(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 check out this live version with Dave singing and tell me there isn’t some great energy here:
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.”
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.)
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.