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'Muswell Hillbillies' was the band's first album for RCA Records their prior recordings having been released on Pye Records released in November 1971. The album is named after the Muswell Hill area of North London, where band leader Ray Davies and guitarist Dave Davies grew up and the band formed in the early 1960s
The album centered around themes of poverty and working-class life, as well as the destruction and subdivision of old Victorian neighborhoods that had become commonplace in North London during the 1970s.
The album is a wide-ranging collection of Ray Davies compositions which focus on the frustrations and stresses of modern life, such as poverty, housing development, and subdivision Musical styles range from rock ('20th Century Man') and country ('Muswell Hillbilly') to blues ('Here Come the People in Grey') and theatrical, music-hall inspired numbers ('Alcohol'). The album is notable for the intentional use of dated recording equipment. Ray Davies and engineer Mike Bodak utilized 10 year old microphones on many of the tracks to give the record an antiquated feel. 'Muswell Hillbillies' was also the first of The Kinks' records featuring their new brass section, The Mike Cotton Sound, which included Mike Cotton on trumpet, John Beecham on trombone and tuba, and Alan Holmes on clarinet. The front cover picture was taken in The Archway Tavern, a pub more than 2 miles away from Muswell Hill. The back inset picture, showing the band below a signpost giving direction to Muswell Hill, was taken on the small traffic island at the intersection of Castle Yard and Southwood Lane in Highgate.
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