The Kinks – (pt. 1) Muswell Hillbilly Boys

(pictured l-r: Mick Avory, Pete Quaife, Dave Davies, Ray Davies)

The so-called British Invasion consisted of a fair number of bands including The Animals, Hollies, Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Peter and Gordon, etc. But for many people, (oh bloody hell, at least for me) the Big Four were the Beatles, the Stones, The Who and The Kinks.

The Beatles broke up in 1970, The Stones and The Who – by some miracle – roll along. The Kinks – after a 32-year ride with all the attendant ups and downs – broke up in 1996. This is the story of one of the greatest (and most dysfunctional) rock and roll bands ever….

To the casual fan, The Kinks output comes down to a handful of songs – “You Really Got Me,” “Lola,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “Tired of Waiting for You,” “Waterloo Sunset.” Maybe a few others. A friend of mine who knows music pretty well thought “Tired of Waiting” was by the Beau Brummels. Point being, they’re kind of a misunderstood band.

But as mentioned, The Kinks were around, principal players intact, for over thirty years. And in that time they went through several stages. Wikipedia, in its dry, emotionless way, details their career starting with “Formation,” through “American Touring Ban,” through “Theatrical Reincarnation” to “Decline in Popularity and Split.”

Ray and Dave Davies were the youngest of eight children, the rest of whom were girls. They grew up in Muswell Hill, a suburb of London about 9km north of the City of London. Ray spent a good deal of his time living with one of his sisters in Highgate. So he and Dave didn’t necessarily spend a lot of time together growing up. “We were close,” Ray says, “But not as close as probably normal brothers would be. It was only really music that brought us together.” The age difference (Ray was born in 1944, Dave in 1947) probably didn’t help.

The Davies clan were influenced not only by their parents’ music hall leanings but also by early rock and roll. Interestingly, for a group that was never thought of as a blues band, that genre was also an early inspiration. Ray specifically cited the works of country bluesmen such as Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy.  whose music “changed my life.”

According to Dave, in the winter of 1961, he and Ray “performed duets regularly for family and friends and at Dad’s pub. Chet Atkins, as well as the Ventures, were our main influences. Ray played the lead parts as I bashed out the rhythm.”

The band, such as it was, was rounded out on bass by Ray’s schoolmate Pete Quaife and a drummer named John Start. For a while, they called themselves the Ray Davies Quartet. (This seems arbitrary as Ray wasn’t yet really writing songs or in any way really leading the band.)

Like all the other London-based bands of the early Sixties, the Davies brothers were caught up in the blues revolution that was brewing in that city. Ray was studying at art college (seemingly mandatory if you’re an early Sixties rocker.) “I remember I was at art college when I watched the Beatles doing “Love Me Do” on TV and thought, ‘That’s great. I know I can do that. I owe them a tremendous debt.”

He met the highly influential Alexis Korner who made introductions for him to the jazz and R&B-based Dave Hunt Band. In a quote I read, the fairly obscure Mr. Hunt clarified something I always wondered about. “R&B is what the rockers call jazz and the jazzmen call rock and roll.”

The former Ray Davies Quartet was still gigging around as well. Eventually, tired one supposes of kicking around with different bands, Ray focused on Dave’s band, which was called the Ramrods then the Ravens, the Boll-Weevils, etc.

Stories vary as to how the band became the Kinks. One writer said, “Here it was: ‘Kinkiness’—something newsy, naughty but just on the borderline of acceptability. In adopting the ‘Kinks’ as their name at that time, they were participating in a time-honoured pop ritual—fame through outrage.” Ray said he never really liked the name.

By late 1963, they put a management team in place and by early 1964, signed a contract with the now-defunct Pye Records. They managed to sign an incredibly shitty deal even by the standards of the notoriously rapacious music industry, splitting a 2% royalty rate a million ways. The infamous Kray brothers – supposedly Kinks fans – even once showed interest in managing them. Chrissie Hynde, who knows them all too well, later referred to Ray and Dave as the Krays of rock ‘n roll.

They’d gone through a succession of drummers, eventually finding Mick Avory who came to them after a two-week stint with the Stones. As solid a drummer as he was, eventually he and Dave Davies would come to wish they’d never met.

The band’s repertoire around this time consisted of the usual mix of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley along with the occasional blues. They recorded their first album, Kinks, in August of 1964.

To put this whole thing in some perspective, by that time the Beatles had already become a worldwide sensation and had in fact just released the A Hard Day’s Night movie. The Rolling Stones – who the Kinks loved – had released their first album in April of that year. And the Yardbirds were recording their first LP, to be released near the end of 1964. The “British Invasion” was in full force.

Now I wish I could tell you that that first album was considered some sort of major breakthrough. But Allmusic says this: “As R&B cover artists, the Kinks weren’t nearly as adept as the Stones and Yardbirds.” The album was dismissed as being “patchy.” (Side note: Jimmy Page, then a session musician, and Jon Lord later of Deep Purple both play on the album.)

I’m here to tell you that Allmusic’s review is utter bullshit. Much of that first album is really good and it is blazing with energy. The later punk rockers were dismissive of much of what came before them. But I think a lot of that negativity was directed toward bands like Yes, the Allmans and Pink Floyd who they thought had sucked the very life out of rock n’ roll. They were less dismissive of The Kinks and The Who.*

No less a personage than Marky Ramone said, “The raunchiness of the production and Dave Davies’ guitar sound were the beginnings of punk. When I first heard [All Day and All of the Night] I was like, “Holy shit!” John Lydon said, “Ray Davies’ songwriting is stunning.”

The very first track is a lesser-known Chuck Berry tune, “Beautiful Delilah.” Sure it’s raw and of its time. But tell me there isn’t some great energy here:

Spotify link

Ray loved Liverpool and the Mersey Sound, not necessarily the Beatles per se. His contributions (he wrote six**) were dismissed as “perfunctory Merseybeat-ish pastiches.” All the songs, that is, except for one. After releasing a cover of “Long Tall Sally,” in February – which went nowhere – in August of 1964 the band released “You Really Got Me.” It’s hard to overestimate the impact this song had when it came out. But for such a blistering number, the song has the strangest provenance.

According to Dave, the song was inspired by American saxman Jimmy Giuffre’s song, “The Train and the River.” Ray said, “I wanted it to be a jazz‑type tune because that’s what I liked at the time. It’s written originally around a sax line. Dave ended up playing the sax line in fuzz guitar and it took the song a step further. … I wanted it to be a blues song, like a Leadbelly or a Broonzy song.”

In his autobio, Dave reveals that he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and their parents wanted (and did) split them up. He says this: “I was a rebellious, angry kid anyway, but that had a profound effect on me. I was full of rage. A little later, I was very depressed and fooling around with a razor blade. I could easily have slashed my wrists, but I had a little green amplifier, an Elpico, that was sounding crap.

I thought, ‘I’ll teach it’ – and slashed the speaker cone,” Davies explained. “It changed the sound of my guitar. Then, when I wired that amp up to another, a Vox AC30, it made it a lot, lot louder. That’s how “You Really Got Me” became the first hit record to use distortion, which so many bands have cited as the beginnings of punk and heavy metal.”

Spotify link

It has been rumored for years that it was actually Jimmy Page who played that riff. This pissed Dave off as he knew he had invented a sound. Pagey let this thing play out for a long time but later admitted that it wasn’t him.

“Oh, Crikey!,” he advises, using one of my favorite Brit exclamations. “I wasn’t on ‘”You Really Got Me,” but I did play on the Kinks’ records. That’s all I’m going to say about it. But every time I do an interview, people ask me about [it]. So maybe somebody can correct Wikipedia so people won’t keep asking me.” Duly noted.

One writer makes a case that “the rumor was begun and fostered by the established British R&B community, many of whose members were resentful that an upstart band of teenagers such as the Kinks could produce such a powerful and influential blues-based recording, seemingly out of nowhere.” This corroborates everything I’ve ever heard about this early British scene in that while many of the bands were friendly, they were highly competitive and even envious of each other.  

The band followed up a couple of months later with what (to me anyway) sounds like more or less the same song, “All Day and All of the Night.” (Note – several years later when the Doors “Hello I Love You” was released, Davies’ publisher accused them of plagiarism.

The Doors denied it but according to their biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, courts in the UK determined in favor of Davies and any royalties for the song are paid to him.)

Spotify link

Regardless, those songs put the Kinks firmly on the map as a band and Ray Davies as an up-and-coming songwriter. All was looking good for the Kinks to share in the rewards accruing to British bands, especially those who landed in the lucrative American market. Which, for them anyway, then all went to shit.

Next post – The Kinks are banned from touring in America. And record some of their greatest stuff. 

*The Kinks saw the Who’s first single, “I Can’t Explain,” as pretty much a blatant rip-off of their sound. (They shared a producer.) Daltrey and Townshend did nothing to deny this. “It can’t be beat,” said the incautious Mr. Townshend, “for straightforward Kinks copying.”

**”Stop Your Sobbing,” was later covered by The Pretenders for their debut album. More on the Davies/Hynde relationship later.

Sources: You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks, Nick Hasted; Kink, Dave Davies; The Komplete Story of the Kinks, Uncut Magazine; Wikipedia, various and sundry websites.

 

 

 

25 thoughts on “The Kinks – (pt. 1) Muswell Hillbilly Boys

  1. Great post – couldn’t agree with you more that the Kinks are one of the finest representatives of the British Invasion. And I say this as a big fan of The Beatles, The Stones and The Who. Looking forward to the next installment!

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  2. “Face to Face” and “Something Else” are my favorites by them. Those two plus “Kinks-Size” are in my beach music cassette collection. Page may not have played on “You Really Got Me,” but I read he was subject for a later Ray Davis song (and I’ll let you elaborate on that in your next post!).

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    1. Pete, I can’t elaborate on that because I have never heard that story. It doesn’t show up in any of the references I read. The only song that possibly comes to mind is “Session Man” and I don’t know who that’s about. So on this one, all I can say – to coin a phrase is – you really got me. 😀 Fill me in, Johnny Fever.

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      1. “Session Man” it is (at least, from what I’ve heard, but who knows). Supposedly, Page did hundreds of sessions, uncredited, before joining Beck in the Yardbirds… Herman’s Hermits, Al Stewart, Donovan… on and on.

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        1. Yeah, I’d heard it might be about Nicky Hopkins too. But they used him a lot and got along well with him (until Ray shafted him on his keyboard credit one day.) Page was everywhere in those days. After you commented, I was reading an article about Page on the Kinks sessions. Apparently, they never wanted him and he was just on whatever sessions he was on because they needed some rhythm while Dave sang. Some real bad blood between these guys but it may have as much to with “who are the Kinks and how dare they be innovators” as much as anything else. You gotta read this brief Creem interview with Ray. Holy cow.

          http://forums.ledzeppelin.com/index.php?/topic/12368-is-the-session-man-by-the-kinks-is-about-jimmy-page/

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  3. The Kinks had a cool image, but the climate in the band was problematic. Ray was neurotic and argued often with Dave, who was in turn in clinch with drummer Mick Avory. Bassist and diplomat Pete Quaife, already resigned in 1966, left the band 1969.

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  4. That old clip of Dave singing lead is priceless. Mick is without a doubt one of the coolest drummers ever. Ray and Dave probably had a punch up after that. They were a violent bunch. It’s amazing they stayed together as long as they did. You are so right about the “energy” on that performance. Way to stick up for the boys on the “Allmusic” thing. It’s The Who and The Kinks for CB (leaning towards the latter today). All sorts of good stuff on the piece Doc. I don’t think you’ll find this funny but the Davies older sisters had a big influence on them.. They always mention them with a lot of love. They just beat the shit out of each other while playing some of the best rock music ever. Look forward to part two. Just wanted to mention the competition between all those bands back then. What a great creative atmosphere. Two thumbs up from the balcony.

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    1. Oh, yeah. If these guys could have actually beat each other up while playing that would have suited them just fine. Too bad they couldn’t name the band “I Will Fucking Kill You.” (Actually, I have a good story coming up in the on-stage antics vein. If you happen to know it, don’t spoil the surprise.) There’s one story i couldn’t squeeze in about how both Dave and Ray took a swing or two at some sound engineer who was busting their chops. You are absolutely spot on about the sisters. More of that comes up later especially one really moving tale. (Again, don’t spoil it if you know. I didn’t know it till I researched this.) Part Two is a wild ride. These guys were crazy.

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      1. No problem Doc, I’m enjoying this too much already. I always get a “education’ (A good Kinks song) from your work. The Stones always got the rep as the bad boys (the press doing what they do) but these guys were off the wall. Muswell had to be a tough neighborhood. I read that Ray interview you posted. I was laughing my head off. Typical, Ray totally goes to bat for his brother then in the next breath they would be scraping. “They seem like such nice boys”. Hurry up and get pt 2 up. Later

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        1. BTW, I watched a fairly recent British TV interview with Ray on YouTube. Asked about all the tension and drama in the band, he said that while from a personal standpoint it sucked, it was good as a spur to creativity. He said this on more than one occasion. So for him, I guess, it was a double-edged sword if that’s even the right phrase.

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        2. Yeah maybe at one time that was the case but that shit gets pretty old. I really like when Ray and Dave are interviewed. There’s something really honest with them. Despite it all you can tell there’s something good between these guys. Maybe love?Mick is a good interview also. They have been with me for a long time. It’s an interesting story for sure but it still comes down to the music and these guys delivered for a long time. I think you’re picking up the bands I dig the most. I’ll be checking in for part two.

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        3. You’ve prompted me into a Kinks mood. I’m going to catch up on some of those docs. Good viewing and listening. Nice quote from Dave. They have the scars to prove it. Sounds like your enjoying this one Doc.

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        4. You’ll get whiplash going from Monk to Davies. Yeah, I’m digging this one bigtime. One of the great things about blogging – as you know – is that it gets you going down paths that you either didn’t know or forgot. So I haven’t listened to so much Kinks in a long time. I forgot about songs like ‘This Time Tomorrow’ or ‘Mindless Child of Motherhood.’ As I mentioned to Tony, I’m working on a Spotify list for Post 4. It may not include all your favorites but you will dig it. When’s that new smartphone coming in so you can take long walks on the beach?

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        5. Well said. I listened to ‘Sleepwalkers” yesterday and Ray Davies ‘See My Friends’. Yeah that Spotify list will be great. My Kinks love is pretty inclusive. ‘Dead End Street’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ get the motor running. I’m digging the push you and catchgroove gave me to the new technology and yes the new phone is making it’s way here. I have to pop over and see the new comments on your take.

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  5. Great post. Looking forward to more as they’re very much a band whose best songs are over-looked in favour of the ‘hits’ (which grew increasingly atypical.
    Cannot overstate the importance of You Really Got Me as a song either for the band or its impact. I find it odd though that were it not for Dave’s involvement the song would’ve been a completely different beast that (probably) did nothing and the Kinks would’ve not really exploded and yet he gets no song-writing credit for it.

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  6. I’ll have a Spotify list at the end of the series that has hits and non-hits that are good overlooked stuff. (I watched an online interview on British TV with Ray from a couple of years ago. He was pushing an album based on the “Sunny Afternoon” musical. The interviewer surprised him by saying he wished ‘Autumn Almanac’ and ‘Shangri-La’ were on there. Ray was surprised because they were older hits or deep cuts. Turns out the musical songs were picked less because they were hits, more because they advanced the storyline.)

    As to Dave not getting songwriting credit, from what I’ve read he seems to care less about that – although it would have helped his pocket – than if Ray would just publicly acknowledge his contributions at all. It’s that ‘appreciation’ thing. But Ray is stingy not only with money, but he also wants all the credit. A few years back, Ray said that the sound on “You Really Got Me’ was acquired by he and Dave putting knitting needles in the amp. Dave went on Facebook and called him a liar. What with Jimmy Page in the early days also trying to grab credit, you’d think it was the discovery of the uses of fire or something rather than just a bloody song.

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  7. Really interesting read. Many thanks. I am writing a blog on the no.43 bus route but unfortunately I’ve already been through Muswell Hill so I can’t steal your knowledge!

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