Who Wants To Be A Baby More: Jack White or Ray Davies?
While leading The White Stripes and The Kinks, Jack White and Ray Davies respectively crafted generation-defining rock sensibilities regarding melody, arrangement, and storytelling.
Speaking of stories, many of the ones told by these guys concern a deep, burning desire to return to childhood. To achieve boyhood again. To become baby, if you will.
But between these two aspiring children, who most wants to be baby? We’ll stack up their top 5 “I’m going back!” songs head to head in a five-round, winner-take-all cribmatch. First to 3 wins. Let’s go.
Round 1: “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart” vs “The Way Love Used to Be”
The White Stripes’ “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart” is a classic example of Jack White thinking an entire sentence is a good title for a song. It isn’t!
The song itself is a lightweight but pleasant ballad about the desire to impress your beau’s mom. The pleading vocal sounds like the narrator is around high school age (“I’m inclined to go finish high school”), which is cool. On the other hand, he’s also enlisting his own mom to bake cakes for diplomatic purposes, making him sound ten. Let’s call him an ambitious tween.
Meanwhile, The Kinks’ “The Way Love Used to Be” is a heartwarming yet melancholy invitation for someone to come “talk about the way love used to be”. It’s beautifully arranged and 20-year-old Ray’s vocal carries a devastating fatalism that turns simple nostalgia into a true yearning for love when he was a child (?). Real staring-out-a-rainy-window energy.
ROUND 1 WINNER: Ray Davies
With relatively restrained lyrics from both songwriters, the golden diaper goes to the sad boy: Ray Davies (1) Jack White (0)
Round 2: “Picture Book” vs “Jimmy The Exploder”
First up we have The Kinks’ “Picture Book”–a highly enjoyable tour of a very-literal photo album powered by a restless chord progression and an upbeat, “nostalgia=cool” mindset. Per usual though, Ray’s worldview comes through in the incongruously bummed out lyric:
When you were just a baby
Those days when you were happy
A long time ago
And there we have it! The literal “I wanna be a baby again” from a rock star! We love to see it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the opening track off The Stripes’ debut album. “Jimmy The Exploder” fuckin’ rocks, partly because it sounds exactly like it came from the mind of a jacked up 5 year old. The main section mostly forgoes a “riff” or “progression” in favor of “caveman beating up an electric guitar”. Then come the napkin-note length verses, one of which is:
Are you seein’ red now
Jumpin’ on the bed now
Okay the monkeys jumpin’ on the bed thing, got it. He also screams “Hoo” like a hundred times, but that’s more bird than baby.
ROUND 2 WINNER: Ray Davies
Once again, some fond childhood imagery is no match for the angst of a guy who dearly misses crapping his pants: Ray Davies (2) Jack White (0)
Round 3: “We Are Going To Be Friends” vs “Do You Remember Walter?”
An inarguably great and sweet song,“We Are Going To Be Friends” stands as The White Stripes’ best ballad. Simple arrangement. Painfully earnest vocal from a kindergarten POV. Incredibly endearing. In fact…it makes me…want to…THE INFECTION IS SPREADING
Let’s be clear: Jack White’s ability to make me reminisce fondly about a made up childhood betrays a deep commitment to becoming a baby again. Whoever invented the adult romper was probably listening to this when they did it.
The inverse of that charm is Ray Davies’ “Do You Remember Walter?”, a great song doubling as an annoying conversation. Everything spins off the titular phrase about a Walter who was soooo cooooool in the eyes of the narrator. It’s also puncuated with the bleak asides that inevitably accompany Ray’s thoughts about anything:
And if I talked about the old times, you’d get bored
And you’d have nothing more to say.
Yes, people often change.
But memories of people can remain.
That’s right, he’s the friend nobody likes who talks about how nobody likes him. The guy whose only job is to not say that.
ROUND 3 WINNER: Jack White
For the first time, Ray’s incredibly moody bullshit fails to overpower the Pied Piper of Fingerpainting: Ray Davies (2) Jack White (1)
Round 4: “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” vs “Sister Do You Know My Name?”
Finally! The full sentence/question showdown the world has been waiting for!
“Where Have All The Good Times Gone?” goes down as one of Ray Davies’ more emotionally successful attempts to get someome to tie his shoes for him. The opening verse sums it up pretty well:
Well, lived my life and never stopped to worry ‘bout a thing
Opened up and shouted out and never tried to sing
Wondering if I’d done wrong
Will this depression last for long?
After repeating the titular phrase a few times, he complains that:
Once we had an easy ride and always felt the same
While this is all very relatable stuff, it’s also a 21 year old rock star writing songs about how he misses the tase of Gerber. Legend.
On the other hand, “Sister Do You Know My Name?” is basically Jack White taking “We Are Going To Be Friends” and making it all fucked up. A childhood frienship becomes a childhood crush. Is it obsessive? Hell yeah! Uncomfortable under-AND-over-tones included!
Many of those tones arise from the narrator giving that crush the nickname “Sister”. Which, funnily enough, JW first rose to fame while claiming that his bandmate/ex-wife was his sister. Happens all the time! In a very normal way! That I definitely don’t want to know about!
ROUND 4 WINNER: Jack White
Ray Davies having a succesful “must become baby” breakthrough is no match for the incestuously weird energy of one Mr. White: Ray Davies (2) Jack White (2)
And it’s all tied up. Let’s see whose incredibly fucked up psyche wins/loses.
Round 5: “The Air Beneath My Fingers” vs “Young and Innocent Days”
“The Air Near My Fingers” is a great example of not judging a book by its cover. Up front, we have a nice, chunky chord progression, bashed out with textbook Stripes lack-of-precision. Afer some deceptively regular-ish rock ‘n roll lyrics, the second verse brings us:
You told me in December
That a boy is not a man
Until he makes a stand
Well, I’m not a genius
But maybe you’ll remember this
I never said I ever wanted
To be a man
Okay cool…literally saying out loud that you want to be a boy! Still, not as bad as the stuff we’ve seen so far. Until the third verse:
My mom is so caring
She’s really got me staring
At all the crazy little things
She does for sure
And I can’t seem to think of
Another kind of love
That a boy could ever get
From anyone but her
It should be said that there are no weirder baby-feelings than Oedipal ones. Absolutely none. Thanking Christ Himself there’s no fourth verse, we can move on.
“Young and Innocent Days” is one of seemingly hundreds of Kinks songs that state, in no uncertain terms, that it was all better when Ray was smaller. Weaker. Less literate.
Arranged and performed with a longing we know well, this cut from the near-perfect “Arthur” album serves as Ray’s ultimate anthem to wishing he still had a bedtime. With a remarkably light touch, the band achieves delicacy and simplicity, lush romantacism and grim realism. Lyrically, it’s about how being a baby kicked ass. As always.
FINAL: Jack White
Jack White rides away with this in a stroller by having some incredibly fucked up feelings about childhood, love, and family. Mostly family: Ray Davies (2) Jack White (3)