We love the Kinks, and we especially adore Ray Davies. Ray has been making music for popular culture for over 45 years. One of the more pristine songs Ray sings is “Waterloo Sunset” and watching him in performance of that song, over the years, tells us precisely what we need to know about longevity, historical station, and how celebrity singers must sustain their craft in performance over a decades-long career — and you do that by bringing something new to the song each time you sing it.
Here is the opening lyric for Waterloo Sunset:
Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise
As you can see, the song is quiet, introspective, and full of longing. In this first video example, you see a young Ray lip-syncing Waterloo Sunset in a late-1960’s performance. The song shines, but the performance is just merely there:
Now we’re in 1973, and this performance of the song has more meaning and resonance to the group — you can tell they know it’s already a crowd favorite — and Ray sings the song live and with great resonance:
Fast-forward to the mid-80’s and you have Ray singing Waterloo Sunset, without the Kinks, and he’s playing guitar with a piano accompaniment. This stripped version of the song brings home the plaintive pain that is embedded in the song with heretofore invisible rivulets:
Finally, we have Ray singing Waterloo Sunset at Glastonbury 2010. He’s the grand old man of the show, and with the Crouch End Festival Chorus backing him up, the song is given an even deeper and more golden meaning in performance.
In that fine performance, Waterloo Sunset has now become a song about not just a river, but also a raging against getting older while the river continues on, ever young, and full of promise and prestige that we can only admire and sanctify in song.
It takes a great magician and marveler to bring forth the changing essence of a song over time, and as we’ve seen with Ray Davies, each time he sings Waterloo Sunset, he takes us to a whole new landscape of the mind.