‘Rod the Mod’, after years of striving, became a solo superstar off the back of Maggie May in 1971. And his group Faces did well out of it too, releasing third album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse later that year and scoring a hit with the raucous Stay With Me. But there was some tension among the band, despite them helping out on Stewart’s next solo album Never a Dull Moment, that he was concentrating a little too much on his own career.
Featuring covers of Jimi Hendrix and Sam Cooke as well as songs co-written with Ronnie Wood and Martin Quittenton, his fourth solo LP was released in July 1972, and You Wear It Well was singled out the following month.
It’s a sequel of sorts to Maggie May, also co-written by Stewart and Quittenton, in which the singer, now in Minnesota, is writing to a lover. Something went wrong along the way and he ‘blew it without even trying’, and he doesn’t know if she’ll ever even get his song/note, but he’s offloading anyway. The tone of the song is so similar, both lyrically and musically (the drumming at the start is surely a deliberate nod?) it seems very likely to be for Maggie to me, especially when you consider the references to age and ‘radical views’ (see my Maggie May blog for more on the origins of that song)
As with Maggie May, Stewart is very good at telling a story and creating compelling characters. I don’t know what went wrong, but Stewart was clearly a great songwriter back then. His style was intelligent and impressive and it’s not easy to tell such vivid stories in pop songs. You can forgive him his innate laddishness when there’s such wit on display.
Unfortunately, it’s so similar to his previous number 1, you can’t help but compare, and despite a nice backing from the other Faces, it’s not as strong a song, and it’s lacking the bright sound of the mandolin. Nothing wrong with a song lacking a chorus, it’s a brave move, but this time around, it’s missing it.
By the time Stewart had his third number 1 in 1975, he had changed record labels, moved to Los Angeles, and Faces had split.
Sir Roderick David Stewart, aka ‘Rod the Mod’, was one of the biggest-selling artists of the 70s and 80s, with over 120 million records sold worldwide, and six number 1 singles. And yet his first chart-topper, Maggie May, was tucked away as a B-side. Were it not for its appeal shining through, Stewart may not have become as big a superstar as he did.
Stewart was born at home in Highgate, London on 10 January 1945. He was the youngest of five children, the other four having been born in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, where his father Robert, a builder, came from. After he retired, Robert bought a newsagent’s shop, which the Stewart family lived above. His youngest’s main hobby, which he still loves, was railway modelling.
Stewart’s other big obsession was football, and he became captain of his school’s team. His first musical hero was Al Jolson, but he soon got into rock’n’roll, and he saw Bill Haley & His Comets in concert. In 1960 he joined a skiffle group called The Kool Kats, and would play Lonnie Donegan covers.
Stewart left school at 15 and had various jobs working in the family shop, as a silk screen printer and at a cemetery, but he longed to be a professional footballer. In 1961 he decided to try his hand at singing, and along with The Raiders he auditioned for eccentric producer Joe Meek, but he wasn’t impressed.
Soon after, Stewart turned into a left-wing beatnik, listening to the folk music of Bob Dylan, Ewan MacColl and Woody Guthrie and attending protest marches, getting arrested three times between 1961 and 1963. He later confessed he often used the marches as a way of bedding girls. In 1962 he took to playing the harmonica and would busk at Leicester Square with folk singer Wizz Jones. They took their act to Europe, and Stewart found himself deported from Spain for vagrancy in 1963. Around this time, he was considered as a singer for The Kinks, then known as The Ray Davies Quartet.
Later that year he became a full-on Mod, adopting his trademark spiky hairstyle and becoming enthralled with soul and R’n’B music. He found his first professional job as a musician in The Dimensions. This was his introduction to London’s R’n’B scene, where he would take harmonica tips from Mick Jagger.
In January 1964 the 19-year-old had been to a Long John Baldry gig and was playing harmonica at Twickenham Station when Baldry himself heard him and invited him to join his group. Over time, Stewart overcame shyness and would dress up more, and would sometimes be billed as Rod ‘the Mod’ Stewart. He made his recording debut with Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men that June, uncredited. Two months later, after a performance at the Marquee Club, he was signed as a solo act to Decca Records. His debut single was the blues standard, with a terribly dodgy title, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which featured John Paul Jones among the session musicians.
Baldry’s group broke up, but he and Stewart patched up their differences and in 1965 became part of the line-up of new group Steampacket alongside Brian Auger. Steampacket were conceived as a white soul revue, and while supporting The Rolling Stones he had his first taste of crowd hysteria. Due to all being signed to different labels, Stewart’s group were unable to record any material. His solo career continued, but without making much impact. In 1966 he jumped ship from Steampacket to Shotgun Express, whose line-up included future Fleetwood Mac members Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood.
It was The Jeff Beck Group that finally gave Stewart his break when he joined their ranks in February 1967. He formed a long-lasting friendship with guitarist Ronnie Wood, began writing material, and his vocal technique developed into the rough rasp that made him stand out. However, he and Beck didn’t get on, and when Wood was announced as Steve Marriott’s replacement in Small Faces in June 1969, Stewart joined him a few months after as their new singer, and they became Faces.
At the same time, Stewart was making inroads with his solo career. Now with Mercury Records, he released his first album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, a mix of well-received original material and rock, folk and blues covers.
1970 saw the release of both Faces’ debut LP First Step and his solo follow-up Gasoline Alley, which introduced the mandolin to his sound. Faces quickly amassed a dedicated following at their gigs, and Stewart was one single release away from becoming a household name. The plan was for (Find a) Reason to Believe to be the first single from his forthcoming album, Every Picture Tells a Story, with Maggie May as the B-side.
Reason to Believe (the bracketed bit dropped upon its single release) was the final track on the accompanying album. It’s a cover of a Tim Hardin track, which the folk singer had released on his debut album in 1965, and The Carpenters covered it in 1970.
Stewart plays the wounded lover, whose girl has lied to him. His gravelly voice suits the song well, and there’s some nice Hammond organ and piano work courtesy of Faces’ Ian McLagan. It’s a good album track, but it was never going to light up the charts the way its flip side did. So much so, the single became a double A-side as word spread.
Stewart has rather pissed away his potential over the years, and growing up in the 80s, I saw him as a ridiculous figure. However, Maggie May is a classic, and it’s the best number 1 he’s had. There’s no chorus, but it’s a compelling story, with a memorable mandolin intro courtesy of Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson.
Stewart had been inspired to write the song while working out some chords with guitarist Martin Quittenton of Steamhammer. He recalled his experience of losing his virginity in 1961 to an older woman at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. The song isn’t named after her though. Stewart took it from the old Liverpool folk song about a prostitute (as briefly heard on The Beatles album Let It Be). Amazingly, you can see him taking part in the event here. The festival, not the self-confessed very brief sex… Also on the recording, which was only added to the album at the last minute, are Wood on bass and 12-string, McLagan and drummer Micky Waller, who played a drumkit with no cymbals, which were added later.
The original version of Stewart’s song opened side two of Every Picture Tells a Story with a 30-second guitar intro from Quittenton, named Delilah. In full, it’s over five minutes long, but the single edit cuts off some of the detail.
However, Stewart’s tale of love for an older woman remains fascinating. He gets you interested right from the start with those famous opening lines, revealing he was in fact a schoolboy when he was sleeping with Maggie. More mature than your average love song, Stewart finds time to insult Maggie only to remind her how deep he feels about her before she has chance to slap him:
‘The morning sun, when it’s in your face really shows your age But that don’t worry me none in my eyes, you’re everything’
Stewart resolves to get over May by, among other things, joining a ‘rock’n’roll band’ (mission accomplished), and although he claims he wishes he’d never seen her face, you don’t believe him, and as that beautiful mandolin rings out over the fade, you’re left wondering what happened to the singer that wrote such a great song.
A song that’s taken on new meaning to me of late, as my in-laws fell in love when this was in the charts (Maggie was my father-in-law’s name for his future wife) and it was played at his funeral, 48 years later. It’s difficult to listen to anymore without welling up.
Maggie May established Stewart both here and in the US, reaching number 1 in both while he also held the number 1 album spots – a rare feat. Above you can see the famous Top of the Pops appearance of the song, in which he’s backed by his Faces bandmates and Radio 1 DJ John Peel miming the mandolin.
Reason to Believe: Tim Hardin/Maggie May: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton
Producer: Rod Stewart
Weeks at number 1: 5 (9 October-12 November)
Fashion photographer Simon Atlee – 9 October Comedian Sasha Baron Cohen – 13 October Big Brother winner Craig Phillips – 16 October Actor John Alford – 30 October Archer Alison Williamson – 3 November Footballer Michael Jeffrey – 8 November
Independent MP AP Herbert – 11 November
13 October: The British Army began destroying roads between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a security measure.
21 October: 20 people were killed in a gas explosion in the town centre of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire in Scotland.
23 October: When a car failed to stop at a Belfast checkpoint, Mary Ellen Meehan, 30, and her sister Dorothy Maguire, 19 were shot dead by soldiers.
28 October: Prime Minister Edward Heath scored a big victory when the House of Commons voted in favour of joining the EEC by a vote of 356-244. Also on this day, the Immigration Act 1971 restricted immigration, particularly primary immigration into the U.K. and introduced the status of right of abode into law. Plus, the UK became the sixth nation to launch a satellite into orbit using its own launch vehicle, the Prospero (X-3) experimental communications satellite.
30 October: The Democratic Unionist Party was founded by the formidable Reverend Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.
31 October: A bomb, likely planted by the Angry Brigade, exploded at the top of London’s Post Office Tower.
10 November: The 10-route Spaghetti Junction motorway interchange was opened north of Birmingham’s city centre. The interchange would have a total of 12 routes when the final stretch of the M6 was opened in 1972.
In 1967, the UK still had a long way to go in becoming progressive. The law had only just changed to decriminalise homosexuality, yet many stars of the time felt they needed to keep their sexuality private. Although Long John Baldry was openly gay in showbiz circles, he didn’t announce it to the public until the 70s. This giant of the blues scene was highly influential, yet his one chart-topper is disliked by many purists, and is considered unrepresentative of the singer.
John Baldry was born around Brixworth, Northamptonshire on 12 January 1941 after his parents had fled London during the Blitz. His schooldays were spent in Edgware, Middlesex. When he began singing in the 50s he stood out from the crowd as one of the first known blues and folk singers in the country, listening to Muddy Waters and learning the 12-string at the age of 12. He also stood out because he had grown to six feet and seven inches, earning him the nickname ‘Long John’.
By the early-60s he was performing in coffee houses and R’nB clubs in London. A small scene began to formulate, and Baldry joined the fledgling Blues Incorporated, led by the pioneering Alexis Korner. They released the first British blues album, R&B from the Marquee, in 1962. Future members of Blues Incorporated included Charlie Watts from The Rolling Stones and Cream’s Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. From this point onwards, Baldry’s career features cameos from an impressive number of future rock stars of the next decade or so.
In 1963 he joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, featuring future ace session pianist Nicky Hopkins, and when Davies died the following year, he renamed them Long John Baldry and his Hoochie Coochie Men. While looking for a singer for his new outfit, Baldry chanced upon a busker and Baldry gig-goer called Rod Stewart, performing a Muddy Waters song at Twickenham Station.
With Stewart on board, they changed their name to Steampacket in 1965. The group now featured Julie Driscoll as a singer and Brian Auger on organ, later known for their cover of Bob Dylan’s This Wheel’s on Fire.
When Steampacket broke up in 1966, Baldry formed Bluesology. His new band had Reg Dwight on keyboards and future Soft Machine guitarist Elton Dean. When Dwight went solo, he took Dean and Baldry’s forenames and became Elton John.
So, it’s clear that Baldry was moving in the right circles (he also appeared on a TV special by The Beatles in 1964, had a fling with Dave Davies of The Kinks and introduced The Rolling Stones on the US live album Got Live if You Want It!), and yet fame still eluded him. And so he wound up on the cabaret circuit with a harmony group called Chimera backing him, and started working with pop producer Tony Macauley, who had produced Baby Now That I’ve Found You by The Foundations, and co-wrote it with John MacLeod. Together, they also wrote Let the Heartaches Begin, and gave it to Baldry to record.
I have to confess to knowing next to nothing about Baldry, other than him being a fascinating and important figure in R’n’B, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting Let the Heartaches Begin to sound anything like it does. It’s a big let down, and it seems Macauley thought he could turn Baldry into an Engelbert Humperdinck, or a Tom Jones-style figure. You could draw similarities to Johnnie Ray too, with the over-the-top, mock histrionics on show here, set to syrupy backing, but with less impact than Ray’s recordings. But the singer is clearly revelling in the fact he has a broken heart, much like Ray in the 50s. Apparently Baldry had to knock back a fair bit of booze to record it, so it’s likely he wasn’t entirely comfortable with this new direction either.
In spite of this, it was well-timed, with 1967 being the year of Humperdinck, and it earned Baldry his place in chart history, so who am I to argue with Macauley? In fact, this single earned he and MacLeod two consecutive number 1s in a row… no mean feat at all.
Baldry stuck to this new balladeer style for the next few years. In 1968 he and Bernie Taupin came to the aid of Elton John, who was struggling with his sexuality. The duo talked him out of marrying Linda Woodrow to cover up being gay, and John was so grateful he wrote Someone Saved My Life Tonight to thank them.
Baldry returned to his beloved blues in 1971 with his most well-known album It Ain’t Easy with Elton John and Rod Stewart producing a side each. They did the same again on 1972 follow-up Everything Stops for Tea. He claimed to have been the last person to see Marc Bolan alive on 16 September 1977, having interviewed him for US TV just before he got into his car for the final time.
After stints in New York and Los Angeles, Baldry moved to Vancouver, British Colombia in 1978. Bar a brief spell in psychiatric hospital (he recorded the album Baldry’s Out shortly after release), he seemed happy and remained there the rest of his life. He released several albums in the 90s (including It Still Ain’t Easy) but his main source of income was in voiceover work for adverts and animated children’s TV series Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (he was Dr Robtonik) and Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. Plagued with ill health in his later years, he died of a severe chest infection on 21 July 2005, aged 64. Only a one-hit wonder in the singles chart, Baldry nevertheless left an impact on music to match his considerable stature.
Written by: Tony Macauley & John MacLeod
Producer: Tony Macauley
Weeks at number 1: 2 (22 November-5 December)
Labour MP Shahid Malik – 24 November
Phonetician Daniel Jones – 4 December
27 November: President Charles de Gaulle of France once again vetoed British entry into the European Economic Community. Cheers!
28 November: The foot-and-mouth outbreak resulted in a number of horse-racing events being cancelled.
1 December: Tony O’Connor became the first non-white headteacher of a British school, at a primary in Smethwick, near Birmingham.
This was the only chart-topper for east London mod rockers Small Faces, one of the best groups of the period, who had only formed a year previous.
Singer and guitarist Steve Marriott, born in East Ham, London in January 1947, came from a working class background. His father Bill was a dab hand on a pub piano, and he bought Steve a ukelele and harmonica. Marriott joined his first band, the Wheels, in 1959. He was a huge Buddy Holly fan, like so many at the time. In 1960, the 13-year-old joined the cast of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! as the Artful Dodger. One of his audition songs was Connie Francis’s number 1, Who’s Sorry Now?From 1961 he was gaining lots of work in television, film and radio, often typecast as a cheeky cockney lad. A family rift ensued when he decided to concentrate on music, and he moved away from home.
From 1963 onwards Marriott attempted solo success and fame with several bands, including The Frantiks (later The Moments) and The Checkpoints. By 1965 Marriott was working in a music shop when he first met Ronnie Lane, who came in looking for a bass guitar. The duo bonded and went back to Marriott’s to listen to records. They decided to form a band with Lane’s friends, drummer Kenney Jones and guitarist Jimmy Winston, who switched to the organ, as Marriott wanted to play and sing.
Thanks largely to Marriott’s attention-grabbing, powerful vocal prowess and a strong bluesy sound, they quickly progressed from pub gigs to the club circuit and christened themselves Small Faces. Back then, a ‘face’ was a mod term, for special, cool bastards, and the quartet were all small in stature. It was the perfect name.
The Small Faces’ early sets were made up of US soul and R’n’B covers, all mod staples, and early compositions from Marriott and Lane. Singer Elkie Brooks was very impressed with Marriott’s stage presence, and thanks to her recommendation to an agent, the band started finding work outside of London. Their first gig in the north, at a working men’s club in Sheffield, went disastrously. They finished early and offered to play at a nearby mod club, King Mojo Club, owned by Peter Stringfellow. They went down a storm. Soon after they had a residency at Leicester Square’s Cavern Club, and among their support acts at the time were Sonny & Cher.
Around this time, Small Faces signed with the impressario Don Arden, who helped snag them a contract with Decca Records. Debut single, Whatcha Gonna Do About It, featured lyrics by Ian Samwell, a former member of The Drifters (later The Shadows), who was responsible for Cliff Richard’s legendary debut record, Move It. Although it reached the top 20, second release I’ve Got Mine bombed.
Winston chose to leave the group, according to Jones, because he started pushing to replace Marriott as star of the band. He was replaced by Ian MacLagan, another shortarse. They were back on track with their third single. The upbeat pop track Sha-La-La-La-Lee was written by Elvis songwriter Mort Shuman and British entertainer Kenny Lynch. Their debut, eponymous album also did well. They were gaining momentum.
Marriott and Lane came up with fifth single All Or Nothing. According to Marriott’s mother Kay, her son’s lyrics were inspired by his split with his fiancee Sue Oliver. However, his first wife Jenny Rylance claimed he told her it was about her split from future Faces singer Rod Stewart.
For such small guys, this band could really make a racket. Opening with a fade-in of Jones’s drums, All Or Nothing is a great slice of mod power-pop, soul and rock. The riff has an appealing, plaintive, elegiac sound, and it’s that and Marriott’s stunning vocal that must have caught the public’s imagination. Some say the lyrics are dated and sexist, but to me it’s either simply a very young man who’s desperate to get his end away, or, digging deeper, the lyrics perhaps hint at the singer trying to persuade his lover to leave their partner for him, for good. However, it’s not Small Faces’ best single, and it surprises me that some of their other tracks couldn’t outdo it commercially.
After All Or Nothing toppled Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine, they were one of the biggest bands in the country, but were unable to tour the US initially due to MacLagan’s recent drug conviction. By the end of 1966, they were still broke, and confronted manager and producer Arden over money. He tried to scare the parents of the band by telling them they were all on drugs. They left Arden and Decca and in 1967 they signed with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Their next single, Here Come the Nice, explicitly referred to drugs, yet performed well, and they released a second, eponymous album. Were they too stoned to come up with a name?
The next two singles are classics. Itchycoo Park, released during the ‘Summer of Love’, was full on lysergic pop, featuring flanging and an ecstatic chorus. Tin Soldier, released at the end of the year, took the sound of All or Nothing and outdid it, with PP Arnold bolstering a superior 60s rock anthem. Although Immediate released Lazy Sunday against their wishes in 1968, and many find it grating, I think it’s great, and Marriott unleashes his full-on cockney to great effect.
Also that year came the album that raises Small Faces reputation above that of a great singles band. Contained in a round replica antique tobacco tin, Ogden’s’ Nut Gone Flake was their psychedelic opus. The opening title track hints at what might have been if they’d stayed together and become a progressive rock act, and Afterglow and Song of a Baker are further great slabs of soul-rock. The second side is a surreal fairytale about Happiness Stan, narrated by Stanley Unwin (Spike Milligan having been the original choice).
Sadly, things began to fall apart, and the increasingly frustrated Marriott recorded most of their final official single, the folk-influenced The Universal, in his back garden, with his dogs barking in the background. He had got bored with pop, and he walked off stage that New Year’s Eve, shouting ‘I quit!’.
Soon after, he announced he had formed a new supergroup, Humble Pie, featuring guitarist Peter Frampton, who went on to great success. Meanwhile, the remaining trio teamed up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane from the Jeff Beck Group and became, simply, Faces. Treading further down the ‘lad rock’ path that Marriott wanted no part of, they became one of the biggest acts of the early 70s, thanks to hits such as Stay with Me and Ooh La La, and also made a megastar of Rod Stewart.
Once Faces broke up in 1975, Small Faces resumed with the classic line-up. Sadly they didn’t last long. Lane was beginning to show signs of multiple sclerosis, but the other three thought he had a drink problem. Former Roxy Music bassist Rick Mills soon replaced him. Two albums – Playmates in 1977 and 78 In the Shade a year later, but the magic was gone. This final album also featured Jimmy McCulloch, who had recently left Wings. The following year he sadly died from a heroin overdose.
Upon the Small Faces’ split, Kenney Jones joined The Who to fill the huge hole left after Keith Moon’s death. He stayed with them until the late-80s. In 2001, he worked with Wills once more in his own group, The Jones Gang.
MacLagan toured with top artists including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, now featuring former Faces’ bandmate Ronnie Wood. He died from a stroke in 2014. Lane’s MS curtailed his musical output, but he battled on until 1997.
Marriott had reformed Humble Pie in 1980, but went solo in 1982. In 1991 he tragically died in his sleep when a lit cigarette set fire to his house. All or Nothing was played as the requiem at his funeral.
Despite their brief time together, Small Faces burnt bright and went on to influence the Jam in the 70s and many Britpop groups in the mid-90s. It’s a shame they split just as things were getting really interesting. Marriott is much underrated, and is up there with rock giants like Robert Plant. They seem to have fallen out of fashion again since, which is a great shame. I’m sure their time will come again.
Written by: Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane
Producer: Don Arden
Weeks at number 1: 1 (15-21 September)
15 September: As the summer of 1966 drew to a close, Britain’s first Polaris submarine, HMS Revolution, was launched in Barrow-in-Furness.
17 September: The Oberon-class submarine HMCS Okanagan was launched at Chatham Dockyard. It was the last ship to be built there.
19 September: Scotland Yard arrested Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards for his part in the Great Train Robbery of 1963.
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.