What a run of chart-toppers the latter half of 1964 had seen. There seemed to be a growing fashion for seeing how simplistic and basic a hit single could be. The most groundbreaking and influential of this period has to be You Really Got Me by The Kinks.
One of the most important bands of the 60s were struggling and finding their feet until Ray Davies hit upon that gargantuan life-changing riff and created the first number 1 that could be classified as rock, and an early prototype of heavy metal.
Ray and Dave Davies were the youngest of eight, and the only boys in their family. Ray was born on 21 June 1944 and Dave on 3 February 1947. They were raised in Muswell Hill, London.
Music was everywhere in the Davies household – their parents loved music hall and their sisters were into rock’n’roll. The Kinks would use both genres as inspiration. Ray and Dave would fall out like any brothers do, but they bonded over music, particularly skiffle, and both learned to play guitar. They formed The Ray Davies Quartet at secondary school with Pete Quaife and his friend John Start. They struggled to find a permanent vocalist, and a fellow student called Rod Stewart was one of many who came and went during 1962. Stewart went on to form a rival band, Rod Stewart and the Moonrakers.
Later that year, Ray left home to study at Hornsey College of Art. While there he joined a couple of groups, including The Dave Hunt Band. Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones was briefly their drummer. He left Hornsey in spring 1963 with the intention of studying film at the Central School of Art and Design, and around that time The Ray Davies Quartet, of which he had remained a member, changed their name to The Ramrods. After several name changes, including the Pete Quaife Band, they settled on The Ravens.
They decided to try and make music a professional career, and among their early managers was former pop star Larry Page, and they were already working with American producer Shel Talmy, who had co-produced the Bachelors’ Diane. The Ravens failed at several auditions until Talmy secured them a contract with Pye Records. Shortly before then their second drummer Mickey Willet had left, the band invited Mick Avory to complete the legendary line-up. Avory’s background was in jazz drumming, and he had played one gig as the drummer in The Rolling Stones. Yet another connection between two of the most famous 60s groups.
The Ravens were all set to release their debut single in January 1964, but first they decided they needed a new name to stand out. Several versions of how they ended up as The Kinks exist, but Ray insists it was Page’s idea and he was referencing their ‘kinky’ fashion sense. Ray has never been much of a fan of the name.
A cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally was their first single, but it wasn’t great, and sank without trace. The Beatles version on the Long Tall Sally EP later the same year was much better. The Ray Davies-penned second single You Still Want Me fared no better, and was also lacklustre.
You Really Got Me, one of the first five songs Ray Davies ever wrote, was written at his piano that March. It was originally intended as a light, jazz-oriented piece. Ray intended for the mighty riff the tune was built around to be performed on saxophone. The lusty lyrics were influenced by an encounter with one of the group’s first serious female fans. It was his brother Dave that suggested taking the song down a heavier path by arguing it would sound much better if the riff was played by his guitar. The brothers also apparently had in mind the Kingsmen’s classic version of Louie Louie.
The Kinks laid down a bluesy-style demo that summer. A full studio version of You Really Got Me was slower than the single release, but after recording it in June, they ran into problems. Pye were unhappy with the group’s sales and refused to fund any further recording on this track. It was at this point that Ray’s refusal to back down established him as leader of the group. Due to the stalemate, Talmy agreed to cover the costs, and they went to an independent studio and recorded their third single in two takes.
This time, The Kinks captured the essence of the song. The lyrics were pure full-on sexual frustration, and thanks to Dave Davies they created a sound that would match. It was the guitarist’s idea to distort the sound by slicing the speaker cone of his amplifier with a razor blade and poking it with a pin. What a sound. It was sleazy, nasty and like nothing heard before. And amazingly, where so much rock music has dated, You Really Got Me never ceases to sound anything but fresh to me.
With this song, The Kinks were as innovative as The Beatles and as dangerous as The Rolling Stones. And is that the best guitar solo yet to feature in a number 1? I think so. It’s certainly the wildest and most freewheeling. Perhaps because Davies never recorded a solo this good again, it has been a rumour ever since that Jimmy Page is the man behind it. However, the Led Zeppelin axeman has stated many times, to some annoyance, that Dave Davies was the man on the recording. There are session men on there, however, namely Bobby Graham on drums, with Avory relegated to tambourine, and Arthur Greenslade on piano. Graham played on many number 1s over the years, by artists including Englebert Humperdink, Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield.
You Really Got Me is also, as far as I can gather, the first number 1 to contain a swear word. I always thought this accolade went to Hey Jude, where you can clearly hear someone say ‘fucking hell’ after making a mistake at 2:58 (I always thought this was Lennon, but Lennon claimed it was McCartney). But in Ray Davies’ autobiography The Storyteller (1998), he says Dave shouts ‘Fuck off.’ at him at the drum break before his solo. Apparently, Ray had shouted across at his little brother to gee him up, but it just threw Dave. When he recorded his vocal, Ray deliberately tried to cover this up, and that’s why you hear him shout ‘Oh no!’. However, despite Ray claiming in his book that you can still clearly hear Dave, I can’t. Special mention should also go to those foreboding backing vocals, the rising ‘aaahs’ as Ray approaches the chorus. Genius, all in all.
Demand for You Really Got Me became so high that Pye put all their over releases on hold so they could produce enough copies. The Kinks had proven their record label wrong, and how. The song proved highly influential, most directly for a new band calledTthe Who. After years of bad blood, it was this song that the Davies brothers chose to perform together in December 2015, which set into motion a likely Kinks reunion.
Written by: Ray Davies
Producer: Shel Talmy
Weeks at number 1: 2 (10-23 September)
Author Simon Singh – 19 September
Art critic Clive Bell – 18 September
14 September: The final edition of the left-wing newspaper Daily Herald. The paper had supported the Labour Party since its inception in 1912. IPC relaunched it as The Sun the following day. In these pre-Rupert Murdoch days, The Sun was also left-wing. How times have changed.
On the same day, Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home called a general election for 15 October. He had put it off for as long as possible, as the Conservatives were performing badly in opinion polls. Now, he and new Labour leader Harold Wilson were due a showdown.