A Song I Love – Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

I wrote this post a while back with no greater motive than love of the song. But in light of recent events, let’s dedicate this to the Brits who remain, as ever, strong and resilient.

On his album, The Interpreter: Live at Largo, singer Rhett Miller says, “This is only the greatest song ever written by any human being. God, I wish I’d written this song.”

I don’t know that “Waterloo Sunset” – released in 1967 –  is the greatest song ever written by any human being. But I wanted to put that quote in the post it as it shows the impact it had on some singers and songwriters. Ray Davies – who has been inducted into every songwriters’ hall you can think of – wrote it. Rolling Stone lists it as #42 on the 500 Greatest songs of All Time.

The song is, I think, the perfect marriage of music and lyrics. The beautiful Beach Boys-like “sha-la-las” and harmonies add to the whole effect. Davies has said that when he crafts a song, he always writes the music first and then the lyrics just fall into place.

“Although I’m an observer in the song,” Davies told The Guardian, “in many ways, it is about me. I’d had a breakdown and though I wasn’t a gibbering wreck, I was feeling vulnerable. The river is depicted as a protective force. The song is about how innocence will prevail over adversity. It starts out delicate, but by the end has become awesome in its power. Those triumphant chords come in – and the angels tell you everything is going to be OK.”

In the song, the unnamed narrator looks out at the world from his window. The world is a teeming mass of people. But as long as he can gaze on the sunset over Waterloo station, he is “in paradise.”

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset’s fine

Into this tight poetic world, enter two lovers whom he names Terry and Julie.** They meet every Friday night at Waterloo Station where the crowd bustles around them. But, despite the bustling crowd “swarming like flies,” the world drops away and they only see each other.

Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander
I stay at home at night
But I don’t feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset’s fine

The last, and for me the most poignant, verse ties it all together. Terry and Julie cross over the river where “they feel safe and sound.” They gaze on Waterloo Sunset and, like the guy looking out his window, they don’t “need no friends.” They’ve got each other and – I think this is the moving part – there’s a bond between the guy in the window and them. Despite the madness of the world, the sunset makes everything ok. They are “in paradise.” Even if only for that moment.

Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don’t need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise

Waterloo sunset’s fine

Spotify link

There’s some speculation about whether Terry and Julie really exist or if the singer is just imagining them. Does it matter?

Davies loves Liverpool and originally wanted to call the song “Liverpool Sunset.”

**Rumor has always had it for years that he gave the two lovers these names in tribute to Terence Stamp and Julie Christie who were then starring in the movie Far From the Madding Crowd. In his autobiography, he denies this. “It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country.” And yet in a contemporary interview, he says this:

“If you look at the song as a kind of film I suppose ‘Terry’ would be Terence Stamp and ‘Julie’ would be Julie Christie.”

25 thoughts on “A Song I Love – Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

    1. I visited Waterloo in Belgium a few years back. They had a board where you could press a button and see all the places that had been named for Napoleon’s defeat. Seemed like there were 30 or more, one of which was your city.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that’s a good one. The song was far more popular in England than here in America due to the fact that Kinks were banned from playing here for four years. Cited for “unprofessional behavior” but I still haven’t figured out if they were too rowdy or it was some contractual/union thing. Stories vary.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking of the opening riff, I can only assume Survivor was listening to thr original when they composed Eye Of The Tiger.

        I wonder if The Kinks were the most ripped off band ever. Maybe I’ll do a post about this someday.


  1. Rhythm-wise they’re very similar. Where Survivor might win in the proverbial court of law, however, are the actual notes. “Eye of the Tiger” has one note played over and over again with occasional power chords; “Sunset” has a descending bass pattern across two strings. then a signature riff. So, rhythmically similar but musically not at all alike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah. If the courts allowed for bands to sue over songs that sort of sound like othet songs there would be a new lawsuit every hour.

      Maybe Survivor had The Kinks album in their collection but never played it. Kind of like Jimmy Page and Taurus.


  2. Really, belatedly, getting into the Kinks. Some killer guitar licks in that back-catalogue.
    Also; Waterloo Station is a bit of a shit place to watch a sunset from. I speak from experience.


    1. BTW, you doubtless know that the Kinks are a lot more than just those killer licks. Dave’s playing is perfect for the band but it’s Ray’s vignettes that carry the day. Ray Davies is one of the greatest songwriters ever. Series later this year, date TBD.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “This is only the greatest song ever written..” Sometimes CB feels the same way. It is certainly a special song. You did the ME number on it. It’s like you’re reading my mail on the music i dig. This song is up there with the most listens of songs CB loves (I’m on my second spin while I type). This song hits a nerve with me. A good nerve. Next to The Band, The Kinks are up there with them as one of my favorites. They made some great music. Look forward to your piece on the boys. Meanwhile I’m going for spin number 3 on this tune.


      1. Lots of other good posts in the meantime. It’s funny Doc that you would chose ‘Waterloo Sunset’. I’m not kidding about that being one of my all time fave songs. It hits CB’s romantic side. It’s like Springsteen. They both rock but they write these beautiful songs. A song that hits the same cord with me is ‘Dirty Old Town’ by the Pogues. Not as slick but the same vibe.


  4. I know what you mean. I’m cynical, but with just enough gas left in the tank to be a closet romantic. Part of the method in my madness with this (and my Arthur post) is to split stuff off so I can cram more songs into the Kinks series. I did that with Clapton, too..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We will be hitting some of the same notes (have already) with our takes. I think I have a Kinks take coming up. They were huge influence in my early listening days. ‘Arthur’ which we talked about on your post was one of the first albums of many that I dug.

      Liked by 1 person

What would you say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.