Well, as far as album covers go, it's easy to call the clear winner here, hmm? But we are here to judge music, not visuals. I'm technically legally blind, so being a rather non-visual person I couldn't care less that every single Kinks album cover is bloody awful (bar Muswell Hillbillies) and most of the Beatles album covers are iconic. Ray Davies reviewed an advance copy in 1966 (you can find his review here) and so it seems appropos to sit the klassik Kinks LP released the same year side by side with the Beatles' masterpiece and let'em duke it out, track by track. The rules of this game are so simple that I won't even bother explaining, I'll just get to it. Both consist of precisely 14 tracks (I'm going to discount the bonus tracks to the Kinks reissue, which handicaps them as the bonus tracks such as "Dead End Street," and "I'm Not Like Everybody Else," in general outshine the album proper. If only the Beatles had tacked on their '66 singles and B-sides onto Revolver as bonus tracks then this would be a fairer and more representative competition).
1. "Taxman" vs. "Party Line" - Both are terrific, exciting openers. "Party Line," is one of those bouncy, ultra-singalongable party rockers that defined the early Kinks. It's F-U-N. However, fun as "Party Line," is, it's up against "Taxman," with its iconic riff and psychedelic freakbeat guitar solo. "Taxman," like a lot of George songs, lacks a sense of humour and is therefore less fun, but it's more substantial. This was a very, very tough call, but I've got to call it: Beatles 1, Kinks 0.
P.S. Hmm, both albums kick off with songs by the secondary (Dave vs. George) rather than the primary (John & Paul vs. Ray) songwriters.
2. "Eleanor Rigby" vs. "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home" - Well, this seems pretty unfair to the poor Kinks. One of the stronger tracks on this LP has to go head to head with "ah, look at all the lonely people." Beatles 2, Kinks 0.
3. "I'm Only Sleeping" vs. "Dandy" - Now we have Ray's favourite Beatletune from this LP (hint: it's because it clearly sounds like a Kinks-fluenced tune, exactly the sort of thing that Ray himself would write) up against an actual Kinkstune. Again, a very, very close call. Melodically Lennon's tune is stronger and it boasts neat backwards guitar soloing near the end. However, vocally Ray dominates with alternately sarcasm, envy, rage, sympathy, and wise advice. And need I add that the lyrics are much better, some of Ray's cleverest. Beatles 2, Kinks 1.
4. "Love You To" vs. "Too Much on My Mind" - I've never been a fan of George's excursions with sitar to India. The Kinks song is a melancholy masterpiece that perfectly captures a scatter-brained, weary emotional state. Easy choice. Beatles 2, Kinks 2.
5. "Here, There, and Everywhere" vs. "Session Man" - Ray's satire of the music industry has bite and wit. However, Paul's Beach Boys tribute is breathtakingly lovely. Beatles 3, Kinks 2.
6. "Yellow Submarine" vs. "Rainy Day in June" - Ugh, both of these songs sort of suck. The choice comes down to a cheery children's singalong suckiness or a miserable, plodding suckiness. The Kinks if I must choose, because of the atmospherics - nice plodding piano line, if nothing else. Beatles 3, Kinks 3.
7. "She Said She Said" vs. "House in the Country" - One of the most striking masterpieces of the Beatles catalogue, and therefore of 20th century popular music, vs. a rather pedestrian Kinks hard rocker. Which doesn't even rock that hard. Beatles 4, Kinks 3.
8. "Good Day Sunshine" vs. "Holiday in Waikiki" - Here we encounter a quintessentially breezy but insubstantial McCartney pop roller vs. a quintessentially pissy'n'grouchy Davies social commentary on the soullessness of the modern world. Really, I've never been much of a fan of the Paul tune - let's admit it, this sounds like Wings. Beatles 4, Kinks 4.
9. "And Your Bird Can Sing" vs. "Most Exclusive Residence for Sale" - Really, the Kinks song doesn't have that much going for it beyond that britely ascending guitar hook. John's at his most rocking and snippily biting. Beatles 5, Kinks 4.
10. "For No One" vs. "Fancy" - Ray's excursions into the heart of India are considerably better than George's because Ray happened to write actual songs, not just run up the scales on the sitar without bothering to write a tune. (Also, the Kinks released this several months before the Beatles incorporated Indian elements into their songs.) However, it's up against one of Paul's most emotionally effective laments of a failed marriage. Beatles 6, Kinks 4.
11. "Doctor Robert" vs. "Little Miss Queen of Darkness" - Both are minor efforts, but while the Beatles song is clearly filler with little to recommend it beyond the "Taxman"-esque sharp'n'sour guitar riff, the Kinks track is a fine little story song. Beatles 6, Kinks 5.
12. "I Want to Tell You" vs. "You're Looking Fine" - Well, at least this competition looks fair, in that in general it seems that the strongest/weakest Beatles/Kinks tracks are paired up against each other. The George tune is actually pretty good, even if he's decidedly bringing his B-game. The Kinks song is atrocious. It literally sounds like they wrote and performed it in five minutes. Beatles 7, Kinks 5.
13. "Got to Get You Into My Life" vs. "Sunny Afternoon" - Once again, the Paul song sounds like it could be freakin' Wings. A lot of Beatles tunes get overrated simply because they are the Beatles, and this is one of them. The Kinks tune is a klassik. You've heard it and it is awesome. Paul wouldn't be caught "telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty," and that's why Ray was the better songwriter. Beatles 7, Kinks 6.
14. "Tomorrow Never Knows" vs. "I'll Remember" - If "I'm Only Sleeping," sounded like the Beatles imitating the Kinks, here we have the Kinks clearly imitating the Beatles. Only it's the Beatles of 1964 they're imitating, and the Mop Tops had already evolved far beyond that. As John's multitracked, screams of the Tibetan Book of Dead, bad-trip psychedelic masterpiece makes clear. Beatles 8, Kinks 6.
The Beatles are the winner by two points. Perhaps I should compare the bands' 1966 singles to be more comprehensive and fair, but nah....that's for another day, I've had enough as it is.
P.S. If I ever get to 1967, Something Else by the Kinks clearly trounces Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, song for song. Just so you should know.