Top 10s – The Kinks

Time for a Top 10! When you think of British beat bands from the 1960s – AKA ‘British Invasion’ bands in the US – you think The Beatles, yup, then The Stones, okay, then…

Who were the 3rd biggest band of the decade? So many beat combos rose and fell during that time – The Searchers, Manfred Mann, The Tremeloes, The Hollies, the list goes on – but I’d stick my neck out and say that in the bronze medal position stand The Kinks. (There is also, of course, The Who, but they never made #1 in the UK, and so I have to pretend they never existed.)


And because of publishing rights preventing huge sixties acts like Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones from appearing on the ’60s compilations that my parents owned, The Kinks were probably the first band I truly remember being aware of, and thinking this sounds good… (Well, them and The Spice Girls…)

Led by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, The Kinks gave us some of the best pop singles, not just of the decade but, let’s be honest, of all time. And they changed and experimented like the two bigger bands of the time, in their own, unique, Kinks-y way. Here’s my Top 10. (As before, to qualify for my list a song has to have been a chart hit in the UK – no album tracks or B-sides allowed…)

10. ‘See My Friends’, 1965, reached # 10

One of their smaller, early hits, in which their trademark crunchy guitar is twinned with a droney, sitar-sounding vibe. Released a few months after ‘Ticket to Ride’, and before ‘Norwegian Wood’, it puts The Kinks right at the forefront of pop’s sonic expansion. Not a sound they would keep up for long, but proof that they were a very versatile band.

9. ‘Come Dancing’, 1982, reached #12

The Kinks released music throughout the seventies and eighties and I really tried to include more of their later singles in this list… but, to be honest, most of them just aren’t as good as their big sixties hits. With some exceptions… This slice of nostalgia, for example, – a tale of the Davies’s sister going out dancing to the ‘Pally on a Saturday night. Years later I realised that, even though he sings about his sister in the present tense – If I asked her, I wonder if she would… Come dancing… – she had in fact died when they were young boys. Which gives this swansong hit an even more bittersweet edge.

8. ‘You Really Got Me’, 1964, reached #1

A sledgehammer riff, that many have claimed invented heavy metal, punk rock and more. The band’s 3rd single and first hit, it still sounds raw and wild in 2020, and must have sounded even more wonderful at the time. Read my original post here.

7. ‘Autumn Almanac’, 1967, reached #3

One that I used to dislike, but have really grown to love in recent years… I like my football, On a Saturday, Roast beef on Sundays, All right… While many bands went psychedelic in 1967, the Kinks were singing about toasted currant buns and going to Blackpool for their holidays… And the fuzzy guitar before the chorus? Great stuff.

6. ‘Dead End Street’, 1966, reached #5

But The Kinks could also be very cynical in their takes on British society, discs like ‘Dead End Street’ the yin to ‘Autumn Almanac’s yang. There’s a crack up in the ceiling, And the kitchen sink is leaking… while the music hall pianos play. Apparently it was banned by the BBC for being too biting! You can hear the debt bands like Blur would owe to The Kinks thirty years later, too…

5. ‘Lola’, 1970, reached #2

One of their last big hits. A man falls for a ‘lady’ who walks like a woman but talks like man… It attracted some controversy at the time, and still does today. But any song with a line like Girls will be boys, And boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, Except for Lola… is all right by me. Live your life, love who you love… Fun fact: I once performed this song live to a school-hall full of bemused looking Thai children.

4. ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, 1966, reached #4

The first Kinks’ song I loved, and it’s probably higher in the list than it should be if I weren’t being so subjective. A simply skiffle riff and Ray’s arched-eyebrow, high-camp delivery. More social commentary, aimed light-heartedly at the dapper men about town in the swinging sixties. Their clothes were loud, but never square…

3. ‘All Day and All Of the Night’, 1964, reached #2

The Kinks’ second big hit single, and very much an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach to songwriting. It sounds like ‘You Really Got Me’ Pt II, and turns the crunchy, proto-punk power chords up a notch, which is why I’m placing it higher. As a kid I loved the Oh, come on! and what sounds like someone being strangled before the frenetic solo. Imagine how thrilling / terrifying this must have sounded if you were first hearing it in October ’64.

2. ‘Sunny Afternoon’, 1966, reached #1

A song that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in the Sixties Hall of Fame, maybe because it’s got a pantomime-y edge. Another social commentary, this time in the character of an aristocrat being squeezed by the taxman and a ‘big fat mama’, which is no way to talk about your ex-wife, really. Perfect pop. (And singing it in the snow above seems a very Kinksy thing to do.) Read my original post on this chart-topper here.

1. ‘Waterloo Sunset’, 1967, reached #2

Could it be any other? ‘Waterloo Sunset’ has a Liverpool-like lead at the top of this table. It’s atmospheric, it’s beautiful, it’s haunting. A hymn to those that observe. And somehow it manages to sound like a sunset. When I first visited London, aged eight or so, I remember looking out of my window, hoping to see a Waterloo Sunset, hoping to see Terry and Judy. Sounds ridiculous, but it shows how long this song has been part of my life. At the time, it was kept off the top-spot by the bland ‘Silence Is Golden’. An absolute crime!

I’ll do another Top 10 soon enough. Up next, the 271st UK #1 single…


218. ‘Sunny Afternoon’, by The Kinks

It’s high summer. The sun bakes in the sky, heat haze rises from the tarmac, a willow droops lazily by the river. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ is a record that has always, ever since I first heard it as a kid, conjured up an image in my mind. An image of a man, on the lawn of his country house, in a deckchair, with a tall, icy drink in hand.


Sunny Afternoon, by The Kinks (their 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 7th – 21st July 1966

The intro descends, like the weeping willow, into a tale of upper-class woe. I mentioned that the previous #1, ‘Paperback Writer’, had a satirical edge to it, and The Kinks take it up a notch here. The taxman’s taken all my dough, And left me in my stately home, Lazin’ on a sunny afternoon… A rich man has been fleeced, by the government and then by his girlfriend, and has been left with nothing. It’s standard rock star stuff: I’m famous, successful and now I’m being taxed through the nose. They’ve taken my yacht, oh woe is me…. (Another obvious Beatles comparison would be to ‘Taxman’)

Except, The Kinks were cleverer than that. Perhaps aware that people might not be too sympathetic to rich musicians moaning about tax rates, they invented a character to take us through the song. A not terribly nice character: My girlfriend’s run off with my car, And gone back to her ma and pa, Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty… You don’t feel sorry that he’s been left with nothing but his ice cold beer… They’re complaining, sure (the progressive tax rate at the time was 83%!), but in a very palatable way.

I love this song. It’s a ‘never-skip’ whenever it pops up in a playlist. And I especially love the bridge, with its music-hall piano. Aw, Save me, Save me, Save me from this squeeze…and then a line I loved shouting out as a child… I got a big fat mama, Tryin’ to break me… Those two lines are one of the most brilliant pop moments of the decade. And the song as a whole is near-perfect: it works both as pure summery pop, and as knowing satire. And then there’s the jingly-jangly fade-out, which is very borrowed-from-The Beatles.


I also love this version of The Kinks, the one that had moved past the R&B, garage rock of ‘You Really Got Me’, into the uber-British phase of their career – the years of ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, and ‘Autumn Almanac’. I’m going to go a little link-crazy here as, tragically, this is their final UK #1 single. And yes, that does mean ‘Waterloo Sunset’ in 1967, and ‘Lola’ in 1970, two of their best-known and best-loved hits, only reached #2…

It feels as if The Kinks occupy a strange place in pop music history. They were successful, and popular, and very, very good. But they seem to be permanently in the shadow of The Beatles and The Stones, and other stone-cold sixties legends. Elvis, Cliff, Dylan and The Who…  Perhaps they were too British, too playful in the way they leapt between genres, and wrote songs about once-rich aristocrats, London dandies, and drag-queens. They’re big, and very well-respected; but it feels as if they should be bigger, and even better-respected. Take a moment, then, I urge you, to listen to The Kinks today. Starting with this, their final #1 single – as clever as it is catchy. The perfect kind of pop.

Catch up on the previous 217 #1s with this playlist: