/ Sunny afternoon, Pye, 1966
In the mid-eighties, when I first heard this, none of us were like anybody else. We were, for example, fierce little fanzine writers who reviled mainstream taste, revolutionaries who knew that a situationist would never call him or herself a situationist, because if you named yourself so, you were conforming to a non-situationist’s fixed idea of what a situationist might be; slipping on an ideological straightjacket, and shooting your cuffs to see how it fitted. Yet we knew that beyond the ‘I’ there was an ‘Us’ and a ‘Them’; we needed it to be so. We needed friends and enemies were in no short supply. Looking to the future, there was absolutely no chance that we would become, for example, middle managers in large corporations living comfortably in the Hampshire countryside.
This is the metaphysical notion at the heart of ‘I’m not like everybody else’, long-pondered ever since. There is no-one like me, babe; because I don’t conform, these are the things you can’t expect me to do. The law is being laid down at the outset. It’s the reverse of the role that Grant McLennan adopts or inhabits when he sings ‘one light, one light’s all you need to keep the dark out’ on the Go-Betweens’ ‘It could be anyone’. The Kinks’ song and title might be a more conceited notion but for the distinctly Kinksian essence of the music. If ‘You really got me’ was the blueprint for garage guitar, then this is its apotheosis. There’s the dramatic introductory sounding note and the figure into which it descends, brooking no argument. The crisp focussed rhythm firmly and immediately established against a pulsing bass line. Dave Davies’ fragile but determined vocal and the rousing chorus, perversely mixing a chant from the terraces with soft harmonising ooohs, bottomed off by Pete Quaife’s unique arpeggio on the bass. Then a false instrumental ending of supreme craftsmanship, sonically seamless, an edifice on which to gaze for a lifetime, built to last beyond it. And late on, Ray’s echoing of his brother’s words, gently reminding the listener, and no doubt his younger brother, that it was in fact he who wrote the song, he who gifted him the singing of it.
More or less universally recognised as one of the greatest ever B sides, ‘I’m not like everybody else’ is a timeless outsider’s manifesto, a paradoxical rallying cry for those who would recognise each other with a quasi-Masonic nod but, because outsiders, refuse to engage much further than that initial barely perceptible signal. In the middle of the sixties, it must have made perfect sense as post-Elvis teenagers, exposed to influences and inspirations their parents never latched onto or had, left the straight world. In the seventies, Johnny Rotten might have sung it, his vocal snarl engaged in humorous dialectic with one of his quizzical bug eyes. In the eighties, against a backdrop of Thatcherite force, isolated voices set aflame by Lydon united in subscription to its notion, scattered pins on a map of Britain connected by criss-crossing thread. By the mid-nineties, who in their right mind would not sing it, subscribe to it? Who would declare themselves conformist, even if evidence existed to the contrary?
In the twenty-first century, it seems that the young person whose nature is not yet set has at his or her choosing and disposal infinite ways of being, endless ways of presenting a character; but how many MySpace personas map exactly onto another? Hosts of angelic upstarts, herds of folk singers, flocks of soul songstresses. All like everybody else. It was easier to be different in the heyday of the Kinks, but harder to take the first step on the path away from compromise and conformity. Now it’s easy to take that first step, but harder to attain distinction. Though not impossible, in advance of experience to dissuade you from believing that you’re not like everybody else.