cash across the pond, the Kinks were left on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, they decided to press on and ultimately became regarded one of the quintessential English bands of the ’60s.
As the ‘70s dawned, the group kicked things into overdrive. While they had never lacked for creative output, over the next decade the band would go on to release a staggering 10 studio records, all culminating with the release of Low Budget.
Inner turmoil and outside forces always seemed to conspire against the band in one way or another, but, according to Ray Davies, the period surrounding the writing and release Low Budget may just have been the most tranquil in the band’s history.
“I loved the period around ’78 or ’79 when we’d found a way of moving forward and making records,” Davies told the A.V. Club. “We had an active record company, good head of the company, good A&R, and we toured New York for about three weeks. The tour focused and found our audience. That was a wonderful time, because we were building, playing smaller colleges and smaller clubs, and I was writing this album.”
For their latest work, the band, spurred by Ray’s decision to move to the U.S., figured that a change of scenery might be a good thing to try out. “Low Budget was the first album we ever recorded outside of England,” Dave Davies recalled to the Trouser Press in 1979. “Ray now has an apartment in New York, so we all got together for about a week or 10 days. Ray had a multitude of new songs and some very specific ideas on how he wanted them to sound.”
As was their habit, the recording process for the record moved fast. “I think the good thing about the album is that it’s very spontaneous,” Dave Davies said. “We did it very quickly. Misfits was a good album technically, but a bit sterile because of all the work that went into it; it took so long. Low Budget was done so fast that it has a lot of qualities that are lost when you put too much in, try to over-refine a sound.”
When it was finally released, Low Budget became the band’s biggest chart success in the United States, just missing the Top 10 at No. 11. Overall, it was a record that dealt with contemporary themes and utilized cultural and social touchstones that American audiences could relate to such as the gas shortage of 1979 with “A Gallon of Gas” and Christopher Reeve’s widely popular Superman film from the year before on “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman.”
The day after the album’s release, the Kinks kicked off their expansive with a show at the Bergen Community College in Paramus, N.J. They spent the next half of the year winding their way across the country and along the way, recorded a bevy of tracks for what would make up their next release, the live record, One for the Road.
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