Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK pop group, the most durable and idiosyncratic of the era and with the Rolling Stones its only survivor, due to the songwriting of Ray Davies (b 21 June 1944). The lineup included brother Dave Davies (b 3 February 1947), both on vocals and guitar, both from Muswell Hill, North London; Mick Avory on drums (b 15 February 1944, Hampton, Middlesex), bassist Peter Quaife (b 31 December 1943, Tavistock, Devon). Ray and Dave began as the Ravens after Ray's attendance at art college. They signed to Pye (Reprise in USA, later Arista in both countries) and their third single 'You Really Got Me' was no. 1 UK/7 USA, its guitar sound pioneering heavy metal and the garage band sound, first of 23 chart hits in the UK and 22 Hot 100 entries in the USA '63-83.

'All Day And All Of The Night' was more of the same, another big hit, but 'Tired Of Waiting' '65 was the first to characterize Davies's caustic, world-weary Englishness. Subsequent hits 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion', 'A Well Respected Man', 'Sunny Afternoon', 'Dead End Street' '65-7 were unique contributions to popular culture, utterly English while virtually every other group was aping US counterparts (except the Beatles, whose music also owed as much to music hall as to rock'n'roll; but in the case of the Beatles this was not obvious at the time). A troublesome US tour '65 ensured that the Kinks did not tour there again for four years, adding to their cult reputation. The Kinks '64 and Kinda Kinks '65 were above-average pop LPs, but Well Respected Kinks and Face To Face '66 were transitional, with Davies's writing growing in confidence. 'Waterloo Sunset' '66 was a remarkably mature vignette, often regarded as an apogee of 1960s singles. Something Else By The Kinks '67 was incongruous for the time: while the Beatles (Sgt Pepper) and the Stones (Their Satanic Majesties Request) wallowed in psychedelia, Something Else represented the kitchen-sink school of rock: jaunty 'Harry Rag', caustic 'David Watts' (later a hit for the Jam), satirical 'Death Of A Clown', wry 'Two Sisters'. Live At Kelvin Hall '67 was endearingly shambolic, capturing the band's peak as a pop group. Superb singles continued '67-8 with 'Autumn Almanac', 'Wonderboy', 'Days'.

Village Green Preservation Society '68 is considered by many their best, a lament for a disappearing England captured on the title track, 'Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains' and 'Do You Remember Walter?', making one of the few concept LPs of the '60s that worked.

Quaife left '68, replaced by John Dalton (b 21 May 1943), replaced in turn '76 by Jim Rodford, ex-Argent). Arthur, Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire '69 continued the concept theme, dealing with English 'little men', created for a Julian Mitchell TV play which was never written, and including the title track, 'She Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina', 'Some Mother's Son', 'Victoria'. The Kinks '70 was an authoritative two-disc compilation of Davies's songs: touching yet forthright, uncompromising, parochial and poetic, sharp but never harsh. That changed with Lola vs Powerman And The Moneygoround Pt 1 '70, a bitter denunciation of the music industry yielding 'Lola', which became the band's anthem. Davies scored films The Virgin Soldiers '69 (with David Bowie in a minor role), lamentable Percy '71. He appeared in TV play The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Piano Player '70. Muswell Hillbillies '71 was a return to superb form; Everybody's In Showbiz/Everybody's A Star '72 was a cumbersome half-live set, but the standout track 'Celluloid Heroes', a tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood, is a contender for Davies's best song ever.

He was fascinated by the possibility of adapting an album for the stage: Village Green and Arthur were early efforts; Preservation '73, Preservation Act II '74, Soap Opera '75 and Schoolboys In Disgrace '76 were largely unsuccessful concept sets. The Davies brothers opened their own studio in the mid-1970s, formed the Konk label with acts such as Claire Hamill (album Stage Door Johnnies), Cafe Society (with Tom Robinson). The Kinks were one of the few '60s acts not always vilified by punk rockers; while their '70s achievements were mostly disposable, the earlier work was still venerated. Davies's influence was heard in Ian Dury, Paul Weller's Jam, Elvis Costello; the Pretenders covered the obscure Davies song 'Stop Your Sobbing' on their first single. Sleepwalker and Misfits '77-8 were still top 40 USA; Low Budget '79 stopped the decline; One For The Road was a dreary two-disc live set for the U.S. market; Give The People What They Want '81 had the ring of truth in its title but including good Davies in 'Art Lover' and 'Predictable'; State Of Confusion '83 saw them back on form, with 'Come Dancing', 'Don't Forget To Dance', scathing 'Young Conservatives'. It seemed too good to be true that after 20 years Davies hadn't lost his touch and Word Of Mouth '84 indicated that perhaps he had, but they couldn't stop: Think Visual '86 switched from Arista USA to MCA; The Road (recorded '87 on tour in the USA), UK Jive '91 on MCA was a lively set from Ray and Dave, including a quote from the Who's 'My Generation' and the inevitable diatribe against Margaret Thatcher. Phobia '93 (another switch, to Columbia) carried on the saga: the brothers' 'Hatred (A Duet)' carried on their personal soap opera. To The Bone '97 on Guardian in the middle of the Britpop era (partly inspired by the Kinks) was a live double set of new recordings of old hits and of forgotten album tracks, a mixture of plugged and unplugged arrangements for fans only.

Dave Davies had solo hits '60s with 'Death Of A Clown' and 'Susannah's Still Alive' but waited until AFL1--3603 '80 and Glamour '81 for solo albums, moderately successful. He released a dozen or so altogether, four of them since 2002. Hidden Treasures in 2011, he said, compiled tracks intended to be his first solo album in 1967. I Will Be Me came out in 2013. Ray scored TV film Return To Waterloo '84, starred in Absolute Beginners '86, which had his 'A Quiet Life' on the soundtrack. Kinks songs were covered by Peggy Lee, Herman's Hermits, Bowie, Van Halen and others as well as those mentioned above. Their classic albums were all on Pye in the UK; following the complete disintegration of that venerable label the '64-71 tracks are controlled by Castle Communications, who released albums on CDs at budget prices but screwed up some of the tracks and promised to do it again with Ray involved. The RCA material '71-5 has been well done on Rhino; compilations include Polydor's Complete Collection (26 of the hits at full price); Castle's Complete Collection (25 tracks at a bargain price) and Kinks Remastered (a 60-track three-CD set for the price of one full-price CD). The first two albums '64-5 were compiled on a Mobile Fidelity CD, but strangely one of them was stereo, the other mono.

Jon Savage's The Kinks: The Official Biography '84 was a good history; Ray Davies published X-Ray: The Unauthorized Biography '94 and planned musical show Come Dancing based on it. Ray Davies: Not like everybody else 2007 by Thomas M. Kitts was an adoring portrait by longtime fan and Professor of English at St Johns U. in New York; Tom Wolfenden wrote in the Times Literary Supplement (August 1 2008) that 'The fan and the academic...are at loggerheads in this book; the result is a detailed and well-researched biography compromised at times by a lack of critical distance.' But Davies is regarded as one of the greatest English songwriters of his time; fans will probably approve of all 320 pages.