Come Dancing, from The Kinks’ 1982 album State of Confusion, takes its name from the TV series, Come Dancing, a BBC British ballroom dancing competition show which ran from 1949 to 1998, making it one of television’s longest running shows. Come Dancing is also the forerunner of Strictly Come Dancing, which has ran on the BBC since 2004.
In addition to its title inspiration, the song was also inspired by memories of Ray Davies’ sisters, who loved to dance, going on dates to the local Palais and in particular, his sister, Rene. Rene, who lived in Canada with her reportedly abusive husband but visited her parental home in Fortis Green occasionally, is notable for having bought Davies his first guitar for his thirteenth birthday (21st June 1957) after his attempts to get his parents to buy him one had failed. On the evening of the same day, Rene, who had a weak heart as a result of a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, died of a heart attack whilst dancing at the Lyceum ballroom. In an interview with NPR Music in 2014, Davies said of the day:
“[Rene] had died dancing in a ballroom in London in the arms of a stranger … Coming back from Canada where she’d emigrated to die, really, and again, being a source of inspiration … She gave me my first guitar, which was a great parting gift”.
Davies and his older brother and band-mate, Dave Davies, had six sisters. Another sister, Rose was the inspiration behind the song Rosie, Won’t You Please Come Home, from the album Face to Face, 1966.
Later, on the album Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (1969), Rose inspired the song Australia. Rose had moved to Australia in 1964, with her husband Arthur Anning, who gave the Arthur… album its name.
Lyrically, Come Dancing is a nostalgic look back at the songwriter’s childhood, with memories of Rene and his other sisters going on dates at the local Palais dance hall where big bands would play. The lyrics also tell of how the Palais has now been demolished and of the changes that have taken place in Davies’ native London: “They put up a parking lot on a piece of land, Where the supermarket used to stand, Before that they put up a bowling alley, On the site that used to be the local Pally, That’s where the big bands used to come and play, My sister went there on a Saturday”.
The lyrics go on to reminisce his sisters’ dates: “She would be ready but she always made them wait, In the hallway, in anticipation, He didn’t know the night would end up in frustration, He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week, All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek”. Davies also remembers his sister coming home from the dates in the lines “My sister should have come in at midnight, And my Mum would always sit up and wait, It always ended up in a big row, When my sister used to get in later, Out of my window, I can see them in the moonlight, Two silhouettes saying goodbye by the garden gate”. Later in the song, Davies tells of how his sisters’ daughters are now going on dates: “My sister’s married and she lives on an estate, Her daughters go out, now it’s her turn to wait, She knows they get away with things she never could, But if I asked her, I wonder if she would, Come dancing …”
In an interview with Uncut magazine in 2014, Davies stated that the song was sung from the perspective of a spiv: “It was about an East End spiv, sung in a London voice. If anybody had lost faith in us being real people, that record would restore it”. However, in a 2010 interview with Clash magazine, Davies also stated the song was sung from the point of view of an East End barrow boy: “[Come Dancing] is sung by an East End barrow boy – I think there’s cockney rhyming slang in it”.
Musically, Davies has stated that Come Dancing was an attempt to get back to the “warmer” style which had informed their songs before their transformation into an arena rock act. In his 2014 interview with Uncut magazine, Davies said: “I wanted to regain some of the warmth I thought we’d lost, doing those stadium tours. Come Dancing was an attempt to get back to our roots, about my sisters’ memories of dancing in the ‘50s”. The music of Come Dancing takes the idea of the big bands mentioned in the song and uses it to great effect, creating an upbeat pop single which rightfully reached number 12 in the UK charts, the band’s highest charting single since Apeman, from the album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, in 1970.
The single also fared successfully in the US, reaching number 6 and becoming the band’s biggest hit since Tired of Waiting for You, from the album Kinda Kinks, in 1965.
The promotional video for the single, filmed at Ilford Palace in November 1982, was directed by Julien Temple, also famous for his work on promotional videos for the Sex Pistols, Culture Club and Dexys Midnight Runners. The lyrics of the song are used in the storyline for the video, with Ray Davies starring as a spiv character who takes the sister out on a date. The rest of the band appear as the band playing at the Palais after the events from Davies’ childhood, with the spiv character solemnly watching.
Davies would also play the spiv character in the video for Don’t Forget to Dance, also directed by Julien Temple. Don’t Forget to Dance was the follow up single to Come Dancing and also taken from the State of Confusion album.
The Spiv character was also reprised for the video for the Do It Again single, from Word of Mouth (1984), once again directed by Julien Temple.
Additionally, according to Davies, The Kinks’ 1986 album Think Visual was originally conceived as a concept album centering around taking the character and putting him in the environment of a video shop.
Just like the Palais mentioned in Come Dancing, Ilford Palace, the setting of the single’s video was demolished in 2007 in order to make way for luxury flats. Come Dancing later served as the title track for The Kinks’ 1986 compilation album, Come Dancing with The Kinks: The Best of the Kinks 1977 – 1986 and the title track for Ray Davies’ 2008 stage musical of the same name, set in a 1950’s music hall.