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.)

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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…

177. ‘You Really Got Me’, by The Kinks

Chart-topper No. 177, AKA The One Where Heavy Metal is invented. Or so the history books would have you believe…

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You Really Got Me, by The Kinks (their 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 10th – 24th September 1964

It’s easy to see why ‘You Really Got Me’ has gone down in the annals as the first metal/hard rock song (let alone #1 hit). There hasn’t been a chart-topper yet that has relied so heavily on its riff. Da-da-da-dun-da, Da-da-da-dun-da … Two sharp blasts from Dave Davies’ guitar kick us off, and it doesn’t let up until the very end. Da-da-da-dun-da, Da-da-da-dun-da…

Girl, You really got me goin’, You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’ … Lyrics that rival the riff for brutal simplicity. You really got me now, You got me so I can’t sleep at night… The band called it a ‘love song for street kids’, and you can understand the sentiment. Poetry it ain’t; but the message comes across loud and clear. It’s a simple, yet intense, song. An intensely simple song. With that dense, monotonous riff dragging all along in its wake.

And the solo, when it arrives, is definitely the hardest rocking twenty seconds or so to feature at the top of the UK charts. And I don’t just mean up to now – I mean ever. Pure, unadulterated ROCK doesn’t often make it to the top of the charts and this solo, even listening to it fifty-five years on, still has the power to grab you by the balls. Ray Davies screams, and his brother goes wild.

My favourite bit, though, of this whole record, is how the choruses build into that oh yeeaahhh! moment, where the whole band join in and propel us into that unforgettable hook: You really got me, You really got me, You really got me…! It’s at this point that you realise you’re also listening to the first true power-pop record, too, with the vocals and the riff coming together to punch out the tune. Plus, you could argue that this is one of the first garage rock discs, too, in its simplicity and its rough-round-the-edges charm.

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Whatever genre this is – metal, garage rock, power-pop – it’s an undeniable classic. Few bands have announced themselves to the world like The Kinks did with this disc. And, like all great songs, a mythology has grown around ‘You Really Got Me’… Allegedly, the lead guitar was played by a then session-musician Jimmy Page (it wasn’t). Also allegedly, you can hear Ray Davies telling his brother to ‘fuck off’ in the drum fill just before the solo (I’ve really tried, but can’t). And then there’s the story of how the band achieved that gritty, crunchy guitar sound – by ripping the amplifier open.

I’ve listened to this song seven or eight times now in writing this, and I could listen to it seven or eight more. It’s perfect: short, sharp and sexy. It really feels as if every #1 we come across at the moment is raising the stakes – whether it’s The Honeycombs stamping on Joe Meek’s staircase, The Animals and The Stones bringing the blues, or The Beatles killing off Merseybeat in the outro to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Look back one year, to the days of Frank Ifield, Cliff, even Gerry & The Pacemakers, and it feels (and sounds) more like ten.

Weirdly, despite the fact that this may well be The Kinks’ biggest, best-known hit; it really doesn’t sound like them. The follow-up to this was ‘All Day and All of the Night’ (basically ‘You Really Got Me’ Pt. II), but after that they went in all kinds of different directions: Beat, music hall, folk, as well as pure pop. They have two more #1s to come, though, so let’s save all that for another day.

To end… I have a confession to make. This is such a classic, timeless, influential record that… and I think this just goes to show how irresistible this song truly is… I love even the Van Halen cover version…