It was 1963 when the Beatles’ She Loves You sparked my road to musical Damascus moment. For the next two or three years the Beatles were the benchmark for every song I heard on the radio. Only the Rolling Stones challenged them for the honour of the Crotchety Kid’s ‘best band’ rosette. But there was another group at that time that sounded a lot like the Beatles, if I’d only known it. It was The Kinks.
If you doubt that The Kinks were a lot like the Fab Four when they were formed in 1964 listen to their second single, You Still Want Me, and tell me this couldn’t be an early Beatles track. That song passed me by at the time but another Beatlesque song, You Really Got Me, became a number one hit on the UK charts and it made The Kinks a third contender for my best band badge in the autumn of 1964.
You Really Got Me and the follow-up single, All Day and All of the Night, which reached number 2, were both up-tempo beat group songs typical of the Mersey scene in the early sixties. There was no hint that The Kinks would develop their own unique style until their next single, Tired of Waiting for You, spilled out onto the air waves at the start of 1965. The new song was less frantic and more melodic than before and it had a rocking bass line that invited the swaggering gait of a young Errol Flynn¹. The Mersey beat had been given a new direction.
The Kinks released another six singles and an EP in 1965. Three of the singles charted in the UK top ten: Set Me Free, See My Friends and Till the End of the Day, and all three were quintessentially Kinks songs. The band had found their own magical island in the sea of popular music styles and for that I’m giving them Crotchety Man’s Band of the Year award for 1965.
The Kinks issued another two dozen or so singles between 1966 and 1970 when Crotchety Man lost track of them. They included some dazzling jewels: Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset², Death of a Clown, Days and the rib-tickling Lola.
The writing credits go almost exclusively to Ray Davies who formed the band that became The Kinks with his brother Dave in 1963. The brothers were brought up in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill along with their six older sisters. There they were immersed in music of a wide range of styles from the music hall songs of their parents to the jazz and rock ‘n roll records that their sisters preferred. And that goes a long way to explaining the smorgasbord of musical styles evident in The Kinks material.
By the time the band had been named The Kinks and had a recording contract the lineup was Ray Davies (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Davies (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ray’s friend Pete Quaife (bass, backing vocals) and, recruited via an ad in Melody Maker, Mick Avory (drums, percussion). It was that quartet that recorded almost all the tracks familiar to Crotchety Man. In 1969 Pete Quaife was replaced by John Dalton on bass and there were further personnel changes in subsequent years. Ray and Dave Davies, though, provided the backbone of the band for the whole of its 32 years of active existence.
The Kinks was a very English band. The lyrics were often about the English way of life, telling stories with a self-deprecating detachment that only the Brits manage to carry off. The mix of Merseybeat, music hall and folk music neatly complemented the wit of the words. If you can imagine a cross between early Beatles and the Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band you’ll get an idea of what makes The Kinks both unique and special.
It’s hard to over-play the impact of The Kinks on the music of the 70s, 80s and 90s. There is general agreement that Ray Davies and his band influenced rock groups such as The Who, mod revivalists like The Jam, punk bands like The Clash, some new wave bands and the Britpop bands Blur and Oasis. It can even be argued that their influence can be seen in some of the American psychedelic groups (The Doors, Love, Jefferson Airplane, for example).
And, inevitably, The Kinks also influenced the Beatles. After hearing the early morning chant of Bombay fishermen Ray Davies penned the mysteriously oriental-sounding See My Friends. It was this track that is supposed to have prompted the Beatles to use a sitar on Norwegian Wood, the first time that instrument had been heard on a pop record.
- If Errol Flynn is now lost in the mists of time for you, think of Puss In Boots from the Dreamworks animated movie instead.
- Waterloo Sunset was a Track of the Week in November 2015.