Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kinks -- "Victoria" (1969)

Canada to India
Australia to Cornwall
Singapore to Hong Kong
From the west to the east
From the rich to the poor
Victoria loved them all
You regular readers of 2 or 3 lines are no doubt surprised to see a post on Thursday instead of the usual Friday.  

There's a good reason for this change of schedule.  Today is the 193rd birthday of the longest-reigning female monarch in the history of the world -- Her Imperial Majesty Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India (not to mention Princess of Hanover and Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), who reigned over the British Empire for 63 years, 7 months, and 2 days.

The young Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, are popularly viewed as having been major prudes.  In Victorian England, the better sort used the word "limb" in mixed company -- "leg" was deemed a bit racy.  The first two lines of "Victoria" allude to Victorian morality:

Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene

But Victoria and Albert had nine children, despite Victoria's aversion to being pregnant and her disgust with breast-feeding.  As this excerpt from her diary entry about her wedding night indicates, Victoria couldn't resist Albert's manly charms: 

I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!!  MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert . . . his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before!  He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! 

In other words, Albert shagged her rotten!  (Oh behave, Vicky!)

Prince Albert in 1842
If there were such a thing as a Mount Rushmore for "British Invasion" bands, the Kinks (along with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Who) would be on it.  The Kinks were the most English of those groups -- Pete Townshend described them as "quintessentially English" -- and you can learn a lot about British history and culture from their music.  

"Victoria" is the first track on Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), a 1969 concept album that was created to be the soundtrack to a never-produced television play.

The title character of the album, Arthur Morgan, is a middle-aged working-class Englishman who lost one son in the Korean War, and whose other son is taking his family to Australia in hopes of having a better life.

The album is nostalgic in tone, and songs about the glory days of 19th-century England ("Victoria"), the terrible slaughter of World War I ("Some Mother's Son"), the resolve of the British people during World War II ("Mr Churchill Says"), and the fear and anxiety about the future that was felt by superficially comfortable suburbanite homeowners in the difficult years that followed that war ("Shangri-La," the greatest rock song ever written about the concerns of middle-aged adults).

The lines quoted above list some of the better-known appendages of the British Empire during Victoria's reign.  The British also ruled the Bahamas, British Guiana, British Honduras, Burma, Ceylon, Cyprus, Fiji, Gambia, Gibraltar, the Gold Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Nigeria, Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and many, many other places.

Victoria's Empire
Today the British Empire includes only the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and the 14 British Overseas Territories.  Those territories encompass a land area of some 667,000 square miles -- about the same as the area covered by France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

That may sound pretty impressive, but all but 7000 of those 667,000 square miles consists of the British Antarctic Territory (which has a summer population of some 400 souls, and a winter population of 50).  The other 13 territories include Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands . . . well, you get the picture.  There are some nice places on that list to be sure, but it ain't much of an empire.)

Here's "Victoria":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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