That chunky two-note "You Really Got Me" riff got me hooked. The Kinks' first hit was simple but attention-grabbing, a stabbing sensation unlike what the other British Invaders of 1964 were offering up, and that's saying a lot. As '65 began, "All Day and All of the Night" appeared as a part two or sorts with an elevated blast of manic guitar confusion midway. Next came "Tired of Waiting For You," a straightforwardly angry song but with a milder tone, and the unique quality of Ray Davies' voice became increasingly apparent; here was a bloke with style and attitude. He was also a gifted lyricist and later stirred the pop culture pot in imaginative ways.
Ray was 20 when the group rose to fame in '64; his brother, Dave Davies, just 17. Londoners since birth, they had grown up listening to traditional jazz and rock and roll music, fascinated by the skiffle movement popular in the late '50s as were their peers. Both took up guitar playing before they were teenagers. Pete Quaife played bass, the most committed of several school chums the brothers practiced with in those early days. Going by the uninspired name The Ray Davies Quartet, the three recruited a drummer, Mickey Willet, and began playing at events held at their secondary school in the suburb of Muswell Hill (the North London "outskirts," as it was sometimes referred to), graduating to local pubs whose owners had little concern about the boys' underage status.
In 1962, Ray left to study at the Hornsey College of Art while Dave and Pete continued playing under various names including The Ravens. Ray returned shortly afterwards with renewed purpose. Willet moved on and Mick Avory became the band's permanent drummer. The biggest change, perhaps, was a new name that had been bandied about; though Ray wasn't wild about being in an outfit called the Kinks, it stuck, coming to represent the off-kilter look, sound and, eventually, lyrical content of their music. Larry Page, who by 1963 had traded in his marginal singing career for the business end of things, was hired as their manager and, with the help of Shel Talmy, secured some auditions for the group with record labels. Chicagoan Talmy had been working at the U.K.'s Decca Records with Charles Stone, producing The Bachelors and achieving success that had been elusive in the States. Robert Wace, a previous Ravens manager, had introduced him to the band and Talmy managed to get them in the door at Pye Records while taking the reins as producer of all early Kinks efforts.
At first they followed the same pattern as most British acts of the era. In early 1964, a remake of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" was the first Pye release, showing obvious reverence to the American rock and roll that inspired them. The single didn't connect; to be honest, it wasn't even very good. Perhaps the key to future success could be found on the flip side, a bouncy, bluesy tune written by Ray Davies, "I Took My Baby Home." The second single's A side, "You Still Want Me," was a Davies composition, not a hit but a definite move in the right direction. With "You Really Got Me," arguably the hardest-rocking record of 1964, the die was cast: all future single releases were penned by Ray. It only took about a month for that third single to reach number one in England in the fall of '64, in the process setting off a long string of smashes. Appearing stateside on the Reprise label, it became the first of three consecutive top ten hits including the aforementioned "All Day" (number two U.K.) and "Tired of Waiting" (a second British chart-topper).
The Kinks were creating a harder rock standard (along with The Animals, The Yardbirds and one or two other acts) while forcing U.S. groups to scramble in order to compete on their own turf. "Set Me Free" was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, while "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy" and "See My Friends" clicked in England and the urgently-paced "Who'll Be the Next in Line" impacted the American charts. A U.S. tour raised the Kinks' visibility, but there was a brush-up with the American Federation of Musicians over the band's preference for using non-union employees at each venue; the experience soured Davies and company on scheduling any further concert tours in the Home of the Brave. Four years passed before they returned to the States.
The late-'65 single "A Well Respected Man" examined the life of a highly-disciplined lad with a materialistic plan; the songs's clever lyrics (if somewhat confusing the first ten times you listen to it) signaled a switch in Ray's direction as a songwriter; likely influenced by his experiences in art school, the band's material veered away from their rocking early works with forays into lyrically colorful subject matter. "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" concerned an art-world connoisseur of a different kind than previously found in hit songs ('...he flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly...in matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be'). Davies' words were nearly always open to interpretation; listener perception varied widely. "Sunny Afternoon," at first listen, seemed a protest against high taxes, but the song can be taken as a much deeper commentary or simply as the meanderings of one enjoying a cold beer on a summer day. It was the third number one U.K. hit for the group in July 1966 and a top 20 hit in the U.S. Other acts cashed in on Ray's songwriting expertise; in '65 and '66, The Honeycombs, Dave Berry and The Pretty Things appeared on the charts in the British Isles with covers of Davies tunes, while Herman's Hermits added to their run of top ten hits across the pond with "Dandy."
Nicky Hopkins contributed his keyboard expertise on studio sessions around this time, adding a new dimension to what had been more guitar-based efforts. By the start of 1967, though, it seemed as if the Kinks had disappeared from the American landscape, both physically and sonically. Brilliantly descriptive songs like "Deadend Street" and "Mr. Pleasant," emphasizing a British point of view (as opposed to the more common tendency for fellow Brit acts to anchor their sound in American rock and R&B), became top ten hits in England but barely dented the charts in the U.S. "Waterloo Sunset," a major spring '67 single in England considered their artistic peak by many fans and critics, was completely rejected by American stations, hidden from all but the band's most loyal fans. Reasons for this sudden resistance are unclear (made more stinging when considering many British artists were still racking up hits three years into the Invasion). Dave Davies stepped out from behind his brother's shadow at this time, scoring two U.K. solo hits in '67: the haunting "Death of a Clown" (cowritten with Ray) and "Suzanah's Still Alive."
Though Talmy's work as producer had been stellar, Ray (crediting himself as Raymond Douglas Davies on record labels), took more control of production at decade's close. Quaife decided to leave and was replaced on bass by John Dalton, while John Gosling came on board as permanent keyboardist. Former glories were regained in early 1970 with "Victoria," a somewhat irreverent tribute to Davies' homeland, which returned the group to the U.K. top ten. Next up was "Lola," recounting a wild night in North Soho (where champagne '...tastes just like Coca-Cola') with a woman...who turns out to be a man. Resistance to the song came first in England from the BBC (objecting to the brand name, the line was changed to 'cherry cola') and in America soon after for a different reason. Radio played the record with its 'girls will be boys and boys will be girls' storyline, but many stations airing it in high rotation buckled under pressure from offended parties and abruptly dropped it. The song went top ten in America anyway while hitting number two in the U.K. At no point in the band's career were they more talked about than that summer when "Lola" stirred things up, loosening media standards a bit where lyrical content was concerned.
The Kinks moved to RCA Victor and later Clive Davis's Arista Records, notching hits like "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" in 1978 and "(I Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" in '79. Record sales during those years were less about singles as their albums, often "concept" efforts, came to be highly anticipated by fans. Ray Davies had proven himself as a naturally creative wordsmith; as the lineup changed through the years, he (with brother Dave) formed the backbone. "Come Dancing" raised the group's visibility in the video era of the 1980s and was their most successful single since that initial 1-2-3 punch in '64 and '65.
One of the longer-lasting British Invasion acts, The Kinks finally called it quits in 1996, leaving behind a large catalog of music, consistently compelling as a result of Davies' expository gifts. Several solo albums have followed, accompanied by concert performances in venues extravagant and intimate. He expanded his focus in later years, writing and publishing short stories, making documentary films and composing music for the stage.
- Long Tall Sally - 1964
- You Really Got Me - 1964
- All Day and All of the Night - 1965
- Tired of Waiting For You - 1965
- Set Me Free - 1965
- Who'll Be the Next in Line /
Everybody's Gonna Be Happy - 1965
- See My Friends - 1965
- A Well Respected Man - 1966
- Till the End of the Day /
Where Have All the Good Times Gone - 1966
- Dedicated Follower of Fashion - 1966
- Sunny Afternoon - 1966
- Deadend Street - 1967
- Waterloo Sunset - 1967
- Death of a Clown - 1967
by Dave Davies
- Mr. Pleasant - 1967
- Autumn Almanac - 1967
- Suzanah's Still Alive - 1967
by Dave Davies
- Wonderboy - 1968
- Days - 1968
- Plastic Man - 1969
- Victoria - 1970
- Lola - 1970
- Apeman - 1971
- Sleepwalker - 1977
- A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy - 1978
- (I Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman - 1979
- Come Dancing - 1983
- Don't Forget to Dance - 1983
- Do It Again - 1985